#MSTReRead Update

So I’ve just finished The Dragonbone Chair, and have moved on to Stone of Farewell in my Great Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn ReRead.  You can read my first post on the subject here.

Basically, I’m rereading the series in preparation for the release of The Heart of What Was Lost, an interim novel set between To Green Angel Tower and the forthcoming sequel trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard.  Instead of blogging the whole reread and bogging you down with plot recounts and such (not that that doesn’t have its place), I’m sharing my thoughts on Twitter under the hashtag #mstreread.  Here are my latest tweets.

 

And then this happened…

More to come!

The Great ‘Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn’ Re-Read

Update 12/3/16: Read my second big update on the #MSTReRead here.

I’m rereading one of my favorite fantasy series, Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, which is comprised of The Dragonbone ChairThe Stone of FarewellTo Green Angel Tower: Part 1, and To Green Angel Tower: Part 2.  (The original paperback edition of To Green Angel Tower had to be split into two parts due to its length. The forthcoming reprints make the series a proper trilogy again, I believe.)

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams

If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s a classic of modern fantasy and which I’ve talked about at some length here before.  George R. R. Martin often cites it as a major inspiration for writing A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series behind HBO’s ubiquitous Game of Thrones.

I’ve read MST many times before, but it’s been a few years since my last re-read.  And since Mr. Williams is releasing five sequels over the next few years, starting with The Heart of What Was Lost (forthcoming in January 2017), to be followed in April by The Witchwood Crown, the first book in the sequel trilogy The Last King of Osten Ard. I thought now was the perfect time for a fresh look at the “four-book trilogy” that in so many ways defined the fantasy genre for me.

You can find more information about Tad Williams and his upcoming Osten Ard novels at TadWilliams.com.  You can also read a lot of great updates and information about Osten Ard and the forthcoming books at The Wertzone.  Larry Ketchersid, an author and contributor at SFSignal, has also written an in-depth reread of MST that’s available both on his website and collected for Kindle for $2.99 (or for free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member).

Rather than doing a more traditional blog re-read, where I would write regular, fairly lengthy blog posts summarizing each chapter or chapters and discussing them, I’ve decided to tweet it all.  Using Twitter not only gives me a quick and easily accessible way to talk about the books, but the 140 character limit also forces me to speak plainly and minimizes the temptation to ramble.

I’ll collect the tweets periodically in blog posts here, but for live updates follow me on Twitter or follow the hashtag #mstreread.

I’ll discuss the story as I read it, but not necessarily comprehensively and certainly not chapter-by-chapter.  Likely, I’ll jump around, vacillating between the general and the specific, moving forward roughly as the story does.

Here are my thoughts on the first two hundred pages or so (Part I) of The Dragonbone Chair:

10 Quick Questions with Me, by G.R. Matthews

Exile AMZN-EPUBFellow author, #SPFBO contestant, and Fantasy Faction staff writer extraordinaire G.R. Matthews graciously interviewed me for his blog feature 10 Quick Questions with Indie Authors.  Go check it out.  You won’t be disappointed.  It’s full of jewels like

GMA:To steal (paraphrase) from Rod Stewart, what do you wish that you know now, you knew when you started the journey to a finished and published book.

I wish I knew that the only way to do your best writing is to free yourself from self-doubt, imagined readers’ expectations, and any personal rules about what you “should” be writing.

Good luck with that, by the way. Let me know if you figure it out. Drinking seems to help.

and

I should point out that I’m something of an unreliable narrator when it comes to this type of question.  My answer is entirely true—today.  Tomorrow it might be something entirely different.  But these three are undoubtedly on my all-time top ten.

I also realize that two of these (all three, really, since I view the Sprawl trilogy as one big novel) are in fact trilogies, not single books, and thus my answer is somewhat non-responsive.  But this is my island, and I am claiming it and declaring myself its sovereign, and I’ll be damned if I can’t bend the rules a bit.

The Stone Road by G.R. MatthewsAlso do check out Geoff’s own novel, The Stone Road, available in paperback and Kindle formats.

It’s national #readabookday, so go read a book.  Either of ours will do.

8 Great Resources for Writing Medieval Fantasy

I’ve had an epic fantasy series brewing in the back of my head for over a decade now.  I’ve got about 70,000 of a first draft of the first novel written, and though I’ve put it aside temporarily, I plan on returning to it after I’ve completed a few other projects I’m working on (three current works in progress, and counting).

I originally imagined it as a fairly straightforward “medieval”-style fantasy–knights on horseback, lords and ladies, etc.  While over the years it evolved into something much more unique (or so I like to think), much of the world’s social and political dynamics are rooted in my understanding of our world’s Middle Ages.

Much of that understanding can be attributed to two distinct but related sources: my wife, who studied the Middle Ages in college, and her substantial library of books on the subject, to which we have both added over the years.

As I’ve often seen writers and aspiring writers seeking guidance online for good research materials on this subject, I thought I’d share some of my own go-to resources.  Here they are, in no particular order.

1.  European Arms & Armour, by Charles Henry Ashdown

IG29969-1New York: Brussel & Brussel, 1967.

Sadly out of print, European Arms & Armour is an excellent survey of the subject of Western armament, ranging from the prehistoric to the advent of gunpowder (and slightly beyond).  It spends most of its time, though, discussing the Middle Ages proper and the weapons and armor that served the fighting men and women of Europe during this often-tumultuous period.  The New York Times, in 1967, called the book a “magnificent volume” with “much of the charge which belongs to historical romances[.]”

I was lucky enough to come across this tome, quite well preserved, in a second-hand book shop in Marblehead, Massachusetts.  It looks and smells like it may have spent the intervening decades between its publication and now in a dry but dusty basement, before falling into the hands of the bookshop owner from whom I happily acquired it.

Ashdown’s discussion of the development of arms and armor is simply and expertly presented, giving the reader a sense of the organic evolution from leather and bronze to mail and plate.  But perhaps most useful are the hundreds of engravings and photographs (black and white, unfortunately), complete with labels and terminology, that litter almost every other page of the book.

You should be able to find it used on Amazon, or perhaps in your local independent bookstore.

2.  The Sword in the Age of Chivalry, Ewart Oakeshott

910q5zw1TNSRochester: Boydell & Brewer, 2009.

Whereas Ashdown attempts to give a history of all European arms and armor, Oakeshott focuses on the most famous and pervasive of medieval weapons: the sword.

Originally published contemporarily with Ashdown in 1964, The Sword in the Age of Chivalry has found new life in digital printing and is still readily available through Amazon.

With photographs and hundreds of detailed illustrations by the author, this is the quintessential reference on the Western sword.  Indeed, Albion Swords uses Oakeshott as their primary reference guide for their functional, museum-quality recreations.  Invaluable for those who love the art of it, and want to make the sword a part of their story.

If you’re wondering what type of sword a person from a particular place and time might have used, this is the book for you.

3.  The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages, by Shulamith Shahar

0415308518New York: Routledge, 1994.

A thorough and scholarly investigation into a subject much ignored in the study of the period, Shahar’s book is the first to look specifically at the role of women in medieval society.  She does so with a view toward a general and comprehensive discussion of all women, and in fact deliberately avoids discussing the ones that may spring immediately to mind: Joan of Arc, Matilda, etc.

She does so not only because, as she explains in the introduction, much has already been said of these singular and exceptional women, but because her intention was to shed light on women whose lives and positions had not been discussed.

Shahar herself is a professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Tel Aviv.  The book was translated into English by Chaya Galai.  The narrative approaches the subject rigorously, making no assumptions, and as such uncovers a wealth of contributions by, realities of, and life choices for women in the Middle Ages that is rivaled only by the insidiousness of their persecution by the Church as the centuries progressed.

An absolute must for anyone trying to write women in a medieval society (or its fantasy analog).

4.  Charlemagne’s Tablecloth: A Piquant History of Feasting, by Nichola Fletcher

9781466864405New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005.

Nichola Fletcher, a goldsmith, deer farmer, and food writer, bookends her history of feasting with an anecdote about Charlemagne.  He had an asbestos tablecloth, or so the story (almost certainly apocryphal) goes, which he would dramatically throw into the fire at the end of a feast.  The fire would burn off the crumbs, leaving the impervious asbestos intact, a magic trick sure to impress the majesty of the Emperor upon his guests.

What this book does quite well, with a joyful, engaged tone, is describe the food and festivities involved in history’s most extravagant and legendary meals.  The “golden age” of feasting, as she calls it, is of course the Middle Ages, and Fletcher’s description of dishes and entertainments from this age would make even George R. R. Martin blush.  Great fodder for descriptive passages and general scene setting.

5.  The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars, by Stephen O’Shea

314653New York: Walker & Company, 2000.

The history of the Middle Ages is, in many ways, a history of Christian heresies, the greatest of which was the Cathar heresy, which led to a series of crusades called by Pope Innocent III.

The Cathars were an ascetic heretical sect most active in Northern Italy and Southern France.  They were dualists and Gnostic revivalists, believing in a binary godhead with good and evil gods.  The good god, the god of the New Testament, created the spiritual realm, while the evil god of the Old Testament created the physical.  Hence, physical was bad.  Hence ascetism.  The Catholic Church didn’t like this, so much, particularly the part about the evil force–who they interpreted as Satan–being equal in power to God.  You can guess where this is going.

O’Shea makes it riveting, however, and by focusing on this central conflict within Christendom, identifies a defining theme of the Middle Ages: dogmatic strife.

6.  The First Crusade: A New History, by Thomas Asbridge

81YzsRePgnLNew York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

No conflict–perhaps no event–encapsulates the medieval mind so well as the First Crusade.  Those who took up the cross, a diverse and only tentatively allied force led by five great princes, did so in response to a call by Urban II that stood in the face of a thousand years of Christian dogma: to launch an unprovoked war to reclaim the Holy Land by blood.

The First Crusade has always been the most interesting to me, and I particularly enjoy Asbridge’s discussion of the philosophies and cultural and religious values that led to what amounted to a craze among the nobility of Europe: to take penitent vows and seek their fortune in the foreign east.

Combining a loose interpretation of Augustine’s Just War theory and the incitement of racial and religious hatred of Muslims who held the Holy City of Jerusalem in their “unclean” hands, Urban ushered in an era of Church-sanctified violence that would not end for centuries.  This book is a fascinating exploration of medieval thought and the desperation with which the Latins pursued their salvation–both physical and spiritual.

7.  The Inheritance of Rome, by Chris Wickham

a1eobexixl-_sl1500_New York: Viking Penguin, 2009.

The subtitle says it all: illuminating the dark ages.

Referring to the years between the fall of Rome and the rise of Charlemagne as the “dark ages” has long been frowned upon by medieval scholars, and Wickham’s thesis runs with that idea.  Rather than a long period of barbarity and intellectual darkness, the early middle ages were “critical to the formation of the European identity.”

This one is a particularly relevant read for fantasy authors, I think, because it deals with the real world history behind one of the more common fantasy tropes: life in the aftermath of empire; people living in the ruins, physical and societal, of a greater, more accomplished civilization.

Wickham’s thesis goes a long way toward demonstrating that rather than the abrupt, dramatic cataclysm that exists in the public imagination, the fall of the Western Empire and the underrated survival of Byzantium were in fact part of a more gradual shift from a purely Roman identity to the beginnings of what would eventually become modern Europe.

8.  The Medieval Wordbook, by Madeleine Pelner Cosman

9780816030217-usNew York: Fall River Press, 2007.

This is a fun one: a glossary of words of medieval origin and/or importance.  Etymology nerds won’t be pleased by the lack of sources or derivation, but given that Ms. Cosman was a professor and director of the Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at City College of New York, I think we can trust her.

I’ve found this one useful for general inspiration and worldbuilding.  A great coffee table book just to pick up and read at random, the subjects range from the quotidian to the serious to the downright lascivious.

Here are a few favorites (with cross-references in small caps):

fabliaux
Lewd tales depicting ebullient philanderers, bed-hopping with exuberance.  Stock characters in dramatic situations include the senex amans (old lover) cuckolded by his lusty young wife and her sexually athletic lover; the miles gloriosus (braggart soldier) whose boasting undoes him; lascivious clerical lovers with willing women congregants; and bold bawdy wives of sexually senescent men. fabliaux women oppose the idealized domna of the eva-ave antithesis.

stew
A fishpond, bath, spa, or whorehouse.  “The Stews” was a name for fourteenth-century London’s red light district, coexisting with the title cock’s lane.

yale
A mythic heraldic beast, gracing the coat of arms of England and many a bestiary.  An animal the size of a horse with an elephant’s tail and a boar’s jowls, each of the yale’s extravagantly long horns can adjust as battle requires; at need, one horn can point forward, the other behind.

These are only a few of the books my wife and I have on our Middle Ages shelves, and for everyone I selected to talk about here there were three I considered in its stead.  But these eight are books that have proved helpful and enlightening to me.  I hope you find them so.


TDS New 3My current novel, The Doktor’s Spyglass, is a fantasy noir adventure being serialized for free on Wattpad.  Check it out and vote if you like what you read!

A Life in Books

Long_Room_Interior,_Trinity_College_Dublin,_Ireland_-_Diliff

It occurred to me recently that one’s personal library truly does tell a story all its own.

While cleaning out two storage units I rent and consolidating them into one, I ended up throwing out a lot of junk.  What I didn’t get rid of was books–hundreds of them, stored in cardboard boxes and stacked three-high against the corrugated aluminum walls.

Before my wife and I had our son, we used our third bedroom as a library.  It was wall to wall books, the combined collections of two people who spent most of their lives to that point reading.  The catalog was eclectic, including everything from Tolkien to Judaism for Dummies.  There were shelves of crumbling paperbacks and long runs of pricey, leather-bound special editions.  Every book I had purchased from middle school onward was represented in there, somewhere.  Together we amassed an impressive collection of non-fiction on the Middle Ages, which still fills up two shelves in our living room, next to a beautiful set of the Harvard Classics bound in crimson leather.

Guests would often come to our house and remark on the titles they’d read on the spines: Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky, or The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris by Andrew Robinson.  The entirety of the Harry Potter series and A Song of Ice and Fire, in hardcover.  An ancient, used set of the works of Plato.  Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis.

We had to put the bulk of it in storage to make room for the baby, which I certainly don’t regret; the trade-off was more than worth it.  But there is still, in the back of my mind, the lingering desire to put them all together again someday, to have a true, permanent library, organized as I like it.  I would spend days organizing it by subject and author, then police its stacks with fascist vigilance.

Seeing all those old books in their boxes in storage, however, brought to life old memories in an almost Proustian way.  There was the French paperback copy of La Philosophie Dans Le Boudoir that I borrowed from a French Literature professor in college and never returned; there, the flaking, yellowed original copy of The Dragonbone Chair that had helped me fall in love with epic fantasy as a middle schooler.  Or the tattered paperback loaned to me by a former acquaintance that I never read and refused to search for after we had a falling out, his name and phone number still written on the inside cover.  (Never loan books, they say.)

The point is, a book you own tells a story of where you were in your life when you bought it, or borrowed it, or stole it, as it were.  And of course, when you read it.  It’s like that scene from the film High Fidelity, based on the excellent Nick Hornby novel of the same name (ironically, I can’t remember whether this scene is in the book).

The main character, Rob, is reorganizing his record collection autobiographically, which he illustrates with this example:

“I can tell you how I got from Deep Purple to Howlin’ Wolf in just 25 moves.  And if I want to find the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile, but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”

It’s that, exactly, that I’m talking about: looking at these objects, these individual collections of thoughts and feelings and ideas, and remembering how they made you think, and feel, and ideate.  And if you have enough of them, it tells you the story of your life.

Having a massive collection of books is really the worst kind of egotism, if you think about it.  It’s saying, here is my life.  Look at it.  Appreciate it.  Read its headings and titles.  See how I represent myself to myself, and to those I invite into my tangible memory palace.

Should An Ebook Ever Cost More Than A Print Book?

I’m in the middle of reading the final volume in Lev Grossman’s excellent Magicians Trilogy, The Magician’s Land.  I love it.  The trilogy as a whole has been enjoyable from start to finish, so much so that I wanted to share it with others.  I was in the midst of getting the Amazon link to the first book to share it with a Facebook group I run when I noticed this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 6.52.27 PM

 

Yes, you read that right: the ebook is over two dollars more expensive than the paperback version.

Now, there’s been a lot of discussion about the price of ebooks: how much they should be, what the basis of said pricing scheme is, and whether publishers were justified in charging as much as a print book.  Just google “ebook pricing” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  It’s pretty much the hot-button issue in the publishing industry right now.

I follow this stuff fairly closely, and I also buy a lot of ebooks.  I’m more than familiar with the complaints most readers have about publishers pricing ebooks too high.  Being a reader myself, I too question the motives and business acumen of publishers who often seem engaged in an experiment to see how much money readers will pay for an electronic book.

It’s obviously been a while since I’ve purchased a paper book, because after seeing the above I did a little searching around Amazon and discovered that it’s a fairly common practice, particularly when mass market paperbacks are involved.  James Patterson and Stephen King, for instance, both have multiple paperbacks on Amazon selling for less than their ebook equivalents.

Traditionally, a large publisher would release at least two main editions of a selling book: the first edition hardcover, which they would price at a premium and push for a year or so, before reprinting the book as a mass market paperback (the roughly pocket-sized, softcover books that take up most of the shelf space at your average Barnes and Noble).  Mass market paperbacks are smaller, printed on much cheaper paper (it’s not far off from newsprint), and bound with glue and cardstock.  They’re basically designed to be disposable, which is why they fall apart if you love them too hard.

This is no secret.  It’s also no secret that ebook prices have risen in step with the medium’s popularity.  But this is the first time I ever noticed an ebook priced higher than a print book.

What I find strangest about this phenomenon is the seeming inconsistency of it: traditionally, mass market paperbacks were priced lower because the cost to produce them was much lower.  The cost to produce ebooks being lower still, how and why is this happening?

The debate about the cost analysis of ebook pricing is ongoing.  Readers and skeptics argue that the production of an ebook involves far less overhead than printing a physical book, and thus publishers are unjustified in charging as much (or more) for them.  Publishers respond by claiming that ebook costs are non-trivial, and (essentially), that they’re trying to turn a profit and get off their backs already: Daddy’s gotta make that paper (pun intended).

In this context, it seems somewhat brazen for publishers to price ebooks higher than mass market paperbacks–almost as if they’re rubbing it in readers’ faces.  You wanna see overhead?  We’ll show you overhead.  Better just buy that paperback.

I’m sure that some of the pricing margin in these cases, on Amazon at least, has to do with Amazon’s discounting system and the fact that they make more from selling a Kindle ebook than a paperback they didn’t print.

But even so, it seems to me that if you’re releasing a cheap paperback version, it’s time to drop the ebook price down to at least match it.  Even for someone who reads almost entirely digitally these days, paying more for an intangible digital file than for an actual physical object containing the exact same information seems illogical.

But what do you think?  Do you agree, disagree?  What am I missing?

‘Exile: The Book of Ever’ Is Coming To Wattpad

Exile AMZN-EPUB

Starting Friday, January 29, 2016, I will begin posting my first novel, Exile: The Book of Ever (#1) to Wattpad.  Over the course of about a month, I will post a chapter every day.  This means you can either follow along serially or wait a month and read the whole thing all at once.

Exile will still be for sale as an ebook and a paperback in the same places you’ve always been able to find it, but this means it will also be entirely free to read for those who want to.

Why am I doing this?  Two reasons.  First and foremost, Exile is a YA novel, and Wattpad has a lot of young readers.  Second, and relatedly, I want to see if I can develop a wider audience.  Exile has been well reviewed, but hasn’t seen as much commercial success as I’d like: I’m hoping bringing it to Wattpad will get it into the hands of readers who might otherwise not find it.

Exile is a post-apocalyptic fantasy with dystopian and sci-fi elements.  I’ve often described it (and heard it described) as X-Men meets The Walking Dead.  Here’s the blurb:

Centuries after the Fall, the United States has been wiped away. The crumbling remains of the great American empire are home now only to savage, lawless tribes and packs of ravening Damned—the twisted children of the apocalypse. Most of those few who survived humanity’s destruction spend their short lives in a violent struggle for survival. But some light still flickers in the darkness: the Blessed of Bountiful live in seclusion, relying on walls both physical and spiritual to protect them from the Desolation that their world has become. Among them are the Saints, those few men and women born with superhuman abilities that the Blessed see as gifts from God.

The violent apostate tribes of the Northeast Kingdom have always been a danger, but up until recently its small size and the vigilance of its people have made Bountiful an unappealing target. As attacks on the community grow harsher and more frequent, however, even the steadfast Blessed are forced to start preparing for the worst.

With her home’s very existence threatened, seventeen year old Ever Oaks, a Saint with the power to heal, is forced to make a difficult choice, one that may come to define her people’s future…

I have high hopes for Exile over the long term.  It’s a gripping, entertaining story, but one that also challenges the reader in unexpected ways.  And it’s got a kickass female protagonist who I think young women might like.  If you haven’t taken a look yet, you’ll have the chance to read along on January 29th.  Mark your calendars!

Comments Now Open On ‘The Doktor’s Spyglass’

I’m not sure how many people are reading The Doktor’s Spyglass here on my website, as opposed to on Wattpad, but I noticed recently that for some reason I hadn’t enabled comments on the individual chapter pages here.

That has now been fixed.  If you’re reading the book here on jamesdcormier.com, comments are now open on all parts of The Doktor’s Spyglass.  

Wherever you’re reading it, I want to know what you think!

Anatomy of a Book Cover

I mentioned in a post yesterday that some book covers require several attempts before the design is right.  One of the benefits of self-publishing is that you have complete control over your book cover, where it is sold, and the ability to change that cover if you so desire.  With ebooks and print-on-demand publishing, there are stockpiles of unsold copies to contend with, so there’s no real reason not to change something immediately if you need to.  In some cases, you can even have Amazon update copies of your books after they’re sold.

That said, some self-publishing platforms are more formal than others, and people who pay money to buy your book on Amazon expect professional quality.  While we should always strive for that level of finished quality, there’s definitely a place, and a market, for a more transparent writing process.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re aware that I’m currently publishing a new novel serially on Wattpad.  It’s called The Doktor’s Spyglass, and it’s (hopefully) an entertaining mixture of epic fantasy, steampunk, and detective noir.  I’ve often referred to it as Locke Lamora meets Sherlock Holmes.  (You can judge for yourself whether I’m making good on these promises by reading it, for free, at Wattpad.com.  All you have to do to read anything on the site is create a login.)

Wattpad’s a fun venue for a number of reasons, but it excels as a proving ground.  Things are a little more informal, and reader interaction on each new section or chapter is an important part of the experience.  Whether you’re there solely to use it as a tried and true platform to publish your story episodically or are looking for beta readers to give you feedback on your writing, Wattpad is a good place to be.

While you absolutely still need a head-turning cover to do well on Wattpad, the informality and iterative nature of the website mean that it’s far more acceptable to experiment.  Which is why I didn’t hesitate to test a few different covers for The Doktor’s Spyglass.  Rather than keep the process a secret, I decided to try different covers as inspiration struck and see what, if any, response the got from readers.

The first version of the cover was deliberately minimalist.  The novel is a detective story at heart, and I wanted readers to think of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett when they looked at the cover.

The Doktors Spyglass

The design deliberately borrows from the stylish, serviceable covers of classic noir paperbacks.  The artwork is monotone and merely hints at what the story might be about.  The text is the real focus of this cover.  Since the novel features a steampunk-like setting, I chose a Victorian typeface for the titles.  I thought the opposing justification of the title and my name gave it an informal touch, the kind of thing that says, “pulp.”

The top margin is deliberately larger than the bottom, to prevent the title from obscuring the burning tower at the top of the illustration.

The image itself is composed of a couple of heavily modified licensed stock images.  The amber color scheme, as you’ll see, is the one thing that runs through all versions of the cover.  The orange hue of amber has a specific connection to the story.

The Doktor’s Spyglass is still only starting to attract readers, but I was never certain that this was the right direction to go with the cover, particularly on Wattpad.  After the story had been running for a few weeks, I decided it was time to revisit the cover.

It occurred to me that the cover I had was possibly too dull or “literary,” for lack of a better term, for the book’s intended audience.  It looks a little like a paperback you’d pick up on one of those “Summer Reading List” tables at Barnes & Noble.  At the end of the day, I write to entertain, not to craft literary scripture.

I wanted the second version of the cover to make the book look like something you want to read, the type of eye-catching cover you’d see on an end-cap and just have to pick up.

TDS New 2

As you can see, this one’s a bit more engaging.  The layout is centered, and the addition of Captain Steampunk Goggles Man and the unmistakable silhouette of a 1940s-ish detective definitely make clear that this is genre fiction.  Overall, it looks a lot more like a science fiction or fantasy novel, and a lot less like Penguin Classic.

I kept the font and the underlying background image, because I thought they still captured the essence of the setting.  The city of Oridos is an ancient city that has seen better days.  In the distant past it was the site of famous battles and fantastical ordeals, but these days it’s a foggy, gaslit mess that belches toxins into the atmosphere and keeps the rich and the poor nice and separated.  I always meant The Doktor’s Spyglass to be one of those stories where the setting, the city, was almost as much of a character as the characters themselves, and I felt it was important to give some sense of that on the cover.  I liked the bleak look of this painting.

I did see a noticeable uptick in reads after changing the cover.  I have no way of knowing if that was directly related to the cover image or not, but given that Wattpad uses your book cover to represent your book all over the website, without any immediate synopsis or other information, I think it’s safe to say it had something to do with it.

That being said, there were some things that bugged me about this cover.  I always felt like I left it a little unfinished; that it was a bit amateur.  Captain Steampunk struck me as being a bit too on the nose, and the silhouette of Irik Thijis, the main character, never looked exactly right.  There was too much contrast; it looks pasted onto the background (which it is), not like it’s a part of it.  The original idea was to make it look like Thijis was cut out of the city itself, like he was as much a mystery as anything else, but I don’t think I accomplished that.

So the other night I gave it another shot, using some of the same elements but starting from scratch with most of it.  Version 3.0 is the best yet, and the only one I’ve yet felt completely happy with.

TDS New 3

Version 2.0 had obscured the burning tower part of the background image, which I didn’t like.  Thinking back, I realized that of the original background, that eerily burning citadel is the only thing that really stands out as being fantasy in any way, and it also evoked the feel of the book more than any other part of the cover.  Like any good noir story, The Doktor’s Spyglass features its fair share of tragedy, destruction, and death, and the burning tower represents that in a dramatic way.

The only parts of the original cover that remain are the tower and the silhouette of Thijis, which has been fleshed out and detailed a bit to help it blend into its surroundings.  The ragged edge to his coat also indicates that he’s been through some shit.  The object in his hand is, I think, more clearly a gun (if perhaps a slightly alien silhouette–this is a fantasy realm, after all.  They don’t have Glocks).

A significant portion of the book takes place underground, in the Oridosi Undercity, and it occurred to me that the cover ought to convey that somehow.  I liked the chthonic feeling the surrounding arches gave the scene, and they certainly convey “fantasy” to the reader.  Another new element is the amber sea and the spots of abstract light at the bottom of the image, which look like they’re flooding the chamber.  This is a direct reference to the main magical element of the novel, a magical plane called the Phiros, which is often described as an “amber sea.”

Finally, I chose a new font.  While still clearly Victorian, its dramatic design, particularly when coupled with the amber stone pattern overlay and a little embossing, definitely has a more “fantasy” feel to it.

Every cover I design is a learning process, just as every day I spend writing is.  I’m happy with what I’ve done with the latest version of this cover, but who knows how I’ll feel a month from now?  The great thing about a service like Wattpad and the people that use it is that they’re all about trying new things.

Let me know what you think about any or all of these covers in the comments.  Which one do you like the best?  Or do they all suck?

Interview with Gabrielle de Cuir

36439d9Last week, the audiobook edition of Exile: The Book of Ever (#1) came out, narrated by the wonderful Gabrielle de Cuir and produced by Skyboat Media, the production company behind the Hugo Award-winning Lightspeed magazine podcast and many other wonderful books in the genre and out of it.

Gabrielle was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few interview questions about herself and the recording process.  She also sent along a great clip of her recording a piece of Exile, which you can watch below!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background. 

I’m a native Californian, but grew up in Rome and have travelled extensively because my father was an Oscar-winning film designer and he always took the family with him on his cinematic adventures. I currently live and thrive in Los Angeles. I attended UCLA and received my degree there in Theatre Arts.

How did you get started narrating audiobooks?

I started in this business as an abridger; when I started doing this a decade ago, most books had to be cut down to fit onto four cassettes. Editing Anna Karenina down to four cassettes was quite a challenge! It also was an invaluable learning process as to what is essential in a story and what is fluff. Then, the company I worked for went out of business, and I hung out a shingle as a narrator. I couldn’t afford to pay anyone else! (The truth is I have a tremendously strong acting and performing background in theatre.) 

How do you choose your projects?

I need to connect at some emotional or intellectual level with the material. And my tastes are varied. I look for books with poetic flow, sharp humor or a variety of accents and characters. Some books have all of these; some just have one quality or another. Exile attracted me because of Ever’s personality and point of view. Stories with a strong point of view are acting gold.

Does your own interest in the subject matter of the book in question matter?

Not really. My job as an effective narrator is to channel author intent; to “midwife” the book, supporting it where I can and being a catalyst between the author and the listener, without getting in the way. 

Tell us a little bit about the recording process itself.  Where do you start? What’s your studio like?  Do you record all the way through and worry about errors in postproduction, or do you do a lot of stopping and starting?

I start by doing a thorough scan of the book. I know that sounds contradictory, but there are not enough hours of the day for me to read and rehearse every word of the book. I look for the story arc; whether the book is going to need a lot of pronunciation research. I determine who the main characters are; whether there are particular accents indicated. When recording begins, we at Skyboat Studios work with a director, for accuracy and also to allow the narrator to fully “perform” the audiobook. Industry demands have forced many actors to work alone in their studios, doing both the narration and the editing as they go. This can be fine for some books, but not, in my opinion for novels with many characters. If a book is estimated at ten hours finished, for example, it will usually take twice that long to record in the studio (i.e., twenty hours).

Audiobook narrators generally don’t record more than four or five hours a day, because the vocal chords can only stand so much stress. So, a ten-hour book might take up to a week to record. So, I start reading. The director stops me when he/she hears an error.

I take tea breaks every hour or so to keep hydrated. The director marks the script for my editor. When we have finished recording the book, we send the director’s pages and the audiofiles to the editor. He does his magic by editing out all the flubs and noises.

Were there any memorable moments recording Exile?  What was it like living with the book in so much detail for so long?

I loved all the instances where Ever’s power made itself apparent; I would try to actually feel the tingling she felt as I narrated it. (I know that sounds a bit New Agey, but, hey, I’m all alone in the booth; I’m allowed!) I found the dialogue scenes between Jared and Ever to flow very easily; I truly felt they made a great pair in the adventures.

Creating Thayne was the most challenging with his “inner voice” and his transformations. It’s heaven living in a whole world., so different from our own. James has created a complete universe, and it was a joy spending time there every day of the recordings!

Thanks so much to Gabrielle and the crew at Skyboat Media!

The audiobook of Exile: The Book of Ever (#1) is available now at Audible.com.