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?

‘The Doktor’s Spyglass’ Now Updated on Wednesday and Friday

For a variety of reasons, I’m rescheduling new updates to The Doktor’s Spyglass, my ongoing serial novel, to every Wednesday and Thursday.

You can read The Doktor’s Spyglass as it’s updated, section by section, on Wattpad (all you need to do is create a login), or you can wait until each chapter is completed and read them right here on jamesdcormier.com.  Chapters 1-8 are available in their entirety right now.

Whether you read it here or on Wattpad, The Doktor’s Spyglass is free, so click through and give me some feedback!

‘The Doktor’s Spyglass’ Is Now Available on Jamesdcormier.com

I’ve updated the book page for The Doktor’s Spyglass so that you can now read it natively right on this website, in addition to being able to read it on Wattpad.

I’ll upload each new chapter to jamesdcormier.com at the same time I post them to Wattpad, so that readers will now have a choice of formats.

Wattpad is free to use, but you have to create a login first, and I figured there might be some potential readers out there who’d rather not have to figure out a new app.  So now you can get it right here!

Introducing ‘The Doktor’s Spyglass’

The Doktors SpyglassI’ve decided to take something I’ve been working on and serialize it.  It started as a short story but has turned into something quite a bit more interesting.

The Doktor’s Spyglass is a fantasy detective novel, and will be available a chapter at a time on Wattpad.  I will update it with new chapters periodically, but no less often than once a month.

Here’s the blurb:

When an eccentric inventor is reported dead, consulting detective Irik Thijis is called in to investigate. He soon discovers that Doktor Keynish Helg is not as dead as he seems, and that something much stranger than simple murder is afoot.

The Inspection Service of the holy city of Oridos is about as useful as a horseless carriage when it comes to solving crimes, and Thijis is used to sorting out their cases for them. But what he discovers lurking in the Doktor’s mansion soon finds them all out of their depth.

As Thijis probes deeper into his strangest case yet, he realizes that blood and death are only the opening gambit in a play that may cost him not only his livelihood, but his life.

If you like steampunk, noir stories, and hard boiled, harder nosed gumshoes, you’ll probably like this.

The first chapter of The Doktor’s Spyglass is available now on Wattpad.

What is Swordpunk?

This guy looked pretty swordpunk to me.
This guy looked pretty swordpunk to me.

So I sat down to write this post, thinking that, aside from a few scattered references found in the darker corners of the Internet (such as somebody’s reading list on Goodreads), I had pretty much invented the term “Swordpunk.”  Or at least, was the first writer to consciously and self-proclaimedly apply it to any of my work.  I was wrong.  Fantasy author G. Derek Adams, author of Spell/Sword, beat me to the punch almost two years ago. His inaugural post on the topic is funny, and it rambles a bit, but I think the core point he makes is this:

I think the fear that fantasy writers have is that if they don’t reinvent the wheel, they won’t be taken seriously. Like Tad Williams is going to roll up and revoke their Fantasy License. [I’m imagining him in a lime green golf cart and wearing a jaunty scarf. Are you imagining it that way? Just me? Okay.]

[…]

When I have a hero step forth and raise his sword, I don’t want to try to sell you on how he’s different than the inumerable sword-slingers in the genre. I want you to think of them. I want you to think of Sturm Bright-blade, Simon Mooncalf, Logen the Bloody-Nine, Brienne of Tarth, Lancelot, Garet Jax, Neville Longbottom, Reepicheep, Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter and Conan the Barbarian, himself. I want you to think of them all. I want to connect to that resonance, that legacy of character.

I recently finished the first draft of the YA post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel I’ve been working on, and during the break between finishing the draft and doing my first edit, I went back to an earlier project I had started a few years ago.  The story started out as nothing more than an entertaining diversion for myself.  I was working on my epic fantasy at the time (which is still in progress), which is my attempt to do just what Adams is rebelling against in the article: to reinvent the wheel a bit, to write something that’s different from everything else.  It’s a project that’s close to my heart and which I take as seriously as anything I’ve written.  Sometimes too seriously.  That being said, after getting around 30,000 words into the first book, I needed a break.  So I sat down, opened up a new Word document, and started writing.

It was a freewriting exercise, essentially, and I did it according to two arbitrarily imposed rules: (1) I would write a fantasy story that was entirely self-indulgent, i.e., was about what I found cool and nothing else and wasn’t trying to be original; and (2), I would consciously try to avoid editing myself in any way as I wrote.  The result was The Akkian Mass, the first chapter of which is available for free on this site.

It was probably the most straight up fun writing I’ve ever done.  It taught me a lesson about writing in general, too, one that others had tried to impress upon me but that I only fully learned on my own: you can’t censor yourself, at least on your first draft.  You need to put what’s in your head on the page without thinking about how anyone else will respond to it.  So I sat there and geeked out, and enjoyed the hell out of it.

Swordpunk definitely has boob armor, historical accuracy, sexism, and effectiveness be damned.
Swordpunk definitely has boob armor, historical accuracy, sexism, and effectiveness be damned.

Coming back to it recently, I immediately got excited about it again, for similar reasons.  Why shouldn’t I just finish this, I asked myself?  Turn it into a stand alone sword and sorcery novel and just publish it and see if anyone shares my sick, nerdy glee in the masturbatory quality of it?  So that’s my plan, as of now.  Since I wrote it, and more so lately, the question of how to market it has been percolating in the back of my mind.  The word that kept reappearing was “Swordpunk.”

The tradition of adding “-punk” to the end of a word to create a new subgenre of SFF started, obviously, with cyberpunk.  Wikipedia has a great summary of the subgenres or “derivatives” that sprang from it here.

It’s hard to define cyberpunk and its subgenres explicitly, particularly since they don’t all have a lot in common.  To synthesize as best I can, however, in my experience cyberpunk, steampunk, clockpunk, etc., all share two primary things: (1) a focus on some form of technology or magic; and (2), a generally contrarian, “punk” point of view.

Lawrence Person noted this in a now-famous quote: “Classic cyberpunk characters were marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the edge of society in generally dystopic futures where daily life was impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body.”

So what, then, is swordpunk?  Here’s my definition:

swordpunk
noun

A subgenre of fantasy that combines established tropes of the traditional Sword & Sorcery subgenre and the newly established “grimdark” movement with a self-aware focus on indulging the existing passions of established fantasy fans, particularly in regard to character, action, magic, weaponry, and setting.

This would be fine, too, though.
This would be fine, too, though.

In other words, swordpunk is meta as fuck.  It’s writing that is going to appeal to readers in two different, but complementary ways: first, to new readers, as indulgent, light story-telling that focuses more on entertaining the reader than on literary merit, and (2), for established fans of the genre, as self-aware quasi-satire that deliberately has fun with the fact that it’s not trying to reinvent the wheel.

Swordpunk is about badass adventurers, powerful wizards, scantily clad people, sick fantasy swords and armor, quippy sidekicks, scary, evil enemies, and profitable dungeon-crawling.

Which is definitively not to say that it should be in any way backwards in terms of gender roles, sexual orientation, etc.  The swordpunk I want to write and to read will have as many badass women as men, and the characters won’t care who they’re fucking as long as they’re fucking somebody. 

Above all, however, swordpunk should be fun.

What do you think?  What would you include in your definition of swordpunk?  What does the term mean to you, if anything?