I Live. The Writing Moves Forward.

Where have I been, you ask?  Why, braving the skirling autumn seas in search of adventure, grasping the elusive MacGuffin Beast by its shaggy throat and wringing from it the bones of story.  I’ve been ’round the Horn and back again, questing with my small, hearty band of ruffians through the dense jungles of Practicality, our spirits united in yearning for the legendary Sensawunda.

I’ve been working, in other words, doing the necessary stuff, getting shit done, laying down a steady beat of responsibility, being all adult AF.  But here’s what’s happening on the writing front.

I’m finishing up The Doktor’s Spyglass, slowly but steadily, and after that I’ll be moving on, both to give myself time away from it before editing the bastard and to relieve my overtaxed brain by writing something totally stupid.  I’ve got a couple of rollicking tales in mind, one of which is started, the other of which is only an idea, but both promise to be a good time in the writing.  I hope they’ll be good for the reading, too.November is almost upon us, believe it or not, and with it NaNoWriMo, which I’ve never properly participated in.  I won’t be starting this year, not officially, but I’ll be doing something similar–something related.  Due to the aforementioned SERIOUS ADULT SHIT, there’s been a relative dearth of writing here, and I aim to change that.  So for the month of November, I will pledge to write every single day.  I’ll set no specific goals as far as word- or page-count.  Rather, I’ll focus on returning to a daily writing schedule and focus simply on the task of putting some amount of words on the page every single day of the week.  Some days that might be a few hundred, others a few thousand, but the end result is that it all adds up and hopefully by the end of the month (stretch goal), Spyglass will be done and I can move on to newer, fresher things.

Stay tuned.  I’ll be using this blog as a journal, so I hope you enjoy it.

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.

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!

The Eberan Whiskey Sling

IMG_0368Arven Mallick runs The Fourth Tribe, the nicest dive in the Warrens, making it the nicest dive in Oridos.  If you’re a friend, and you ask nicely, he just might make you his signature cocktail: the Eberan Whiskey Sling.

Consulting detective Irik Thijis, the protagonist of my serial fantasy novel The Doktor’s Spyglass, swears by them, when Arven’s nice enough to give him one on the house.  Eberan whiskey’s hard to come by, you know.

I promised my Wattpad readers the recipe, and today I deliver.  Thijis asks Arven at one point, and Arven told him, but we can be fairly certain, knowing Mr. Mallick, that he didn’t give away all of his secrets so easily.  The exact recipe may remain forever a mystery, but if you’ve been to the Tribe, and you’ve got a well-stocked bar, you can still make a passable representation of what has been called “the drink that wars are made on.”

The recipe is as follows.

Eberan Whiskey Sling (as made by Arven Mallick)

Fill a shaker with ice.  Add one measure of Eberan whiskey, half a measure of sweet vermouth, at least six dashes cherry bitters, and a dash of simple syrup.  Shake vigorously.  Strain into a short glass, then remove the strainer and add in some of the ice.  Garnish with an Oridosi blood cherry, crushing it against the side of the glass with the back of a spoon.

As it’s unlikely that you have immediate access to Eberan whiskey, feel free to substitute your favorite rye or, if you must, bourbon.  Blood cherries are close to extinct, even in Oridos, but in a pinch a Bing cherry will do just fine.

Arven thunked a large drink down in front of him.

“So what’s this?” Thijis asked, bending his neck to look through the thick glass. It was a dark red color, and there was something floating in it.

“Eberan whiskey sling,” said Arven, using his faithful rag to wipe a wet ring out from under the tumbler he’d mixed it in.

“Eberan whiskey? Not sure I’ve got the crowns for liquid gold today, innkeeper.” Real Eberan whiskey was either hundreds of years old, pre-Fulkawer, or smuggled in fast sloops down the northern coast, by pirates who risked their lives to trade with the remaining Eberai tribes. Either way, it was damned expensive.

“It’s on the house. It’s an experiment. And you look like you’re having a hard day. Plus, I’m bored.”

Thijis sipped it. The muscles in his face had been tighter than he’d known, and they relaxed as one with the first sip.

“This is good,” he said. Arven snorted and walked to the end of the bar to arrange bottles. Thijis took another drink, rolling the liquid around on his tongue. It was sharp and sweet and dry all at the same time.

This is the last thing you need. Gebbing wants you gone, fast. You fucked up on this one. Didn’t pay enough attention and someone fleeced you. You’ll be lucky if they don’t find you face down in the Inner Sea within the week. Stay out of it this one fucking time.

If there was one thing Irik Thijis wasn’t any good at, it was staying out of it.

“What’s in this, Arven?” he asked.

“The whiskey, cherry sugar syrup, a few dashes of bitters of my own making,” Arven called out.

“What’s this floating in it?”

“A blood cherry. I’ve got a line on them, fellow down in Emmerline,” the bartender said.

‘The Doktor’s Spyglass’ Now Updated Every Tuesday and Thursday

The Doktors SpyglassAfter doing a bit of research and reconsidering my writing process, I’ve decided to change the way I’m serializing The Doktor’s Spyglass.

Instead of a whole chapter every two weeks to a month, I’ll be updating it biweekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays with smaller sections of writing.

This way you’ll get more story, more often, which is how Wattpad readers in particular seem to like it.

You can read The Doktor’s Spyglass for free on Wattpad.com.

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.