Don’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover – Even though we all do

17nc0rmlk0dcejpg.jpgThe old adage takes on a more literal message in the world of books. We may tell people not to judge a book by its cover but we all do it and there’s a good reason for that. More people choose to pick up a book based on its cover design. And this industry is only growing with the rise in self-publishing, indie print houses and e-books.

The book industry is a never ending one. Formats may change from print to digital but the cover remains. Most books are bought via browsing (either online or in a book store) and this means that covers become one of the most important factors in selling a book. Even a bad book can have an intriguing cover. Trends in covers come and go but the attraction of a good cover be it for design or familiarity is still a big driving factor.

Why is a good cover so important?

A recent online survey by thebooksmuggler.com revealed that when asked, readers responded to the question ‘Do covers play a decisive role in your decision to purchase a book?’ 79% of respondents said yes.  And according to the Self Publishing Advisor statistics show that ‘the average person will decide to buy your book within 8 seconds of seeing your cover’.

 Current Cover trends

In the New Yorker article by Tim Kreider he says ‘the covers of most contemporary books all look disturbingly the same, as if inbred’. This statement rings true in most mass market books. It seems publishing houses are relying on a sense of familiarity to create covers.

The rise of John Green’s novels have created a plethora of ‘handwritten’ text on super simple background style covers throughout the YA market. This simple approach to recreating a personal feel through fonts designed to look like the scrawled handwriting of the angst-ridden teen protagonists seems to work. Green’s books are best sellers and other writers are getting their work picked up for these covers.

The popularity of paranormal romance both for adults and YA have also created the trend of red and white images and text on a black cover trend. This is most apparent in the Twilight novels; many readers did pick it up because of the cover of white and red on black. The stark contrasts of these colours draw the eye. This theme can be seen repeated in many books in this genre.

twilightsagabooksSymbolism based covers are also very popular. A single striking image or symbol being the only image has become popular with the Game of Thrones and Hunger Games covers. This also stretches to other genres such as action adventure and crime.

The lone figure cover is slowly working its way back into the fiction area. Be it a man with a gun or a woman in a cloak, this trend did die down but has begun to lay claims in cover design again.

However, with the rise in independent publishing houses and self-publishing, this trend is being bucked. With authors having more control over aspects of their designs, more freedom to hire a cover designer that matches the aesthetic they want for their books, the styles are starting to expand. We are seeing a return to customised artwork both digital and traditional being used and the ability to twist old clichés into modern pieces that stand out from the cookie cutter covers of mainstream publishing.

In the world of nonfiction covers still follow this same trend in mainstream publishing. Plain white covers with simple text and maybe one small, hand drawn image is commonplace or alternatively full photo covers. This trend has been around for quite a while now and for the nonfiction world this will probably remain the same for some times to come.

In the independent world, most nonfiction book covers follow this same formula but this is where we find the subpar covers of people attempting to publish their own works and make their own covers.

Problems in cover design when following trends is that due to the heavy use of stock images (in both traditional and indie publishing) is that without significant artistic reworking we are starting to see similar images showing up on several covers. Without moving from the current trends, and without the use of cover designers willing to artistically render original pieces using said stock images, we run the risk of a market flooded with carbon copy covers.

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 What are the skillsets for cover designers of the future?

For future cover designers to keep pace with industry trends, a combination of artistic and technical skills will be critical. Digital art and photography are two skills at the forefront as to capture the perfect cover, stock images just may not be available, but also a return to traditional art methods could be on the cards. The more versatile a cover designer is the more work they will be able to do as trends change.

A good eye for colour is also important with foundations in traditional art and colour theory. This coupled with having a broad knowledge of what is out there in the industry is going to cement a designer in the cover design world.

Graphic Design and Art classes are a great foundation for the theory and technical aspects of the skillset required, but prior skills in art do certainly broaden the scope of work a person can do.

 The world of cover design is an unmapped piece of territory. With such a broad range of genres available to design for, the future is bright with ideas. For major publishing houses it will most likely depend on what the next best seller is in any given genre. Although with the current trends unlikely to fade quickly we will most likely see more John Green’s and more Twilight’s in the near future.

In the indie and self publishing world we are seeing major changes as more writers are using high concept designs and quality cover designers. This is raising the standard and we are now seeing resurgence in original art and digital imaging being used to create covers that are more specific to the books they are for than the mass market, ‘inbred’ covers of the major publishing houses.

For nonfiction I honestly hope that cover designers will be able to step up in the independent field. The times of homemade covers that look unprofessional needs to end for the self published world to be improved. These ‘homemade’ covers are quite common among the self published nonfiction world as many people are beginning to publish their life stories or self-help manuals on platforms without any form of quality control. I believe that nonfiction covers will mostly stay the same, either very stark covers of text and a small image or the full page colour image we see most commonly on memoirs and cookbooks.

As for the major publishing houses, I can’t see too many changes in the near future although more graphic based covers would be a nice change from the black on white covers and photo montages of late. We are slowly seeing a return to these styles of covers with a feature image dominating the cover, overlaid with text. More colour is being used as well which is a nice change from the tri-colour fare of late. This trend will also open up the cover design market to more artistic cover artists, both digital and traditional styles.

 So should we judge a book by its cover? No but it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. We go looking for something that catches our eye and if we believe the major publishing houses we strive to find the familiar. However these trends, as all trends do, will change. A slow but inevitable change and we merely need to wait for the next big thing to tell us where the mimicry will lead. The exciting changes though are in the independent published books and their new faces in the cover design world. It’s definitely a space to watch in the design world for originality.

-By Sabrina Gidley

 

 

 

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The Apprehensive Critic

ImageIt’s really hard for me to hate something if everyone else thinks it’s amazing. I feel like I might not be ‘getting’ it, or that I don’t understand it. For example, I had ordered a new graphic novel that had been given 5 out of 5 stars in almost every review it had. The write ups about it had been extremely positive and it appeared in all the horror website lists and so forth. On top of that, it was written and drawn by someone that I’ve admired for a long time.

When it arrived I flipped through it, eager to look at the art and contents inside. It seemed ok. Just a horror story with some splash art. Reading the first few pages, I got confused. It was as if it started in the middle somewhere. I had no idea why the character was where he was, why they were buying this house or why their dog suddenly ran off. The story didn’t progress steadily, like I would have hoped. Instead it staggered into the basement and became a mash of strange flashbacks that never explained enough to fully grasp a hold of what the story was about. The artist/writer tried to give you someone to hate, to give you the person responsible for the horror that you saw, but you never saw him in that light because he was in it for two, maybe three pages. It missed the mark by a very long shot. Also, every panel was splash art, up-close shot of faces and over layered with computer effects. The whole book seemed like it was missing something form the story, and the art was totally over done.

This happens a lot with movies too. I wanted to love Dark Knight Rises, I really did. But it just didn’t hit the mark for me. It was pretentious, over written and skipped a few key elements that needed to be explained a little better. A few people I know also didn’t like it, but then there are those who loved it and I often wonder if they are afraid to hate it, or to say so. I remember seeing Phantom Menace on opening night and walking out thinking ‘did I like that? Am I allowed to say I didn’t.’ When people asked me next day, I said it was great, but I knew perfectly well I didn’t think that. It was heresy to say you didn’t like a Star Wars movie, especially one we waited so long to see.

I’ve been reading the DC comics New 52 run of Batman. Written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Greg Gapullo. Scott Snyder created, amongst others, American Vampire, which was awesome. There was even a short run where he wrote it with Stephen King. Currently Snyder is the big name in the comic writing field. I’d admit it, his writing is easy to read and the story chugs along nicely. Every twist and turn Imageseems to be well thought out and planned a long time in advance, which is what I like from writers. I believe that makes you a good writer. But saying this, issue 11 of Batman, which rounded off the year long story arc and had the big reveal was hugely disappointing. The entire run up to this point had revolved around an ‘underground’ group called the Court of Owls. For a start, I thought was pretty cool having ‘Owl’ vs ‘Bat’, but however, if you google a real bats enemy, you’ll find its main predator is the owl (also the hawk and snakes). So, it kind of left my initial impression in shreds as I felt that if I could find this out in three seconds, there wasn’t much pre-thought into the new Batman villain. Maybe not though? So, back to my point, I’ve picked up issue 11, and the big reveal is about to happen, who is this mysterious Talon that has been kicking Batman’s ass the whole year, turns out ***SPOILERS*** its someone who claims to be Batman’s brother. I wanted to slam the comic closed and throw it out onto the road for the vultures. For me, and this may be because I write a lot and read a lot, this was a stitch up. I felt robbed. This, in my opinion, was an easy go-to. This was the first exit door and was very obvious. But, can I tweet Scott Snyder and tell him? Nope. Too many people praise him and tell him he’s the new king of comic writing. I’m  guessing I’m not the only one who felt robbed of a good twist, but we are few and far between.

Since I’d read issue 11, I’m really not that keen on Scott Snyder’s work. I’ve looked him up on Goodreads and he’s given himself 5 out of 5 stars for every comic he’s ever written. To me that’s a sign of an egomaniac. However, I gave my book (Everdark Realms) 5 out of 5 also, but 80,000 people aren’t reading that every month. I find it hard to be a critic at times in fear of being wrong, even though an opinion can’t be wrong, it does feel that way. If I swap positions and someone is criticizing my work, I get defensive and Imagequite attacking. It’s part of being creative, it makes you vulnerable and overprotective. But saying that, if you’re in the spotlight, like Snyder, maybe negative feedback is what you need from time to time.

Mitchell Tierney

PRAY FOR VILLIANS

ImageOver the last few weeks I’ve received two batman comics in the mail; one was Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and the other was Batman: Cacophony by Kevin Smith and Walt Flanagan. Now, I’ve never been a huge Batman fan, but I was more interested in who wrote these titles than the Dark Knight himself. Alan Moore and Kevin Smith both wrote about the Joker. Although both their ‘Jokers’ had similar qualities, they were written differently. It got me thinking, out of all the villains they could have chosen to write about, why Joker? They could have picked Penguin or Riddler or Poison Ivy or whoever, but both these writers chose the same villain. Why?

ImageLuke Skywalker has Darth Vader, Harry Potter has Voldermort, Optimus Prime has Megatron. With heroes that live up to a high caliber, they have to have an equal and opposite opponent. Penguin is short and can’t really go one on one with Batman by himself. Riddler has riddles? (and not much else). Mr. Freeze has his equipment etc. But the Joker has something the rest really don’t have. He wasn’t born disfigured, but he doesn’t look quite normal. He doesn’t have gadgets or cars or planes. He has the Charles Manson quality that these writers want to write about; an ultimate villain, a completely twisted and deranged psychopath.

Without a major villain, who would Batman fight? Street gangs, shop lifters, muggers. All of these enemies are faceless and pointless. You don’t need a bat-cave and bat-mobile and bat-copter and gadgets to beat off some junkies snatching a handbag. In order to justify a lot of heroes you need the rival to be beyond the normal street crook. All these faceless enemies are used as fodder. Take the Stromtroopers or the Foot Soldiers, they have no character, no back story, nothing. They can be thrown into the meat grinder and no one cares.

With Luke Skywalker, the rebel alliance was created to rise up against the Empire. It makes you want to cheer for the underdog, especially when the villain is a military-type, nazi-esque brigade with countless soldiers and weaponry. The Rebels are dressed almost haphazardly, with no distinct familiarity or recognizable figure head. Now the Empire on the other hand has Darth Vader, who is very recognizable. He’s tall and solid with large shoulders and points a lot. He seems to not even care about his own men, choking one at the table in New Hope. With Vader, the whole idea of the Rebels winning is so farfetched that you believe it’s nearly impossible. If you look at all the Star Wars toys and games and posters, they all have Darth Vader on them, either his whole mask, or full body. He’s recognizable and you’re instantly attracted to walk over and check it out because he’s the ultimate villain.

In The Killing Joke by Allan Moore, Joker broke out of Arkham Asylum and shot Chief Gordon’s daughter (Bat-girl) and put her in a wheelchair. Moore wrote the Joker as a Manson type leader with a band of merry, deformed, individuals that did his bidding. Joker was written as someone pushed to the brink of lunacy that never really came back from it. He wasn’t Batman’s equal in physical strength or mentality, but was so insane that it brought him up higher in the scale of opponents. Joker didn’t care about the law or human life one iota. His clown makeup really drove home the point of his state of mind.

When I write, I try to invent a great villain. Someone who is above the hero, so the hero becomes the underdog. It’s important to show how strong the villain can be, and also to show the hero’s limitations, this way, we, as readers, can compare the two. Who ever thought a moisture-farm boy, who wasn’t even allowed to go see his friends because of his chores to do, would take on a great sith lord, and win?

Heroes and Villains should balance like yin and yang. But Villains rarely get any victory. We don’t hear of villains winning. This may be deliberate to introduce this to children, to let them know the good guys always come out on top, but in the real world…it may be a different story. Maybe that’s why we can’t stand by and let awful things happen, because we can see when a savior is needed. I wrote a short story once, a long time ago (and I’ve forgotten the name) where an old hero is wandering the streets with his Imagecape and boots on, looking for crime. A van pulls up and it’s the old age home coming to get him because he escaped. They tell him that he fought all the crime, and there were no more villains. He’s rejected from society now because he did his job, now everyone lives in peace and no one cares about him. Heroes exist because of villains, and villains exist because of heroes.

Mitchell Tierney

*please note this blog was written before the Aurora Dark Knight Rises shooting. Ouroborus Book Services and all of its writers wish to send our deepest sympathies to those affected.

LOSING THE PLOT (LITERALLY AND LITERARILY)

There’s nothing I hate more than reading a series that starts to get too deep and complicated. Reading these books, you can hear the writer digging their own grave. For example, the Spooks Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney. The first few books were amazing. It was so fresh and new it gave me tingles every time I read the first few chapters of the new books, but after the fifth book, things began to become a little…complicated. Spooks Apprentice is set in 17th or 18th Century when the English county is overrun with ghosts and ghouls and witches. Spooks are seventh sons of seventh sons, they have the ability to see things others can’t. They use rowan staffs, salt and iron to defeat evil. Joseph Delany strips back the basic ghost defeating apparatus and sticks to very basic mechanics to deal with evil, and it works. I liked it because Tom Ward, the main character, is friends with a witch, Alice, and the Spook doesn’t like it, but puts up with it. It’s written like a journal entry, through the eyes of Tom as he deals with his grumpy master and his dealings with the supernatural.

After the fourth book, the story started to become much the same old plot. Something exciting happens at the beginning, some major evil bogart or witch is planning something and all hope is gone, then they defeat it. From book three to six, I can’t tell you which book was about what, or what happened in each one, which I don’t find to be bad as such. If I had a series of six or seven books, I’d write each one to be so unique you could remember each book and know what happened in each one. Where Joseph Delaney started to go downhill was when he went beyond the suspension of belief and dived into the realm of unrealistic plots. I can believe there are bogart’s and witches, I can even believe in evil demons and swamp creatures. In book five or six, Tom Ward starts to make a deal with Satan to save the souls of all the people he loves. Satan appears then tells him something that changes the way he thinks about his witch friend Alice. Now, Alice produces a ‘blood jar’ to keep Satan away and he must have it with him at all times. Tom talks to Satan regularly and now he must not leave Alice’s side. After closing book seven, The Spooks Nightmare, I just wanted it to go back to being the way it was. I don’t like the Satan story line. It’s too complicated; it’s too entangled and unbelievable. I liked the spooks books where it was simple and exciting, without being overly pretentious. I have book eight, but haven’t read it yet. I dread reading it because I don’t know how he is going to shake this plot. He’s in too deep to just give the reader a simple bail out, he has to do something dramatic. It became too much to suspend belief and doesn’t make me want to read it, although there are only another two books to go and then Joseph Delaney is ending the series.

I got the same feeling from a book called the Monstromologist by Rick Yancey. It started off so well, very similar to Spooks Apprentice. I young boy is left to a grumpy old man who hunts monsters after his parents perish in a fire. It starts awesome – set in the 18th century. Late, one cold night, there is a knock at the door; it’s a grave robber with a monster in his cart hidden under a sheet. The main character, Will, helps his master carry it inside and they dissect it and find there is a plague of these monsters that have come to their town, then, half way through it loses its steam. Will and the Monstromologist visit a boat Captain who is bed ridden. He was on the boat that had accidently brought the monsters over from somewhere else. Rick Yancey stayed for about three chapters on this one scene. It was drawn out, boring and way too long. At one point I wanted to slam the book shut and thrown it out the window. I just couldn’t keep reading, but I was so far into the book, and as a general rule, I don’t give up on books. I had to grin and bare it. It was a long slog, but I got through it and did, I must admit, want to read the next book, but looking back I just can’t get over that massive drag in the middle, and that is what stuck with me primarily.

I get authors who want to change it up a bit. Because you would get bored writing to the same formula every time. If the new plot decisions breathe new life into the book, why not? Because spooks apprentice is coming to an end, I would like to see Tom Ward grow up into a man and become in charge of his own county. I’d like to see everything that he has learnt become tried and tested, that’s how I’d like to see the book end. But with this Satan story line, it’s hard to see them wrapping it up in the next two books without leaving a large scar down its face. I’ll reread the first book, possibly in the future, but not the others.

 

Mitchell Tierney

 

The Baseball Theory

I should have called this blog the Onion theory, but it didn’t have the same ring to it. There’s a band called Will Haven who I used to listen to who had a song called Baseball Theory about how a baseball has many layers, and as you unravel it, there are different types of fillings. I believe the singer was talking about his relationship, but I’m here to talk about books and writing.

I’ve struggled with being able to write to a certain level. I don’t want to be on the same level as the thousand other writers out there trying to make it in the publishing world. I want to be deeper, or higher, or whatever the analogy would be. I want someone to read my work and know I’ve practised, put effort into honing my skills and that my ideas are unique and my characters are real and might actually be your neighbours or friends. I used to call these layers 2D and 3D, (this is a little insight to how my brain works when writing and it might sound crazy, but I can’t help it). If I write a character that is bland, with no discernable features and has no background and my story is lacklustre, I think to myself ‘that was too 2D.’ I need it to be more 3D. I need it to have layers, sides, depth and be realistic. It’s not enough to make a ‘father’ an alcoholic, or a ‘mother’ overbearing. It’s too clichéd and predictable. In my NaNo (National Novel Writers Month) I made the daughter deaf. She’s in one scene that goes for about two sentences, but I was able to make her more 3D. I wanted to add a character that was a late teen goth, but dreaded the thought of what stereotypical template I would write about a teen goth, so I tried really hard to try and unravel her ‘baseball.’ I didn’t want her to have black eyeliner or fingerless gloves or listen to Marilyn Manson. She writes a weekly blog, listens to Norwegian black metal and I made her talk about a boy she dated who was severely into the Occult and that he got a little too close to the supernatural and had disappeared.

I don’t want to overdo it and make every single character have a rich and meaningful/heartbreaking back story. Sometimes you can add a few layers by indicating things like smoking when they’re stressed, looking at junkies and being disgusted because their sister/brother died of an overdose. You don’t need to go in deep and reveal layer after layer, two or three is more than enough. Often, and I’m guilty of this too, I’m read entire books where the main character hasn’t the slightest depth at all. This happens in fantasy books often because the writer is too distracted with cool secondary characters and environments.  Take X-Men for example, who is the coolest, most badass x-men? Wolverine. Then who? Beast, Gambit, Jean Grey? Now look at the leader, Cyclops? All leaders are straight forward, square jawed with a simple power who has no flaws and are more annoying then enjoyable. This also happens with Images Cyberforce, Ripclaw was cool, Ballistic was cool and their leader, Stryker? Who cares? He has three arms on one side and a long blonde pony tail. Wolverine had a back story a mile long, he had several different comics going at the same time, but did they ever release a Cyclops comic? Nope. And if he did, would anyone have bought it?

When it came to team dynamics, there was always that formula of having one really, really large guy, example, (the Thing in Fantastic Four, Beast, Maul from WildC.A.T.s). The cool offsider  (Human Torch, Grifter), the slim and sexy female (Storm, Invisible Woman, Zealot). I say break this mould because it’s becoming tiresome and predictable, it stays two dimensional. I understand in the comic realm if you mirror something successful, you may get readers to come to your side for a carbon copy and then they’ll have two comics to read a month, instead of one.

Anyway, I’m getting off the point. Some characters always surprise me, and it’s always unintentional. I’ll write a side character needed for one chapter and I’ll like them so much I’ll bring them back into the story later on and give them a bigger role. Other characters that I try to build too much on become a struggle to write and I leave them. In the NaNo I’m writing now I have a character called Wickham who picks up one of the main characters (Fella Jack)  to drive him out to this massive hole they found. His whole purpose was to just have somebody tell him what they had done the night before when they were drunk and Fella Jack woke up on the front lawn. Wickham is stick thin with shoulder length blonde hair and he smokes and has an old car. That’s all the depth I gave him. He didn’t have any other purpose, but for some reason, I don’t know what it is, I like him. I want something to happen to him, get him involved. I gave Fella Jack’s wife a drinking problem (breaking my own rules, I know), she hates her daughter and leaves to go to bars to pick up other men. I thought her character was deep enough, but I haven’t been back to her since the first chapter and I’m 12 chapters in!

Sometimes unrevealing the baseball works, and other times just having it the way it is works too. You can never tell.

Mitchell Tierney

Resurfacing

 

The past few months I haven’t written. Not a word, not a sausage, not a damn thing. And at first I went a little stir-crazy and now, I’m just a bit lost.  Is this what happens when a village loses its chief idiot?

So why have I been sans-writing? Has there been a writing strike? Have I lost my marbles? Have I lost my pen? Have I crashed a laptop? For the love of all things decent, what, Sandy, what?

Nope. I’ve just not had the time. The last few months I’ve been a part-time student, full-time worker ant, and I’ve been in a play which has gone from intense to better start focussing and sorting yourself out, now! To the point where I’ve skipped some good opportunities to do many things in the public forum. My blogs stand neglected and abandoned with cobwebs growing all around them. And to be honest, it’s a little disheartening that there isn’t a regular audience clamouring for the next episode of my work…awkward.

So now, here is my challenge and the point to this, my first blog in months (how lucky do you feel right now) –how do I get back? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I want to get back to writing…sort of. And I have a lot of work I want to write. My biggest motivator for one of my novels was NaNoWriMo. The challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days is amazing. I won’t go into details, because there’s already a blog all about it, but damn it gets the blood pumping, doesn’t it? I even kept going with my work last year, after the due date, because I was enjoying writing it so much. Admittedly I wasn’t a part-time student, nor had many other art jobs going at the time, but still, there it was. And now, I see writing as my old friend. One I’m keen to be reacquainted with. I want to sit down, like I am right now, and have a cup of tea and maybe a warm cholesterol-inducing creamy scone and just get the words out of my heart, out of my mind, out through my fingers and onto something a bit more tangible. I want to do this. But right now, I’m just a little tired. I’m a little lost. I know where I want to go, but it’s just about trying to follow the path in the forest to my destination.

So, I’m going with the tried and true method. I’m putting on the music, I’m taking time out and I’m sitting down and writing. I think this time though, instead of jumping back into my stories like I used to do, I’m going to have to start a tiny bit slower. It’s like trying to move the rusty handle of something. You’ll need a little oil, and you’ll need to let it take it’s time. But wait, just wait a second and she’ll be back to her former glory in no time.

I’ve also had some personal things that have happened since I last wrote and it’s definitely coloured my experience of life in general. So right now, as much as I would like to write and forget all the hideous, grotesque bollocks that’s happened recently, I just need to relax and go with the flow.

And I think that’s what it’s about for me, at the moment. Different writers work differently. And depending where you are in life and in the world, your writing will be different. Right now, it’s reflective, so I can deal with everything. But when I’m feeling strong and awake enough I look forward to going back to some good old fashioned gothic action. It’s sort of like recovering from an illness. The fever has broken and I’m starting to get my appetite back. It’s going to be a little while before I feel like a rich meal, but right now, I’m getting my appetite back and it’s a good thing. I’m reconnecting.

I suppose the reason I’m writing this, is just to say that as writers we get impatient with ourselves. I especially do. When I have the time, but not the inspiration. When I have inspiration coming out of my ears and no time to write. When I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, but I’m doing it and loving it and racing along with it, not sure if I’ll land or crash and burn. But sometimes, just sometimes, whatever is out there, whatever life hauls at us, torsion catapult style, whatever hits the fan and whatever you’re left cleaning up afterwards, the thing with words is that they’re these beautiful things that don’t just entertain or amuse us, they sort us out. They help us deal. They help us cope. Sometimes they help us understand and sometimes they leave us questioning what the hell the author was smoking. But sometimes, just sometimes, instead of demanding that they do our bidding, instead of insisting that inspiration get its butt down here and help us because it’s the only day we will have in a long time, sometimes, it just pays to sit back, relax and go with the flow.

Believe me, as much as I have a tree-hugging hippie side to me and I love the ‘go with the flow’ notion, I’ve never really done it with my actual work. I’ve always had an agenda. I’ve always had somewhere I’ve wanted to go or something I’ve wanted to get out there. For instance, the genre, the type of story, the beginning of something. Sometimes even just one line. One line that starts that story for me, whether it’s beginning, middle or end. And the only time I’ve been reflective is when I’ve journalled and kept my thoughts to myself. But these days, I think I need to let the intense agenda go. I just need to go with the flow. I just need to write and see what happens. And maybe I’ll keep it and use it, maybe I’ll change it, and maybe I’ll keep it hidden for now and see when I’m ready to share it, if I ever am. The other thing that keeps cropping up for me is to let someone else into this world of mine. I’m a very private person when it comes to certain things in my life, most of us are. And there are a lot of people who wouldn’t believe that about me, because I come across as the warmest, friendliest, outgoing person who isn’t shy to talk to someone. But my closest friends who have known me much longer and have seen me at my worst and for some reason have still stuck around know this about me. I’m exceptionally shy. I’m terrified of letting someone into my most sacred world. And every day I slide into my little customer service mask, and pretend that I’m not shy. And every day it requires effort. But there are days when I just can’t deal with people. And there are days when I can’t be bothered trying, because I’m exhausted. Keeping up your defences every day does that to you. So why don’t I just relax and ‘go with the flow’ and let everyone in? Easy – because not everyone is respectful or tolerant. And lately I’ve had that reconfirmed. Writing for me isn’t just about slipping into different worlds, putting something completely fictional out there, entertaining myself and the world and leaving it be. It’s much more than that.

When I write, I’m letting you into a sacred area of my world, powered by the one thing I prize more than anything in the universe – imagination. I’m letting you into my world. I’m showing you what I see, what I feel, what I hear, what I think. And I’m trusting you with it. Sometimes it’s an exceptional risk and sometimes I don’t get involved in thinking about the type of person reading it. It’s too much to deal with, I don’t need that kind of pressure. Because at the end of the day this is my world. These are my characters. And you are a guest in my world. So, I write for me. But there is my world, and when I write I invite you into it. Because I’m curious, because I want to connect. I want you to see something. I want to show you something. On some level I hope we can understand each other. You don’t have to love it, you don’t ever have to read another thing I write, ever again. You don’t even have to finish reading what I’ve written.  And today, just today, I’m not going to worry about it. I’m not going to try and shape anything. I’m not going to try and impress you. I’m not going to try and entertain you. We’re not going to pretend that I’m not shy and I’m not unsure. Today, we’re just going to be honest with each other. Respectful, but honest. I’m not sure. I’m unbelievably shy. I’m doing something different and I’m trying something new. So here I am. My castle is unguarded and my defences are down around you. And I’m just going to sit back and see what happens.

So I tell you what. I’ll invite you in for a cup of tea and a few words, and in return I’ll let go. I’ll relax and I’ll go with the flow. And let’s just see where the evening takes us.

If this works, then all right. We’ve achieved something. If not, then screw it. It was a good experiment. But right now, while I’m trying to find my way back through the forest and the thickets, let’s just stop, check out the scenery, let it go and go with the flow.

 

~Sandy Sharma

 

 

 

Inanimate Lessons

 I’m by no means a natural born writer. I have to work at it. Just like any profession or sport, practice will, inevitably, make perfect (or near enough). When I started writing, I had an issue with length. I was young and didn’t know how to structure chapters, so my chapters ended up being a page long. I’d write ‘Chapter _’ at the top and write to the bottom. Once I hit the bottom of the page, that would be the end of the chapter. I eventually was able to expand my chapter lengths a little, but it still wasn’t enough. My books would have 50 + chapters and the story didn’t seem to progress very far at any one time. So, I set my self a task – write a book about ten people. Each chapter will be about one person and it will be ten pages long. You will never go back to that person, so whatever happens in that chapter will have to be resolved at the end. I thought it was a good way to push my boundaries and get good length writing practice.

The story was simple enough, a body is found dumped in a drain, a young person who’s wearing a red cape. Slowly the news spreads and each chapter is about each persons reaction to finding out. I called it ‘Bloody Cape’ after a Deftones song. One chapter had the police officer receiving the call and going out to investigate, another was a man bound to a wheel chair who worked at an Adult Store and closed the store to go and take a look. I never planned the characters, but came up with them while writing each chapter. I thought, ‘Ok, the deceased person is wearing a cape because there’s a local comic book artist who draws a comic with a red cape.’ So the next chapter was the artist finding out the person died looking like one of his characters. It was hard at first to keep the ball rolling, because usually, for me any way, the chapter will end itself and you know it’s time for the next chapter to come. But when you’re writing to a set of rules, you can’t stop. I had to force myself to keep going. By the end of the book, I found my chapters were exceeding the ten page limit. I got used to writing long chapters. The only down fall was, every book or short story I wrote after that was long and I had to learn to cut them back a little.

There is a Family Guy episode where they mock Stephen King. They ask him what his next book will be about and he looks around the room frantically trying to make something up on the spot. He picks a lamp. ‘How about a Lamp? OOooooOhhh!’ I thought this would be another good assignment to set myself. Could I write something scary using an inanimate object? What would be the least harmful thing I could think of and make it terrifying? I thought of a cardboard box. It’s simplistic, everyone has one tucked away in their garage, spare room, shed, etc. They’re mostly harmless and also collapsible. A baby could knock one flat. How could I make this the main subject of horror? I thought about the cardboard box and what it’s use for. Moving and storing. I thought, what if the box had kept a serial killers belongings in it while he was in a mental ward? What if it stored all his ‘trophies’ or personal belongings? Could some of his energy or ‘mojo’ seep into the box? Why not? Sounds plausible. I figured I would write a trilogy about the box. Three short stories centred around the same box and how it brings each owner agonizing horror and misfortune. I was going to call the trilogy The Murder Box, with each story in turn called The Gore Box, The Flesh Box and The Horror Box. The first story was a mother and her two children moving from one town to another to escape their abusive father. They leave the box in the spare room to unpack another day and go to bed. At midnight, when the house is quiet and dark, the lid opens up on its own and a black, charred hand reaches out of it from the darkness. The daughter gets out of bed to get a glass of water and walks past the room, the hand disappears. As her back is turned, a dark, shadowy figure dashes across the hallway in the next room. I never wrote the second story because I had an ending where a young man escaping the law crashes his car and the box is burnt to ash in the fire. The young man laying on the road, bleeding to death, watches all the demons and monsters spill from the box and burn.

I tried this assignment again with one of the first short stories I wrote that I was proud of called The Tape. The story was based around an elderly man living on his own named Leo. One stormy night there is a knock at his door and when he answers it, it’s his neighbour Joe who is looking frantic and horrified. Joe says that he is leaving and Leo asks why he’s taking off in the middle of the night in the pouring rain? Joe doesn’t answer, but instead asks him if he wants his old stereo. Leo takes it and Joes runs off into the hammering thunder and drives away. Leo leaves it on the table, not knowing what he’s going to do with it. Later that night he goes to the bathroom to take a bath and takes the stereo with him to listen to music. He finds a tape inside the cassette deck and plays it. It’s an interview by a psychiatrist and a schizophrenic patient who talks about see a little girl in a dress wearing a pure white mask. After a few haunted experiences, towards the end, Leo is in the bathtub holding a razor when the lights flicker in the bathroom. He looks to the doorway and sees the young girl with the white mask. She then pushes the stereo into the bathtub.

From constant practicing and experimenting, and also setting myself assignments, I can work on the areas I think I need to be better at.

NaNoWriMo is upon us and that is always a challenge and a good way to learn how to write. You push yourself to finish and sometimes that it what is needed to get it done. Because most of us aren’t published authors with agents breathing down our necks for the next book, we don’t have that push to finish and sometimes the book can get lost along the way and forgotten, and that’s always a shame. Finishing a book is a big deal for any writer. Some people may only finish one book in their writing lives, others may finish many.

Whenever I pick up a book at the book store, I’ll flick through it and if I see the chapters are short, it appeals to me more. Only because I don’t have that much time to read, and when I do it’s normally half an hour to an hour at the most. So if I know I can get a chapter or two done before bed, it makes me feel like I’m still sticking with the story and getting it read. Early Terry Pratchett books didn’t have chapters and it always made me apprehensive about reading them because I hate stopping the middle of a chapter or I’ll lose the flow of the story, but his recent books have chapters now, much to my relief.

Mitchell Tierney

 

Plan vs. Not Plan

There are two very different schools of thought when it comes to writing I’ve found – the planners and the free writers. This difference becomes widely apparent at this time of the year, especially in my house. That’s right folks; NaNoWriMo is once again upon us. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, please see last year’s entry on NaNoWriMo here.

It has become a bit of mother-daughter rivalry at my place; as we both battle to beat each other on daily word counts, rushing to fit in writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days while still holding down full-time day jobs and keeping the household running smoothly. Things get a bit crazy.

But it’s the lead up where the planning styles, or lack of, show themselves. My planning involves purchasing copious amounts of sugar free Redbull/V/*insert energy drink*, candy and food I can eat one handed. I am a free writer. This how I approach most my books. On November first I will be up at 4am to start writing and at this moment all I know is a general premise and my main protagonists name…  and that’s how I like it. For me planning a story makes me feel bogged down. It stifles my muse. I like to let my characters write themselves and take me on their stories like I’m merely a ghost writer for a group of fictional entities. Being made to write outlines for stories at school was hell for me. Most times though I had awesome English teachers who understood me and let me write my stories and then write a synopsis. (Thank you Mrs Morris)

And then there are writers like my mum. My mum, Mara Harrison, whose beautiful illustrations for the next Ouroborus Book Services’ book Everdark Realms can be seen at www.everdarkrealms.com, is a planner. She approaches her writing and art with surgical precision, planning meticulously every detail before even starting to write/draw. Watching her during NaNo is an experience. Whereas I sit typing on the couch, caffine in reach; she sits surrounded by notebooks and bits of paper. She stops at intervals to rifle through her papers, rustling away as my dog looks on perplexed from the safety of my side.

I guess deep down though our planning styles match our personalities to a tea. Although I like to know where I’m going in advance in life, I certainly am more of a head first, try it and see person. My mum on the other hand is a meticulous list maker. She’s very ordered and things don’t get left to chance. And they both work. We stare at each other in shock at the approach we each take to our writing, and life in general, but in the end, the goal is the same. We’re in it for the words and in the end, as another NaNo comes to a close we will both hopefully have our 50,000 words or more ready to be enhanced once the insanity dies down and I lower my caffine levels enough to actually sleep.

So my advice is do what works for you. Don’t get bullied into planning and mapping because it’s what is expected. Alternatively, if you are a planner, especially if surrounded by opinionated free writers, don’t feel that you’re planning is wrong or cheating. If it helps you to write and keeps you going, more power to it.

For those doing NaNo this year, good luck. Feel free to friend me. My name on the site is theravensclaw. Have Fun and happy NaNo-ing.

The Eternal Muse

Writers block is something all writers get at some point. Be it for a day or several months it happens to us all. In frustration some of us with curse our muse for deserting us, but how many of us know where the term muse came from?

The muse was actually a group of nine goddesses in Greek mythology each ruling over specific types of arts/skills. Their origin stories seem to vary but my favourite is that they were created when Pegasus the winged horse touched his hooves to the ground in Helicon causing 4 water springs to appear from the ground and it was from these springs that the muses were born.

The muses, as I said had their own skills they ruled over and also had a symbol used to evoke them. They were as follows:

Calliope, muse of epic poetry, symbolised with a writing tablet;

Clio, muse of history, evoked with the image of the scroll;

Erato, muse of love poetry, represented by the cithara (like a lyre);

Euterpe, muse of song and elegiac poetry, shown as the aulos (a type of flute);

Melpomene, muse of tragedy, symbolised with a tragic mask;

Polyhymnia, muse of hymns, evoked with a veil;

Terpsichore, muse of dance, whose symbol is the lyre;

Thalia, muse of comedy, shown as a comic mask; and

Urania, muse of astronomy, represented by the globe and compass.

Now they may seem rather specific but these nine muses were believed to help with the creation and inspiration for everything from dance to art, writing to mathematics and science to music.  The idea of a human being a muse to someone was a much later idea, and one that is most widely known today.

How many people do you hear saying ‘such and such is my muse’? For artists it may be a specific model or idea, for a writer it may be a loved one or a person they look up to. In fact in some fields it may be claimed that any role model that encourages someone is a muse.

But maybe the Greeks were right. Instead of cursing our muse when our minds go blank and our creative flair is having a bad day/week/month, maybe we should invoke one of the beautiful aspects of creativity that they had with their nine muses. Maybe a few kind words out into the realm of imagination could bring forth the gift they bestowed on many through time from Plato to Michelangelo, instead of cursing them away in frustration.

So next time writers block hits, take a deep breath and ask nicely and maybe you will get a visit from one of the lovely ladies known as the muses.

~Sabrina

Judging a Book by its Cover

“No!” Screams a friend of mine in disdain as she stares despairingly at the cover of a book I’ve just slid to her, across the table.

“Look just read it, it’s actually quite good,” I tell her, soothingly.

“No!” she cries out, a bit louder now, as the people in the cafe we’re at, turn around curiously, trying to get some tidbit of gossip to pass onto their friends. “I already know, by the cover, I’m going to hate it.”

I scowl. I wish I’d painted the damn cover black. I try telling her that the cover does not accurately reflect the contents of the story it’s wrapped around, but to no avail. She points out that she’s lent me good books and this is what I give her in return. I try not to throw the book at a passing cyclist, in frustration. As people start whispering excitedly at the unfolding action, I push it towards her and manage through gritted teeth, “Just read the damn thing, it’s good!”

She reluctantly takes the book, like a child being made to eat a piece of spinach, with an unhappy, “Fine.” I doubt she’s even looked at it since.

We all know the famous adage. Never judge a book by its cover. And we all know that it is, really, about how we treat other people. But, I do find it interesting that the majority of us are guilty of not adhering to its more literal meaning.

I’ve done it. I’m sure you have. Whenever I browse bookstores, libraries, look over at what someone else is reading while they wait for the bus, I do it. I have to see what the cover will tell me. Because, as much as we would like to be creatures who are not easily swayed by suggestion, the cover of a book gives us a glimpse into what we can expect to find in the pages of the stories we are promised.

It is often the cover of a book that gets our attention, and makes us stop and look at the book before us. Does this make us shallow? Does it make us visual creatures, brought up as television generations who have lost our ability to see past a cover to the “personality” of a book? I think it just makes us human.

Every writer works, among other things, with a very important element – imagination. The stories we write, and tales we tell, the yarns we spin, if you will, they all need to be able to engage the imagination. Even, the non-fiction works out there, get us, not just by fact, but by the way they are written. At least the good ones do. And so it follows, that if we can visualise the world of a character through the words on a page, the cover that holds the book takes it just a step further.

A good cover will get our attention because it works to engage our imaginations. It kicks our belief in possibilities into a sort of over-drive. When I pick up a book beholding its magical cover, I get a small rush of excitement, because the cover looks great. It tells me that this book is about a dark story, or a funny story, or an independent character just trying to make things work. The teaser to the book has done its job and grabbed my attention.

Having said this I have also picked up books, with seemingly simple covers and felt the same little rush of intrigue. Whether it’s a leather-bound book, with just the title of the story and the author’s name or book with the jacket fallen off, it does the same thing. It captures my imagination. I pick up leather bound books, and am immediately taken to the 18th century, where I imagine this book has come from and wonder at the sort of people who picked it up and read it. I wonder at the world it’s come from, what the people looked like, what the done thing was in those days. And in the case of jacket-less books, I just enjoy the curiosity as to what this book might be about. Surely it’s a special, chosen book. I’ve read about tomes like this. They are discovered, their contents breathlessly poured over until they reveal astounding secrets. And sometimes they’re not.

And yes, I do enjoy penguin classics, but even those famous orange and off-white covers promise me something. They promise me a story that has been assessed by many people before me and has been chosen to be part of the all-time literary greats. They are the Penguin Classics. We know them and some of us love them.

Promises, intrigue, curiosity and above all else, imagination. That’s what these covers show us. A small preview of what to expect from these stories. I don’t think it makes us shallow to get a little excited about a book, because the cover looks so good. I think it just makes us human.

 

~Sandy