Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Covers

When I first put The Night Watchman up as an ebook, I was clueless. CLUELESS. With my publisher's help, the book appeared as a complete trilogy - all three volumes (and nary an edit in sight, except those I did myself.)

My publisher created a cute cover for me - an eerie little blue train with my name and the title of the book. The image seemed to garner a lot of attention; the edition sold well and my publisher and I were both happy.

But print trembled on the horizon. I knew we would have to go to the next level and put the book in paperback. Here is the thing:


Well, that's not quite true. You can do it if you're Steven King - Hello, The Stand?! Over 400K words? - but when you are shipping the book yourself, not so much.

So, my publisher and I decided to split the book after the second volume of the piece. A new cover was created - the one that is currently up, with the cool, steampunk train. (This cover, by the way, was done by my very talented sister.)

The first portion of the book - the one that will now be The Night Watchman Express - was sent in for copious edits and a thorough revamping. The manuscript was formatted by my best friend, who is also a cover artist.

And I got a new cover. This new one was designed by J. J. Makins, the author of The King of Egypt, and she did a terrific job. My friend who did the script format then realized the concept with graphics.

I hope to reveal the cover to you when my book does go up as a paperback (any day now.) I'm really, really happy with the way the script and the cover turned out.

So what have we learned here?

1. Most importantly: Write in printable chunks.
2. Also very important: It really does take a village to print a book. Thank you to J. Darroll Hall, Lesley West, Lisa Daly, Pame Albacete, J.J. Makins, and all involved.
3. The Night Watchman Express is no longer going to be all three volumes. The ebook will switch to two halves in a few days. If you want to get the entire trilogy - buy it now!
4. The second half of the book, Devil's Kitchen, will go up as an ebook as soon as I get another of those cover thingies.
5. I'm also rolling out a third volume, The Lamplighter's Special - and, ditto on the cover thingy.

The final cover for TNWE will be revealed shortly - watch this space!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Before and After Irene

We had to prepare for the approaching storm. Patio furniture lurked outside, spiky with metal legs that could impale something during hundred mile an hour winds. Umbrellas could be turned into weapons. Trashcans could become true dirty bombs.

It was Friday night, and the air was still warm from the day. My daughter ran in front of us, laughing in the dark, leaving a darker trail in the grass. She insisted on lugging chairs by herself, lifting them over the grass to the garage. My husband and I brought the heavy, cast iron tables.

The trees were motionless. I knew that within 24 hours their branches would whip around, tossed by Irene. I helped my husband carry a huge box filled with pool toys, as well as an inflatable slide. We planned to put it all back after the storm.

After we finished, all three of us panted, dripping with sweat. We looked at the pool, shining turquoise with the underwater light. It was already ten o'clock, an impossible hour for my daughter.

We went in, got dressed into bathing suits, and went into the water. It was chilly, but it felt wonderful after lugging furniture around. Giant leaf bugs saw the light and plunged into the water. We had already stashed the skimmer - it could become an airborne spear during a hurricane, after all - so I rescued them with my cupped hands.

My husband did a cannonball and soaked us with his spray. My daughter laughed again - a high-pitched, delighted sound.

Drenched from the swim, we went back into the house. We toweled off and got into pajamas. I made popcorn and the daughter watched a few minutes of a movie.

I had the feeling that the weather was changing. After the hurricane the end of summer would be here. Why did it take me so long to run out into a summer night, watching my kid run around in the dark?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Scary Carnival Rides

It's nearing the end of summer. Time to reflect back on some of the thrilling, scary rides I've taken with my family this year.

I'm a big roller coaster fan. This year my daughter went on El Toro for the first time ever. It's the  largest wooden roller coaster in the world, and let me tell you - it is amazing. From the first drop to the final twists, that is one thrilling ride.

El Toro

Of course, we live right down the street from Kingda Ka, the tallest ride in the world at a drop of 418 feet. We can see it from our house. Yeah, it's that huge. My kid isn't big enough to ride it yet, but she's making big plans. She and her friends  have high-heel flip-flops picked out so they can make that cutoff and ride it, as well as Superman, Batman, Bizarro, and Green Lantern.

Kingda Ka

There are other amazing rides in the world. Here are a few:

The Eejanaika roller coaster, which means “ain’t it great?” in Japanese. During the ride your seat is rotating either forward or backward in a full 360-degree controlled spin.

Eejanaika - One day I WILL ride this!

The Oblivion in Staffordshire, England: The first drop is at an angle of 88.8 degrees - just enough to actually keep the wheels on the track.  Oblivion reaches a top speed of 68 miles and drops passengers into that dark hole in the ground from 180 feet. 

There's the drop into that hole in the ground. Whee!

But I know that none of these are the most dangerous ride in the world. That honor is reserved for It's a Small World, After All, where I fell on my butt in a puddle of water racing to get into the boat with my family.  It was raining, and I was wearing flip-flops.

We did the ride, and then we decided to do it again, because we loved it so much. As we  raced  back, I yelled, "Hey! Watch  out for a puddle of water right around here - Woah!" Yes, I fell on my ass - FOR THE SECOND TIME. IN A ROW. 

Oblivion? Kingda Ka? El Toro? Pshaw - all  thrill wannabes. The most dangerous ride in the world is the one with those singing puppets.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Blog on Fire Award #2

My sincere thanks to Johanna Garth for awarding me the Blog on Fire award! You can read her entertaining columns here, at Losing Sanity.

(BTW, Johanna is also the author of the book Losing Beauty, an updated version of the Persephone myth. Now tell me you don't want to follow someone who riffed in such a cool way on their book title.)

Like Johanna, I am the worst at accepting blog awards. But I liked these fun questions that came with the Blog on Fire award, and besides, after a week of editing and writing I had squat for blog inspiration, so I'm so totally cribbing 

1)  Are you a rutabaga? Since I'm always backwards, I'm actually an "agabatur."

2) Who is your current crush? If you've read my blogs at all, you'll know it is Rupert Grint of Ron Weasely fame. It's been Rupert for a long time now, and I don't see it changing any time soon.

3)  Upload a heartwarming picture that makes you smile.  

So, following the train of thought in Question #2:

4) When was the last time you ate a vine-ripened tomato?  For lunch, with Kirby cucumbers, from my local farm stand. Juliet tomatoes, too. With olive oil. And mozzarella. Score!

5) Name one habit that causes other people to plot your demise.  When I start reading a book, you can yell right in my ear and I won't hear you. 

6) What is the weirdest, most disgusting job you've ever had to do? Having to clean out the fryers at McDonalds. That's right - I worked for that clown.   

7) Where da muffin top at?  I must assume it's with the donut hole and the bear claw, and since I'm on a diet, I don't know where that is or I would gulp them all down. With coffee coolattas.

8)What author introduced you to your genre?  My genre is steampunk. H.G. Wells is the Man.

9)  Describe yourself using obscure Latin words.  Doofus? That's Latin, right?

And I hereby pass the Blog on Fire along to my fellow Fantasy Island Book Publishing author, Lisa Zhang Wharton. You can read her here:

Lisa Zhang Wharton: http://lisazhangwharton.blogspot.com/

Lisa, it's now up to you to answer these fun questions!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Inspiration: Angelique Kidjo

One of my favorite places to be is in a library. Years before I had my daughter, I went to my little local branch. They offer CD's as well as books, and one caught my eye. It showed a vibrant picture of an African singer. The list of songs on the back showed titles like Agolo, Batonga, and Malaika.

For some reason, I took out the CD and brought it home. As soon as I put it in my player, I was blown away by an amazing kaleidescope of rhythms and melody, all sung in Benin, the language of Quidah, the city in West Africa where Kidjo was born. The songs were catchy and filled with incredible energy and artistry.

I listened to the CD and returned it to the library. My next stop was the music store, where I bought my own copy. A few years later I went to one of her concerts in Princeton, where she played to an extremely enthusiastic crowd: a tiny dynamo, insisting that everyone in attendance stand up and dance, and inviting the audience up on stage to "Give me some hug."

I've listened to Agolo so many times that I can sing it in Benin. Her songs, in fact, were the inspiration for my Night Watchman trilogy. I used her words as a basis for the language of Lampala, my fictional island country in the second book of the trilogy. Angelique herself inspired Mana, my beautiful governess from the islands, who is mysterious and strong and a bit magical.

I must add here how courageous Kidjo has been to sing at all. Being a singer was seen as a not very respectable thing in her country; when she clashed with the communist regime there she had to flee to Paris.  While in France, Kidjo was unable to speak to her parents on the phone for fear of putting them in danger. 

"Today she is wildly popular – gathering Grammy awards, A-list collaborators such as Alicia Keys, and playing at events including Nobel peace prize ceremonies – but she still pens political songs, is a UN goodwill ambassador, supports groups such as Oxfam, and Unicef and has a foundation to improve access to education for African girls." (from http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/mar/08/angelique-kidjo-100-women)

Still wonder why I'm so fascinated by her and her music? Just look at this smile: 

If you haven't heard of Angelique before, take a minute to listen to her song, Adouma:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mowrer's Steampunk Frankenstein

I've just discovered an amazing artist, purely by chance. I started chatting with Kevin Mowrer on the Steampunk Writers and Authors Guild, and he was kind enough to share the URL of his blogspot: http://www.mowrerart.blogspot.com/ 

If you go to that link, and I hope you will, you'll see wonderful images like this:

The Pinkerton and the Princess

This amazing painting (do go to the site and look at some of the details!) is from an upcoming book by Mowrer, called  Frahnknshtyne. It will appear first as a book. The author / artist is also working to expand it into other expressions.

Here is another character from the book:

Lord Praetor

I love what Mowrer says about this character: "I believe storytelling becomes truthful when the evil (or better said, Antagonist) in the story has a point of view and a true belief system. There are catalyzing events and moments that make characters heroic or malevolant. The Lord Praetor is just such a layered, brilliant and fanatical soul. He has been alive longer than any human on the planet as the original recipient of the Aether of others. His wealth is a fortune beyond the size of any government's and he believes in the supremecy and stability of the governance that flows from the Royales. In this portrait, the opulance of his accumulated wealth and empire seem indistinguishable from the man himself. Each flows into the other. Though he knows of the many horrible abominations that have sprung up amongst the ultra rich, he believes these are acceptable given the stability that has reigned for hundreds of years under his rule."

The artist's attention to detail is astonishing, as in this possible cover:

Mowrer adds, "...if you look closely into the reflection in the loupe over the empty eye socket you can see the outline of the good doctor himself."

I'm not the only one who admires Mowrer's art. Rafi Alexandrian Jose, who writes the steampunk blog  The Steampunk Populist, says of the images: "Absolutely stunning work.  This is a 1st rate example of the SteamPunk aesthetic.  It harkens back to an age where technology was elegant. "   

If your interest isn't thoroughly peaked at this point, consider this final quote from my new friend:  

Our hero is about to learn
that sometimes you find your true humanity at the moment you lose it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The End (Spoiler alert!)

After finally finishing The Lamplighter's Special, my sequel to The Night Watchman Express, I've learned one thing: Endings are hard to do. It is a very difficult, complicated thing to increase suspense and interest  in a group of characters, and arrive at a conclusion that is either happy or sad, in a way that balances the beginning and the middle of the book.

Seriously, I'm just realizing this. You'd think it would be obvious. Miss Writer starts her book, develops a plot, and therefore she must find a satisfactory way to end that book. However, I don't think I'm all alone in having this difficulty. I heard, for example, a lot of people criticize the final book of the Twilight series.  Ditto with the Harry Potter series. (For the  record, I rather like the chapter that begins, "Nineteen Years Later....") Stephen King is well-known for having a hard time with endings; his son, in Heart Shaped Box, seemed to have inherited the tendency.*

There must be some good endings  out  there, though. and by good, I mean well-done, finely executed. Here are some of my favorites:

1. The Shawshank Redemption - The scene of Red walking across the beach to see Andy Dufresne still gives me chills. The credits roll, and I like to imagine what  happened next. Did the men hang out, go to a little Mexican place and have some food and a few "Bohemia style beers?" Did Andy introduce Red to a nice woman who lived nearby? Did they settle down there at Zihuatenejo? I like to think they did.

2. Apollo 13 - That last  line of the  narration is incredible. "I sometimes catch myself looking up at the Moon, remembering the changes of fortune in our long voyage, thinking of the thousands of people who worked to bring the three of us home. I look up at the Moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?"

3. The Road - I didn't see the movie. The last paragraph of the book, however, describing the beauty of river trout, is pure horror. 

4. Frequency - This movie won't win any lifetime awards, I suppose, but my husband actually stood up and cheered (in our family room, not a theater) at the end.

5. "Reader, I married  him..." But of  course.

What endings  to movies or books (or songs, or poems, or anything) have you enjoyed? Please share them in the comment section, because I'm still working on that ending thing.

*Do go and read Heart Shaped Box, though.  It scared the bejeesus out of me.