Have You Got It Covered?

MysteryBookCover_thumb.pngIf I upset you with what follows, I regret doing so, but I am honestly speaking out in an attempt to help!

I’m on Pinterest.  I’m a member of several book groups on Pinterest.  And in the last few weeks, I’ve noticed something about book covers.  There are more and more being shown on Pinterest that I wouldn’t, in all honesty, look twice at!  It’s not the actual imagery in all cases, either, though there are some…  No, the problem lies in the titles.  I simply can’t read them!  They are in colours so close to what they overlay that they aren’t visible, lost in the background.  One thing I work hard on is a cover, and getting titles visible isn’t, as far as I’m concerned, that difficult.  In fact, it couldn’t be easier!  Yes, I might agonise over whether to use, say, plain white or a strong but bright yellow, but the principle of contrast isn’t difficult to understand.  If you’re determined to reflect the background colours in the titles, you really do have to to use a font that allows outlining, which has to make the letters visible by using a contrasting colour.  There are also certain colours that really don’t work well.  Reds can be very difficult to see, for example.  You also need to think how a cover will look to different people: the colour blind and the visually impaired, especially.  Look at your proposed  cover in negative as well as what the majority would see.  If you use red titles, how do they appear to a colour blind person?  Is the font so fancy that a visually impaired person would only see the stronger parts of letters but lose the detail, making the titles unreadable.

Of course, I can’t target just titles!  Cover images are important.  It’s better to have a plain cover, than one which will repel potential readers!  There’s an increasing number of pretty standard romance novels which have what can only be described as distinctly erotic covers, presumably to enjoy the benefits of the current fashion for erotic tales.  Fine.  Romance can lead to the erotic.  Fine, that is, if the story in the book reflects the cover!  But there are many romance readers who aren’t interested in erotic novels!  They are happy with the gentler, genuinely romantic covers that their favoured genre have traditionally used, and they’ll ignore those erotic covers.  lost sales.  I’d also question, again, the increase in the number of photographic covers in general.  If photography is used, it’s better to have the images heavily manipulated to create a more artistic effect, with facial features less clear, and a ‘softer’ focus.  For horror and paranormal, some of the covers look either amateurish (like stills from movies that don’t even achieve a ‘B’ grade!) while others are so graphic, they should be placed where only devotees of gore can reach them.  Finally, there are some where the cover illustration is so bizarre, or muddled, or dark that it’s almost impossible to figure out what you’re actually seeing!  I can’t see what benefit can be gained from such covers.

Covers need to be: descriptive/illustrative of the content; clear and intelligible; bold, bright and colourful for the youngest readers; they must have clear, readable titles that stand out from the background.  I know that many authors can’t afford to buy covers, especially custom covers, but they aren’t always the guilty ones.  I’ve seen covers which were ‘professionally’ designed, and which look truly dreadful!  The authors using such covers have wasted their money.  I have to wonder how many are actually happy with those covers, and how many use them just because they’ve paid so much to get them.

I beg authors to be more discerning in what they choose for their covers, and accept the principle of contrast for titles.

~ Steve

 

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News and Questioning

Double Hit Saturday!

Today sees me being doubly honoured!  First up is an interview by Amanda Keeney author of A Whisper of Hope (to be released 1st October).  Next, and a total surprise to me, is a feature thanks to Chris, of The Story Reading Ape blog.  I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the kindness of these good people, and their generous support!  It is such things that demonstrate, over and over again just what a wonderful community authors enjoy online.

A Growth Into Uncertainty (WIP)

The latest book for the G1: The Guardians series has entered that mysterious borderland between being a novella and being a novel!  Currently a touch over 41,500 words long, the story is caught in a grey area, which may result in my not knowing how to classify it.  According to the guidelines on Wikipedia that I’ve been using, 40,000 words is the lower limit of novel length.  But the Wikipedia article also points out that some publishers consider the minimum to be 50,000 words!  I feel no desire to keep writing to simply pad out the story and thereby cross the 50,000 word boundary.  If it happens naturally, then there’ll be no problem, of course, but I have no idea, at this moment, where, or when, the story will conclude.  I’ll admit that the size of the story surprised me quite considerably.  When I started writing it, I never expected it to be so long!  There’s definitely a part of me that would be very happy, and satisfied, if the story does breach the 50,000 words.  It would, after all, be my first novel in the period since returning to serious writing.  To me, that’s huge!

Facebook(?) Fan Pages

Knowing just how limited the impact of Facebook is on bringing people to the blog, I’m unsure of whether to do more there.  I was, a few days ago, contemplating following the lead of other others and creating fan pages specific to individual books and/or series.  It’s very difficult to decide, though.  I think it would just be very sad if I created the page(s) and it/they received no traffic!  There is an alternative, of course.  I could create pages here, on the blog.  They would appear under the Works by Steve K Smy – Published Works menu options, with a page to each series, at least, and featuring some background, a list of the books available, and interactivity via the comments.  If you have any thoughts on the two options, I’d love to hear from you!

Do any of you use Facebook fan pages that are specific to works rather than general to yourself?  I only have the general flavour page at the moment and traffic fluctuates wildly from day to day and week to week.

~ Steve

Character Profiling and Portraits

NoseyReader Don’t Rush the Friendship

So here’s a question: Do you ‘profile’ your characters?  And it’s a question that can be asked of both authors and readers.  I’ve done a couple of ‘character interviews’ recently and I’ve also encountered those who struggle with creating characters,  Personally, I don’t have a problem with things like names and general characteristics, but getting deeper into characters is another matter.  Apart from anything else, most of my characters are new to me.  It’s like when you meet anybody for the first time.  You can’t know much about them.  As time goes on, however, you learn and some of the blanks are filled in – though not all.

The Past Is Important

Recently, I’ve begun writing something of the life histories of some of the characters featured in the G1: The Guardians series.  This has been necessitated by the complexity many of them feature.  Extreme longevity may sound wonderful, but it creates some major headaches for the author!  Having even a rough idea of significant dates in the lives of major characters is essential, to avoid inconsistencies.  I also have to have some idea of the events they’ve lived through.  If a character’s personality is largely the result of their experiences, then it would be rather foolish not to know the most important ones.  Then, too, snippets of the histories can be fed into stories over time.  These things help a character to grow.  Equally, some traits remain unknown, until circumstances bring them to light, when new experiences trigger them.  I firmly believe it’s better like that, rather than being like some Athena – springing full grown from the head of Zeus!  I’m not a fan of Harry Potter but I’m fairly sure that part of the attraction of the books, and how they were carefully timed and released, was so that readers could witness, and share in, the growth of the three primary characters.  It was the same, to some extent, with The Chronicles of Narnia.  Similarly, you discover facets of character unsuspected in the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, as the story unfolds and they discover the hidden traits in themselves.  It would have been far less satisfactory to know everything about them before they even set foot on their epic journeys!

A Portrait of the Character…

One issue that is, in my mind at least, associated with a character’s profile is their physical description.  In my own tales, I tend not to be too specific about them – deliberately.  I prefer to allow the reader their right to imagine characters however they wish, within the broadest framework I feel I can get away with.  This is not laziness.  That leads me to something that I find surprising: the number of books (of all sorts) that are  portraying photographic or near-photographic images of the characters within!  This seems, to me, a rather problematic affair.  I know that many people enjoy thinking up ‘cast lists’ of actors to play the characters involved in favourite books.  Surely this is hampered by being so explicit on the cover, with a face that will become fixed in the mind of every reader?  I have no problem with hazy, shadowy images, which don’t really show anything recognisable, or back views.  I know that the use of clear photos or artwork is, in all likelihood, driven by the common cover changes of books that have been made into movies, where actual stills or clever ‘not quite exact’ portraits of the actors are used.  I’m not entirely happy when that’s done, either.  I understand that it’s a scheme to grab the attention of those who have seen the movie, to get them to buy the book, while making sure that they know what studio they owe for bringing the book to their notice (even if that’s not true!).  It will never happen, but if one of my books was picked up to become a movie, I suspect the deal would fall through very quickly!  My demands, as the author, would be far too great, and I certainly wouldn’t relinquish one single, tiny right!  Whatever the cause of the trend, I honestly think that authors using photos of real people or very clear artwork portraits should reconsider!

~ Steve

The Tale of a Tale

It was a tale like any other – words following words.  Of course, it had its own self.  A character, a personality that made it unique, or sufficiently different to its peers that it had self-worth.  There was just one problem: it was very, very old.  So old, in fact, its creator had almost forgotten it entirely.  Right up until one day of ‘sorting out the mess’.  Oh, what a fateful day that was!  For the tale’s creator, browsing through a battered, dusty box that had been stuck at the back and rear of an ever growing pile of boxes, discovered it again.  At that moment, it wasn’t the focus of the creator’s attention.  That was given to the bulky, bulging ring binder in its entirety.  Yellowed paper, with damaged edges, was jutting unevenly from the binder.  Dozens of fragments, notes made hastily, whole passages standing proudly, lists that niggled at the creator’s memory but refused to be recognised.  There were even some fragments that spanned several sheets.  And it was all a mix of handwritten and typed.

The creator, with motes of dust floating in the streaky sunlight all around him, settled on the floor and gave brief attention to each sheet of aged paper, sometimes smiling in recollection, sometimes snorting at the nonsense pieces.  It was not a quick process.  The rays of light swung slowly across the scene as hours trickled past.  And then, there in the very heart of the binder-cramped papers, the tale came to the surface.  It was anxious, longing to be something more, something complete.  Perhaps it was so very weary because it was, like all the rest, merely a fragment.  Oh, but what a fragment!  It felt its worth, its superiority to the rest, its possession of a moment of real genius from the creator, who trapped the moment on seven sheets of once-white paper, bound in the ink from a dancing typewriter ribbon in a frenzy of activity.  To be left, a sentence hanging unfinished at the bottom of the seventh sheet.  The casualty of circumstance as the creator discovered that he had used the very last of his paper supply.

As dull sounds came from below, where others went about the day as usual, the creator almost moved onto the next fragment, but the tale fought back, jamming its last sheet against the sixteen line poem on the next sheet of paper.  The creator used various idle methods to pass on, but his eyes drifted across the neat, though faded, lines of typing, with the ‘e’ consistently too high and the overly sharp ‘o’ making dark ringed holes in the paper.  And as his eyes followed the trail of words, he began to see what was there.  Before long, he was reading properly, gradually leaning closer to the foxed, discoloured paper.  The tale could feel the creator’s heart moving to the rhythm of its words, faster, slower, stronger, fainter.   Seven sheets of typing, single line spacing for economy.  It didn’t really take the creator long to read it, though it seemed an eternity.  With the last word of the unfinished sentence, and after a frustrated hunt for the non-existent rest, the creator collided with great force against the wall of lost opportunity.  With a frown, the creator fights the age stiffened rings, without success.  His old fingers just can’t manage the metallic resistance.  The tale feels fear.  If he can’t release it from its prison…

There is a soft but rather horrible sound as paper gone almost brittle tears.  Fingers mottled with age, with a hint of arthritic swelling in a couple of knuckles, grip the liberated sheets.  The binder drops back into the box.  The whole war field of ‘sorting out’ is forgotten, abandoned.  The creator hurries, in a shambling way, out of the small room, long unused, and along a landing only dimly lit.  Down stairs that aren’t safe, the aged carpet threadbare in places, torn or loose in others.  The banister creaks and shifts very slightly under the stress of the creator needing it for support.  A lighter area, where staircase joins a wide hallway.  Voices in a room at the rear of the house, the kitchen, which is the accepted place for people to congregate and talk.  The creator turns from the voices and enters a large, comfortable room, drowned in sunlight competing with a bulb that’s never turned off.  He goes to a comfortable chair at a small but sturdy desk and sits down.

The tale can’t sense the presence of a typewriter and it becomes uncertain.  The creator pulls the chair closer to the desk and places the tale on the flat surface.  He takes a moment to smooth out the creases his grasp made in the paper.  The tale becomes aware of something new, something wondrous, something with a growing hoard of precious words.  It can’t know, of course, that this new thing is called ‘computer’.  But tale becomes aware of being read again, of some essence of its words rising, passing through the creator into computer, to appear on a shining screen, every letter perfectly in place.  The tale feels a strange fading sensation as its words, its phrases, its sentences are channelled into computer.

The tale is very, very tired.  It wants the creator to finish before it rests.  Deep down, it knows that it won’t be waking again.  It came back into the light for a while, and was read.  That will be enough.  The final sentence, its promise unrealised, is drawn up and granted entry into computer’s strange, bright world.  And as the last letter of the last word is taken, the tale plunges into the darkness, ready for oblivion.

=0=

Incredible.  Light everywhere.  A sense of something unfamiliar, something that the tale has always dreamt of, wished for, but the identity of which evades it.  There is a peculiar sensation, of being drawn quickly into a tiny space, darker than the binder, or the box, but just as full of others.  But now the others look at the tale with envy and wistfulness, and just a hint of admiration.  And the tale realises what the new feeling is.  It is almost complete.  Somehow it knows that its words would now fill many, many sheets of paper.  It feels the growth, discovers new knowledge, an expansion far beyond its wildest dreams.  It is more than a simple tale, now.  It is reincarnated as a veritable novel!

By, and Copyright (©) of, Steve K Smy, June 2013.

I hope you enjoyed this little tale of how a forgotten fragment of a story can be reincarnated!  Who knows?  Perhaps one day you’ll aid in the reincarnation of a forgotten tale…

Steve

Counting Up To Networking

Summer?  It’s here?  Where?

It seems that summer is upon us.  At least, it is in some places!  Personally, I’m not convinced.  The weather here certainly doesn’t suggest it.  Anyway, judging by the stats, a fair number of people are now able to get out and about in good weather, and maybe even have vacations.  There’s definitely been fewer people looking around the blog over the last week or two.  Hopefully they’ll wander back when they aren’t off enjoying themselves LOL!  In the meantime, while the summer months may not get the same volume of traffic, I’ll maintain posting daily, if possible.

Numbers

Anyway, I was delighted to discover, this morning, that the blog has still managed to reach a total of over 7.000 views since I started it!  The vast majority of those views, more than 6,300 of them, have come since the beginning of 2013.  The blog also has just over 370 direct followers – kind folk who have either clicked on the ‘Follow’ link if they use WordPress.com too, or subscribed by email.  I would like to thank all of you who have done so!  When the Social Networks are added in, that’s a lot of followers or people who at least receive notifications of what’s happening on the blog.  In fact, there are 1280 Twitter and 370+ Facebook followers.  I also have way over 500 LinkedIn connections, 200+ fans and friends on Goodreads, and links with folk on Google+, Pinterest, tumblr, etcetera.  Of course, there’s duplication, but it’s still an awful lot of very good people!

The Same Old Advice?

I have seen a few posts recently extolling the virtues of Social Networks.  It still intrigues me that the message is still being pounded out that Social Networks are not only nice to be a part of, but fundamentally essential to success, despite my own recent findings to the contrary.  Don’t mistake me!  I have no intention of abandoning the Social Network scene!  What concerns me is the forceful claims.  Surely these must impact on those newest to writing and self-publishing?  If that’s true, just how useful, or damaging, is the advice?  Active participation in, for example, Facebook soon leads folk away from the matter in hand into strange lands, where peculiar graphically enhanced (GE rather than GM) quotations – many of dubious authenticity in regard to the alleged sources, humorous photographs of animals and other matter, status messages where folk have hit the panic button having read a piece of ‘news’ proven entirely false some years previously, invitations to participate in (fake) competitions for products that are too good to miss out on owning, invitations to join groups/like pages/play games… well, you get the idea!  So, the one absolute certainty of devoting significant time to Social Networks like Facebook and Twitter is that there’ll be no hope of ‘distraction free’ writing!  Other networks can be approached with a little more confidence, but even they have their dangers, circling like sharks, ready to strike.  For example, Goodreads.  There is, in my honest opinion, nothing to compare with Goodreads!  It is a superb system for readers, authors and reader/authors.  But, there are perils, mostly in the form of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of ‘special interest groups’ and more generalised forums.  Join more than a handful, and you will be pulled and pushed, poked and prodded, to be active in them.  And that’s when the trouble starts – just like Facebook and Twitter: overload!  So the potential damage to the actual writing process is obvious.  What about benefits?  Well, I guess there are some.  When an author’s website or blog is very new, then the Social Networks may bring a few visits from the curious, and I do mean a few!  The evidence simply can’t be disputed.  A more significant benefit is in finding other authors!  But even there, it’s good to be wary.

Mistakes in Social Networking

Believe it or not, many authors who have been using the Social Networks for a significant amount of years are actually abusing the system, deliberately or otherwise.  It may be that they simply haven’t got the message, or they may have ignored or discarded it.  There is, however, a very simple truth that must be given heed to!  It is very bad practice to issue post after endless post advertising your book(s)”!  Don’t believe it?  Then you evidently enjoy being continuously Spammed via email, social network sites, and so forth.  More, you enjoy Spamming others!  Because that’s what it is.  If all you ever post is advertising your work or you, then people will flock to the doors – the exit doors!  Apart from the Spam aspect, it’s just bad manners to do it.  If you blog, then let your blog system post updates about your blog.  Don’t repeat the effort.  Social Networks exist to keep people in touch with each other, in a sense that sees constant advertising as an evil.  If you do the same to people you know in real life, then I pity them, and the chances of you having many real life connections are very low indeed.  No, you have to work at it properly!  You have to provide interesting, humorous, sometimes informative information, with only the occasional advertisement for your work, almost as an aside.  This is true at all levels – from blog to network.  Anything else, and the only visitors you’ll have in any numbers will be Spambots and worse – and many of those won’t bother with you, either, because your statistics are so shockingly low.  Everything is open to abuse, intended or misguided.  If you’re determined to use the available facilities, learn to look beyond yourself, beyond your work.  If you’re not inclined to provide ‘informative’ posts, at least try to amuse your readers!  It’s like any social situation.  You have to ‘court’ your audience, even if you don’t appear to have one.  If you get it right, people will find you!  More, if you truly engage in a friendly manner with both readers and fellow authors, others will support your efforts – not just in direct responses but by Tweeting, posting to Facebook, and numerous other ways.  But I’ll sound another note of caution here: if you set out to use others, they will find you out!  In other words, just be a real, ordinary, sociable person – willing to help others not because you want something in return, but simply because

The best advice I have to give?  Be ‘good people’.

~ Steve

WIPs, A Worry On Costs and News

Another Quick Note I

First, Shade of Evil is now listed on Sweetie Picks.  Second, following on from my chat with Matt Carter, you can learn more about Kate Wellesley, co-leader of G! with Matt, courtesy of Nancy Jardine, who also includes a quickie profile of yours truly.

A Question of Price

I receive numerous emails about the world of books and authors, plus seeing and reading many blogs from the same area.  I have noticed an increasing number of websites offering ebook services, such as formatting and publishing.  What I cannot understand is the spiralling cost of these services!  I have often mentioned that I use Jutoh, which is a commercial product.  The price is considerably lower than the cost per ebook quoted by service websites, and I know that Jutoh’s not the only option.  Couple this with services like Smashwords – which is free – and I really don’t understand how the service websites can possibly justify their charges!  More, I can only assume that such services are aimed at the most vulnerable of new authors looking to self-publish – those with no experience in the process.  I’m probably going to upset some people here, but surely there are enough potential costs without adding ‘formatting and publishing’?  Every author has to consider whether to employ an editor and cover designer, to name just two possible expenses.  I can’t help but think that the ever increasing level of profiteering and plain exploitation will drive many authors to either pursue the traditional publishing path or give up!  And who’s to say that we won’t lose a Tolkien, or King, or Steinbeck?  What a shame that would be.

Another Quick Note II

Yesterday, I posted a new poem.  It’s a slightly odd look at ebooks and whether they have a real future in a world where technology changes so rapidly.

WIPs and Futures

The two current WIPs.  The new Thief series short story is i abeyance – the story I stated just didn’t pan out, so I’ve got to think about what to try next.  The new G1: The Guardians series story, on the other hand, is not only progressing very well, it’s already past 30,000 words!  I’m not giving out even its working title, as that would be something of a giveaway.  I’m hoping that any fans of the series, and the characters, will find the story more satisfying, with more character-driven episodes.  I’m also hoping that it might attract lovers of thrillers and other ‘action’ stories, with far more action going on.  Hopefully, I’ll succeed in throwing in a good surprise or twist.

As to the future, I’ve been thinking hard about that.  I don’t plan, as such, but i do jot down any ideas that might come along.  So far, I have many potential storylines for future G1 books.  What will be needed is some thought as to how these various snippets might develop, and the order they may take, chronologically.  What has become clear is that the series is strong and exhibits many potentials.  It will, therefore, be around for a while, much to my surprise!  A more challenging matter is pursuing the Captain Henri Duschelle Stories series.  Probably because the G1 series is so strong, I’m finding it rather difficult to fix any ideas for the tales of the good captain.  They will, however, sail again, I’m sure.  I would quite like to write something that isn’t part of a series, but that obviously has to await an idea!  Another area I’d rather like to have  ago at is children’s stories.  That’s a major toughie, though.  They might be short, but that makes them all the harder to write, for me.  They demand something that kids will enjoy and want to hear or read more than once, demanding a good story in a (relatively) few words.  I have a concept, which I’ve mentioned before, but I haven’t tried again, so far.  The loss of several pages when my netbook’s battery died still hurts.

So the future looks pretty good, and potentially very productive.  I’ll just have to hope it all materialises!

~ Steve

Competitive Authors?

Quick Note First

I would regard it as a personal favour if you could take a quick hop over to Stacy Claflin’s blog, where she features an interview with myself.  It would be nicer still if you could, if you are so inclined, leave a comment on the post.  I think that pursuing such things is a part of supporting each other.

Now for the Meat

I’ve seen something I dislike.  It’s not yet at a point where I would say that it’s a serious problem, but it certainly contains the potential.  Quite simply, it’s commercially-driven book sites, particularly those touting for business in providing services to authors, such as editing, formatting, cover design and marketing.  Two or three I’ve seen carrying variations on the same concept: that authors are in competition with each other!

The idea that we must become cutthroats determined to outdo our fellow authors, somehow robbing them of their market, by employing a variety of tactics is, to me, not as laughable as it should be!  Why not?  Well, not because its valid.  More accurately, I find it offensive because its a cheap ploy aimed at the many who don’t know the realities of the book business and it also creates a mindset of latent aggression between authors.

Anybody who knows anything, of course, knows that there are, and probably always will be, vastly more readers than writers – and that’s discounting the fact that writers are readers too.  Sure, each individual reader has a finite amount to spend on books, but given how many millions of readers there are, that represents a vast sum of money.  Is it such a dreadful fact that its shared?  Do we have to try to grab more of the pot than other authors?  We would all love to be able to live off our writing, but at any cost?  Yes, publishing houses use advertising to attempt to gain more of the market share, but that’s nothing to do with the authors – they don’t actually care about the authors they use in their campaigns.  They’re a business seeking profits and they really don’t worry who gets hurt in the process, or what tools they have to use – and the authors they feature are just that – the tools to profits.  There’s little to suggest that all their efforts are particularly successful, anyway!

So are we in competition with each other?  Personally, I don’t think we are.  Would all the associations, guilds and such exist if we were?  It seems unlikely.  We’d be uninterested in such ‘author clubs’ if we were only interested in sticking the knife in and twisting it!  Of course there are some who have allowed themselves to become corrupted by the idea of selling more than others.  It’s called greed and it occurs in all walks of life.  Does it have to dominate our world?  Not at all!  We don’t need it.

It would be really fantastic if we let the greed-merchants know just what we think of them.  How?  If you’re connected with any of them, by accident rather than intent, then dump them!  If you have books with them, such as free shorts and the like – delete them and close your account!  I shall certainly be doing just that.  I don’t want my name even loosely associated with their kind!

~ Steve

I Would Never Have Believed It

Steve K SmyIf somebody had told me, just a few short months ago, that most of my writing efforts would be pointed anywhere near the horror genre, I would likely have dropped dead from a fatal episode of hysterical laughter!  Fair enough, as a kid, and even as a youth, I dabbled with reading the genre, but they were true horror classics.  Well, maybe not classics, except my one reading of Dracula, but classic in the sense of content.  There was lots of carefully constructed tension and very little, if any, actual gore.  They were, I suppose, what could be termed ‘psycho-emotional horror’, working on the shadowy corners and dark places of our primitive mind.  Those authors didn’t, then, feel the need to compete with the gory, in-your-face, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination bloodbaths churned out by Hollywood (and others).  Many were writing when there were still directors, producers and screenplay writers who saw the value in creeping you out – not trying to gross you out!  Subtle horror movies are now very rare, and the same is also true with books.

Don’t get me wrong!  Horror isn’t the only victim of ‘bloodbath fixation’.  Thrillers, crime stories, and other genres have suffered, too.  One thing I enjoyed about reading Chris Allen’s excellent novel Hunter was the fact that action sequences didn’t devolve into mass shootouts with bodies dropping every few microseconds and people being torn asunder, graphically, by a variety of explosive devices.  The action was real, sometimes brutal (violence can’t, after all, be anything else!), but never excessive and most certainly not the reason for the book!  The action was a fundamental necessity of an excellent story, but only because such violence is a natural part of the world portrayed.  The world wasn’t reinvented to allow violence to be the dominant characteristic.

Shade of Evil

Anyway, back to the fact that I seem to have become hooked on what is, essentially, the horror genre.  The appearance of a character interview with one of the ‘stars’ of the books is evidence of that fact.  It actually started as an experiment, and one that I deliberately wanted to keep as far away from the flood of Vampire tales as possible.  That first tale, Shade of Evil, reached an unexpected conclusion and introduced a group I didn’t even know existed when I started!  In fact, after that first tale, I initially had no plans to pursue it.  Then a tiny idea popped into my head.  This time, though it still wasn’t to be immediately obvious, the mysterious group would be a key element, and one or two of the characters in their number started to take on real personalities.  I didn’t know their histories, but I knew more EvilUnderTheCircle.jpgabout them, as people.  So, Evil Under The Circle came trotting out into the light of day and the mystery group took on a real identity that had the power to survive, and to go on.  Even so, I was fairly ruthless towards them and made their loves hard and grim.  Grief, it was now clear, was to be a familiar part of their lives.  Grief and change.  But, that needed a balance.  Nobody would last long in that kind of existence!  It was necessary, as well as desirable, to bring in a new character.  One who would provide an anchor, a sort of paternal figure, only more.  Yet the second book wasn’t the right time or place for this new person to TheSigilofAhrimancoversmall_thumb.jpgappear.  It was only to be in the new book, The Sigil of Ahriman, that the gentle, kindly figure of the Director would make his entrance.  There are hints that he is able to be ruthless himself, of course.  An entirely benevolent leader couldn’t function in the world of the Guardians!  He had to have the strength to send teams out against Evil, even if everything indicated that they would fail, and perish in the failing.  Yet, he has a pacific nature, on the surface, that can stabilise even the most volatile of the people under his command.  He loves his people, as a parent loves their children, and he feels their grief with them, but he has a personal balance far beyond anything his people possess, or can understand.  And with the introduction of the Director, so the personalities of the others began to become more apparent.

Like most people, I’ve subjected myself, during a lengthy period of semi-vegetative existence, to the Soap Opera!  I can’t say, now, that it was entirely wasted time.  Like the vast majority of authors, I’m a people-watcher.  I never just see a person.  I analyse them, digging into their minds, their emotions.  In fact, ‘digging’ is a good word.  It’s like people are mines, containing precious elements,and the author is a miner, delving deep down to extract those treasures.  What’s that got to do with writing horror?  Well, in truth, it relates to all writing!  Yet I have never before used the treasures I mined quite as wholeheartedly as I am now.  Some genres of fiction let you get away with superficial characters, to some degree.  Placing them in situations which elicit strong emotional and psychological reactions, however, as in horror, you have to have stronger, more real characters, with the correct human responses.  And you can’t have everything pleasant outside of the danger periods.  You have to admit the friction always found between those who exist in a tight knit group.  In essence, a horror-based Soap Opera.

I know that I’ve gone on, rather, in this post, but I’m nearly done now.  I want to close this post out by saying that I would never have discovered the deeper characterisations and the often mixed and confusing interplay of characters if I had continued to plod along writing those things I was most comfortable with!  By risking the experiment, I have discovered something not only about characters, but about myself, and some of my deficiencies as a writer in those more comfortable genres.  That’s why I’m hooked on the G1: The Guardians series.  It’s a Soap Opera I control (sort of), but it’s also much more.  I owe G1 a great debt.  I only hope that I can repay it in the tales to come.

~ Steve

Book Trailer and News in General

Book Trailer Released!

You may have seen already, if you follow me via Twitter or Facebook.  I have released a book trailer, for The Sigil of Ahriman.  I announced it yesterday, but there was a slight hiccough with the video.  As it seems to be impossible to upload a revision to an existing video, I’ve had to lock out the one from yesterday and I’ve now uploaded the corrected version.  I had fun with this video, using special effects.  I deliberately selected an enhancement that makes it look like an old film, as I think that fits with the book’s character.  I was even more delighted to find the soundtrack, which is Anxiety by Kevin MacLeod, (incompetech.com) [Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0, creativecommons.org/licenses…].  Here’s the trailer:

The paperback edition of the book is getting closer all the time.  Watch for an announcement in a future post!

Revisions

In addition to writing the next book in the series, I’m working on revisions of the first book, Shade of Evil.  This will include some significant changes, so it will appear as a ‘second edition’.  I’ve been considering changing the cover, too, but haven’t made a decision on that as yet.  It isn’t a case of not liking the thinking behind the existing cover, but more a matter of making the two editions obviously different.

I’m also still working on the new story for the Thief series.

Eyesight Problems

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been experiencing some eyesight problems.  This has significantly reduced the amount of time I can spend dealing with things online.  Naturally, I have devoted as much time as I can to actual writing, as I can no longer devote late hours to that.  If I seem to have overlooked emails from anybody, I sincerely apologise!  Obviously, I deal with things as best I can, handling the most urgent emails, keeping the blog up to date, and writing.  I’m afraid that other things have to be fitted in as and when I can manage to do so.  Nobody is more frustrated by the situation than I.

~ Steve

Defeated and Storytelling

Conceded Defeat

Yesterday, having discovered the cause of certain problems, I conceded defeat and switched from using the free LibreOffice and moved to Word.  This was a big disappointment for me, as I dislike Word intensely.  The simple fact is, however, that I need to be able to provide manuscripts in set formats, based on templates, and those manuscripts have to be in Word doc format.  Now, LibreOffice will save in the appropriate file format, but in doing so, it corrupts the page formatting!  It only seems to do this, for some reason, when using a template.  That means that my submissions get rejected, require considerable work by others or produce a less than desirable end result.  I tried everything I could think of to fix the problem, but every time I told LibreOffice to save in doc format, the errors returned – sometimes magnified!  If you’re just using the standard page layout, then there’s no problem.  The thought of writing in LibreOffice and then switching to Word purely for template versions, though, just seems to be an unwanted complication.

Storytelling and the Audiobook

I my review of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen recently, I made mention of reading to children and audiobooks.  I thought it might be worth expanding on the subject.  Don’t get me wrong!  I think audiobooks have a place, and if a child can’t get read to any other way, then they’re as good a way as any.  But, I honestly believe that children should be read to by a parent, or some other loved one, whose voice is very familiar, and very comfortable.  Why?  Well, as I said previously, even children have some idea of what the voices of characters should sound like, and they can maintain that if they are listening to the loved one.  An audiobook is acted as much s it is read.  As an unfamiliar voice, often using different ‘voices’ for different characters, the audiobook can easily override the child’s own imagination.  I recall reading a book and imagining a character to have a warm, homely, lovable voice.  I then heard a radio dramatisation of the book and the actor had a harsh, high voice that made the character sound distinctly unpleasant.  It could have ruined the book for me, if I had been younger.  Yet this phenomenon had never occurred when a loved one had read to me.  So I seriously believe that audiobooks should be the preserve of adults or those children who have no other option.

Why did I mention a voice being ‘comfortable’?  Well, there are many fine children’s books which may have a scary bit or two.  A loved one’s voice is comfortable.  It can be trusted, especially to protect.  A child will then enjoy the scary bits and not be unduly frightened.  I doubt that this is true with an audiobook.  In fact, many of the best voices in audiobooks are actually quite ‘dark’, and there would always be a temptation for the actor to use vocal tricks to emphasise the scary bits.  It would be a terrible shame if books started disappearing from the ‘safe list’ because of audiobooks!

These remarks aren’t confined to audiobooks.  They apply equally to radio dramatisations of books.  And going beyond that, movies and television may be very damaging to books.  Apart from their usual inaccurate rendering of books, the combination of actual images and voices that don’t fit the child’s imaginings can ruin a book completely, so that the child may abandon a favourite, possibly forever.

We play with such things at our peril!

~ Steve