#Christmas In London

When my dad began chemo, he asked me one important question.

“Is there anything you haven’t done that you’d really like to?”

I had plenty of smartass answers, but I blurted out the real one anyway. For a long time, I’ve wanted to go to England and see a real castle. He chose to make that a reality for me, so here I am, spending my Christmas holiday in London. It’s been somewhat surreal. I’ve had proper tea, eaten in a dozen types of restaurant, and seen Stonehenge (I understand that last one is required by law of all tourists, or something like that). Still have a few things on my list, and a few days left to do it all.

This all started, of course, with a disaster. December 17th at Early o’clock, I took my kids to the airport to discover our flight had been cancelled (notice issued while we were already in the car). Southwest couldn’t get us onto another flight until Monday, which would not do. I had a flight Sunday morning to London. I dragged my kids, one crying and the other cranky huffing, across the airport and found another flight to Washington, DC.

Naturally, this didn’t go smoothly. We wound up in Detroit for way too long as our flight got delayed, and then delayed again. Half past midnight, we landed in DC. The kids went with their dad and I hunkered down in Dulles to not sleep for a few hours until my flight to London that morning.

But wait. It gets better. 6am, waiting for a Delta flight to JFK to get to the cross-Atlantic flight, the agent at the gate pointed out that the flight to JFK arrived at the departure time for the London flight, which clearly wouldn’t work. Apparently, the JFK flight had been schedule changed at some point, making the connection impossible. She rebooked me onto the later London flight direct from DC to London.

For fun, because Dad was footing the bill and it’s a long flight, I’d gotten first class on Virgin America. In case anyone is curious, they have a lounge at Dulles for first class passengers. The later flight required an 8 hour or so wait, most of which got spent napping and nibbling in that lounge. Thank goodness for that lounge. Over the course of about 30 hours, I’d gotten maybe 3 hours of sleep in 30-45 minute bursts. In that lounge, I napped again. On the flight, I practically passed out, but only for 4 hours.

Oh, and they have a lounge on the other end too. With showers. Which came in handy since I arrived at 8am and the hotel had a 3pm check-in time. And then, finding food and crashing for much sleep.

An adventure, to be sure.

For the record, The Virgin and Delta employees I interacted with were extremely nice and helpful. I’ve been a Southwest customer for a while, because cheap. I’m rethinking that now. Cheap != best.

Happy holidays. May yours be less exhausting than mine. Unless you like exhausting holidays. Some people are like that. More power to ya.

So You Want To Make Your Own #Book Cover #indie

The average indie author doesn’t have very much money to spend on producing books, especially when they first start. I’m with you. The costs pile up fast.

Tools (computer and software)–$150 and up. Fortunately, this is a one-time or infrequent expense.
Copyediting–$500 and up for a novel-length work.
Cover–$100 and up for something worth paying for.
Marketing–$infinity, forever.

And these are just the obvious expenses. Not included: bribing your friends for feedback, attending and travelling to seminars, conferences, and/or conventions, memberships in assorted professional organizations, ISBNs, copyright protections, formatting, proof copies, structural editing, proofreading, and on and on.

Once you realize the cost of producing a quality book has four digits, you look for ways to reduce that number. This is why we have blogs, social media accounts, and email newsletters–all that stuff is free. Many new indie authors use friends–qualified or not–to beta read, copyedit, and proofread their first book or two. But that cover? Psh, anyone can make a book cover. Right?

Wrong.

Unless you already have experience and some expertise using a robust graphics program, such as Photoshop, GIMP, or CorelDraw, stop. You cannot make a quality book cover in Paint or the Createspace Cover Creator*. Full stop. Don’t do it, because those covers scream “AMATEUR HOUR!” Understanding how to use the majority of the tools in your graphics program of choice is essential. Take a class or run through tutorials. Some folks learn best by trying to do, but you have to get the basics down before you get to work.

Once you’ve got that under your belt, learn some basic graphic design. As above, you can take classes or run through tutorials. If you can find a tutorial specific to book covers, that’s great, but overall design concepts are important too.

Ready to get cracking? Great.

Step 1: Put Photoshop away and do some research. Go to Amazon. Browse Kindle books. Click into the subgenres until you find the one your book will fit into. Look at those covers. Check the Top 100. Do this at least twice over 2-4 weeks, because the subcategories fluctuate. These covers are what people associate with the type of book you’re trying to sell. You want your book to fit into this group well enough for readers to see it belongs in that category.

Are they illustrated or designed? Simple or complex? Which ones stand out and catch your eye the most? Which ones look stupid to you? What fonts do they use? Do they feature people or things? Get the idea.

If illustration is the norm for your subcategory, take a long, hard look at your finances and strongly consider hiring an artist, at least for the illustration itself. You can still design a cover and fit in, but the subtleties of manipulation are probably beyond your skills.

Step 2: Come up with a basic idea for the cover of your book. If you have no idea, start with your protagonist(s). Warning! The more people (or any other kind of element) you put on your cover, the more challenging the design becomes to balance. Don’t use more than two people, and use only one if you can. A book cover isn’t the same thing as a movie poster. Movie posters use recognizable stars or lavish costumes/makup/critters to sell the story. Book covers use elements to explain what the book is about and project an overall commitment to quality on the part of the author.

Step 3: Find stock images. There are over a dozen good stock image sites, and you can also find free images of high quality on a number of sites. Do not use an image on your book cover unless you pay for a standard license (at this stage, extended licenses are unnecessary) or are absolutely sure you’re allowed to use it for commercial purposes for free. Random images on the internet are not free for commercial purposes unless explicitly described as such by surrounding text.

Step 4: Find fonts. If you don’t already have the most popular fonts in your subgenre, get them. You may have to purchase them, or you may be able to find them for free. If you do find a free font you like, make sure it’s free for commercial use.

Step 5: Check the file size requirements for everywhere you plan to publish your book. Ebook covers and print covers are different sizes and shapes.

Step 6: Arrange elements and manipulate them. Rearrange and re-manipulate. Look up tutorials for specific effects you want to create. Save intermediate versions with stuff you like so you can revert. Show your work to someone else for an outside opinion. Just like with the text of your book, you’ll grow immune to the glaring faults. Rearrange and re-manipulate again.

Step 7: When you feel like you’ve got a final version, compare it to the current Top 100 for your subgenre. Ask someone else to perform that comparison. If it seems like it fits in and doesn’t inaccurately depict the book, congratulations, you’ve got a cover. If not, go back to Step 6.

Looks like a lot of work, doesn’t it? That’s why so many of us pay people to do this. If you aren’t willing to invest your time in learning basic design principles and how to use the tools to create your cover, pay someone who already has. If you aren’t willing to put in the time required to find stock images and manipulate them, pay someone who is. Pre-made covers are often good quality for a low price, and an excellent way to begin your career.

Good luck, intrepid indie.

*This isn’t strictly true, but Paint and similarly simplistic programs don’t have complex enough tools to be worth using for the vast majority of covers. They work for poetry books, and that’s about it.

Year-End Wrapup #amwriting

Because I’ll be traveling from now until January, and 2016 has been the worst year ever, I thought now might be a good time to talk about some of the really good things that happened this year.

I’m thinking.

Hm. This is a tougher topic than I thought.

I jest. Here is a full list of everything I released or was published in this year, in order. That’s a good start. You can find all these listed on my Amazon profile page.

Dragons In Chains audiobook
Working the Table: An Indie Author’s Guide to Conventions
Dragons In Flight audiobook
SK 2: Backyard Dragons
SK 3: Ethereal Entanglements
Merely This And Nothing More: Poe Goes Punk
Unnatural Dragons
TGS 4: Illusive Echoes
Superheroes In Denim
Missing Pieces VII
Darkside Seattle: Street Doc
Girls Can’t Be Knights audiobook
Artifact (mistakenly credited as Emily French)
Backyard Dragons audiobook

The work for the Ethereal Entanglements audiobook is almost done, and it’ll be released in January. And at the moment, I have a handful of stories waiting for publication, another handful waiting for revision, a few half-finished draft 1-1.5s, and a couple of outlines waiting in the queue. Don’t expect me to slow down in 2017.

These are all the conventions my books appeared at for sale (in some cases without me). This list doesn’t include 11 non-convention-type events, and it’s possible I forgot something.

OrcaCon
Rustycon
MythicWorlds
Radcon
Portland Spring Home & Garden Show
Norwescon
The Brass Screw Confederacy
Westercon
CapitalIndieBookCon
GenCon
MaLCon
MidAmericon II (WorldCon)
Rose City Comic Con
Steamposium
GeekGirlCon
Portland Fall Home & Garden Show
Central City Comic Con
Renton City Comic Con
Jet City Comic Show
Eucon
OryCon

Put those two lists together, and it’s fair to say I did a lot of stuff this year. Sometimes it was exhausting, sometimes it was frustrating, and sometimes it was boring as hell. But most of the time, it was awesome. In 2017, this list will be shorter. Because it was a tough schedule to keep, and I would like to spend more time on the writing part than the selling part.

Oh, and then there’s this one other, little thing. Trifling, really. Minor. Not a big deal.

I lied. IT’S TOTALLY A BIG DEAL. SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, is sort of like the union for professional F/SF writers (of the American variety). It’s been around since before I was born, and has always been, to me, a kind of pie-in-the-sky thing to belong to. Real F/SF authors belong to that. Last week, my inbox included a message opening with this:sfwaapprove

This couldn’t have happened without two very important people. First, you. Anyone who bought a copy of Girls Can’t Be Knights or read it on KU is responsible for this. Thank you, you’re awesome! Please consider writing a review if you haven’t and also reading book 2 and 3 (*bright smile*). Second, Cat Rambo, whose rise to the position of President of SFWA made it possible for indies like me to join the organization without a traditional book contract. Also, Cat is a wonderful, supportive person and amazing writer. Read Beasts of Tabat if you haven’t yet.

Hopefully, despite all the horrible crap that’s happened this year, you also have some bright spots and accomplishments to look back on and bask in. As we plunge into the deepest, darkest part of the year, hold onto those and take a day to enjoy whatever you can with whomever you consider family. 2017 is looking like it might also be a bumpy ride.

Let It Snow. Not.

Some readers may be aware I lived in Worcester, MA for several years before moving to Olympia, WA a little over two years ago. In Worcester, we routinely had snow by Christmas. Over the course of any given winter, we got between five to seven feet of the stuff, averaging around six feet.

One of the big draws of Olympia was the lack of snow. In an average winter, Olympia gets between one and two feet. These past two winters, the weather managed to produce a few mornings with a bit of ice on the road, and several with frost on the plants. About which I cheered, because I have had enough of snow shoveling to last me forever, thanks.

SNOW

The view out my front door in Worcester during a blizzard in 2014. This was daytime. We wound up with about 2 feet of snow from that event, if memory serves. It took most of a day to dig out that 40 feet of driveway.

I understand the lack of snow here has been abnormal, and that’s fine. I’ve enjoyed it, though. My son has enjoyed it less, because he liked the days off school and sledding. My autistic daughter is perfectly fine with no snow. She hates wearing her coat and likes going to school. So, 2/3 of us win.

It snowed here in Olympia. In this case, I use the word “snowed” loosely.

20161205_0850501

I had to search to find the newspaper because it wound up on the grass and got covered with snow. The horror!

I looked outside in the darkness of early morning and saw snow falling in the glow of a streetlamp. Great, fluffy, fat flakes hit the pavement and promptly melted. All the glory of snow, no shoveling and no snow days.

This is the best place ever.

By the way, the audiobook for Backyard Dragons releases today. Just mentioning it. And if you’re interested, I can confirm that at least two short stories from the Spirit Knights series will be published in anthologies this year. Another anthology will contain an Ilauris short!

#NaNoWinner2016 Finally

On the 23rd, I finally finished my ninth NaNo this year. That’s the longest it’s ever taken me, and more than twice as long as my previous longest (10 days). But I still finished.

And here’s why it took so long. I’ve already discussed the beginning of the month. Now, the end.

On November 17th, at about 2am, my father passed away in our home from complications of prostate cancer. He spent about four weeks in hospice care. As you might imagine, this impacted my ability to write. I needed two days to recover from just the loss of sleep that night.

2016 NaNoWriMo Wordcount Stats. Conveniently with a minimal number of numbers.

Thank goodness I don’t make productivity bar graphs all the time.

To finish NaNo, I had to set aside Spirit Knights 4 in favor of some short stories I plan to submit to various places. For some reason, a series of books about death are hard to work on right now. Go figure. My wordcount also sputtered after I crossed the magical 50k line, as it often does.

If you’re still reaching for the finish line, keep on truckin’. You have two more days. If you’re nowhere near finishing, keep on truckin’. You have the rest of your life. If you’re already finished, keep on truckin’. When one story ends, another begins.

For my Spirit Knights fans, I still anticipate releasing book 4 in time for Norwescon (mid-April). As far as I’m concerned, four months is plenty of time to write and release a book, and it’s half done already. And while you’re waiting, audiobooks for this series are a thing! Girls Can’t Be Knights released earlier this month, Backyard Dragons releases in early December, and Ethereal Entanglements is on schedule for an early January release. With luck, book 4 will release simultaneously with its audiobook.

For my The Greatest Sin fans, we’re expecting to get book 5 out by June. We’re also working on audiobooks for the first four, and hope to begin releasing those in 2017. We’ll probably catch up to release both print and audio at the same time with book 6. If you’ve read and loved them, please take a minute to leave a review.

For my Maze Beset fans, stay tuned for short story news! And if you want a fresh short story from me, regardless of the ‘verse it resides in, I’ve been published in a few anthologies this year: Into the Woods, Merely This and Nothing MoreUnnatural Dragons, and Artifact.

Weirdest #NaNoWriMo Ever #amwriting

For the first time since I started doing NaNo in 2008, it’s the middle of the month and I’m not up to 50k yet. Everyone tends to expect me to reliably churn out 50k in a week or less, because that’s what I always do. Except this year.

It started well. I slapped down 5k a day, which is less than my usual NaNo, but a healthy amount. Then came Jet City Comic Show on the first weekend. I hadn’t expected to write much during the show, and I didn’t. I did expect to be able to pick it back up and churn at my usual pace on Monday.

The end of Daylight Savings Time messed me up this year. I guess I’m getting old or something. Then the election invaded my brain no matter how hard I tried to shut it out. I’m still roiling on the inside about my dad. I’m now worried for my LGBT friends and family, my son has taken the election results quite poorly for a variety of reasons, and I’m concerned about the future for my daughter, who is autistic, needs extra supports, and will be transitioning out of school soon.

Reading about attacks on various marginalized/minority groups has been disheartening to say the least. Watching people try to incite riots has been distracting. I stood at the bus stop with my son and faced a dozen middle-schoolers who are terrified about the election results and had to tell them the world is not ending when I’m not so sure it’s true.

Perhaps this should be obvious at this point, but I did not support Trump. I don’t like vague ideas over concrete plans. I don’t like putting people down over raising them up. I don’t want to make America great again. My idea of the future doesn’t involve bringing back the past. Every mistake we make is a lesson to be learned, not a blueprint to be followed.

That said, if you supported Trump, you’re not my enemy. I’m a citizen and a patriot. I don’t hate people for disagreeing with me. I don’t hate people for having different ideas or beliefs. Hate is the path to the Dark Side, and however much I may joke about having cookies, I am, in truth, a member of Starfleet*. In the Federation, we strive to understand and accept everyone. Bring hate to my ship, though, and I will kick your ass out the airlock.

And now, I’m plunking away, just trying to finish Ghost Is the New Normal by the end of the month. I’m not in a bigger hurry because that won’t help anything. I’m taking time to do the things that make me happy. This week, instead of being all NaNo all the time like I normally am in November, I’ll go see Doctor Strange, watch the TV shows I like, get some extra exercise, and make a pumpkin cheesecake for my mom. I’m going to figure out where I’m donating for this holiday season too.

For all my fellow NaNoers, keep on keeping on. If you’re stuck, write about how this past week or so has made you feel. If it’s writing, it counts.

*Ha! Nerd yoink!

F*ck Cancer #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

Normally, I keep the personal stuff light and minimal, as my life tends to be boring and constant.

Today, I wish to talk about my dad. It has nothing to do with the election.

A little over a year ago, we got the Big C diagnosis for Dad. He was 78 then. In his time, he’s been a pilot, an Army rocket scientist, a NASCAR enthusiast, a Christmas tree farmer, a blueberry aficionado, and an amazing do-it-yourselfer for nearly anything. He’s been strong, capable, and an awesome dad.

Last spring, we found out the Big C we thought he’d beat had spread to his femur and pelvis. Little by little, bit by bit, we’ve watched him lose everything but his stubbornness and sense of humor. As I type this, he’s bed-ridden in the guest room of the house where I live with him, my mom, and my kids. He’s not expected to make it to Thanksgiving.

I only know some of his accomplishments because I helped my mom preemptively write his obituary. Which was a surreal experience. As I worked, I wanted to include jokes I knew he’d find funny, but resisted. It’s an obituary, dammit, and I’m not much of a humor writer. Even weirder was having my dad read it and say he liked it.

In the dead of the night, when everyone else is in bed, I wonder about other scenarios for how this could have gone. “What if…” the F/SF writer in me ponders. I can’t stop myself from doing it even if I wanted to. It’s how my brain works.

What if they’d noticed the cancer a year earlier? What if we’d lost him suddenly instead of this drawn-out struggle with nurses and transfusions and chemo and and and? What if we’d decided to move to where the folks already lived instead of dragging them to a new place? What if I’d made any one of fifteen different choices in my life that would have significantly altered my personal trajectory?

This isn’t about regrets. I don’t really regret any of those things, I just wonder. Like I wonder what would happen if an ancient order of knights hunted ghosts, or a secret IVF experiment unwittingly yielded superheroes. Same thing.

As a result of my dad’s unexpectedly worsening condition starting a couple of weeks ago, I won’t be attending EuCon or OryCon, both in Oregon. I was really looking forward to both, but that’s not a regret either, it’s just another thing. Before we moved to Olympia with the folks, I couldn’t afford babysitting to go to a day-long event, let alone a weekend convention. The freedom to do these conventions and events may have gone to my head a smidge and led me to oversubscribe this year.

And now, here I am, grieving in bits and pieces for what is inevitable but has not yet happened while trying to write a book about hope. About family. About love and pain, joy and disaster.

Dammit, Big C. You’re an unexpected, unwanted house guest that won’t leave and won’t shut up for five minutes to let us think or even breathe.

A few days ago, I encountered a problem and had the immediate thought, “Oh, Dad would know what to do.” Followed immediately by, “If he could get out of bed.” Pretty soon, it’ll be, “If he was still here.”

My Dad, 1937-2016 (probably).
He always knew what to do.