New Cover for Skies of Navarys

Every reader is different. Some passionately love short stories. Some wish there were more novellas being written. Others enjoy the full immersion that a novel provides.

Trad pub long ago abandoned the novella length, but it’s coming back with indies and ebooks.

I like all three lengths, both reading them and writing them.

Be that as it may, the varying lengths of story don’t sell at the same rate.

Short stories sell the fewest number of copies, novellas next, and novels best of all. My own books follow this curve fairly closely, with a few exceptions.

old Navarys web cover 200 pxCrossing the Naiad (a short story) sells like a novella, while Sarvet’s Wanderyar (a novella) sells like a novel.

Naturally I’m not complaining when a book sells better than one would expect! But I don’t like it when a novella sells like a short story, and that is what has been happening with Skies of Navarys.

The readers who read Navarys seem to really enjoy it. But too many are clicking away from its web page on Amazon, probably without even “looking inside.”

Why?

My theory is that it’s the cover.

Now I liked the original cover, and still do. It was a painterly rendition of three airships over a rural landscape. But I’ve had potential readers say that it looked military to them. Additionally, it’s the only one of my books with a cover that didn’t include a person in the image. I believe that cover was giving readers a false impression.

So I’ve created a new one! Check it out.

navarys-2ed-cov-450-px

How does that strike you?

The ebook with the new cover is available at all the usual places. Or it will be shortly! I’ve uploaded it to Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. (Smashwords distributes my books to Apple and B&N.)

Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords

The paperback with the new cover is in progress, but not quite finished yet. Soon! 😀

 

Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn

When I’m world building for a fantasy novel, I do a lot of research. I’m sure some writers are able to create cultures and hierarchies and organizational trees straight from their heads that are as detailed and irregular as the real thing. But when I do that, my creations are a little too neat and tidy, a little too logical, to have the feel of reality.

Roman army and chariot

So I choose a period of history and a place in our world that has a lot of the right features for my purposes, research it, and then map it onto my world, tweaking the details as needed to make it fit.

When I was creating the society for Belzetarn, the citadel in which The Tally Master takes place, I researched the kitchens of Hampton Court during the reign of King Henry VIII, because they provided a good model for Belzetarn’s kitchens.

Of course, the time period of Henry VIII was much later than my own Bronze Age setting. Which meant that I eliminated such places as the wafery (which relied heavily on sugar and grains), the confectionery, and the pastry yard. But the complexity of Hampton Court was perfect.

I modeled the military hierarchy of Belzetarn after the armies of ancient Rome. Rome was an Iron Age civilization, but the effectiveness of its legions was matched by my warlord’s effectiveness.

The main reason humans switched from bronze weapons to iron weapons was because tin was so darn rare. And one needs tin in order to combine it with copper to make bronze. There just wasn’t enough tin, with deposits close at hand, to outfit hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

The early iron weapons were inferior to the late bronze ones, because bronze metallurgy had been honed over millennia to produce superb results, while no one knew the best techniques for iron. But there was a lot more iron, with more convenient locations. So the switch was made.

Roman scale armour detail

By the time the Romans came along, iron metallurgy was well developed. But imagine a world in which tin was more prevalent. In such a world, the Romans might have been just as dominant with bronze weapons.

Belzetarn is not Rome. It’s not even a North-lands analog to Rome. It’s a lone outpost of desperate men – trolls – commanded by an exceptionally able warlord, Carbraes. But it’s large enough to field two legions, roughly 10,000 men. And the hierarchy of Rome’s military could be mapped nicely onto Belzetarn’s military.

I knew that ancient Rome had legions, cohorts, and centuries. I knew that within those units were legates and tribunes and centurions. But I needed a lot more detail than that. So I went researching.

I learned that a legion was composed of ten cohorts, that a cohort was composed of six centuries (except the first, which had only five), that a century possessed only eighty men, and that they were divided into 8-man squads.

Roman HierarchyActually, in the early days, a century had one-hundred men, but that number dwindled as the years rolled past. Then it increased to one-hundred-twenty men when the time of foreign conquest arrived. And then dwindled again. But never mind that. I was going to show Belzetarn at one instance in time, not write its history through the ages.

Information on legions and cohorts and centuries was fairly easy to find. What I really needed, however, was a listing of the ranks within them. A detailed listing.

I was delighted to find it on a site called HorridHistory.

The High Command

Legatus Propraetor (Imperial Legate) – commander of two or more legions; in modern terms, a general
Legatus Legionis (Legion Legate) – commander of one legion
Tribunus Laticlavius (Broad Band Tribune) – second in command of the legion, although not during battles, because the men holding this post were young and inexperienced, new senators at the start of their political careers
Praefectus Castrorum (Camp Prefect) – second in command of the legion during battles; the men of this rank were chosen for their experience
Tribuni Angusticlavii (Narrow Band Tribunes) – five per legion; serve as administrative officers; in modern terms, majors
Tribunus Cohortis – commander of an entire cohort (6 centuries in a cohort, 10 cohorts in a legion)

The Centurions

Centurio Hastatus Prior (centurion of the first spear) or the Primus Pilus (first file) – commander of the first century of the first cohort
Pilus Prior – commander of the first century in any of the second through tenth cohorts
Princeps Prior – commander of the second century
Hastatus Prior – commander of the third century
Pilus Posterior – commander of the fourth century
Princeps Posterior – commander of the fifth century
Hastatus Posterior – commander of the sixth century
Optio Centuriae – second in command of the century
Tesserarius (Guard Commander) – second in command to the optio

Where the Real Work Gets Done

Decanus – commanded an octet, or a eight-man squad
Miles Gregarius – title given to a legionary who performed exceptionally well in battle
Miles – a normal legionary

roman-legionary-re-enactors

So far, so good. But I could not simply borrow all the Roman terms. If I did that, Belzetarn would feel like an outpost in ancient Rome. And it’s not!

So I started mapping our world onto my North-lands, adjusting structures and creating my own terms. I kept a few of the Roman terms, just enough of them to orient the reader.

Troll hierarchy in BelzetarnI worried that I might need a terms for the equivalent of the Roman Tribunus Laticlavius, the second in command of a legion, or the Tribunus Augusticlavius, who seemed sort of like British aides-de-camp during the regency period.

So I came up with Magno and Agusten, respectively.

I tried to carry on with filling out the hierarchy of seconds in command and thirds, but I was running out of inspiration. Plus, I figured that while The Tally Master takes place in a military citadel, its protagonist is not one of the warriors or their officers. He controls the flow of metal from the mines through the forges and into the armories as weapons. The focus of the story is on his tally room and the smithies. I could develop more military titles when and if I needed them!

Last weekend The Tally Master came back to me from my first reader, and she’s given me awesome feedback. As usual! I’m currently doing a little more research – needed for the fixes I envision – and then I’ll start revising.

I’m excited! This is going to be one of my best books ever! 😀

 

WIP, Utterly Engrossing

Maple TreeI remember so clearly setting up the progress bar for Tally the Betrayals. I’d already written 4,000 words, and I’d been reporting my word-count-per-day all through those 4,000 words to a writer friend.

Me: “I think I’ve done most of the research and world building I need in order to start writing. I think I’ll start next week!”

Friend: “Start tomorrow!”

Me: “Huh. I suppose I could.”

That was a Wednesday. I did, indeed, start Thursday, and it felt great. I’d been focused on publishing tasks (covers, blurbs, etc.) for many months. Then I went through the medical emergency of a retinal tear. And then I had a troll citadel to design. 😀

It had been 5 months since I’d done any writing. I missed it. But I felt wobbly. What if I’d forgotten how?

I hadn’t forgotten how, of course. I think writing is a bit like bicycle riding. Once you know how, you don’t forget.

But I felt like I needed training wheels! So I reported to my writer friend that first week.

“Only 300 words today, but I started.”

“Better today: 800 words.”

“Now I’m getting into the rhythm: 1,200 words.”

When I reached 4,000 words, I realized that I shouldn’t lean on my friend through the entire 120,000 to 160,000 words that my novel would require. (Tally felt like a longish book to me.)

And, really, I didn’t need that much propping up. But I’d really liked reporting my word count to someone. I found it motivating and encouraging.

Just saying, “I wrote 1,600 words today,” to someone other than myself felt like getting a treat.

So I decided to set up a public progress bar on my website.

I worried that I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to do so. (Google is your friend.)

I worried that I wouldn’t like it once I’d set it up. (“You can always take it down again, J.M.”)

I worried I would disappoint those of my blog readers who watched that progress bar, when there were days that I didn’t make much progress.

Holly TreeBut I wanted to do it. So I did!

And you know what? It worked beautifully for me.

I did figure out how to create a progress bar. I plan to blog about that process soon.

And I love updating my progress bar each day. “See, I did write 1,200 words today! Really!”

I’ve also enjoyed seeing the darker blue color that indicates words written slide farther and farther to the right. It was a very tangible marker, more so – for me – than seeing the page count grow in my manuscript file.

Now, as I look at the 113,000+ word count and the 94% slider bar visual, I feel amazed that I am almost finished.

“How can this be? It feels like just yesterday that I was putting up that progress bar with 4,000 words!”

But I am close to the finish. And, as is usual for me, I’m finding my story to be intense, engrossing, and hard-to-put-down. If only my brain didn’t become soggy with fatigue, I’d write far into the night, saying, “Just one more page,” the way a reader does when reading a good book.

But my brain ceases to hold the necessary edge around 5 PM or so. Sometimes I’m so beguiled by the events in my story that I push until 7 PM, but that’s rare. Better to get a good evening’s rest and a good night’s sleep, and start fresh in the morning.

Deck View

As I write this blog post, it is 7:15 AM, and I am sitting out on my back deck – as I do each morning to keep my circadian rhythm in sync with the sun. But now it’s been half an hour.

I’m going to go in, eat breakfast, and get started writing Tally for the day!

I can’t wait! Gael – accountant to the “dark lord” in my “dark tower” – is going to make a crushing discovery in this scene! 😀

(No, Tally does not really have a “dark lord.” It has someone much more interesting!)

The links from this post:
5 New Books!
My Torn Retina
Gael’s Tally Chamber in Belzetarn
How I Rehabilitated My Sleep

 

Cover Copy for Troll-magic . . . One. More. Time!

There’s a promotional opportunity for my novel Troll-magic coming soon, so I reviewed its marketing copy to be sure everything was ready. Most promo newsletters require a considerably shorter story description than the one present on the web page of retailers such as Amazon, Kobo, Apple, etc.

cover image for Troll-magicSince Troll-magic released way back in 2011, when promotional opportunities were much scarcer on the ground than today, I suspected the marketing copy was not ready to go, and I was right.

Oh, I’d created a version for the “short blurb” that Smashwords requires. But – upon review – I didn’t like it much. Worse, I found that as I studied the full-length version, I had some problems with it as well.

None of this surprised me. Or even dismayed me. (Even though I’d revised that blurb extensively not too many months ago.) I’d expected that I had some work to do. That’s why I was reviewing the material.

Here’s the marketing copy I was reading:

Prince Kellor, cursed by the troll-witch Mandine to live as a north-bear, wrestles with the challenges of his beast form. Pain wracks his body. Unpredictable rages blur his mind. And his thoughts spin out of all sense, confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.

His curse turns on the choices of his childhood friend Elle. She once shared Kellor’s idyllic rambles through the wilderlands. She now loves all things musical. Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own life and save his? Should he?

But no troll-witch permits her prey to escape with ease. The illusory loopholes in Mandine’s curse all twist back to its entombing heart.

Troll-magic tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale, rife with moments of shining glory and dark magnificence, tumbling toward a lethal battle of wills and the impossible choices forced by clashing loyalties.

There was a lot to like there. I still felt it was a huge improvement over what it replaced. But several phrases bugged me. I’m going to show which ones and why.

north-bear banner

First Paragraph

Most of the first paragraph works well. The mention of a curse and a troll-witch lets the browsing reader know right away that the book is fantasy. The protagonist and his interesting problem are introduced. His goal – finding loopholes in the curse – is also presented. All good.

But “And his thoughts spin out of all sense” didn’t sit right with me. It was a little too vague and, even though I like archaic phrasing, this was a little too archaic. I thought about eliminating the entire sentence, but I needed “confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.”

So I worked to develop a better phrase. And got one after a little wrestling.

And straight thinking proves elusive, confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.

Second Paragraph

I liked most of what I had here also. Elle and her critically important role are introduced, along with Kellor’s moral dilemma: should he yank his old friend out of her own vital concerns to minister to him, thus exposing her to considerable danger?

But I didn’t like the phrasing I used to state Kellor’s dilemma.

Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own life and save his?

It’s true that it’s a life-or-death situation for him. And it’s true that he would be asking Elle to neglect her own concerns. But this phrasing makes it all seem rather black and white, maybe even straight forward. And it is not straight forward at all. Nor is it clear what his best move is. Kellor has to do a lot of heroic inner work before he develops a cogent plan.

Also, I really regretted that my latest revision of the cover copy had removed the front cover tag line from the blurb: “Fighting against a nightmare pales beside fighting for a dream.” I wondered if I could bring back some of those concepts. And – with a bit more wrestling – I did!

Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own dreams to confront his lethal nightmare?”

Third Paragraph

I had qualms about the simple “But” that I used to introduce a further complication: the loopholes in Mandine’s curse are not really loopholes. It’s a little bald. On the other hand, cover copy needs to be relatively spare. And the alternatives I came up with to replace it were overly ornate. I decided to keep it. For now. 😀

star banner

Last Paragraph

Okay, this was the paragraph with the most serious problems. Yes, Troll-magic is a Beauty and the Beast tale. But it is also so much more than that. How on earth was I going to convey its “more-ness” without diminishing its “Beauty-and-the-Beast-ness”?

I felt like I was Sisyphus pushing the proverbial boulder up the hill. Everything I tried was totally not what I was looking for. Finally I resorted to my most effective hack for when I’m stuck. I write about my stuckness in my journal, as though I were telling a dear friend all about it.

This is what I wrote:

Beauty and the Beast at heart, but the story of how the fate of one young man, one couple, affects the fate of everyone in the world.

But it’s not just one person. Three people develop solutions: Kellor, Helaina, Gabris. The point isn’t that one person does it. The point is that an individual triumph can affect the larger world. The outcome of a private struggle or battle can guide the turn of events in the larger world.

The outcome of Kellor’s struggle will shape the history of the North-lands. The turn of events in the North-lands will echo the outcome of Kellor’s struggle.

Kellor’s curse reflects the curse of the world. I’m having a hard time getting this into words that work in a blurb.

The fate of a world and a people…

I need to let the reader know that the book is Kellor’s story, but it’s also the story of an empire, a people, and a world.

J.M. Ney-Grimm tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale…

…that opens out from its Beauty and Beast heart into an epic steering the fate of an empire, a people, and a world.

lyrical telling
Beauty and the Beast tale
rife with glory and dark magnificence
fate of an empire, a people, and a world
epic

The lyrical telling of an epic with Beauty and the Beast at its heart.

Troll-magic is an epic of…

After all that, my journaling yielded the result I was looking for: something clicked, and I wrote the paragraph I wanted.

J.M. Ney Grimm tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale, rife with moments of shining glory, dark magnificence, and unexpected significance. The fate of an empire, a people, and a world unfurls from Kellor’s deeds and Elle’s choices.

snow and stars

The New Marketing Copy

Putting all the revisions together gives us:

Prince Kellor, cursed by the troll-witch Mandine to live as a north-bear, wrestles with the challenges of his beast form. Pain wracks his body. Unpredictable rages blur his mind. And straight thinking proves elusive, confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.

His curse turns on the choices of his childhood friend Elle. She once shared Kellor’s idyllic rambles through the wilderlands. She now loves all things musical. Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own dreams to confront his lethal nightmare? Should he?

But no troll-witch permits her prey to escape with ease. The illusory loopholes in Mandine’s curse all twist back to its entombing heart.

J.M. Ney Grimm tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale, rife with moments of shining glory, dark magnificence, and unexpected significance. The fate of an empire, a people, and a world unfurls from Kellor’s deeds and Elle’s choices.

Of course, I still need to create the short version. But at least I’ll be working from a solid foundation! 😀

Troll-magic Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords

 

How Long Should My Story Be?

Open book on stack of closed books

What’s the right length for a story?

One way to answer to that question is to categorize the story by type. If it’s a short story, then it’s under 7,500 words. If it’s a novelette, it’s between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Novellas fall in the 17,500-to-40,000 range. And novels are anything over 40,000 words.

I’m very fond of the novella length. There’s enough room to fully develop characters and setting, enough room to allow for more than one event in the story. I have 5 novellas currently published (plus 2 novellettes that are barely short of novellas), and I’ll undoubtedly write more.

But right now I’m working on a novel. How long should it be?

In traditional publishing, YA novels are usually 80,000 words. But Tally the Betrayals is not a YA story. Its protagonist is a 38-year-old suffering from troll-disease who controls the supplies of copper, tin, and bronze in the “dark tower” of my North-lands. I expect that teens will enjoy Tally, but no more so than adults.

Traditionally published mainstream fiction often goes for about 100,000 words. And doorstopper fantasy novels can hit 200,000 or even 300,000 words apiece.

By now, some of you may be longing to tell me that my question is a trick question. And you’d be right, because indie writers like myself have much more freedom in choosing the length of our stories.

Traditionally published writers have to hit the word-count specified in their contracts. If a story is coming in long, the writer must chop it until it fits, never mind what that does to the quality of the work. If the story is coming up short, then a loop must be added in order to fill the word quota.

Dean Wesley Smith, a talented and experienced writer from whom I’ve taken many workshops, and from whom I’ve learned an incredible amount, has been known to say that a story should be exactly as long as it needs to be. I agree with him!

So why is this topic on my mind?

I noticed that when I reached 40,000 words on Tally the Betrayals, I’d just started the 7th chapter of the book. My outline possesses 19 chapters. So, if the chapter lengths are not too disimilar, 6 chapters should equal roughly one-third of the book.

Tally outline scrap

(No spoilers in the screen shot above. All the good stuff is in my head and on the manuscript page. I was lucky in that this bit of the outline possesses merely some notes on where and when the revelations take place, so I could show it here. Other pieces of the outline are much less circumspect!)

I’d estimated that Tally would be 160,000 words, because it’s got a lot going on in it. There’s a redemption story mingled with a mystery mingled with . . . well, that third element would be a spoiler, so I won’t say. But I felt like I might need 160,000 words to tell it all.

But if the first third is comprised of 40,000 words, then perhaps the total for the story will be closer to 120,000 words.

Of course, I can’t really know at this stage. My novel Troll-magic has 169,000 words, but only 10 chapters. And each succeeding chapter is a little longer than the one before it, which means that the first chapter is much shorter than the tenth.

For a short interval, I let my math convince me that Tally the Betrayals would be 120,000 words when I reached the end. Now I’m approaching 50,000 words, and I’m halfway through Chapter 8. Math would put me on track for that 120,000 words at completion. But I’m skeptical. I just have a feeling . . . that the chapters may get longer as I go along. Or that I’ll realize that a few of those chapters should really be divided to become two chapters.

Luckily, it doesn’t really matter. I’m indie. Which means the story can be exactly as long as is right for it! 😀

 

Book Cover for Fate’s Door

Last month, when I shared my step-by-step process for creating the book cover for my novel Fate’s Door, I concluded by saying that I was not quite satisfied with the gold texture that appeared in the title and byline.

Since that post, I’ve found a texture I love. Take a look!

Fate ebook cover 600 px

If you’d like to see the full account of my search for the right gold, read the Edited to Add section at the very bottom of the post: Building Fate’s Cover.

Fate’s Door is available as an ebook. Amazon

Fate’s Door is available as trade paperback.
Amazon I B&N I Fishpond I Mysterious Galaxy Books

 

Gael’s Tally Chamber in Belzetarn

The protagonist of my work in progress, Tally the Betrayals, monitors and controls the copper and tin used to forge bronze swords for the warriors that defend his home, the tower Belzetarn.

In my North-lands, mages who reach too greedily for power in their magery succumb to troll-disease. This affliction ravages their bodies and – eventually – destroys their sanity. My protagonist – Gael – is a troll, and Belzetarn is a troll stronghold.

I’m having a lot of fun telling Gael’s story!

I’ve done research on Bronze Age technologies, the mining methods used to obtain tin and copper, and the differing qualities of those metals when heated. I’ve watched videos of modern-day smiths creating authentic replicas of ancient bronze swords. I’ve watched videos of a re-enactor testing the strength and durability of one of those replicas. It was a little scary to see what that sword could do!

I’ve also done a lot of world building.

Gael’s assistant comes from Fiorish. I know what the island nation of Fiorish is like in the Steam Age of my North-lands. What was it like in the Bronze Age? What sorts of names did the people have then?

tally chamber, 300 pxI drew floor plans for the entire tower of Belzetarn, from the smithies in its foundations to its lofty top battlements. A very important place in the tower is the tally room, where my protagonist keeps his records and reconciles the tallies from the notaries working in the smithies with his own tallies of metal ingots released to the smiths for their work.

Metals, especially tin, which is rare, are very precious. Every ounce must be accounted for. 😀

Gael marks his tallies on parchments using a quill pen and ink. He stores the scrolls in pigeonhole cabinets, lining the walls of his tally room.

The tally room is located within the thick wall of the tower, about a third of the way up.

The world of Tally the Betrayals fascinates me, and you know what I do with things of that nature. I share them! I hope to post more about Belzetarn as I write, so long as I can avoid spoilers. Watch this space! 😀

 

Building Fate’s Cover

Fate web cov 200Usually I don’t think about a book’s cover until I’m close to completing the manuscript, but the cover concept for Fate’s Door leaped into my mind fully formed as soon as I started writing of Nerine in the Mediterranean Sea.

I could see her so clearly on my mind’s eye, emerging from the water, with her blond hair and hazel green eyes, and a wave crashing behind her. That vision stayed with me all through the writing of the novel, and I began the search for the right photographs much earlier than usual.

After several separate tours through the Dreamstime site, I thought I’d found the right model. She looked like a sea nymph to me. Finding the right wave was even easier. I wanted one that was still rolling along part of its length, while crashing into white foam on another part.

2 The wave

I downloaded comp copies of both photos to see if they would work together the way I thought they would. And they did! I was pleased.

However, I did not immediately purchase the files and set to work on building the cover. I was still in the middle of writing the book, and it was important that I not distract myself from that task. It’s a good thing I made the prudent decision.

I remember Lois McMaster Bujold mentioning on her blog, some years ago, that a certain novel of hers remained just three chapters from the end for a good half of the book.

(Unless my memory is utterly wrong. Which it could be. I have a terrible memory.)

But Fate’s Door was like that book of Bujold’s. Once I’d written 100,000 words (roughly 300 pages), I was just 15,000 words from the end. For the next two months! At 160,000 words (roughly 400 pages), Fate’s Door had finally reached “The End.”

After I readied the manuscript for my first reader and sent it to her, I turned my attention to the cover. And decided that I didn’t like my choice of photo representing my heroine. She was too serious. Just as important, she simply wasn’t Nerine.

This same thing had happened to me when I designed the cover for Caught in Amber. I had to go photo-hunting again, and discovered exactly what I wanted among the dozen or more models I’d originally considered. That was Nerine!

1 Nerine

Once I’d purchased the right to use the photos on my cover, I downloaded the files. Then I isolated the wave from the sky over it, and clipped Nerine out from her background of tree leaves. I’ve shown the clipping required in the images above.

3 Wave on coverThe next step was building the progression of waves in my cover file. I’d already done this in the test comp file, so I followed it as a guide. The waves flowed together very nicely, creating a marvelous sense of the sea’s power. I was pleased.

The next step was to place Nerine. Again, I followed what I’d done in the comp cover, but using the newly chosen photo of a different model. I discovered that the green of the tree leaves shining through her hair was very close to the green of the sea. A stroke of pure luck!

4 Nerine on coverI carried on with placing the title and the tagline that goes above it. Next came my byline and the tagline that goes below it, as well as the underline that visually connects the descending letter “J” to the tagline “Author of Caught in Amber.”

At this stage in building a cover, I can see whether or not the design is coming together. The design for Fate’s Door was definitely coming together, but like every other cover I’ve created, some problem areas remained which would require tweaking.

The first correction I made was to place a translucent green screen over all of the water. It’s fully 70% opacity, but with the light quality set for “soft light” rather than the more usual “normal.” I did this, because I really liked the color quality of the water in my test comp, and the full resolution photograph had a darker, more blue quality. My green screen gave the water a more inviting hue and restored it to that of the comp image.

5 first conceptionHowever, the most obvious problem area was the back cover. While I really liked the scene I’d created – Nerine rising from ocean waves – the back cover was not going to provide the even color tone required for cover copy. In fact, the alternating white of sea foam and dark green of the waves would provide the very worst possible background for text.

The dark green would call for white text, while the white foam would need black text. And alternating black and white text would look awful, as well as being hard on a reader’s eyes. Something would need to be done. That something felt rather obvious to me. I’d had doubts about the layers of waves from the beginning, but been beguiled by the scene I was “painting.”

6 Adjust the backThe solution was to stretch the dark green portion of the wave to cover the entire back cover and feather it to gently transition into the foaming wave on the front cover.

Fixing the most egregious problem caused the next worst one to leap to my eye. The title was hard to read, because its first word – Fate’s – was neatly bisected by where the white foam of the frontmost wave gives way to the green of the next wave rolling in. I tried moving the frontmost wave down, so that the color change occurred between the two words of the title. The golden color showed up equally well on the two colors – white and green – so it worked, in that sense. But I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like splitting the title. And I didn’t like how the overall composition looked with the white sea foam positioned at that lower level. I decided to try something else. What if I left the sea foam essentially in place, but stretched it vertically, so that the upper edge fell near the top of the first word?

I tried it.

And I liked it. Very much.

7A Move wave

I considered Nerine’s dress. I’d already changed it from pale pink to white. I’d hoped it might look like sea foam, but it didn’t. And Nerine doesn’t wear dresses in the sea. But I had a plan. I selected a section of sea foam with the right shape, copied it, and placed it over her dress.

It needed a little stretching to make it right, but Photoshop’s warp tool is a handy thing for just these situations. The foam was a little too white, as well, since it was out from behind that “soft light” green screen that I’d placed over all the water. Another easy fix: place a similar screen over just this front portion of sea foam.

Next I poured in the back cover copy.

Still looking very good.

Now it was time for the final tweaks, mainly placing translucent screens with softly feathered edges behind some of the text. The tagline above the title got a 20% screen of wave green behind it. My byline received two screens, a hair-colored one at 30% behind “Ney-G” and a 20% wave screen behind “rimm.” I made both large enough to also fall behind “Author of Caught in Amber.”

8 final Fate cover

A few more similar screens went on the back cover behind “Wild Unicorn Books” and the price and genre. I decided to remove a small awkward piece of Nerine’s hair, where it protruded from behind the ISBN box and simply looked odd, separated from Nerine herself as it was.

My cover was nearly finished. The spine needed all three of the usual elements: title, byline, and Wild Unicorn logo. The elements themselves are simple, but I expected to have trouble with them because of the pesky flower in Nerine’s hair.

Now, I love the flower. I can just imagine it plucked from a blooming tree by a lover, and cast on the waves as a wish, to alight in Nerine’s hair as she surfaces. But its location on the spine is problematic, because it might all-to-easily interfere with the title – either crowding the title or making it hard to read by peering out from behind the letters.

This proved to be the case when I first placed the title. The flower was located behind it. Not good.

However, I usually start with the title larger than I need it, because making it smaller is always an option. Whereas, if I decide I need it larger, I must start over with the larger image again. Each time I shrink an image, some of the data is discarded. Taking the small image and enlarging it does not restore the lost data.

As I made the title smaller and smaller, I could see that it would probably fit very nicely between the top of the spine and the flower. There is even a little room (considering aesthetics) to make it smaller yet, if required. But I’ll need to see an actual physical book – the proof copy – before I decide. On my computer screen, the title looks a little crowded by the flower.

But the only place the spine will be seen is when a reader holds the trade paperback in his or her hands. And I’ve learned that the size of type on a screen appears very different from its appearance on a physical book. This post will likely go live on my blog before I’m working on the paper edition, but I’ll add a note to tell you how the title issue turns out.

Once I placed my byline on the spine, I saw that the flower was not the only constraint. The title has essentially 9 “letters” in it, when you include the space between the two words. My byline has 12 “letters.” I like the letters of title and byline to be the same size on the spine. Which meant, in this case, that the letters had to be small enough for both title and byline to fit, along with the unicorn profile which is my imprint’s logo.

All of the elements required translucent screens behind them to make them easily readable – hair-colored for most of the type and the logo, water-colored for the “E” and the “S” in “Fate’s.”

And here it is, with the spine complete. For now. 😀

9 cover spine

Edited to Add April 2016

My first reader gave me excellent feedback on Fate’s Door. I made revisions to correct the issues she found, and then sent the manuscript off to my second reader. My second reader gave me equally good feedback, and I made yet more revisions.

All in all, three-and-a-half months passed while my readers read and while I wrote revisions.

During that time, I also revised the copy that appears on the back cover of the paperback. Below is the corrected version of the cover.

Fate's Door, final cover, 600 px

Given that the cover for the paperback is complete, where – you may be wondering – is said paperback? Why can it not be ordered on Amazon or anywhere else?

Here’s my problem: the metallic gold title looks good at full size on the paperback. But it’s not quite right at thumbnail size on a website page. I’ve tried many variations to see if I could improve it: metallic brass, jade green, copper orange, and more. All of the variants looked worse than the metallic gold. Much worse.

Fate's Door, cover variations

I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel and go with the gold filigree.

And thus the paperback still waits on my hope that I can figure out a solution to my title quandary. Cross your fingers for me – and for my readers who prefer paper to digital – that I dream up my solution soon! 😀

Edited to Add May 2016

In the comments below, my friend Alicia suggested that I try a different gold texture for the title treatment. Her suggestion stuck with me all week after I read it. I’d already tried five alternate gold textures, and none of them worked. But I had a feeling she was onto something.

I searched for yet more gold patterns and found half a dozen possibilities. None of them worked either, but I still felt that Alicia was right. I took a week’s break and then searched again. This time I found one, but I hoped it just might be the one.

When I tried it…I liked it! A lot! Alicia was right when she said, “You’ll know the minute you find the right combination…”

Thank you, Alicia! I doubt I would have persevered so long and so successfully without your suggestion and your encouragement.

Fate tapestry cover

I saw one more problem after I created the new title treatment. It’s a little crazy that I hadn’t noticed it sooner. I did my first work on the cover when I was still writing the book’s manuscript draft, and when I returned to the cover (many months later) I’d forgotten that the tag line above the title was originally a placeholder.

I’m still shaking my head at myself. Really, J.M.? Really?!

Alas, really. It’s fixed now. 😀

Secrets, like troubles, come in threes – when you possess one…

Fate’s Door is available as an ebook. Amazon

Fate’s Door is available as trade paperback.
Amazon I B&N I Fishpond I Mysterious Galaxy Books

For more cover builds, see:
Building Wild’s Cover
Building Glory’s Cover
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance

 

Mother Holle

"I am half sick of shadows," said the Lady of Shalott by John William WaterhouseMother Holle (or Frau Holle) is one of the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, but it may be far more than a fairy tale.

In most of the other Brothers Grimm stories, anonymous and magical beings enter the world of the protagonist to assign heroic quests, bestow blessings, or mete out punishment.

Mother Holle is quite different, in that the magical being is named, she lives in the heavens, and the protagonist of the story must go to her by paradoxically diving into a spring. When Mother Holle shakes her featherbed, the loosed feathers fall to the earth as snow. These features suggest that the story is an origin myth for a supreme Mother Goddess with roots in the early Bronze Age.

Holle seems to be a northern version of the southern Perchta or Berchta, a goddess of spinning and weaving. She had both a light and a dark aspect, the one beautiful and shining, the other old and haggard. The name Perchta seems to derive from both beraht (Bright One) and pergan (Hidden One).

In my novel Fate’s Door, I imagine Holle as a Great Mother Goddess and the first weaver to sit at the loom of fate, weaving the lives of her children – mortal and immortal – into being.

Windswept by John William WaterhouseAfter millennia of weaving alone, she longs for company. When a wandering oread – a nymph of the mountains – climbs too high and is carried away by a cloud to Mother Holle’s cottage, she begs shelter. Mother Holle gives it, and the nymph stays for some time, recovering from her ordeal in the sky.

As she regains her health, the nymph helps the goddess with her tasks – both those of the household and those involved with her weaving. The two become friends. The nymph asks if she might make the cottage her home at the same moment when Mother Holle asks the nymph to stay forever, thus becoming a spirit or a numen of time.

This is the young Orroch, who eventually becomes the eldest norn.

In time, Mother Holle acquires another helper. When she is weary, the two young numeni play music to soother her and themselves, for the burden of crafting destiny is heavy.

Saint Cecilia by John William Waterhouse

After yet more millennia, another young nature spirit joins the family, and Orroch persuades Mother Holle to seek her freedom and leave the weaving to her helpers. Orroch promises the goddess that they will faithfully hand down the traditions of destiny to the new heirs that arise, and only then does the goddess depart.

Orroch imagines the goddess roaming the cosmos beyond even the confines of the sky, meeting strange denizens, and pursuing adventure, but no one really knows where Mother Holle has gone.

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May by John William WaterhouseOrroch herself takes the role of weaver, while her helpers become the Pattern-maker and the Shuttle-catcher. They also seek the materials needed for the loom.

As the centuries roll by, Orroch remains steadfastly at her weaving, but newcomers take the roles of her assistants. No longer are they selected by chance. Invitations are sent to promising candidates. Orroch is content that this should be so until a certain lake nymph named Cinnisuent learns the ways of the norns. Only then does tragedy enter Orroch’s breast.

Mother Holle from the Brothers Grimm

A widow had two daughters. Her stepdaughter was beautiful and industrious, but the widow favored her birth daughter, allowing the girl to become lazy and spoiled. Thus the stepdaughter had all the work to do, becoming the Cinderella of the house.

Every day the poor girl sat by a well, next to the highway, and spun so much that her fingers bled. Now it happened that one day the spindle was completely bloody, so she dipped it in the well, to wash it off. It slipped from her hand and fell in. She ran to her stepmother weeping, and told her of the mishap. She was scolded sharply and mercilessly.

Her stepmother said, “Since you have let the spindle fall in, you must fetch it out again.”

The girl went back to the well, and did not know what to do. Terrified of more scolding, she jumped into the well to fetch the spindle. As she sank below the water, she lost her senses.

The Flower Picker by John William WaterhouseWhen she awoke and came to herself again, she stood in a beautiful meadow where the sun was shining, and there were many thousands of flowers. She cupped one in her hand to study it more closely.

Then she walked across the meadow and came to an oven full of bread. The bread called out, “Oh, take me out. Take me out, or I’ll burn. I’ve been thoroughly baked for a long time.” So she stepped up to it, and with a baker’s peel took everything out, one loaf after the other and set them in a wide basket lying nearby.

After that she walked further and came to a tree laden with apples. “Shake me. Shake me. My apples are all ripe,” cried the tree. She shook the tree until the apples fell as though it were raining fruit. When none were left in the tree, she gathered them into a deep basket which lay under the tree, and then continued on her way.

Finally she came to a small cottage. An old woman peered out through the open window. She had very large teeth, which frightened the girl, who wanted to run away. But the old woman called out to her, “Don’t be afraid, dear child. Stay here with me, and if you keep my household in an orderly fashion, all will go well with you. Only you must take care to make my bed well and shake it diligently until the feathers fly, then it will snow in the world. I am Mother Holle.”

6 Boreas by John William WaterhouseBecause the old woman spoke so kindly to her, the girl took heart, agreed, and started in her service. The girl took care of everything to Mother Holle’s satisfaction and always shook her featherbed vigorously until the feathers flew about like snowflakes. Therefore she had a good life with her: no angry words, and roast meat to eat every day.

After she had been with Mother Holle for a time, she became sad. At first she did not know what was the matter with her, but at last she determined that it was homesickness. Even though she was many thousands of times better off with Mother Holle than at home, still she had a yearning to return. Finally she said to the old woman, “I have such a longing for home, and even though I am very well off here, I cannot stay longer. I must go up again to my own people.”

Mother Holle said, “I am pleased that you long for your home again, and because you have served me so faithfully, I will take you back myself.” With that she took her by the hand and led her to a large gate.

The gate was opened, and while the girl was standing under it, an immense rain of gold fell, and all the gold stuck to her, so that she was completely covered with it. “This is yours because you have been so industrious,” said Mother Holle, and at the same time she gave her back the spindle which had fallen into the well.

Then the gate was closed and the girl found herself on earth again, not far from her mother’s house. As she entered the yard the rooster, sitting on the well, cried, “Cock-a-doodle-doo, our golden girl is here anew.”

The girl went inside and, as she arrived all covered with gold, she was well received, both by her mother and her sister. The girl told all that had happened to her, and when the mother heard how she had come to the great wealth, she wanted to achieve the same fortune for her other daughter. She made the lazy girl go and sit by the well and spin. To make her spindle bloody, the girl shoved her hand into a thorn bush and pricked her fingers. Then she threw the spindle into the well, and jumped in after it.

Like the other girl, she too came to the beautiful meadow and walked along the same path. When she came to the oven, the bread cried again, “Oh, take me out. Take me out, or else I’ll burn. I’ve been thoroughly baked for a long time.”

But the lazy girl answered, “As if I would want to get all dirty,” and walked away.

Next she came to the apple tree. It cried out, “Oh, shake me. Shake me. My apples are all ripe.”

But the girl answered, “Oh yes, one could fall on my head,” and with that she walked on.

When she came to Mother Holle’s house, she was not afraid, because she had already heard about her large teeth, and she immediately began to work for her. On the first day she forced herself, was industrious, and obeyed Mother Holle, because she was thinking about all the gold that she would receive.

But on the second day she grew lazy, on the third day even more so, and then she didn’t even want to get up in the morning.

Ophelia by John William Waterhouse

She did not make the bed for Mother Holle, the way she was supposed to, and she did not shake it until the feathers flew. Mother Holle soon became tired of this and dismissed her from her duties. This was just what the lazy girl wanted. She thought that she would now get the rain of gold.

Mother Holle led her to the gate. She stood beneath it, but instead of gold, a large kettle full of pitch spilled over her. “That is the reward for your services,” said Mother Holle, and closed the gate. The lazy girl walked home, entirely covered with pitch.

As soon as the rooster on the well saw her, he cried out, “Cock-a-doodle-doo, our dirty girl is here anew.”

The pitch stuck fast to her, and did not come off as long as she lived.

The End
 

When I envision Mother Holle as she appears in my protagonist’s thoughts, I see a queenly woman resembling those painted by the Pre-Raphaelites of the 19th century.

Therefore, when I began my search for images for this post, I looked among the works of the Pre-Raphaelites. Although John William Waterhouse painted several decades after the break-up of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, his style blended theirs with that of his contemporaries, the Impressionists.

And it was amongst the Waterhouse paintings that I found images that matched those of my mind’s eye, as you can see from the selections above. While searching, I also discovered a video combining a slide show of many Waterhouse paintings with the music “Tu chiami una vita” by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, lyrics by Salvatore Quasimodo. It is so beautiful that I simply must share it with you. 😀
 

 

For more about the world of Fate’s Door, see:
Nerine’s Room
Brocade and Drawlooms
Cottage of the Norns
The Norns of Fate’s Door
The Baltic Sea
The Ancient Goths
Lugh and the Lunasad
Crossing the Danube
The Keltoi of Európi

For more about Mother Holle, see:
Mother Hulda on Wikipedia
Frau Holle on Wikipedia
Perchta on Wikipedia

For more about John William Waterhouse, see:
John William Waterhouse on Wikipedia
Waterhouse Signatures on the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood
The Winds of Waterhouse on the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood
Waterhouse’s Undine and Mermaids on the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood
 

Bookkeeping Prompts Another Cover Revision

Ashkenazi Sefer TorahI’ve been catching up on my bookkeeping. This is appropriate, because my current work-in-progress, Tally the Betrayals, is about a bookkeeper.

(He inks his tallies on scrolls. Thus the photo above.)

Now he’s not your ordinary bookkeeper.

He works in the “dark tower” of Silmaren in the Bronze Age of my North-lands, keeping track of the tin and copper flowing into the smithies where the weapons of the troll-lord’s armies are forged! And one of his tin ingots has gone missing.

But I digress. (And, yes, that was a tease.) 😀

Back to the bookkeeping at Casa Ney-Grimm.

I was updating my year-on-year spreadsheet, where I see how many copies of each book title sold each year, from 2011 through the present. It helps me assess the big picture.

web imageSeveral things became clear after I tallied the numbers for 2015. My short stories sell sporadically and by the handful. This is normal. Short stories just are not as popular with readers as longer works.

Except my Crossing the Naiad, which sells steadily. Still by the handful, but every month readers are choosing Naiad, which intrigues me. It’s a great story, yes. But so is Resonant Bronze a great story. What is it about Naiad that has extra appeal?

More experienced writers than I tell me that this is always the unanswered question, so, moving on…

Next conclusion: novellas sell better than short stories, still by the handful, but steadily. (Sort of like Naiad, in fact. Except that Naiad is not a novella.)

And novels sell best of all.

None of the above is really surprising. But the thing that caught my attention was that Livli’s Gift – a novel – is alone amongst my novels in selling merely like a novella. What’s up with that?

I think I know the answer. It was the cover. The old cover just wasn’t right.

Now I revised the cover a few weeks back and blogged about it. But seeing the cold, hard numbers made me revisit the issue. Sure, I’d revised the cover, and I liked the new version a lot. But had I revised it enough? If the old cover had been hurting its popularity that much, had I truly fixed the problem?

No, I didn’t think I had.

So I’ve been tinkering with it some more. I’m not quite done tinkering. I have a few more details I want to change. But I thought I’d show you what I have thus far.

Livli's Gift, night sky cover, 350 px

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What do you think?
😀

To see the original cover of Livli’s Gift, created step by step:
Creating Livli’s Cover

To see the cover revision of Livli’s Gift:
Why Revise a Book’s Cover

To see the inspiration for my novel Tally the Betrayals:
Tally the Betrayals