Book Review: The Winter of the Witch

The worst thing about The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden  is that it means the series is over. I could read another trilogy about Vasya and Morozko even though this book clearly wraps up the conflicts that began in the Bear and the Nightingale.  Now, before I wind up spoiling something, I’ll get on with my review.

The strongest features of The Winter of the Witch are definitely the characters and world building.

I love how Vasya resists the gender roles of her time, how she grows into herself and figures out who she really is. Her persistence, pain, wildness, courage, and dedication are tangible things. I loved struggling and succeeding and navigating a myriad of complicated relationships through her point of view. Morozko was my second favorite character, perhaps made more intriguing by the fact that readers really did not get to see much from his point of view. The others were okay, but every time the narrative shifted to them, I just wanted to get back to Vasya.

I did find myself annoyed at the way the book shifted point of view. This varies from reader to reader, but I prefer to read from one point of view for a whole chapter and get annoyed when scene breaks indicate a switch in point of view. On more than one occasion, I found myself rereading to remind myself which character’s eyes the world was being filtered through.

The world building was fantastic. I was smelling, tasting, touching, seeing, and hearing right along with the characters. And it wasn’t boring or overwhelming. Every detail Arden chose to focus on was relevant and added to the tone or mood of the scene. I loved that the magic system and creatures were based off of actual myths, and that some of the characters were named after people who actually existed and fought in a battle the one in the book was based off of.

One downside of historically accurate fiction is that it is often loaded with sexism and misogyny the contemporary world is struggling to shake. Throughout this trilogy, were there was no shortage of sexist men treating woman like inferior beings or objects. However, I was happy  that there were less of those in this book and that Vasya had earned the respect of men who previously looked down on her.

As much as I enjoy escaping to worlds without sexism, to worlds where gender isn’t a rigid binary thing people are judged by, I do believe there is plenty of room for those books to co-exist with novels like this that don’t censor the shitty parts of history. Historical fantasy has it’s value too. It makes me appreciate how far society has come.I’ll certainly miss Vasya, Morozko, and their complex, slow burn romance, but I’ll look forward to reading whatever Arden writes next.

Click here to buy The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Book Review: The Disasters

The Disasters  is a treasure. After the last future-set, sci-fi book I read, The Disasters was like a breath of fresh air.  The Disasters had  a narrative kept me glued to kindle, only taking a breaks to do necessary things like eat, use the bathroom, and walk the dog until the book was done.

Thankfully, I’m a fast reader, and this was a fast book (in a good way).  

So, what is the story?

A group of teens who just failed out of an elite space academy survive a attack that takes out their classmates, flee the system, and fight to stop the terrorists from killing more people.

Said group of teens is pretty awesome.

The narrator, Nax,  is a bi pilot coping with anxiety from a wreck he was in a few years ago. I loved seeing how he decided to say things that made him seem like a classic, cocky, hotshot pilot while being very scared and insecure.  I was rooting for him from the start, and loved his interactions with a crew that was diverse in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race, and nationality.

Terrorist attack aside, this future was super optimistic.

For the most part, humans weren’t fighting each other. There was peace on Earth and in the “the colonies.” Most people were getting along…except for this one group that wanted to kill everyone…but that group was a small portion of the population. Most groups got a long way better than they do today.

The word “colonies” made me cringe a little the first time I saw it on the page, however, it’s un-inhabited planets, not cultures and people, that are being colonized. This universe is similar to the one Firefly was set in, where humans have found habitable worlds and terraformed others to make them habitable, but have not yet discovered other sentient life in the galaxy.

I also loved how the book handled diversity. It wasn’t about diversity. It wasn’t about being bi, muslim, trans, black, gay, white, or straight. It was about teens trying to save the galaxy. Their identities were part of them, added richness to their personalities, made them unique, and made them feel real. The book gave me hope that one day, things like racism, transphobia, islamophobia, and  homophobia will be things of the past. This future is the kind I seek out in science fiction.

I’ve read books like this before, that do all the amazing this one does, but most of them have been from small presses. I’m happy to see that larger publishing houses are finally catching on.

Next time you are in the mood for some great science fiction,  read The Disasters! 

2018 Publication Round-up

2018 is just about over, and while it may not have been my most fruitful year for producing new work, it was a fantastic year for publishing. My first novel was published. My short fiction and poetry appeared in nineteen publications

Of all of these, my favorite is my novel, Power Surge. For short stories, I’m most proud of “Ink and Ash” in The Society of Misfit Stories.

For flash fiction, it’s a tie between “You Won’t Believe How This Creature Changed Their Lives!” in Vulture Bones and “Roots” in The Cascadia Subduction Zone.

“Butter is Not a Dress” in Hashtag Queer Anthology Series is the best poem I have ever written!

If you’re looking for pieces to nominate for awards, check those out! Below is a roundup all of my 2018 publications, including cover art when applicable, links, and a short blurb for each story.

January 22:

“It Sucks to Be a Succubus” in Unnerving Magazine.

A succubus tries to have a fun night out without killing anyone.

February 6:

“Snow Fox” in Once Upon a Rainbow Volume Two

 Jealous Queen E’s attempts on Snow Fox’s life are trending.

March 5:

“The Blind Girl and the Troll” in Asymmetry.

A troll hungry troll decides to aid a refugee instead of eating her, and it alters the state of his existence. 

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.25.23 PM.png

March 21:

“Thunder Cars” in (Dis)Ability Short Story Anthology

Food shopping with anxiety is like weathering a storm.

April 3:

“Liberty Underground” in Teach. Write.

There is more to this seemingly haunted house than meets the eye.

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.31.16 PM.pngMay 1:

“You Won’t Believe How This Creature Changed Their Lives!” in Vulture Bones

Two siblings find a magical creature. 

May 31:

Dragon’s Bane” in Menagerie de Mythique Anthology.

Not your average dragon hunter

June 20:

“Gala Down” in Drabbledark

Politics and food don’t mix well.

June 22:

“Butter is Not a Dress” in Hashtag Queer Anthology Series

A poem about gender identity and clothing.

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.44.12 PM.pngJuly 23:

“Roots” in The Cascadia Subduction Zone

Home isn’t always the house you live in.

July 31:

“The Debutante” in Fantasia Divinity Magazine

A steampunk match-making AI. 

August 30:

“Djinn and Tonic” and “Surviving Seaglass” in Chronos

Two speculative drabbles that explore how supernatural being perceive time.

September 19:

“The Omen” in UnSung (Better Futures Press)

*There is no link to this one because shortly after publication, the publisher appeared to have folded.

September 20:

“A Kitten for the Kelpiecorn” in Four Star Stories.*

A kelpiecorn adopts a kitten.

*The issue it appeared in is no longer available and has yet to appear on the sites archives page.

October 1

Power Surge (The Evanstar Chronicles)

Being hunted by demons isn’t the worst part; it’s the lies.

October 14:

“A Curious Case in the Deep” in Broadswords and Blasters.

Two brave ocean explorers make an unexpected discovery.

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 9.17.20 PM.pngNovember 6:

“Piggish Persistence” in Empyreome Magazine

One magician tries to subvert the pharma-guild’s control on the medical. potions industry

November 1:

“Denial and Acceptance” in Trump Fiction: ECR Special Edition

Aliens invade in the final days of the Trump administration.

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 9.21.06 PM.pngNovember 12, 2018:

“Ink and Ash” in The Society of Misfit Stories

When the government outlaws the use of wands in magic, two siblings find themselves on opposite sides of the law.

November 30, 2018:

“Behind the Scenes” in Unrealpolitik

Werewolves play an important role in the National Park Service’s future.

 

Book Review: Seven Things Not to Do When Everyone’s Trying to Kill You

Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 12.02.24 AM.pngI received a free copy of this from the author in exchange for a fair, honest review.

If you are looking for a quick, fun read, then I highly recommend reading Seven Things Not to Do When Everyone’s Trying to Kill You. 

Bryant Adams is a goofy narrator who likes to break the fourth wall. In Book 1 (How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freaking Days) he gets a magic smart phone, finds out he is a wizard and and wrecks awkwardly funny teenage havoc in New York City. Now, in book 2, ( Seven Things Not to Do When Everyone’s Trying to Kill You) he has learned a thing or two about magic and had plenty of time to recover from his first ordeal. Of course, that quiet can’t last forever.

Someone, or several someones, are out to get Bryant. He has to figure out who is trying to kill them while dealing with parents who have united for the first time in a long time because they both want to keep him away from magic. Except his enemies will come for him grounded or not.

Saying anything more specific than this about the plot might become a spoiler. With the book moving so fast, I didn’t really notice the plot building. There were plenty of battles, but it all blended together and then all of a sudden it was the final battle, which seemed to easy. This was fun to read, but it was also a bit anticlimactic.

Everything else about the book was great. The voice is sweet and goofy.  The dynamic between the characters was energetic. I love how light-hearted this is even with life or death stakes. I read a lot of angsty, drama ridden stories (and maybe write them to). This was a nice break from those.

The characters may not change a whole lot throughout the book, and it may not have an in-depth exploration of any serious social issues, but I’m okay with. Not all books need to be deep, dark, and philosophical.

There is something optimistic and innocent about Bryant Adams. If you want a cheerful, laugh out loud romp of a read with plenty of magical battles and a teeny tiny little bit of kissing, read this.

It doesn’t come out until April 16th 2019, so you’re probably going to have to a wait a little to read it. So if you haven’t read the first book in the series, How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freaking Days

A Book-Lovers Gift Guide: Hidden Gems in Science Fiction and Fantasy

When I want to buy books as gifts for friends and family who love to read, the trickiest part is usually figuring out what books they haven’t actually read yet. Going into a book store, whether it be my local indie or a Barnes and Noble, I always see books from the big names and the same big publishers on the shelves.

If I’m buying a book as a gift, I don’t want to buy something the person already has. I want to get them a unique gift; something I know they haven’t read but might become one of their new favorites.

The best way to do this is to steer clear of the big names that dominate the shelves in bookstores and to turn to the small press’ whose books stores often hesitate to take a chance on or just never discover.

Here are eight great books you might not find on the shelves of your local shop:

1: Ardulum: First Don by J.S. Feilds  

The Ardulum series is one of my favorite space operas and would make a great gift for anyone who is a fan of Firefly. Complex, colorful characters, fiber based space-ships, original aliens, and a traveling plant  make this book truely unique.

2: How I Magically Messed Up my Life in Four Firggin’ Days by Megan O’Russell

If you know a teen who loves urban fantasy, this hilarious, high stakes romp through a magical version of New York City might be the perfect the gift! It reminded me a little of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Infinity or a goofy, male-narrated cross between Tithe and a pg-13 Deadpool.

3: Wings Unseen by Rebecca Gomez Farrell

For someone who likes classic but dark epic fantasy, Wings Unseen will make a great gift for them whether they are teens or adults.

4: Omen Operation by Taylor Brooke

Omen Operation is the first of three books in the Isolation Series, which the author describes as a cross between Resident Evil and X-men. If you know someone who likes contemporary science fiction with lots of action, lots of kissing, a wide range of LGBTQ+ representation, and complicated characters, Omen Operation will make a great gift for them.

5: Smoke City by Keith Rosson 

If you’re searching for a gift for an adult reader who likes magical realism, Kurt Vonnegut, and/or Martin Millar, I recommend Smoke City. Rossen “blurs genre and literary fiction”  with reincarnation, road trips, alcoholism, and mysterious smoke ghosts.

6: Phaethon by Rachel Sharp 

Phaethon mixes Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series with Holly Black’s A Modern Faerie Tales series and makes it a standalone book for adults. It’s a perfect gift for fans of urban fantasy who enjoy seeing faeries wreck havoc in the modern world.

7: Seven-Sided Spy by Hannah Carmack

When it comes to adult readers who like spies and science fiction, I recommend Seven-Sided Spy, a cold war era novel with a super-soldier and survival plot that appeals to fans of Agents of Shield and Peggy Carter.

8: Power Surge by Sara Codair

Last but not least, I have to plug my own book. Power Surge is great for older teens and young adults, especially those who enjoy dark urban fantasy. Readers of Jim Butcher, Cassandra Clare, and Holly Black will definitely enjoy it!

YA: Teens First, Adults who are Young (or young at heart), Second

A few days ago, I read The Many Ways YA Books & The Community Isolates Teens by VICKY WHO READS. It was a thought provoking blog post about Young Adult (YA) fiction that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how teens are isolated from the books that are supposed for them.

Because adults are the ones writing YA, publishing it, and spending money on it, teen voices often get left out of the genre. This had me wondering if my YA fiction was guilty of isolating teens, and if as someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time with teens, I should even be writing books labeled as for teens.

I’m still grappling that and one way I am pursuing it is by reflecting on how I read as a teenager so I can see how it impacts my assumptions about teen readers. What I discovered about the later is worth sharing.

I was high school from 2002-2006, and I was barely aware that there was a category of fiction labeled as “Young Adult.” I think read about five YA titles on my own, unless you count the Harry Potter or Artemis Fowl series, but I think those are really middle grade.

Some of the books I was forced to read, like Lord of the Flies or A Separate Peace might be labeled YA now, but they were written long before YA was an official category.

I was actually in college when I started seeking out and reading YA novels. I met a girl who called herself Artemis, and she let me borrow a copy of Tithe by Holly Black. She introduced me Libbra Bray,  and eventually Cassandra Clare (whose books made me shelve Power Surge for a long, long time).

If I wasn’t reading YA in high school, what was I reading?

Anything Tolkien. I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings multiple times. I read Tolkien’s short stories and poems. I started The Silmarillion and then I took a break from Tolkien.

The Star Wars Expanded Universe, which sadly is no longer cannon. There were plenty of books in that series to keep me busy for a long time. Why would I bother with the YA shelves when all the good Star Wars stories where in the Sci-Fi section?

Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels were one of the best things my senior English teacher introduced me too.

I’m almost certain I was a senior in high school when I started reading The Dresden Files, though it might have been the summer after graduation. I know was not happy when I got to White Night and realized it wasn’t out yet.

I loved these books. I bought them in used book stores, or the used “Section” of my favorite indie bookstores (Jabberwocky and Toadstool). If I couldn’t find it used, I went to the new section, and if it wasn’t there, Borders almost always had it. The staff often said they could special order things for me, but I never wanted to wait that long.

I didn’t really write reviews since I didn’t spend much time online. There was one computer in the house that I shared with my parents. The only review I remember writing of a bool was for my local new paper’s teen authored page. Normally, they published teen authored movie reviews every Saturday. But one week, they let me choose a book from a selection of ARC’s they’d gotten. I picked a science fiction novel by Mike Resnick.It wasn’t YA. I don’t remember which one and I don’t think I’ve ever read any other books.

I occasionally pre-ordered things, especially if it was summer and I had money from my job as a game attendant at Canobie Lake Park.

Like many of the teens mentioned in Vicky’s post, I did not have a huge influence on the industry.

The other question is, did I connect to those characters?

Jaina Solo and Mara Jade Skywalker are still two of my favorite heroines and I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive Disney for erasing them. Mara was an adult, but when I started reading, Jaina was a teen who acted as much like a teen as one can when being a Jedi and the daughter of Han and Leia. She acted more teen-like than the adult characters, and as she aged, her voice matured appropriately.

And with the other stories? Tolkien?  Butcher? Kurtz?

No. Their characters weren’t other teens with relatable experiences. They were fascinating heroes I could vicariously live through for days on end, but they didn’t really share problems or experiences with me.

They weren’t necessarily characters I needed. They didn’t show me it was okay to be depressed, or that medication wouldn’t change who I was or ruin my ability to be creative. They didn’t help me understand why I was so jealous of the girls who boy’s clothing or help me understand that I could dress like that too if I wanted to.

Honestly, I can’t say the actual “YA” books did any better. Later, when I read YA in college, I found those characters relatable to my self as a college student. They weren’t much more relevant to high-school me than Harry Dresden or Bilbo Baggins.

These are books that had a big impact on my writing: Holly Black for the better and Cassandra Clare for the worse (because I thought there wasn’t room on the shelf for both of our demon hunter books).

I try to write the books I think would’ve helped me if I picked them up as a teen, but I’m 30 and I can’t help but wonder: are my teens to mature? Did I Erin Evanstar grow up too much between draft 1 and draft 15? Will they help teens how I imagine? Will teens even read Power Surge?

So far, more 3/5 of my reviews are from adult men.

The only non-adult feedback I’ve gotten is from the 7th grader in my neighborhood who hangs out with the adults more than the kids. They said they were loving it so much that their mom had to take it away so they could do their homework. They said it was relatable, but when I asked why, they said it was because of the protagonist used “they/them” as a pronoun. How much of this kid connecting was because the 17-year-old character as a whole was relatable, and how much of it was because they just hadn’t read many other books with enby protagonists?

I have no clue.

Going forward, if I truely want my books to serve teens, I need to seek out feedback from teen beta readers and read whatever teen authored reviews and book blogs I can find, otherwise, my “YA” will be for adults who are young, not teenagers.

Reflections on My First Two Book Events

This week, I attended my first two book-related events as an author: a book talk / signing at Jabberwocky Books and the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival.

For someone with lots of social anxiety, planning, committing too, and/or attending events is no small feat, but somehow, I managed to set up a launch event and sign up for a book festival.

After convincing myself that one event or another wasn’t going to happen, they did. I did my talk and signing at Jabberwoky. I sold books at the festival.

I learned a few things.

43950609_10214216395229934_1937355220606517248_nFor first time authors, launch events are really for family and friends. Unless you have a fascinating non-fiction topic people want to learn about, if they don’t know who you are, they are probably not going to take time out of their Friday night to listen to you talk about your book. That’s my theory, anyway.

On the other hand, my family and friends showed. They were super excited to be there, to have me sign a copy of Power Surge, and to congratulate me. I was the only one that seemed disappointed that there weren’t any “strangers” in the audience.

It is a lot easier to stand at a podium and talk to strangers than it is to talk to people I know.

The book festival wasn’t any different than the craft fairs I attended back when I sold sea glass jewelry. A lot of people attended, but there were also a lot of vendors. People walked by the table, picked up books, said good things about them, and walked away, saying they needed to look more before buying.43880502_10214220942663617_5203961892581670912_o

90% of people who say they will or might come back do not.

I brought about fifty copies of Power Surge and sold three. I brought ten copies of Drabbledark and sold four. At craft fairs, I’d have at least fifty pieces of jewelry, and I’d sell somewhere between four and ten pieces.

I made some mistakes:

  1. As usual, I left something I needed at home.
  2. I arrived at the venue with just enough time to set up, but not enough time to take a breath between set up and people walking in.
  3. I had to make three trips to the car because I brought too much and it wasn’t packed up efficiently.

These three mistakes are ones I made early in my craft fair and flea market days.

It wasn’t all a disaster. I remebered to get plenty of one dollar bills, so I could make change. I brought snacks, and ALL the pens and sharpie I needed.

Next time, I won’t let anxiety and imposter syndrome stop me from preparing. I’ll pack efficiently, and get everything ready the night before. I’ll have a larger variety of items.

I’ll be ten times more confident.

 

Publishing Paths: Roads go ever ever on (I hope).

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

I’ve missed a few months, but today, I realized it was  Insecure Writer’s Support Group Blog Hop Day before the day was over. The first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

September’s Question is:

What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

When I got serious about my writing, the publishing path I always imagined for myself was a traditional one. Get an agent. Get a deal with a big publishing house. Eventually, make money off of my writing.

I’d been writing on and off for along time, starting projects and never finishing them, until one November, my anxiety got so bad that I could hardly breath at night when I went to bed, let alone sleep, so I got up and I wrote. I wrote about the things that scared me, that kept me up at night and triggered my anxiety. After a 200,000+ word draft and more words of backstory and world building, I swore I was never going to let anyone read that book, opened a file for an untitled book  I started back in 2007, and decided I was going to finish it.

Not only did I finish it, but over the next year or two, I revised it about ten times. Meanwhile, I wrote and published flash fiction and short stories. By the time I was consistently getting paid for my short fiction and had truely lost count of just how many revisions a book that had morphed from “The Erin book” to “Inattention,” I decided I was ready to start querying agents.

I researched queries and agents, I bought a copy of  Writer’s Market’s 2016 guide to Literary Agents, wrote a query, had my critique parter and critique group read and sent it off. By my second batch of queries, I changed the title to Power Surge. If you read any of my posts or tweets about my publishing journey, then you probably know I made all the newbie mistakes. My query was too long. It had too much backstory. It made the characters sound passive.

My attempts to personalize queries were horrible mostly because I didn’t have a person read every single personalization, and I have a problem with proof reading. I can print something out, read it out loud, read it backwards or out order, I can apply every known proof reading strategy and miss some ridiculous typo, especially if I haven’t taken my ADHD meds. When I queried Power Surge to agents, I wasn’t on them at all and hadn’t yet discovered how much they could help me edit.

I still miss typos, especially on last minute blog posts like this one. I got some requests and over 100 rejections. I was probably up around 120 when I’d had enough of querying agents. Some people would’ve shelved the book at this point, but Power Surge was my baby. In the time I had been querying it, I’d finished a 3rd novel and turned my 200,000 monstrosity of a first book into a decent draft of a 87,000 word supernatural thriller.

More importantly, I believed in Power Surge and needed to find a home for it. I some ways, it was the book I always needed and never had. It embodied elements of my favorite writers, but had the mental illness rep that was missing from my favorite books, and had a main character I poured a little too much of myself into.

PowerSurge-f500I revised one more time, trimming the book and brining Erin’s non-binary gender identity out of the shadows just a little, and queried small publishers. Within a few months, I had two offers and signed with NineStar Press. They’re traditional in the sense that they don’t charge writers anything, have a talented in-house cover artist, and do very thorough editing. However, there is no advance, and while they do some online marketing, its up to me to book events and get into brick and mortar stores.

It’s not the traditional “Big 5” debut I dreamed about, but its a start. I have a fantastic cover and an editor that really gets the book.

Editing  Power Surge reminded me just how much I love the characters and world it is in, so now I’m back to drafting the sequel even if it does mean putting a revision of my YA space opera on the back burner for a little bit. The Evanstars are calling me, and I feel like if  I don’t head that call, my writing will suffer all around.

In the long run, I still want an agent and a chance to get a deal with a big publishing house. Some people tell me this will be harder now that I’ve published under my legal name with a small publisher. Others have told me this isn’t a problem. Either way, I’m going to keep writing, revising and editing. I’m going to keep putting my work out there.

For now, i’m content with as long as I don’t have to pay to have my book published, get great covers and professional edits, but I will never stop trying to break into the big leagues of publishing.

For now, you can help me out by adding  Power Surge to your “to-read” list on Goodreads. Or Pre-order it from NineStar Press.

Power Surge (Evanstar Chronicles)

Book Review: Given To the Earth by Mindy McGinnis

Given To the Earth (Given Duet, #2)Given To the Earth by Mindy McGinnis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Given to the Earth is a continuation of the events in Given to the Earth. I’ll refrain from describing the plot in this review because I’m not sure I can do so without spoilers or copying too much for the blurb.

On the sentence level, the writing was lovely. I never had trouble picturing anything, and felt every time the writer stopped to describe something in detail, it was relevant and layered with meaning. However, that wasn’t enough for me to be drawn in the book like I expected to be.

As much as I loved the cast of the Given Duet, I had a hard time getting into Given to the Earth. I wanted to spend more time with the characters and to find out what happened to them, but the short chapters quickly jumping from one character to the next made it hard for to settle into a rhythm and engage with the story.

I also found I had a hard time keeping track of who was narrating when and found myself flipping back to the beginning of chapters (at least with the first half of the book) to remind myself who was narrating. I always knew when Khosa or Dara was narrating, but there were a few instances where I thought I was reading Vincent but after a couple paragraphs, realized it was Donil when he said Vincent’s name or thought about his sister, Dara.

However, when I was a little over half-way through the book, that problem stopped. I found the rhythm of each characters voice and the rapid fire switching from one narrator to the next became a good thing because I wanted to know how everyone’s narratives fit together and how a string of good and bad decisions were going to play out in the end. I was engaged with the narrative that couldn’t fall asleep and got up to finish the book.

As I got closer to the end, I realized that this book was doing something that I love and hate: showing how dozens of decisions each characters make turn into mistakes because of their timing and a lack of communication, bring the characters so close to what could’ve been a peaceful or happy ending (for most of them) only to have it completely turned over by one thing that they overlooked.

There were a few surprises along the way, mostly, the narrative ended exactly how I knew it would and hoped it wouldn’t. It became too familiar. There were a few moments where I was thinking things like “ok I guess ___ had to ___ in order for ___ and ___ to have a happy ending” but after a good night’s sleep and reflection on how this compared to the book I read before it, I realized it didn’t have to end that way. The author could’ve broken the trope and come up with a more creative ending were more people live happily with each other. I know this is vague, but being any more specific would mean spoilers, which I don’t want to include.

Given to the Earth may not be the best sequel I’ve ever read, but if you read Given to the Sea and enjoyed it, this is still worth reading. It’s well written and well paced once you get into the rhythm of the narrators and their voices. And if you’re okay with teary traditional endings to fantasy novels with almost Arthurian love triangles, them maybe you won’t have the same problem with this that I did.

View all my reviews

Cover Matters Part 2: Making A Book’s Cover Art

In my experiences with small, independent publishers, making a cover is a collaboration between the author and/or editor and artist.

With NineStar Press, I experienced the cover making process as an author for one book. With B Cubed Press, I was the cover artist for three books: two multi-author anthologies and one sing-author poetry collection.

Getting a Feel for the Book

In order to start designing, the artist needs to know a few things about the book.

At NineStar Press, the process started me with (the author) filling out an information form. I included my blurb and pitches for the book, which served a double purpose. They gave the artist a feel for the story, and they was also for their publisher to use on their website and on retailer sites.

The second part of the form was specifically for the cover artist. I was asked to describe the book’s physical setting and the time period it was set in (if it wasn’t a secondary world). I was asked to use three adjectives to describe the mood or tone of the book. Another set of questions focused on the main characters – their physical appearance, age, gender and orientation. The form asked if there were any significant symbols or images repeated throughout the book. All of these helped the artist come up with a concept that would accurately reflect the book and it’s characters.

But that wasn’t all. The form also allowed me to include links to three covers I liked and had a section at the end where I could write about additional characters or describe a concept I had in mind. Surprisingly, I didn’t have a specific idea of how I wanted the cover to look, but I did know what I didn’t want: lightening. My novel isn’t the only Power Surge and I wanted it to stand out among other search engine results. Since most of the other books bearing that title featured some kind of lightening, it was important that my book didn’t have lightening on the cover.

With B Cubed Press the process the process was less structured. They needed a new cover artist for their Alternative Theology anthology, so I used the description on the call for submissions to draft a cover to propose. After committing to that cover, I was asked to do one for After the Orange and a poetry collection.

With After the Orange, I did read the blurb that had accompanied the submission call to get started, but Bob Brown, the founder of B Cubed Press, sent me an email describing the tone of the anthology and sent me an image he wanted to use on the cover.

For the poetry collection, the author sent me a selection of photographs to choose from, a detailed description of the collection’s tone, and the title poem.

While one process was very structured and the other more open and free-flowing, at this stage, the cover artist’s job was to familiarize them with the book and the authors desire for the cover.

Drafts and Revisions

After reviewing the information provided about the book, the artist sends a draft cover.  This wasn’t a polished product; it was more of a mock up to see if the artist is on the right track.

When I saw the first draft of my cover for Power Surge, I loved the color theme, the background, and the font, but the model just didn’t look right. She was too feminine, more like one of the minor characters than the main character, and looked more like someone in their mid-twenties than a high school senior. I replied saying so.

Later that day, I got a second version with a different model. This one had the right tom-boy appearance, but they looked even more mature than the first model. I sent some photos that I hoped would give the artist a better idea of what I was looking for, but they weren’t able to use those for legal reasons. While studying the draft, I saw a watermark. The pub don’t buy the photos until they know are going to use them – so I went on the sight they buy their photos from and found images I thought would be a better representation of my character. I sent those links, and the artist chose one of those. I may have overstepped my place a little there, but something had been miscommunicated in my info form, and I needed to make the artist had got the character right.

PowerSurge-f500This time, when I saw the cover, it was almost perfect. Initially I asked for two more changes, but I was told one would make the cover to busy. I trusted the cover artist with that decision, and the other, a minor adjustment to proportions, was an easy change.

In the end, the model on the cover had the look I pictured for my character. The hair color was wrong, but they had a hat on, so it worked out. Erin, the main character in Power Surge, never wears a hat in the book, but neither does my favorite fiction wizard.

Power Surge (Evanstar Chronicles)

This back and forth process happened when I made covers for B Cubed Press, although I lost count of how many times I went back and forth. It wasn’t because the editors were picky but because I was a newer, less experienced artist.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 3.29.17 PM.png

With After the Orange, it took several attempts to get the tone right. Towards the end of the process, when the authors got a sneak peak of the cover, a few suggested the cover was too subdued and needed more cover to make it stand out on the shelves. I made more changes, and when I finally sent that version back, it was just what they were looking for. Afterwards, I had to fine tune the font size and layout to make sure it would all fit properly and not get cut off.

Althernative Theology KindleWith Alternative Theology, I had a better grasp on the theme, but my original idea of having a stained glass background made the cover too busy, especially when trying to fit a snowflake on the cover. It’s part of B Cubed Press’ brand, especially where their “Alternative” titles are concerned. After a few back and forth with a more tame, purple background, we found something we were all happy with.

The poetry collection was the most straight forward. My first cover looked a little too much like a mystery novel, but I got the concept right on my next try, and from there, it was fine tuning the font, placement of the title, and layout of the back cover.

Once the covers were approved by editors and authors, they were ready to share with t

he world.

Final Thoughts

The processes at NineStar Press and B Cubed Press were similar at their core, but different on the surface. Since I’ve only worked with two publishers, I can’t comment on whether or not this is how it works other places. If you’ve worked with different publishers, feel free to comment on how your experiences were similar or different.