Saturday, February 14, 2015

Adjusting One’s Expectations

First off: have you read Alex’s post from Thursday? You should. My response boils down to this: I am a writer. End of story.

Two phrases have been going through my mind this week. The first is a tag line from the Self-Publishing Podcast: "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." The other is the more internal voice: when you're just starting out, you have to understand your limitations and adjust your expectations.

The do-it-yourself mantra is pretty obvious. I’m on the final touches of readying WADING INTO WAR for publication this month. For all of you who have already done this, I’m now in the decidedly unsexy part of the process: reviewing, tweaking, checking the spelling and punctuation, and all the other stuff like that. I spent my off-day yesterday tinkering with Scrivener. I’ve used the program for years--and highly recommend it--but I have never had the reason to use all the compile features. It took me all morning yesterday but I finally, FINALLY!, figured out all the buttons and boxes to check and uncheck in order to produce the desired type of ebook. I ended up writing my own procedures that I am now able to follow with few headaches. I count that as a win.

Experience. The more you do something, the better at it you get. I had to remember that as I kept updating and building the website. It was in this arena where my second phrase really took hold.

There’s a website I see in my head. I know that I’ll ultimately get there. I’m not there yet. I very much want it to be where it’ll ultimately be in a few months’ time, but I simply don’t have the experience in HTML to do it right now. Moreover, I don’t have the time to learn right now. Day job. Home life. Reading some. Watching something. Writing new book. Editing next book. There’s a lot to do and only 24 hours in a day.

So I have had to adjust my expectations on how to structure the website. I’ve got it to a place where I’m okay with it, at least as a beta release. But it’s a tad frustrating to know where you want to go, know that you’ll eventually get there, but that the road will be long. At least, however, I’m on the road.

For that, I’m quite content.

Best Podcast of the Week

Simon Whistler’s Rocking Self-Publishing, Episode 81 with Chris Fox. This interview can make the dreams swell up big in your heart. Lots and lots of great material in this episode, especially on how you can apply the startup mentality to independent publishing.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Wading Into War: Cover Reveal

I'll admit something to y'all: this is a bit exciting for me. Well, let me take that back. This is a lot exciting.

When you are in the position of creating cover art for your debut book, two things run through your mind, at least they did for me. One is the knowledge that the cover will be the first cover for a book you've written that the world will see. For better or worse, the reading public will identify you with that cover. I know I do that with the authors I like. When I think of Dennis Lehane, I think of MYSTIC RIVER and the hardback cover art.

His other covers flow through my mind but only after I see that 2001 novel. The same holds true for movies. This is always the first image I think of regarding Star Wars.


With all of that pressure in mind, my first cover had to be something of which I was proud. More to the point, it had to be the physical embodiment of what I saw in my head. WADING INTO WAR is a period piece, set in 1940. That’s deep in the heart of the pulp era and I wanted a cover that reflected that vibe. Moreover, I wanted cover *art*, a picture that illustrated a scene in the book. Lastly, I wanted to put my own stamp on it, to bring my quirky vision to this project.

So here it is.


Font: With this being a period piece, I wanted the title font and the shape of the letters to give the reader a clue to the contents. I think art deco is a great font and it instantly sprang to mind when I envisioned the cover.

Colors: Most of the old pulp magazine covers blared out of the newsstand with vivid colors. I, on the other hand, wanted a more black-and-white image. I’ll be honest that the style of the Batman Animated Series was my inspiration for the figures. The primary color is yellow, partly for its ability to stand out in a crowded ebook field but also as an homage to the old pulp magazines that had a monocolor cover with art on top of it. The blood is the jump color to let the reader know that dude in the house means business.

Logo: Initially, I wasn’t going to have the logo on the cover. Then, after my last markup to my graphic artist, I realized I had a blank space. Enter the logo. And, frankly, it hearkens back to the things I first read: comics. Again, a deliberate choice.

The Graphic Designer

Speaking of all this, you may wonder if I’m a multi-talented renaissance man who can write as well as design. Wonder no longer: that ain’t me. But I had the perfect solution.

A good friend of mine and former co-worker, Ike, was more than happy to accommodate me. You have already seen his good work with the logo for Quadrant Fiction Studio and now you have evidence of what he can do for a book cover.

When Ike and I worked together at our day job, I used to joke that he was halfway finished with a project before I was even finished telling him what needed to be done. He’s an intuitive artist who can give you exactly what you want but will also guide you into making better decisions. He fully cooperated with me in all my weird ways of trying to describe what I wanted. We no longer work at the same day job and our homes are across Houston from each other so we relied on emails and Skype calls. He never batted an eye, even when I’d ask for a little tweaks multiple times. Ike was nonplussed. In fact, the more this project went on, the more enthusiasm we both showed for this final product.

And it shows. I can think of no better compliment for Ike than this: without him and his willingness to work with me and his excellent ability to create something from nothing, this cover, this work of art that I saw in my head, would not be real. It would still be inside my head.

But it isn’t. It’s out here, for all the world see. Thanks, man, for making a dream a reality.

(Originally published at Do Some Damage, 7 February 2015)

Announcing Quadrant Fiction Studio

Spine-300Today is the day the world learns what I’ve been doing for the past few months and I find it wholly appropriate to remove the curtain here at Do Some Damage.

Quadrant Fiction Studio is my new publishing company through which I will release the novels and other tales I write. I’m planning on releasing the first book next month. I'll announce the title and display the cover image in the coming weeks.

I've got a landing page at the new website: I'll redesign it to its normal view when Book 01 launches. But you can see my vision for this endeavor.

Picking the Name

I like the letter Q and decided to use it as the logo. So I started there. Next came the name. “Quadrant” was the first word that came to mind, Quadrant Press, that is. Well, that’s already taken. Quiver Press was another. I thought “thing that holds arrows” but the existing Quiver Press is rather more adult. Quill, of course, where I could have been cute and made the tail of the Q be the end of a feathered quill. Yeah, not good. And I even drew a picture of that one. Quire was one of my favorites--think of the in-person options of giving away quires of printed work--but it was suggested that more folks would think of the singing group.

All this time I was using the word "press" or "publisher.” Then, I started thinking of other terms. I kind of like the word “practice” as in “law practice,” but didn’t think “writing practice” sounded good. Artists, like my wife, work in a studio and that sounded better: Quadrant Studio. But, as you can imagine, that brings up visions of artists and not necessarily writing. So I threw the word “fiction” in there and viola.

The name also stood in for my vision of what I wanted to do. While this is a mystery blog, I read and watch more genres than just mysteries. I like westerns and science fiction and pulp and romances and historicals and...well, you can see how that might spiral out of control. My original idea was to have a “publishing house” (i.e., Quadrant) with four imprints, each with a specific genre and an associated ‘house name’ as authors, one of which was to be my own. I solicited the opinions of trusted folks and they steered me away from that. In the age of independent publishing, it’s really not necessary.

But the Quadrant idea held. So I plan on keeping the three main genres--mystery, western, science fiction--and leave the ‘fourth quadrant’ for whatever strikes my fancy. We’ll just see how close my fancy is to the buying/reading public.

Designing the Logo

When I had the four-genre thing going, I imagined I’d tie each genre with a color. Thus, I’d have a logo that represented that. It was a colorful logo, too. Much like the existing one, but with each ‘square’ a different color. Again, I got the opinion of trusted folks, including friends who are graphic designers. They liked it, but thought it looked like the logo of a kid’s book. Oops. Not the vibe I was going for.

So, I developed the logo you see now. It’s clean, two-colored, and relatively simple. Plus it has the benefit of fitting into the little squares on Facebook and Twitter. And, in the future, it’ll fit nicely on the spines of printed books.

Where Does the Road Lead Next?

I am busily working on the text of Book #1 and cleaning it up. I have a graphic designer who is creating my first book cover. If the stars align correctly, this first novella will be released next month. It’ll be electronic first with a print run coming later in the year. I’ll be using all available sources: Amazon, Kobo, Nook, iBooks, and CreateSpace.

From there, I have six other completed manuscripts. I’m writing a new one these first two months of 2015. I plan on maintaining a consistent output in the coming months and years.

It’s amazing just how much goes into getting a new company off the ground. It’s a challenge. It’s a ton of work. It’s a little scary. But most of all, it’s fun. So far, I’m enjoying every minute of it.

I will certainly make mistakes and they’ll all be in the public eye. C’est la vie. That’s the risk I take by doing this. But that means I’ll get the rewards, too.

It’s an exciting time here at the offices of Quadrant Fiction Studio. If you've got a moment today, head on over to the landing page and let me know what you think. Comments are welcome, good ones as well as constructive ones. It’s the only way I’ll learn what I’m doing right and what I can improve on.

I’ll leave you with the question that might end up being my theme: What Quadrant Are You?

(originally published at Do Some Damage, 31 January 2015)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Favorite Cover Songs

Over on the excellent music podcast, Pods and Sods, today's episode was about favorite cover songs. Have a listen to the episode then head on over to their Facebook page and join the conversation.

Here is my off-the-cuff list:*

My choices:

I'm a Man - Chicago Transit Authority (original: Spencer Davis Group) - Much more energetic, with a 64-bar latin percussion break. The version they were performing in the late 80s/early 90s with Dawayne Bailey was particularly good.

Little Wing - Sting (Jimi Hendrix) - Heard the Sting version first and prefer it mainly because of the Gil Evans arrangement and slowed down guitar solo that morphs into the soprano sax solo.

In Your Eyes - Jeffrey Gaines (Peter Gabriel) - This is a cover that does NOT better the original but it's so unique that I often gravitate to it.

Black Crow - Diana Krall (Joni Mitchell) - Krall's 2004 CD found her writing her own material with her then-new husband, Elvis Costello. This song, however, has a lot of nice souring piano flourishes that echo Vince Guaraldi, a pleasant guitar solo, and Krall playing around with her phrasing.

River - Robert Downey, Jr. (Joni Mitchell) - Didn't realize I'd have to Mitchell songs here but oh well. I like Downey's vocal stylings (love his cover of "Smile" as well) and this arrangement, with cello, is one of the songs I always go to around the 20th of December when I'm just about tired of the standard Christmas songs.

Smells Like Teen Spirit - The Bad Plus (Nirvana) - I was tempted to pick the Paul Anka jazz arrangement [where he covered a lot of rock songs with a jazz band) but opted for this song which is the tune that put The Bad Plus on my radar. Piano, bass, and drums. That's it. They take the song from the standard instrumental arrangement into a dizzing array of improvs on the theme. Sometimes you'd think they're just doing their own thing but they come back together at the end.

*I didn't include any Christmas tunes but there are a bunch I could have listed. The one that first comes to mind is Chicago's version of Little Drummer Boy. It is, for me, THE version. It's to the point where I hear the horn breaks Chicago wrote whenever I hear *another* version of LDB.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book Review Club: Icerigger by Alan Dean Foster

(This is the February 2015 edition of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. For the complete list of fellow reviewers, click the link at the end of this review.)

If you’re looking forward to Star Wars: Episode VII later this year, then you can thank Alan Dean Foster for writing Icerigger.

Icerigger, published 1974, was the third book a young Alan Dean Foster published after The Tar-Aiym Krang (1972) and Bloodhype (1973). The story features two human heroes: Ethan Fortune, a salesman in his twenties, who is on the way to the remote ice world of Tran-Ky-Ky. Skua September is a hulk of a man with a shock of white hair and has seen his share of the wonders the Humanx Commonwealth has to offer. These two men, who don’t know each other, are, like all great heroes throughout literature, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

While on the space liner orbiting Tran-Ky-Ky, Ethan stumbles into a kidnapping-gone-wrong of financier Hellespont du Kane and his daughter, Colette. The trio, along with another pair of humans, are shuttled into a lifepod...where a very drunk Skua is sleeping off a drunk. He fouls things up for the kidnappers and then things go really bad. They crash on Tran-Ky-Ky thousands of miles away from Brass Monkey, the one town the Thranx Commonwealth had established, the one town where the kidnappers were going to ransom du Kane.

Very soon thereafter, Skua appoints a reluctant Ethan as leader. Together, including one of the kidnappers--Skua took out the other one--they have to figure out a way to get to Brass Monkey, the only Humanx settlement on Tran Ky-Ky. They befriend a group of the native species, Tran, a humanoid-cat hybrid with fur all over their bodies and claws on their feet that have adapted to their environment (think the middle two claws having curled under the feet to basically make skates).

What follows is a traditional adventure tale that might have taken place here on earth except that the planet’s oceans are all frozen. It’s a clever twist on the old swashbuckling adventure yarns where the characters may face traditional hazards--a warring tribe attacks the Tran group helping Ethan and Skua--but with the ice, Foster gets to turn a siege battle on its ear. You don’t get a whole lot about the larger Humanx Commonwealth that you do from his most famous series about Pip and Flinx, but it is referenced. It's more like a peek into a larger world that you can explore elsewhere.

While I enjoyed Icerigger, but it's not without issues. For a science fiction story, there's not a whole lot of science fiction there. Sure, there's an alien world with a new alien species but the book is more like a pirate story than a true SF yarn. Actually the one story that kept coming to mind was Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. You see, both stories derive their structure from a main human character (John Carter, Ethan in Icerigger) who find themselves on an alien world and must Do Something and encounter strange things along the way. Again, what I expected was some more science fictional because, you know, of Star Wars.

The reason I bring up Star Wars is that Icerigger was the novel that landed Alan Dean Foster on George Lucas’s radar. Back when Lucas was making the first film, he and his team read Icerigger and liked it so much that they approached Foster to gauge his interest in ghost writing the novelization of the movie and an original sequel. Foster agreed. Back in the day, when my entire young life was consumed with Star Wars, I read that novelization more than once never knowing it was Foster. I also read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first original novel back in 1978. That’s when I locked in on Foster and he became my first favorite SF author. He helped secure the Star Wars legacy for me a millions of others and it all started with Icerigger.

The adventure of Ethan Fortune and Skua September continue with Mission to Moulokin (1979) and The Deluge Drivers (1987). I’m definitely jumping right into the second book now because I want to see how this adventure ends.
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