Friday, November 30, 2012

Avoiding Work with More Covers

A long time ago I wrote an R-rated crime comedy screenplay called The Scenic Route, about a pair of directionally impaired bank robbers who get seriously lost during a getaway.  I self-published the screenplay for a while, but screenplay format is really not meant for ebooks, or for pleasure reading for anyone who isn't used to it.

Lately I've been thinking that A) I'd like to turn more of my screenplays into novellas, and B) if I toned the rating down to a PG or maybe PG-13, this story might make a fun companion volume to Harsh Climate.

Then today, I put Spirit in the Sky on continuous loop (it's my robbers' theme song) and started sketching, and ended up with a real nice, loose cover style for them.  It doesn't reduce down to thumbnail size as well as I'd like, so I'll have to tweak it.

Now... Harsh Climate has a good, generic thriller cover, but the cover does not fit the book.  And I don't want to work with photographs on any of my covers any more. I'm thinking this style will suit it much better.

So now I've got two more projects on my plate: a new cover for Harsh Climate (which I've been meaning to do anyway) and I've got to novelize a screenplay!


See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Test of Freedom - Episode 12

Episode 12 - "A Poetic Ox"
by Camille LaGuire

Jackie was a better listener than most people gave him credit for.  Next to talking, it was one of his favorite things to do. Truth be told, if he didn't listen well, what would he have to write or talk about?  It wasn't as if he really did much himself.  He was a poor smith, and he hadn't been much of a soldier.

Clearly he hadn't been much of a husband, either, but he was working hard on that.  Had been working hard.  Had been.

He reminded himself that he was a ghost now.  He couldn't even write.  Could barely speak.  He had to muzzle himself, or they'd muzzle him.  All he had left was to listen.

Besides, he needed to.  He really didn't know how to be a prisoner.  Even with shackles and a gag and his shoulders aching from the cane, it only confused him.

What he knew was freedom, and you couldn't just tell people about that.  Even among free men, it often made no more sense to them than shackles did to him.  No, you had to know about their experiences and thoughts, and then draw a line from one fellow to the next, and show the connection among things.  You couldn't do that without listening first.

So Jackie listened.

The work, in the meantime, was heavy.  They were clearing land for a new field, and there was a great deal of hauling and digging to be done.  The field had been burnt over the week before to clear out the brush, and the whole place stank of stale smoke.

They had Jackie hauling heavy debris, and he couldn't help but feel like a draft horse.

Jackie liked work; it was good for clearing his head.  But if he got to thinking now, he'd never be able to write those thoughts down, would he?  He'd always been able to keep thoughts clear in his head for days, but years?  It would drive him insane, not being able to put them down.  And what was the point of having thoughts if he couldn't turn them into something to write down?

He shouldered the harness and pondered the the conundrum of being a writer without a pen and a speaker without a voice.  And he wondered if there were horses who were poets inside.  Or oxen.  He shouldn't leave out the oxen just because a horse had a reputation for being noble.

He came to the clear patch along the side of the next field, where others were working.  Most of these were the boys or elderly men, who couldn't do the heaviest labor.  Jackie wondered again at the proportion of them.  And most of them from the peninsula too.

Up ahead, he heard a disturbance.  Two of the damn guards had someone on the ground.  It was that boy, Tim, and they were kicking at him and beating him with those beaters of theirs -- heavy things of braided leather that were a cross between a thin club and a short whip.  Jackie dropped his hauling rope and started to run forward, but before he got two steps, something caught on his shackles and he sprawled flat on his face.

It was Rocken who had hooked his cane onto the chain.  Before Jackie could gather himself, the overseer had dropped a knee on to his back, pinning him, and pushing the air out of him.  He landed a hard whack across Jackie's rear with his heavy cane, and shoved his face into the dirt.

"Mind your own business, Jack," he said, in a low growl.  Then he raised his head, and shouted to the guards.  "That's enough.  The kid's had his lesson."

He let Jackie up, and went on about his business, without a look back.  Jackie stood up, feeling a bit shaken, and sore, both on his backside, and his face where it had been ground in the hard earth.  He wasn't free.  He had to remember that.  He wasn't even allowed to get himself into trouble and pay the price.

And the price, he was sure, was awfully high.  He had to be thinking about a balance in his priorities.

He picked up the harness, and realized that his arms were skinned and one shoulder was sore from the fall.  He had to use the other shoulder, and that one would be good and sore by evening.

But it was less painful than standing by and watching a boy beaten by bullies.  How was he going to tune that out?

The Test of Freedom ebook available at major retailers in December 2012. It will be slightly rewritten from the version you see here.

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Essence of Genre Part 2 - At The Movies

When you go to the movies, you don't find them listed by genre.  I mean, yes, you can find sites devoted to certain genres which will show you all the recent and upcoming releases in that genre.  But when you actually go to the movies, you don't find the movie times listed by genre.  You don't say, "what's playing in science fiction this week?"  You say "what's playing at the Roxy?"

And you look down the whole list for something of a flavor that appeals to you.

Part of the reason for this is because the "shelf" for movies is even more limited than in bookstores.  In our mid-sized urban are, we have three multiplexes and even the biggest isn't going to play more than twenty pictures at a time. (And even with that, some will be limited runs which only get a few times out of the week.)

Even if you live in a very big town, with more venues, the specialty houses tend not to be split up by genre.

And there is an ironic result to this:while shelf limitations which created genre ghettos in bookstores, at the movies, genre is seen a whole different way.  It's a flavor, a descriptor -- and mix-and-match is not only common, it's actually sought.

Movies are marketed first by star, poster, and logline (including title).  The hook is more important than the genre, and crossed-genres make for great hooks.  And hard-core movie goers may have a favorite flavor of movie -- say Action -- but they don't care about the division between tentpole, comic book, and science fiction.  There is no line between these.

And heck, mainstream movie goers may only be vaguely aware that The Avengers is science fiction, but that's not how they think of it.  And they would be very upset if you claimed James Bond was SF -- even the most futuristic gadget-driven entries in the series.

Exactly Like That Only Different

Movie executives, for all their famous obtuseness, actually do have an understanding of how the movie-going audience  looks at these things.  When they are looking for a script, they will say:
"I want something exactly like that picture, only new and different."

It sounds ridiculous, but that's what the movie-going audience is looking for too.  The audience wants the experience to be the same -- they want to laugh or cry or feel triumphant or thoughtful -- but they want the story that carries that experience to feel fresh and new.  After all, a part of that experience of a story is the newness of it.

That's the core of why the movies treat genre differently: The movie-going audience always sees the titles of their favorite genres mixed in with all the other genres, and they're always looking for something familiar yet new.

So even though they are looking for "exactly like that" they are constantly exposed to all kinds of "only different" from the other genres.  The competition for the "only different" part is fierce. (And the competition for "exactly like that" is not.)

Thus the post for a RomCom might show it's a RomCom, but the emphasis will always be on what makes it different from the other RomComs, not on what makes it similar.

"Love Ruins Everything" is the pitch for Moonstruck.  And because of that, this flick was not just a RomCom.  It went wider because that theme appeals to people who don't particularly like RomComs.  Some of the people who loved that move actually hate typical RomComs: When they see one, they want to do like Cher and slap the movie across the face and say: "Snap out of it!"

At the same time, Moonstruck is a great movie for fans of RomComs too.  It's "Exactly like that but different."

And that's why so many movies can be put in multiple categories.  They were designed that way on purpose.  Book genres tend to emphasize the "just like that" and be subtle on the differences. The goal with movie marketing is to give the edge to the "only different" side.

Books are Not Movies

Still, anyone will tell you that movies are very different from books.  Especially from self-published ebooks. For one thing movies are expensive and difficult to make.  They require a huge effort in production, and distribution and marketing.  And as I mentioned above, they have very limited venues.

Except the venues aren't so limited, really.  Every TV, computer and mobile device can get movies.  You can watch them on cable, or watch them streaming from Hulu or Amazon, or find them on YouTube.

And people find these things not the way you browse for books in a bookstore, but rather the way you find things on the internet, or have always found movies: you look for features you like -- not just genre, but actor, director, time period.  And when you do a search, you don't just limit yourself to a master genre -- you use descriptive search terms.  Because you can.

You don't need rigid genre any more to find stuff you like.  As a matter of fact it can get in your way.  Last month I was in the video store looking for The Great McGinty.  I couldn't find it.  The clerk, who never had to look such things up, couldn't find it at first either. It's a classic!  Of course they have it and of course it's in Classics!  Except that it was before an election... so it was featured on the "great political movies" display.

Because unlike me and the clerk, most people would only find such a movie if they find it under the sub-genre than the genre.  And there were movies from dozens of other genres there on that display too.

And people found them there because they were looking for the "only different" part of the "just like that only different" equation.

And that's how the internet works. The internet puts all sorts of interesting things in front of the audience and helps them find stuff that is related to what they like, even when they aren't outright searching for it. (See my "How Readers Find Books These Days" which is part of a larger series on search engines and algorithms and how nobody is invisible to Google.)

Blake Snyder's Take on Genre

One useful way to break out of your box can be to look at stories the way the late great Blake Snyder did.  Snyder was a great scriptwriting guru.  In his famous Save the Cat book, there's a overlooked section in his break down of movie genres.  He basically makes up his own, based on patterns of storytelling in major movies. He has categories like "Buddy/Love" which covers all buddy flicks and all love stories, and "Dude With A Problem" which covers Die Hard and also things like Schindler's List.

People overlook that section because his categories often bother them.  Either his own choices are not the same as they would make, or because some people are just too locked into standardized categories to see what he's saying.

He's not trying to replace one rigid set of categories with another. He's saying you need to abandon rigid categories.  Draw your own genre lines based on what you get out of a story. Find what you love about it.  And then learn to write it according to your own model of "exactly like that only different."

And then learn to communicate that personal genre you created.

In Hollywood they have what they call a "shorthand" or sometimes a "high concept" or a "meets," to communicate such flexible genres.  You've heard that kind of pitch before. It's often used as a joke, because screenwriters have a tendency to put together ridiculous parings just out of desperation:

"It's Die Hard meets Driving Miss Daisy!"

Die Hard and Driving Miss Daisy have so little in common that, unless it's a comedy, that statement means nothing at all.  And even if they did go together, that pitch won't work if the person listening hasn't heard of one or both of the titles.  And they have to have the same opinion of both movies.

So the "meets" doesn't simply replace genre, as a short hand way to communicate what a story is.  What is does is give you a way to see what your story is "exactly like."  And how' it's different.  It requires more effort.  If you want to say "It's Die Hard meets Driving Miss Daisy" then look at those flicks for the thing they have in common with your story... then drop the titles, and just describe your story in those terms.

Because that's what genre is really all about. It's not about latching on to the sales handles of some other story or category or anything like that.  It's about describing your story.

This is not all I have to say about genre...but it's all I've got to say for now.  Next week is Cozy Mystery Week.  I may do a Wednesday and a Friday posts -- talk about the art of misdirection when it comes to clues and expectations, and maybe I'll talk about what the genre "cozy mystery" means to me.

See you in the funny papers.

Whoops, forgot to put in the A Round of Words in 80 Days Update:

This Segment's Progress:  For days 56-58 I didn't keep track.  I've been working on my GTD Implementation mainly.  I did some little snippets for a Mick and Casey story (other than the WIP) and had some marvelous brainstorming sessions for next summers serials, The Case of the Misplaced Baroness.  That has an interesting logistical problem that I think I've come up with a fun solution -- I'll talk about that later.

Other people updating today at the ROW80 Linky.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Old Stuff Found On My Desk

In clearing the cubic yards of paper from my office, I came across this intro page to a really old version of The Wife of Freedom.  (Back when the book was called The Whore of Freedom.) I don't know why I cut it, but I really wish I'd remembered it was there when I went to publish the book.

Excerpt from the Lectures of Jack Alwyn on the History of Acton:

When you think on it, the Acton Revolution was inevitable.  Our grievances merely set the time.  There's nothing the king or anyone could have done about it.  Revolution was set deep into our blood.  You need only look at hte population to know it.

Philip the Fourth could have made a difference, perhaps, when he invaded old Acteron.  He executed or enslaved everyone important in that civilization, and then he did the same to those who followed them.  Anyone with any sense of loyalty and order was gone.  And who was left?  Those who weren't fond of following orders.  Those who were least settled and civilized.  He thought he had depopulated the place, but he'd only cleared out the non-revolutionaries.

And then, with the religious wars up in Orlit and Disten, his son cleared the lands and sent us all the Plain and subborn followers of Owles and Tyrrelle and Minter.  People who refused to bow to anyone on the pain of any kind of punishment at all.  And that's the basis of most of our population right there.  The wild, suspicious and stubborn.  And not much Agrit blood in the bunch at all.  And you expect loyalty from us?

And over the years you've sent us all your exiled nobles and your troublesome peasants.  At least until you realized the value of their labor if sold elsewhere, and the value of our land if exploited properly.  But we weren't up for exploitation.  Not that it mattered.  As I said, we'd have rebelled no matter how you treated us.  It was in our nature.

And that's how it was with Mary, too, much as she tried to be otherwise....

I actually think this sets up the story quite well.  But maybe that's only because I know the story.  But I can't imagine why I cut it... unless I had written it separately and never put it in the main manuscript, and then forgot it.

(If it does get you interested in the story, here are the purchase links: Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords.  Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan. Some of these stores still have it for free.  Also Smashwords has very large samples and nearly every ebook format.)

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Test of Freedom - Episode 11

Episode 11 - "Pictures and Doggerel"
by Camille LaGuire

When the wind was high, it was impossible to draw on a large sheet of paper, or even an ordinary sketch book.  So Penelope had made a set of tiny sketch books that fit in her hand.  As the ship heaved, she could hold it close and sketch with just her fingers, and shelter the paper from the wind, while she captured small details and suggestions.

But she really longed for a large canvas at the moment.  Mary stood gripping the railing, with her hair, shawl and skirts blowing in the high wind.  Her bonnet too.  Mary seemed to never wear it on her head, but always dangling from her neck by a ribbon.  Might as well call it a necklace.

Behind her was the rigging of the ship, and the wind-pressured sails.  It would have been an amazing image, but for the fact that there was no natural point of view from which you could see both the sails and the water.  Although when the waves got big enough, and the ship pitched downward, there was a moment when the whole world seemed to be made of water.

She braced herself and sketched tiny bits of the water, the pose, the rigging, Mary's eyes, and wished Mary's hair was still as long as it had been.

"I don't have a picture of him," said Mary.  "Will you draw one when we find him?"

"Of course."  Penelope put away her pad, and came close.  "Of course I will."

"He doesn't like the sea much," she said.  "It think it's too empty for him.  He has to be surrounded by people."

"I believe they crowd those boats quite full of people."

"Yes, but if he gets sick and dies on board, they'll toss him out there, won't they?"

"Morbid thoughts won't help anyone."

"They help me prepare myself."

Mary sank down to sit on the deck and lean against the hull.  Penelope bent down, quickly offering a handkerchief, as Mary began to cry.

"Has she fainted?" asked a nearby sailor in concern.

"No, I haven't fainted, I'm just crying.  Go away," said Mary sharply, wiping her eyes and nose.

"Thank you," said Penelope to the sailor, who backed away quickly from Mary's mood.  She settled herself to sit next to Mary, who wiped her face again.

"He's very good at taking abuse," said Mary.  "He's very hardy.  He isn't likely to take sick.  But I'm a bit concerned about the hopelessness.  I don't know if he can take that."

"Hope is a very persistent thing, Mary."  Penelope reached out and squeezed Mary's hand.  Mary half smiled.

"He is an optimist," she admitted.  "And he's very persistent, once he sees what he needs to do.  I happened to mention to him, considering all the writing he does, that I'd like to see a love letter once in a while.  So he's written me poems every day since."

"Really?  Will he publish them in a collection?"

"Oh, God, I hope not!  They're awful."

"Are they?"

Mary began to giggle, and Penelope joined her.  Then Mary looked distressed.

"I haven't brought any of them with me," she said, sitting up and touching the pockets of her coat.  "I didn't bring any of the ribbons he gave me or anything."

"Mary, those are all waiting at home for you, perfectly safe."

"No, I do have one!" said Mary in relief.  "Just one.  The last one."

She pulled a folded bit of paper from her pocket, and held it close to herself as she looked up at Penelope.

"I found this on the table beside my bed after he left.  I'd been sick from eating a bad pie."

Penelope took the paper and unfolded it.  It looked like the flyleaf torn out of a book, and had ink blotches on it.  She squinted to read the four scrawling lines.

Her face is pale, her lips are green.
She's the sorriest sight I've ever seen.
Still I love her just the same.
I'm sorry I gave her that terrible name.

Penelope laughed, and Mary took back the paper.

"That one's actually clever," said Mary.  "But you should see some of the others.... Or perhaps you shouldn't."

"We have to find him, Mary."

"We will.  I'll kill anyone who gets in our way."

Available after 8am EST, on Mon/Thur

The Test of Freedom should be available as an ebook in December 2012. It will be slightly rewritten from the version you see here.

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Support this site directly via Paypal

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Week in Review-Preview - Now Implementing GTD

This week on the blog we saw: 

Coming Next Week:

Monday -Test of Freedom Episode 11 "Pictures and Doggerel"
Mary realizes she has no drawing of Jackie to remember him by, but she has something else.

Wednesday -The Essence of Genre, Part 2 - At the Movies
Movie people see genre differently from book people.

Thursday -Test of Freedom Episode 12 "A Poetic Ox"
Jackie adjusts to having no voice, though he still has lots to say.

A Round of Words in 80 Days Update

This Segment's Progress: (see below for explanation of what GTD is)

Wednesday Day 52 - Began the GTD. Cleared my desk sufficiently to create a great work space.
Thursday Day 53 - Thanksgiving, some GTD. Started redoing the footers and navigation links on The Misplaced Hero.
Friday Day 54 - More GTD. Artwork.
Saturday Day 55 - Took most of today off rather than Sunday. But did some GTD and blogging.

Other folks updating today: ROW80 linky.

 Not Ready for Full-Time Diary

As you see with the above report, I'm making a couple of changes this week:

Transition From the "Day Job" Mindset

When you have a day job, your writing is something you hoard time for.  You squeeze your writing into every spare moment.  Mentally, a day off is not a day off, it's a day for writing.  That may not be good for your writing, but you don't really have much choice.

And I've begun to realize that I shouldn't go after this full time gig as if I just have more free time. There is no such thing as free time any more -- time is time.  Or perhaps I should say, free time should be free.  It's better for my work to have time off that's actually, you know, time off.  And work time that's actually for work.

And to each thing its proper due, whether it's prep or blogging or art or writing, or... (excuse me a moment...) or petting the cat.

I need to change my mindset more fundamentally. I need to change my whole approach to the dare, and to how I think about my writing and my work tasks.

I talked last week about how opening up the process -- giving myself more time -- has helped with the art, and I hope to do something similar for my fiction.  I think devoting time to each task is a really good way to start, and my first thought was to declare Saturdays as "Blogging Day."  And maybe take Sunday off, except for idle thinking and sketching.  And then I thought Mondays should be html and formatting day...

But then I realized that I just need to go after all of it.  Everything on my to do list, all the way down to petting the cat.

So to that end, I'm going back to Implementing My GTD.

What is GTD? And how and why would you implement it?  Well you may ask....

Implementing my GTD

If you spend any time at all on the internet in business productivity blogs and such, you'll come across the acronym: GTD.  This refers to a book called "Getting Things Done" bu David Allen, and especially the philosophy in the book.

Like a lot of such books, GTD offers a specific method and formula for getting all the crap in your life under control, but it rises far above the usual because it isn't about following the method or formula.  As a matter of fact, I suspect a lot of people fail at it because they try to use it that way.

The reason that GTD has a cult-like following is because it's really a theory/philosophy book.  There is an awful lot of zen in it.  And like zen, it's one of those things that takes a lifetime to master, and even if you don't master it, studying it a little here and there improves your life.

But there are certain really useful things about the methodology too.

Right now, my life is all about clearing the decks -- and that's what the first step of GTD is all about.

That first step (which is really, imho the second step after reading the book and thinking about what you're going to do) is to take all the junk in your life -- not just your business or a particular activity -- and stick it in your "inbox" -- even if that means your inbox is a whole room. (And yes, it is likely to be if you do it right.)  Then you go through and process it until the inbox is empty (or you've got "Inbox Zero" if you want to get jargony).

You don't actually do everything in your inbox.  You just process it -- which might be doing or might be scheduling or filing or just deciding what the next step will be, and doing or scheduling that.  I'll probably do other posts on that later, but that's not what this post is about.

And, frankly, it's not even why I'm doing it. What I find useful about the Big Inbox Gathering and Clearing process (that some call "implementing your GTD") is that it helps you take an eagle-eye view of your life.  It's like a big life-inventory-audit.

And the act of processing all that stuff doesn't just get the stuff under control. It causes you to think about things in a very different way.  It's really good for lateral thinking.  You see opportunities and get inspirations.

At least you do if you don't have to get it all done by 3pm because you've got a report due.  Being able to do a full GTD implementation with no deadline or competing priority means I can use the process in a more open and philosophical way, that I never would have been able to do before.

What I really hope to do is something I have done in small ways before: I hope to turn this into a daily habit that transforms back into the natural way I used to work and write.  Where I get in harness and set my brain loose and let it work.  It's related to the zen concept of "Mind Like Water" and maybe I'll talk about that in December.

Not So Compatible With A Novel Dare

The problem with my new approach (not just GTD, but the more wholistic approach to writing and my life) is that it is not so compatible with the way a normal "Novel Dare" works - in particular the measurable goals.

Existentialism is just not about bean counting, or word counting or clock keeping.

The point of a writing dare is to help you steal the time you need for your writing. That's the day job mindset.  Especially when you are talking about a continuous dare like ROW80 -- not just a temporary push on a project, but the ongoing struggle to block out time for writing in your life.

But I think I still need the dare. The reporting, in particular, is about being public and being held to account.  It's possible to be very zen about watching TV (even when you don't have a TV).

Furthermore, I might still want to do the old fashioned word-count push on a particular project once in a while.  But aside from that the usual numerical goals, like counting words or minutes, are out. They don't have a purpose, and they waste time and energy.

(I've noticed lately that I forget to check the time or count the words.  It's too much of a pain.)

So if the reporting is the thing I want to keep of the dare: what do I report?

I haven't a clue.  For now I'm going to go with a quick "what did I accomplish today?" on Wednesdays, and a more detailed discussion as usual on Sundays.  I find this dissatisfying because I suspect what I will be doing will be too diverse and complicated to explain in a line or two.

But we'll see.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My New Short Story Covers

As I said last week, I need to redo my covers for my short fiction. My body of work looked like a total hodge podge.

Here are the original covers:

I wanted to go for a sketchy, woodcut look.  I was going to do hand drawn fonts for the template, and then a commercial font for the titles, but I could find no font that fit, and doing the individual titles and subtitles by hand, would be a LOT of work.

So I decided to just go with the Mick and Casey standard font - Copperplate. It's not rough like a woodcut but it does look engraved.

And here is the crazy kicker: when I tried out various fonts to go with it, I discovered that no sane font quite worked in combo with Copperplate either.

Copperplate is a display font, but it's also very simple.  It has a very serious, weighty aspect to it, like it should be used only for a nameplate on a Victorian bank.  It's a weird font - not just simple, but gothic. That is, there is no variation in the thickness of the lines. So even though it's a serif font, it looks sanserif.  It half blends in, and half stands out, and neither matches nor contrasts with others.

So in a fit of desperation I started trying whacky fonts, and by golly, the worst cliche of a font out there actually worked.  To me at least.

What's wrong with using Curlz?  Well, first it's hard to read. It's also one of those pretty, fancy fonts that every person who ever dotted their i's with a little heart uses to design party invitations. It's also so silly and curly that you hardly notice the ultra-serious gravitas of Copperplate.  It comes out like.... Jeeves and Wooster. 

Like Jeeves, Copperplate isn't as plain as it looks.  It isn't like Arial Black, which is so familiar it's completely invisible.  Copperplate is a unique display font that adds to the sense of branding.  And since it is the font of my name, as well as the identifying band at the top, it makes those the important part.  The solid base which supports the frivolous and sketchy title and art.

You'll notice that, as they say on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the others: I made the Mick and Casey novelette different to tie it to the series.  I used the Mick and Casey logo for the art, and chose colors from Have Gun, Will Play.

My favorite of the designs here is the one for 5 Twists.  The concept seemed obvious and the simplicity of the design just makes it stand out to me.

My one concern is that these might stand out too much.  I want the crudeness and frivolous aspects to make this feel like minor works -- short stories, etc.  Might they overshadow the novels?

When I look at my Smashwords page, and a search on my name at Amazon, I can see all my titles laid out.  I do think that they work.  They don't overshadow the other covers, but they look good.  (They also make me want to upgrade Anna the Great, and Misplaced Hero. The other covers hold their own, but those now look the cheesiest.)

The purpose of this exercise was to upgrade the overall look of my body of work, when seen unsorted on a search page. I think it'll do.  The only other thing I really need to do is write more books in my various series so that the series look like something among all the other books.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Test of Freedom - Episode 10

Episode 10 - "Clement Farm"
by Camille LaGuire

Clement Farm wasn't large and was still new.  Most of the land was yet to be cleared, and Clement only had fifty-four prisoners and four slaves to do it.

The slave trade had been restricted in Agritaine, but never stopped.  No one was freed by modern laws, and those born to slaves were still slaves as well.  But even so, the law had put the islands in a crisis, because the practice in profit-minded Sabatine was to import only men, and to use them up quickly.

Now slaves were too valuable for a small, new farm.  And female slaves -- at least those of a child-bearing age -- were at a premium.  Still Clement had managed to have two women, one well past childbearing, and the other a girl who was barely coming up to it.  He had the money to buy them for the same reason the whole island was still successful:

The Acton Peninsula was a steady source of cheap labor.  Prisoners were still expendable.  Furthermore, Clement liked the idea that he was the hand of justice, and that his profit was their punishment.

Clement's overseer, Rocken, took his job seriously. He had no qualms about being as brutal as anyone, but he didn't see brutality as his job.  No, he was a manager, a herdsman.  It was his job to know the men, control them, and use them to the most profitable advantage.  He kept things unpleasant enough to satisfy Clement, but over all, he tried to keep them healthy.

That new man, Jack Alwyn, had Rocken's attention from the very start.
For one thing, he had marks across his back.  They were old marks, and they had the look of a judicial whipping.  Then there was the chafing at the corners of his mouth, from an iron gag, and his crime, which was listed as treason.  Not that treason meant much by itself.  A lot of traitors came to Sabatine these days, most of them frightened and bewildered ordinary men.  This one, though, seemed to have earned the charges.  He bore watching.

All the same, Jack gave him no trouble.  He wasn't eager to work, but he didn't slack.  He was more sociable than most, right from the start, and seemed to have made the acquaintance of nearly all the prisoners quickly.  The only sign of trouble Rocken could see was that he had no difficulty looking anyone straight in the eye.  Not in a particularly defiant way, but it left Rocken uneasy about him.

On the very first night, Tom and Old Steve maneuvered Jack into sleeping right under the place where a leak in the roof sent down a torrent during the squalls that went through most nights.  Not the cruelest of pranks, but no man's in a good temper when he's sleepless and soaked through.

That morning, as the prisoners bent over their bowls of gruel, Jack sat down, still wet, with Tom and Steve.  Rocken watched for trouble, but they simply talked.  Laughed a bit even.

He rang the bell early to move the men out to the fields, but then he stopped Jack.

"What did you have to say to Tom and Old Steve?"

Jack looked him straight in the eye, with no sign of concern.

"I thanked them for the shower," he said.  "Since I haven't had a bath since I left Acton."

"Making friends to avoid trouble, then?"

"Better than making enemies."

Rocken walked around him.  "How did you earn those stripes on your back?"

"I'm too free with my tongue."

"And did you learn your lesson?"

"Not at the time."

Rocken came to stand in front of him.

"But you've learned it since?"


"Then why did they gag you?"

"Well, that's how I learned it, wasn't it?"

"A whipping didn't teach you, but a little gag did?"

"I don't talk though my back, do I?"

Rocken sighed and shook his head.

"I'll give you a bit of advice, Jack, and then you're on your own," he said.  "Don't look me in the eye.  Don't look the guards in the eye, and for god's sake, don't look Clement in the eye."

"Why not?" the man asked in genuine surprise.

"Because you're a prisoner, Jack.  You're supposed to look broken, and if you don't, we'll have to break you."

"Oh," said Jack, and he looked away, although it was more in thought than obedience, it seemed to Rocken.

The Test of Freedom should be available as an ebook in December 2012. It will be slightly rewritten from the version you see here.

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Essence of Genre Part 1 - Boxes with Eyes

This is my 1000th blog post! (on this blog, anyway....)

We're going to celebrate that by taking an eagle-eye view at genre -- and in particular how genre works very differently in different contexts.

The Importance of Genre

As with everything else in publishing, our view of genre has been warped by the needs of physical distribution and shelving.  In a physical bookstore, a book is placed on a specific shelf -- and only one shelf.  A lucky book might be put in its genre and on a featured shelf at the front of the store, but never in multiple categories.

So a customer has to approach browsing a bookstore by first thinking about what shelf they want to browse. And while some readers will experiment with all genres, most readers don't stray from those genres which they already know they like.  They'll never find a cross-genre book that they'd love, if it's not on the shelf they prefer.

We've all heard it again and again; it's critical to place our books in the right genre, or they'll be lost.

On the other hand, the internet does not have shelves.  We search and browse in different ways on the internet, ways that are eccentric and personal and changeable.  People can't even try to find a book by searching a genre the way you do in a bookstore. The shelf is too long.  No matter how you sort it, the reader will only see a fraction of the titles.

You simply can't predict how someone will come across your book.  So that whole genre-limitation thing doesn't work the same way.

But it is still important to be able to label your book.  Readers still need the answer to the question "What is it?" 

The Problem with Categories

Any academic and a whole lot of knowledgeable non-academics will tell you that it's easy to classify things. You set up your criteria and then sort based on that.  And there are oodles of books and flow charts out there to tell you how to sort your fiction.   It's easy, accurate and just plain right, academically speaking.

The problem is that these classifications are based on the object being classified, not the audience and their reactions.  It's rational and logical and ... you end up with just plain silly results, such as a friend who told me that Casablanca belongs with espionage thrillers.

I mean, yes, on a theoretical basis, sure.  It has an espionage thriller plot.  But that's not where any of its most fervent audience would ever ever look for it.  Ever.  Furthermore the people who love espionage thrillers (especially current espionage thrillers) do not consider it to belong in their genre, even if they like Casablanca a lot. (However, they might put it on a "cool non-epsionage movies with espionage in them" list -- more about that one next week.)

So if you had a video store and put it on the "espionage" shelves, you'd get nothing but complaints from the customers.  Fans of Casablanca would look for it in four other places, in this order:
1.) Classics
2.) Humphrey Bogart
3.) Romance
4.) War

And frankly, if they found it in War, they'd bitch.  Because even though they found it, they had to hunt for it. Furthermore the espionage fans would be constantly bringing it up to the desk and telling you "Uh, Dude, you put this on the wrong shelf."

The problem here is with perception. Scientists and academics make a point to take perception out of it.  They come up with criteria and then classify things based on it in a very non-emotional way. But customers, readers, and heck, even birds classify things by looking at perceptions first.

A Fur-Covered Box With Eyes

There was this nature show on cable, I think it was a David Attenborough show, where the filmmakers observed how birds were frightened by cats, and they wondered how to create an artificial cat to scare away birds.  The question of the show was "what constitutes a 'cat' to a bird?"

They started with photographs of cats, and statues of cats.  They tried furry statues and put them on tracks and made the move... and in the end, they found that the versions we humans considered most realistic were the most obvious fakes to birds.

To a bird, a cat is a fur-covered box with eyes.

All the rest of the details about a cat -- all those details scientists would consider critical -- are nonsense to them.  And regular humans, who also consider scientific detail to be nonsense, don't think of a fur covered box as a cat.  We respond to kitty cartoons as a better representation of "catness."

Category is in the eye of the beholder.  And different beholders have a very different view of what constitutes the essence of something.

That's a major issue for cross-genre books: two different groups of readers can be like people and birds. Both groups react to a real cat, but humans also respond to cat cartoons, and birds also respond to fur-covered boxes.  But birds don't respond to cartoons, and humans tend not to respond to fur-covered boxes unless it's some kind of performance art.  And neither care about the shape of the femur the way a scientist might.

An Example From My Own Books

My book Have Gun, Will Play is like a fur covered box with eyes, or a cat cartoon. It's a mystery/western.  The western audience sees it as a non-western or a bad western. It doesn't have what they look for -- no historicity, no grit, or authenticity.  The people who love it tend to be people who read mostly cozy mysteries and mainstream.  Which is good because that's who I wrote it for.

This particular audience tends to not like westerns, or at least they don't read westerns, because they aren't interested in grit, historicity or authenticity, etc. The most enthusiastic folks I've heard from don't even read historical mystery or mainstream.  But they all are convinced this book is a western first and foremost.  That's the shelf they would put it on, even though they don't like westerns, and they liked this because it wasn't like a western.

Which means, the primary audience for this book will never ever look for it on the shelf where they themselves would place it.

It would be a conundrum, except that the internet is making genre -- that is, formal genre -- obsolete.  On the internet, books are not on shelves.  Books are not  limited to one location.  Books exist in many places at once, on "shelves" of differing lengths.  They can be mystery and western and comedy and adventure and silly and serious all at once.  They can be on the horse shelf and the teen shelf and the adult fiction shelf, too.

So genre, as we know it in physical bookstores, is just not the same tool on the internet. We need to look at it differently.

One way to look at it is how they handle genre at the movies.

In Hollywood they have a much more flexible approach to genre, much more useful.  That's because Hollywood sees projects in a way more like individual customers do. (And that's why "Humphrey Bogart" IS a genre at the movies.)

Next week I'll talk about genre in the dream factory.

See you in the funny papers.

Whoops, I nearly forgot....

 A Round of Words in 80 Days Update

This Segment's Progress:  Taking what I said Sunday a little further -- I'm working of getting the small things off my plate, and also establishing a weekly pattern.  More about that next Sunday.

Sunday Day 42 - Day off
Monday Day 43 - HTML Day - formatting and webdeign and uploading, oh my!
Tuesday Day 44 - More on the Kerfuffle Hunt, and brainstorming

Monday, November 19, 2012

Test of Freedom - Episode 9

Episode 9 - "Like Horses at the Fair"
by Camille LaGuire

Jackie couldn't decide which was the worst part, the gag, or being sold.  Perhaps it was being sold, since they put the gag back on him while doing it.

Though he had behaved himself recently, he had thoughts of making trouble when they were sold, just to keep the price down.  They must ahve seen it in his face, for on went the gag again. But that, at least, made him look like trouble and might keep the price down anyway.

So there they stood, filthy and squinting in the unaccustomed light, shirts off in humiliation, being inspected like a line of horses at a fair.

The thought of Mary came to him, unbidden, how she'd been humiliated in front of those soldiers.  He'd often wondered if more had happened to her that she hadn't told him about, but she had come through it all right.  She said she'd just separated her mind from it, was all.  She was a strong woman.  He saw her face suddenly, looking at him with that wistful quizzical look that always grabbed at his heart.  He could almost smell her, and feel the curve of her back on his arm....

No, the worst part -- worse than the gag or anything -- was thinking about Mary.  By far the worst.  And those thoughts, painful as they were, were all he had of her.  He couldn't turn them away, and he'd been a fool for trying.  She'd called him a fool plenty enough times.  And now here he was crying, which undoubtedly negated the effect of the gag on the buyers.  They would think he was broken and therefore more valuable after all.

But it was his broad shoulders and the fact that he was a smith that was of real interest.  Leave alone the fact that he wasn't a very good smith.  He went for a hundred and fifteen crowns, which appeared to be a high price.

He was bought by a man named Clement, a man with a sharp face, who wasn't much taller than Jack, but a good bit older and thinner.  He'd bought two others, a boy named Tim, and another young man who kept to himself in depression.  Jackie thought his name was Denning, but he wasn't sure.  Clement glanced them over once he had them together, but he didn't really look at them the way you look at a person.  They were livestock, after all.

"Get the gag off him," said Clement.  "I want my prisoners to answer when I talk to them."

But once the gag was off Clement apparently had nothing to say to him.  He turned away with a vague gesture, and left them to the man who stood behind him.  This fellow was a big man, a good deal taller than Jackie, and at least as broad -- strong and lean.  He wore a white shirt and no jacket.  He had a whip and a wicked looking bush knife -- almost like a sword -- which hung from his belt, and he carried a cane, which he did not lean on.  He stood and looked at them, arms crossed, his cane dangling and twitching from one hand.

"I'm the overseer.  My name is Rocken," he said.  His voice was strong, and had a touch of an accent to it, but not much.  "If you make trouble, I'm the one who'll beat the hell out of you.  I'm the one who decides what work you do, and how much to feed you.  You'll make me happy, won't you?"

"Aye," said Jack, and the two others were quick to agree.

"I'll also remind you that you're on an island.  Everyone on this island is required to have papers, even the aristocrats.  So if you're thinking of escape, there's no place to go, and when anyone catches you without papers, they'll string you right up from someplace public, and leave you there until you rot as a warning to others.  You've already had your trial.  You won't get another one."

With that he let them climb into a wagon, which was a relief, because their chains were heavy, and they were weak from being cooped up on a boat.  But then Clement called Rocken aside and they proceeded to argue.  Jackie was certain it was because Clement didn't want them to ride in the wagon.  He thought he heard Rocken say something about wasting time and work.

While they discussed the matter, another man came up to them.  He was tall and plain, and wore a straw hat, and carried a book of the prophets.

"Remember that you have souls," he said.  "And that there are those who are praying for you.  And that endurance is holy, as we were taught by the Prophet Kodil.  There's freedom for the soul that needs it."

Jack looked close at the man, and couldn't tell if he was just quoting platitudes, or if he was trying to tell them the overseer was wrong about escape.  He'd like to have spoken to him, but the argument was over, and Rocken came back, and the man moved away quickly.  Rocken must have won the argument, because he just signaled and the cart started moving.

The Test of Freedom should be available as an ebook in December 2012. It will be slightly rewritten from the version you see here.

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Week in Review-Preview - Decompressing

This week on the blog we saw: 
A reminder to folks, if you want to get a free copy of Wife of Freedom, do it now!  On Thanksgiving evening, I will set it back to full price on Smashwords, and the rest of the vendors will start raising the price soon after.  Wife of Freedom is the first book in the series, and it could be helpful in providing context for Test of Freedom. (You can find purchase/download links on the ToF intro page, or at the bottom of any episode.)

In the meantime, I'm getting ready for Cozy Mystery Week, which is the first week of December. I'll have a couple of nice posts on misdirection and clues, and maybe something about what a cozy mystery is to me (which is slightly different from what it is to a lot of people).

Coming This Week on the Blog:

Monday - Test of Freedom Episode 9 "Like a Line of Horses"
Jackie arrives on Sabatine, and finds himself fretting at the bit like a nervous horse again.

Wednesday - The Essence of Genre, Part 1
The 1000th post on this blog!!  We'll mark the occasion with a look at the problems with genre, and how genre is like a fake cat.

Thursday - Test of Freedom Episode 10 "Clement Farm"
Rocken, the overseer, isn't at all sure about this new man on the farm.

Friday - A Look at My New Short Story Covers
I've got most of the new covers done.  On Friday I'll give you a look and talk about them.

A Round of Words in 80 Days Update

Wednesday Day 45 - 778 words.
Thursday Day 46 - Utterly Screwed up by Health stuff
Friday Day 47 - Utterly Screwed up by Health stuff
Saturday Day 48 - Saturday is now Blog Day.

(See the list of other folks who checked in today here.)

Not-Ready-For-Fulltime Diary

Okay, a full month since layoff.

I don't have good new habits formed yet. It doesn't matter how well prepared you are, transition still takes time.  There are way more tasks buried in your life than you think there are.  For instance, right now, while I have insurance, I'm dealing with every health-related thing I've put off -- even the things that aren't insured but could have insured consequences.

On the Writing Front, it seems like I'm not getting anywhere, at least on the micro-level.

Or so it seems... but when I step back and look at it from the macro-level, I am.  I'm doing the writing snowball thing -- I'm getting stuff off my plate. I'm just not always working on the things I intended to be working on.

While I was working on ToF, I realize I was really working on my blog; getting the very large task of running this blog off my dinner plate and onto it's own side plate. I've needed to get to a place where I wasn't backed up on it, but also had room for spontaneity.  I seem to have found that.  I can now, most likely, manage it by devoting Saturdays to the blog.

Which is important, as I discovered this week. I had a "sleep study," and being able to have two posts, complete with art, in the can and set to auto-publish really helped a lot. I only had to scramble to do the sketch of Judi Dench, when I realized the Bond post was about the pairing of Craig and Dench, and not really about Bond.  That sketch went quick, because I'd already made all the technique and style decisions on the sketch for Daniel Craig.

Which brings me to something I've done that I didn't even realize I was doing:

I'm establishing a production workflow that goes a lot deeper than just sitting down and drawing something.

With Test of Freedom, for instance; all the episodes are in the can. That doesn't mean they are in their very final form, or that I don't have other work to do. (The first 8 episodes required a lot more last minute work than I expected, and will undoubtedly be rewritten once more for the book version.)

What it does mean is that I am not, at the last minute, trying to figure out what kind of illustration to do, and what to title the dang episode.  When I sit down to do a title, now, I can go over multiple episodes at a time, and really get my "titling" hat on.  And at the same time, I can think about images, and put notes in with the titles. And having done that, I naturally can start doodling and looking for references long before I have to draw.

Combine that with the nice template I've developed for the series, and drawing an episode now is mostly a matter of just sitting down and drawing.

But it took a whole month to decompress that process, because it involved writing and publishing too. This decompression is beginning to happen all over my life.

It's like getting a bigger, better toolbox that has room for all your tools.

Right now, I'm shifting how I'm looking at my goals again.  I've got a few more things to get off my plate, but I hope to get back to how I was thinking in March about productivity and high word counts.  I want my writing to start going more like my art, with a more decompressed prep cycle leading to more productive writing time. I want to go reread those blog posts about 10k words a day.

I'll be treating December more like NaNo, with moderately ambitious goals, but not with a single project in mind.  I will keep my priorities -- Devil in a Blue Bustle next, then The Man Who Stepped Up -- but I just don't know when one will be done and the other ready.  The real key is to get this process going like my art has been going.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Favorites - Daniel Craig and Judi Dench

Until recently I wasn't a big James Bond fan.  I liked Sean Connery, but I was kind of meh about action movies in particular.  Roger Moore, in my book, is The Saint.  The only thing I did come to really like were the opening credit sequences.  And the Bond theme.  And I think my favorite Bond flick was the 1967 satire of Casino Royale.

By the time Peirce Brosnan came along, I was more into action movies, and so Bond was on the list of "Fun Movies Where a Lot of Stuff Blows Up."

But it all changed with Daniel Craig and the Casino Royale reboot of the series.  Suddenly it was a picture to sit up and pay attention to.  It had a resonance that I never felt in any of the other Bond movies.  And that resonance carried on for me into Quantum of Solace (for all that everybody else seemed to hate it).

What happened is that Bond got personal.  Sure, this Bond was still impervious to the inevitable fate of the various Bond Girls, but he wasn't impervious to us. We were inside his wall.

I credit the casting of Judi Dench as M.  The relationship between those two -- M and Bond -- is what this trilogy of movies is about.

They are two well-walled, impervious characters who can trust each other.

And the reason they can trust each other is ironic: they both fully acknowledge that they can't trust each other.  Particularly for Bond, who is the sacrificial lamb in the relationship: if duty calls on him to sacrifice his life, he will.  And if duty calls on M to sacrifice him... she will.  Because they both know that, and because they both know more about each other than they should, they can let each other inside the wall a little.

Skyfall is the third picture in the trilogy about this relationship, and this movie lets us more deeply in behind those walls than before.

At the same time, Skyfall also pulls the series back toward the whiz-bang Bond of yore.  The larger and overt theme of this story is whether the world needs a James Bond any more.  He's aging and out of date and the threats are quite different.  The movie has a lot of fun with this, from Bond's slower recovery from injury to the introduction of a hip young Q, and plenty of jokes about out of date exploding pens and such.

In some ways, this picture feels like a blend -- the introspective new Bond and the old flashy Bond.  It also blends elements of other action styles and cliches. It feels a little like a Die Hard movie sometimes, sometimes a little like 24.  And that sort of matches the "is Bond out of date?" theme.

Skyfall is more fun than the last two pictures. And though this is partly due to non-Bond elements, the real fun side here is that we get a firm set up for future Bond flicks to be more... Bond-y.  They reintroduce more of the old Bond formula.  In some ways, that's the answer to the question of whether Bond is out of date: Nope.  He's back.  I am looking forward to what they'll do next.

In the meantime, a small confession about Casino Royale (2006):

I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to begin my cozy mystery The Man Who Did Too Much.  I had tried all sorts of things, and I most liked the scene where George dutifully attends his girlfriend's therapy session for her.  But I could never get a handle on making it work...

...Until I thought of making it a covert homage to the opening of Casino Royale.  The psychiatrist walks into her office and finds a lurking spy-like figure.  And like the guy at the opening of Casino Royale, she knows exactly who it is and why he is there.  "She sent you," she says.

Who George is, and his reasons for being there, are very different from Bond, of course, so I don't know that anyone would recognize the reference without having it pointed out to them. I wrote that pastiche for me.  That opening of Casino Royale has resonance, and that's one small place it resounded for me.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Test of Freedom - Episode 8

Episode 8 - "Singing The Wind"
by Camille LaGuire

Now that the mechanics of the plan were in motion, and Mary was once again waiting.

Trent didn't want to leave port with an empty ship, no matter how much Lady Ashton paid him.  He had to take time to rebuild his crew anyway, so he might as well take on a profitable cargo too.  Some of Lady Ashton's money could be saved to pay off decoys when they ran the blockade.

Lady Ashton took the time to lay in her own supplies.  When she learned that Mary had left home with little more than a carpet bag, she set about acquiring a wardrobe for her.  Mary loved pretty things, but she was in no mood for it.

Mary half wanted to go back to the docks and help the men load cargo on the ship, or recruit crew members, so they could leave sooner.  But instead she nodded at Lady Ashton's choices and bought herself a box of good horseradish root.

If Jackie couldn't come home, she'd have to bring a little bit of home to him, and the sting of horseradish would knock him home and back.

They finally set out, nearly a month after Jackie had been sent off.  Their luck was such that the wind had been right for the prison ship--a ship with the ironic name of Crown's Mercy.  That ship could already be in Sabatine by now.  Now the wind had shifted, which would mean their own voyage could take longer.  But Trent said it was good for running the blockade.

They slipped through in the middle of the second night.  It wasn't difficult, as they went through close to the shallows, an area with channels that Trent and his pilot knew well.

Mary had been unable to sleep, and was on deck, gripping the rail and singing a vaguely remembered song from her youth, a prayer for fair winds.  Lady Ashton stuck with her.

"Keep singing, Mary," said Trent.  "Seems to be doing us some good."

"How long until we are clear?" said Lady Ashton.

"Not until morning to be sure, but we would see a ship by now if there were trouble."

They paused.  Mary took a breath of the wind, which she faced, rather than the direction they were traveling.  If she was to be a proper heretic, she should face the god she was addressing with song.

"I've been confused about that blockade," said Lady Ashton to Trent.  "I understood that the Treaty of Coronden put an end to the blockade of Acton."

"By Agritaine, yes," said Trent.  "But the peninsula is ruled under charter, and that charter gives the royal governor the right to license those ships which can trade within the local waters, and it happens that the local waters extend across the mouth of the bay."

"And how is that?  If Acton owns the other side of the bay, don't half those waters belong to Acton?"

"Yes.  You would be right, except for the Law of Territorial Protection, which was meant to protect enterprise territories outside of the continent, but somehow has been claimed by the peninsula.  It allows a territory that is under threat from a hostile power to extend its control for another twenty miles.  Which leaves Acton with only some rocky and unnavigable shallows as access to the world."

"They're trying to choke you out of existence then."

"That's right."

"And the queen...."

"Is new to the throne, and has to woo conservatives away from the thought that she is a weak woman, and much too innocently reform minded."

"Yes," she said.  "I never realized what ramifications that would have."

"It'll have more," said Trent.  "Lady Ashton, we're bound to have another war.  I'll admit I don't know as much about politics elsewhere, but I think it will effect more than Acton."

"I hope you are wrong."

"So do I."

Mary paid no mind to what they were saying.  Their voices were just a murmur along with that of the sea and wind.

In the dark, she could only see an outline of the farthest point of Actonion land.  She was aware that this might be her last sight of Acton, but she crushed that thought. She'd rather Acton be only a memory than Jackie.  So she sang to the winds and sent her thoughts ahead, not back.

The Test of Freedom should be available as an ebook in December 2012. It will be slightly rewritten from the version you see here.

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Clearing Up My Mess of Covers

I've been increasingly bothered by how my covers look as a group, particularly in search at online bookstores (Amazon in particular.)

The thing about search is that you can't control the order in which books appear.  You can't put the "important" books up top and the ephemera down below.  That's ruled by one of Amazon's relevance algorithm: which uses a rolling number that has to do with all sorts of data, including the user's brosing history, and recent activity in general on the page.

So you can't control how your overall body of work is presented, and moreover, special promotions and cheap books are likely to pop to the top, regarless of how much their covers suck. Books in the same series will not appear together.  Books in the same genre will not appear together.

So... cheap books with covers that suck is a common problem in indie publishing, not because indies have no taste (though that is, alas, a factor) but because if you have a loss leader book out there, you can't afford to put a super expensive cover on it.  And if you write a lot of short stories... you don't want to spend huge amounts of cash on those covers.

And that's okay, mostly.

One big problem that has cropped up with traditional publishers as well as indies is that it is hard for the audience to tell the difference, at a glance, between a short story and a promotional price on a new novel.  This has been happening to a lot of big name authors:

They write a short story at the publisher's request as a promotional item. The publisher puts a spiffy cover on it, to "brand" it with the author's main series.... and even though the short is free or 99 cence, the audience is furious.  It looked like a new novel and they were expecting a new new, long read.

So when there is a cheap cover on a short story, it at least looks different from the novels.

Except, of course, that your cheap short stories get more traffic, so they and their sucky covers pop to the top of your book lists.

My problem is a little more complicated than that, though.

I don't just have different lengths and prices to juggle: I have  several series, different genres, as well as lengths.  I even have different ratings and age groups of the intended audience.

So as I was putting each book out, I was thinking about how to brand for each of these subcategories to help readers see exactly what they were getting.  And the result is... all of my covers are very different from one another. It doesn't create clarity, it creates confusion.

On the bright side, I created lots and lots of different kinds of covers, and that helps me experiment with what kind of look I want.

For the most part, I'm happy with the series novels. Their main problem is that I don't have multiple books in each series to make the portfolio look coherent. I particularly like what's going on with The Man Who and the Mary Alwyn books.  Mick and Casey and Misplaced Hero have something to build on.

So that's four different looks for my most important books.  The problem is that the rest of my books are scattered too.

And the short stories?  They're the ones that are all over the place, and they create a lot of the confusion. And they are the "cheap" set.  So they are up for re-design first.

The redesign has to be cheap and replicatable.  What I need is a template I can use for all of them.  The question is what kind of template.

Waiter is my most popular book -- even when it isn't free.  But that has a lot to do with the title. I use an almost identical layout and font for my least popular book, The Adventure of Anna the Great.  Meanwhile, Scattershale Gulch does okay, but it's trashy comic book cover design is the sore thumb here.  It might look okay if that was the template for all of them, but it's really a fussy design to work with.  And I don't think it's right for much of my short work.

The other two are simple, but they are so simple they kind of disappear.  If all the short covers were like them, they wouldn't look like a separate thing from the novel covers, they'd just blur the lines.

So I need distinct, cheap, simple.

As I was falling asleep the other day, though, I had one of those brilliant thoughts.  It was a visual thought, not a verbal one.  Woodcuts.  Take the basic layout I'm using for Waiter, but have the frames and lettering in a woodcut style, the middle frame can be for a simple symbolic image.  I can do a fourth frame as a narrow band across the top that says "short stories" or "novelette."

What you see here is a modified version: I don't have an upper frame for the title and then a middle one for an image or subtext.  I'm thinking that I will handle the title above, like the name below, and maybe doing art in a black band across the lower middle.

But I will worry about that when I get to the redesigns of individual books.

One of the reasons I like this, aside from the fact that it's easy, is that it has a literary "title page" look. Well, not what you see here -- I modified it from that. But the three frames on white or beige used to be a standard in many small and academic presses, especially low budget foreign presses.  And ESPECIALLY in Arts and Crafts small press printing.   They'd have nothing but plain text on the cover. Maybe a colophon and a pretty border for decoration at most.

I think that's appropriate for short fiction.

In the end I really won't know how this will affect sales.  Some of these books were free for a while this year, and they should be trickling back to priced soon.  That will affect sales.  The fact that I am getting more books out there will affect sales.  The phases of the moon will affect them too.

But for my own pride and sanity, I think it's worth an effort to untangle the mess in my portfolio of covers.  I am glad to have created them in the first place.  It's a learning curve, and the longer and more you do it the better you get at it.

See you in the funny papers.

 A Round of Words in 80 Days Update

This Segment's Progress:

Sunday Day 42 - 90 minutes
Monday Day 43 - 180 minutes
Tuesday Day 44 - I didn't record.  But I'm sticking a fork in ToF for the time being. The last two episodes need work, but we'll do that when I get back to the formatting and editing pass.

Tomorrow, I might start a transition toward word counts again, as I take up Devil in a Blue Bustle.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Test of Freedom - Episode 7

Episode 7 - "Captain Trent"
by Camille LaGuire

IT WAS RUMORED that Cap'n Trent had been a pirate in his early days.  All anyone knew for sure was that he was a drawling, overdressed adventurer who had stepped into a leading role in the revolution.

During that war he'd been the hero of the southern plains, where he had formed a guerrilla army of bandits who kept the king's armies running in circles, and provisioned the rest of the revolutionary army from they loot gained in raiding.

But now he had gone back to the sea, as a trader, and he was available, which was a blessing.  There were others they could have called upon, but Mary knew Trent.  She was certain she could gain his help, and she would, even if she had to throw herself at his feet.

What was difficult was getting her companions to hurry up.  She finally abandoned them and struck out for The Battle inn herself, but she was only a block from the hotel, when she was overtaken by the trap Mr. Sherman had finally succeeded in hiring.  No one said a word of rebuke when Mary climbed in to settle next to Lady Ashton.  They understood her impatience, even if it did make Mary feel a bit ashamed of herself.

The Battle turned out to be a rather fine inn for dockside, but what else would you expect from Trent?  Sherman paused to inquire about him, and just as the innkeeper said the captain was out.... in swept the captain himself.

Trent paused just inside the door, pulling off his gauntlets and calling out for the innkeeper.  His fair hair was loose and long, and capped by his well-known fancy and feathered sea captain's bonnet.  He glanced around and saw Sherman.  He flung back his billowing green cape, and strode forward to shake the man's hand.

"Mr. Sherman," he said.

"Hello, Captain.  May I present Lady Ashton?"

Trent swept off his hat and took her hand with a pleased and surprised smile.  He was a charming man, and Mary was glad it hadn't been him she'd fallen for when she'd broken loose of all bonds of decency.  But then Trent hadn't made an attempt to charm her until after she'd been on her own.  Perhaps he was a bit less of a rogue than he pretended.  He still dressed in patriotic green, though the war was over, and he claimed to be a businessman.

"My lady," said Trent to Lady Ashton, and he made leg formally, prompting Lady Ashton to curtsey.  Like a pair of high aristocrats at a formal event.

The formalities were over, however, when he saw Mary.

"Mrs. Alwyn," he said, stepping up quickly and touching her face before taking her hand.  "You look unhappy."

"They've arrested Jackie for treason, down in the Peninsula," she said quickly, to dash any hopes he might have that she'd left Jackie again.  "They've sent him to Sabatine."

"What was the fool doing down in the Peninsula?"

"He was helping a friend."

"That man's an ass, to leave you and go make trouble where he had no business being!"

"He didn't go to make trouble," said Mary.

Lady Ashton came forward and took Mary's arm in support.

"They charged him from the Freedom Papers he'd written before the war," she explained.

Trent looked at her, and then back at Mary.

"And you want to go to Sabatine after him?"

"Yes," said Mary.

"I'd say that's unrealistic of most women, but...."  He sighed and tilted his head.  "What will you do when you get there?"

"We intend to buy him, Captain," said Lady Ashton.

"Oh, Jackie the Freedom will like that!" he said with more than a little sarcasm.  Lady Ashton's eyes narrowed.

"I'm sure it will be an improvement over his current situation."

"Of course."  He paused and looked seriously from one woman to the other.  "But you know you can't free him.  He's under sentence.  He can't be freed until the sentence is up, and he can't be brought back to the continent during that time.  Depending on the contract, he may never be able to return."

"Could you smuggle him back?" asked Mary.

"Perhaps.  But if we're caught, they can take him right back, or if they like, they can just hang him then and there."

Mary shuddered and closed her eyes.  "Then we can live in the islands."

"Yes," said Lady Ashton.  "We have many options.  My brother is at this moment on his way to talk to the queen.  My family has good relations with her.  I think we have a chance at an exhoneration, or at least a pardon.  Then he could come home, couldn't he?"

"Yes, that should do the trick."  But he seemed doubtful still.

"And if political pressures make that impossible, my brother has a very fine lemon plantation on one of the smaller islands."

"Exhile, then," said Trent.  He looked at Mary, and Mary pushed away the thoughts he was forcing into her head.

"I want him back," she said.  "We can worry about the rest when he's safe."

Trent nodded.

"Dine with me," he said.  "We'll discuss the particulars."

The Test of Freedom should be available as an ebook in December 2012. It will be slightly rewritten from the version you see here.

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.