Thursday, 27 November 2014

CAN YOU JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER?

Can you judge a book by its cover? I guess the answer is yes if the cover looks like this:
If you're reaching for something with this kind of cover, you're looking for a good bodice-ripping romance with a husky he-man prancing across the hills on a white horse in search of his lusty, red-haired lass whose shirt always slips off her shoulder at the right time.
Or this:
This on the other hand promises plenty of gore and torture at the hands of a panda-faced maniac who's adding something nasty to the pasta sauce.
Enough of the extremes! Covers are extremely important since they contain the all-important title and  image that either draws us to or drives us away from picking up the book. Some covers have such an impact they've become iconic. Here are a few:


Francis Cugat designed the cover of  The Great Gatsby, when F. Scott Fitzgerald was still writing the novel. Fitzgerald like it so much he claimed to have written it into the story. As all students of the book know, the famous "eyes in the sky" could be the godlike eyes of Dr. T J Eckleburg or Daisy's sad, beautiful, disembodied eyes looking down on the gaudy carnival that represents Gatsby's decadent parties and the excesses of the decaying American dream!
S. Neil Fujita designed this iconic cover for Mario Puzo's brilliant novel, The Godfather, which features a marionette theme, suggesting the power of Don Corleone, the great manipulator and the ongoing conflict between the families to become the "puppet master".
The bold cover for Suzanne Collins' blockbuster, The Hunger Games, features the Mockingjay pin, an important symbol of freedom, signifying that Katniss, like the Mockingjay bird, is a creature with a spirit of her own who cannot be controlled by the Capitol. She becomes the figurehead for the eventual revolution against President Snow's brutal regime.
I must admit I'm partial to covers that feature people. Two of my favourite covers this year have covers that reflect the elegant, simple beauty of the story within:
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty features the exquisite Louise Brooks who is actually a character in this story of a quiet housewife who is hired to accompany the wild, eccentric and brilliant young actress to New York.
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent captures the wide-eyed innocence of a young girl, eventually caught up in the corruption, horror and injustice of the Salem Witch Trials.
When it comes to designing a cover, especially if you're self-publishing, it's always best to go with a professional design service. There are plenty of them on the web and they do a terrific job. Those authors who try to go it alone, might find themselves on a site called Lousy Book Covers, a site dedicated to finding the worst covers on the market. Follow the link and you'll see what I mean!
There are two ways to go with covers:
- Find a suitable Pre-made cover and have the designer customize it with your title and details. These can be inexpensive but very attractive. Check out this new cover for my novel, Chasing a Thrill (formerly Busted Out). I wasn't happy with the previous cover and title, so I gave it a new look with a design from Christa at Paper and Sage. Check it out here:
- Hire a cover designer to create your cover from scratch. This is a more expensive option, but can be the best way to go. Especially if you have a series and you want to create a brand. I've used the amazing Jeanine Henning for both books in my sci-fi series - THE FOREVER ONES and THE PARASITES, as well as for the cover of THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER. It's definitely a thrilling process to see your ideas translated by a talented artist into an eye-catching cover. 
What are your favourite book covers? I'd love to hear from you. Make your nominations in the comments section directly below the blog post. I look forward to hearing from you!


Monday, 17 November 2014

GETTING INTO THE WORLD OF A STORY



As a reader of many books, there's nothing I love more than immersing myself in a new world - the world of the story I'm reading. Whether it's a unique time period, geographical place, season of the year or even some weird fantasy world, I can't continue reading unless the author's creation of that world with all its unique details, its sights, sounds, smells, language, mood and atmosphere - absolutely transports me right there.
The Ancient Martian world

One of the first books that really achieved that for me in my earlier reading days was The Martian Chronicles by the great Ray Bradbury, whose achingly beautiful descriptions of the ancient Martian landscape and its subsequent settlement by the Earth travellers spoke volumes about the destructive effects of colonization.


Hilary Mantel's brilliant Wolf Hall, lures you skilfully into the world of 16th century London by using incredible sensory images that take you into Thomas Cromwell's mind, so that you view the events unfolding around him just as he would.

In The Little Stranger by the amazing Sarah Waters the reader is gradually drawn into the dark, post-war world of a decaying stately home where a family struggles to hold on to their dwindling upper class status. The eerie atmosphere gradually escalates into chilling horror, from which the reader is powerless to escape.



As a writer, creating the world of my story is one of the most important aspects of writing the book. Much of a writer's early pre-writing research involves getting a feel for that world. Sometimes you're fortunate to have lived in and experienced the world of your story, as in The Pitman's Daughter. Childhood memories of the street my grandmother lived in, helped me write about the fictitious Crag Street, and those childhood memories are often charged with powerful emotional associations. I was able to conjure up sharp images from memory of how the place looked, smelled, and felt. It's a very strange sensation when you're writing those kind of stories. You emerge from the experience feeling as if you've been transported away into another time and place.
For Unnatural and A Proper Lady (both out for submission to publishers), the challenge was greater. To recreate the Victorian world of both novels required a great deal of reading: newspapers from the era to get a feel for the mind set of the period; books written about the period, during the period; websites devoted to the era like Lee Jackson's wonderful Dictionary of Victorian London, which contains authentic articles about every aspect of Victorian life.

Watching documentaries can be helpful. For A Proper Lady, I watched a wonderful BBC documentary, The Victorian Farm in which three historians recreate life for an entire year on a farm as lived in the Victorian era. Films like this provide amazing and authentic detail for a writer.

Lilah's cabin
When writing contemporary stories, a familiar world can be enriched by adding very specific details. My work in progress, Lilah, is set in Northern Minnesota - a place very familiar to me - but to add authenticity to the world of my characters, I often collect a series of photographs that portray the homes, workplaces and general milieu of the characters. This allows me to picture them interacting with their setting. It's like going on holiday with out spending anything!!


The woods near Lilah's place 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

WRITERS AS ENTERTAINERS??



In all my years of reading and writing, I've attended my share of book launches and author readings. Some have been moving, memorable, hilarious and left me wanting more. Others have been a study in tedium during which my attention has wandered between checking out whose hair has shed the most dandruff onto their shoulders, to counting the number of heads doing the "chicken droop" as the author drones on in a writerly monotone. Poets tend to be the worst offenders. It seems the moment they start reciting their lines, it's a signal to slip into a one-note dirge. There are, however, some notable exceptions. This week's blog will highlight the best, past and present:


PAST:
Just as in the music industry today, yesterday's novelists and poets could make a killing from public lectures or readings, often mounting huge and ambitious cross-country tours.
CHARLES DICKENS touring schedule was an exhausting but lucrative one. Fascinated with the world of theatre, he found an outlet in public readings and his tours took him across the British Isles and twice to the United States. Eager fans crowded to see him and witness his grand theatrical style as well as his use of colourful backdrops and moody lighting. In the first of his US tours he performed 76 readings in 4 months netting 19,000 pounds ($38,000 approx) - not bad for 1867!

DYLAN THOMAS was the Welsh-born poet whose legendary drinking habits led to extremely unpredictable readings. Though he had a dramatic and flamboyant reading style, he was known to sometimes break down on stage or become violent and obscene or offensive at important literary events. When in top form, however his performances were memorable, and some have claimed his US tour in the early 1950's was the original "British Invasion". You can hear him on YouTube here.

PRESENT:
Nowadays authors use public readings as a way to launch new books or promote books sales. Here are three authors I've seen who are also amazing entertainers.

MARGARET ATWOOD: Her razor-sharp wit, wry sense of humour, incredible imagination and youthful approach to life and technology make her one of the most entertaining writers. After an hour-long question and answer session with a muddling CBC host at a local shopping mall, I found myself wishing he'd just be quiet and let her unleash her true brilliance. He did in the end, just sitting back as she entertained the audience with her ideas about science fiction, technology and life in general. Not to be missed!!
Coupland: Then and now

DOUGLAS COUPLAND: This Canadian author and visual artist is the wackiest, most unusual presenter. If you've read his early, groundbreaking novel Generation X, you'll know what a crazy sense of humour he has. I attended one of his readings and was treated to an hour of wildly creative, randomly free-associated ideas. Vivid images, wild speculation, astute observations and philosophical nuggets careened off the walls, colliding with each other in a dizzying barrage. Throughout the entire performance Coupland walked around like a restless genius. The result was incredible.


K.D. MILLER: Shortlisted for the Rogers Trust Prize for Fiction 2014, KD Miller was undoubtedly the best reader among the finalists I saw at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto. This writer's warm, nuanced and confident reading of one of her stories from the nominated collection, All Saints was a delight. A difficult achievement when the story is about a very proper schoolteacher who poisoned her entire grade 2 class by serving them poisoned lemonade. Miller read with perfect emotional control, allowing the listeners a chilling insight into the mind of the killer.

I hope I've inspired you to attend a reading. Authors work in such a solitary setting, it's great to actually connect with readers. Look out for readings at bookstores and libraries in your area!