Category Archives: E-books

Nook offers 44% discount on KRK trilogy

Barnes and Noble Nook are offering a big discount on the KRK e-book bundle – 44% .

(I don’t know how they come up with figures like this, but I’m not complaining)

If you have an e-reader it looks like a good deal.

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Filed under Australian Writers, E-books, Female Fantasy Authors

KRK Boxed e-book set…

It’s baaaack…

The ‘boxed’ King Rolen’s Kin trilogy is back as an e-book deal. Looks really cool as a virtual boxed set, Tadaaa!

(Available here)

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Filed under Australian Writers, E-books, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors

Meet James Maxey…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented James Maxey to drop by. (Further disclaimer, James and I are both published by Solaris).

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: Your series is called Dragon Age and the books are called Bitterwood, Dragonseed and Dragonforce. Your new series is called Dragon Apocalypse and the first book is GreatShadow- who is a ‘primal dragon of fire, an elemental evil whose malign intelligence spies upon mankind through every candle flame, waiting to devour any careless victim he can claim’. Can we take it from this that you really like dragons? 

The first thing you should know is that dragons are constantly stalking me in my bedroom. (See the photos of the shadow dragons I’ve attached. I swear these are not photoshopped.) Since they have yet to devour me, I assume they’re instead whispering subliminal messages in my ears filling me with urges to write about them.

As an author, I’m fascinated with dragons for their mythic impact. I think humans are hardwired to be on the lookout for dragons. If you think about it, we evolved from small monkey-like creatures who had strong evolutionary pressure to watch out for big snakes, big cats, and big birds. Blend these animals together, and you get a dragon. Dragons provide a path into the deep and primal instincts of readers. The small mammals inside us feel compelled to keep their eyes fixed on these ultra-predators.

Q: In an interview on Shimmer you said:  ‘My books feature dragons as the oppressive rulers of humanity, and Burke is a rebel who hates dragons.  Anza is his only child, and, while he might have wanted a son, he’s decided to turn his daughter into a dragon-killing machine.  After I decided that Anza had been trained since she could walk to be a fighter, I wrote a battle scene where she kills someone in complete silence.  It was then that the character revealed to me that she never talked; she’d been mute since birth.  I had to go back and rewrite all the scenes where she spoke, which was a pain, but completely worth the effort.  With a lot of my best characters, I don’t so much design them as discover them.’ From this I take it you are not a plotter so much as a pantser? (Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. ie. they let the story take them where it and the characters want to go).

I normally go into a book with some sort of broad outline, but outlining only helps me think about the big plot points and the most obvious character motivations. So, in Greatshadow, when I’m thinking on the outline level, Infidel’s motivation for wanting to slay the dragon Greatshadow is so that she can steal his treasure and have enough wealth to retire from her life as a mercenary and live the rest of her days in peace. That sort of straight-forward, big picture motivation is all I need to start writing. But, if I only wrote down the big picture stuff, I’d have a book about 20 pages long. So, I’ve got to fill in each scene with detail and dialogue, and the more the characters talk, the more they evolve, and I’m able to start drilling down deeper and deeper into what really, really motivates them. To the degree that I’m a pantser, it’s because I’m willing to toss out my outlined plot points and let the characters go where they want to go as my knowledge of them increases. Sometimes I wind up back exactly where the plot required them to be (for instance, Infidel still has a climatic scene where it all comes down to her facing off against the dragon). But, other times, my plot does a 180 turn as the character rejects my master plans and tells me what they really want to do, and I wing it and charge blindly into terra incognita.

Q: Do you think that writers are in a unique position to explore and process the major experiences of their life through their writing?

Hmm. I don’t know about unique. Certainly an actor or musician or artist would have similar opportunities to channel their emotion into their chosen careers. But, an accountant or a mall security guard… maybe not so much.

I process a lot of pain through my writing. Greatshadow is dedicated to my best friend Greg Hungerford, who passed away two years ago. The novel is narrated by a ghost named Stagger, who is sort of a wastrel poet intellectual who looks back on his too-short life with a mix of fondness, cynicism, and black humor. Anyone who knew Greg will probably recognize a bit of him in Stagger. But, my writing isn’t informed only by loss. Greatshadow is also a love story; Stagger is secretly in love with his best friend, a butt-kicking female mercenary named Infidel. They spend almost all their time together, but Stagger is so addicted to her friendship he’s terrified of telling her of his romantic feelings, worried he’ll drive her away. As I was writing this, I happened to have a female friend who I spent a great deal of time with. Her name was Cheryl, and we liked to get together and go for hikes, but early on we’d decided that we weren’t dating and were just friends. This opened up a whole new level of conversation between us, as I wasn’t trying to impress her, so I was a bit less guarded. The more time I spent with her, the more I realized she was perfect for me, only now I was stuck. I enjoyed spending time with her so much that I was terrified that if I told her I loved her, she’d skedaddle. So, we were “just friends” for about three years. As I was writing Greatshadow with its “friends in love” plot, I kept thinking, “What if Cheryl reads this and thinks it’s about her?” Which eventually forced me to ask, “Is this about her?” Suddenly the book sounded very much like a secret message to tell myself that I really needed to man up and tell her how I felt. I did , learned she felt the same way, and we were married on 11-11-11.

Q: On a completely different note your book Nobody Gets the Girl is a superhero story. This looks like a heap of fun. Were you the sort of little boy who crept away to read comic books in a cubbyhouse?

What do you mean, little boy? I still sneak away to read comic books. I’m a hard core superhero junkie. I’ve followed up Nobody with a novel from the villain’s perspective called Burn Baby Burn. And, the not so secret secret about Greatshadow is that it’s a superhero novel as well. All the main characters have superpowers. Infidel is super strong and invulnerable, Lord Tower flies and wears indestructible armor made of prayer, the Truthspeaker can edit reality with his words, and Menagerie can shapeshift into any of the animals that are shown in his head-to-toe tattoos. The book is kind of X-men meets Tolkien, supermen verus dragons. It’s an unapologetic orgy of geekiness.

 Q: You seem to be very keen on music (See Favourite Albums I discovered in 2011). Are you also a musician?

I wish! Alas, somehow my fingers are capable of banging out a hundred words a minute on a QWERTY keyboard, yet completely unable to master five strings on a guitar. My voice has a vocal range of three notes, which only takes me so far when I’m singing. But, my tastes in music are strongly related to my literary urges. I’m drawn toward singer songwriters who confess all, like the Mountain Goats, and to dazzling, daring lyrical juggling acts like the Decemberists. Melody is important, but for good lyrics I’ll devour any musical style or genre.

Q: I notice you have several books up on Smashwords. Are you experimenting with self publishing? What have you learned from this?

With the exception of Burn Baby Burn, all my e-books are traditionally published books where I’d either never sold the e-rights or else they’d reverted back to me. Self-publishing e-books is a headache. All the major e-book outlets have completely different format requirement for listing your work, and you don’t really appreciate such subtle elements of cover art as the font choice until you’ve had to design your own covers.

However, the rewards are definitely worth it. Amazon has completely upended the whole career path for authors by offering 70% royalties on self-published e-books paid monthly. I’ve published four novels through traditional publishers, with three more under contract, and for the most part these have earned me more money than e-books… so far. But, traditional publishing usually only brings you two paychecks a year, and you’re in the dark on sales all the time. When you self publish an ebook, you get most sales data in real time. I not only know how many books I’ve sold this month, I can tell you how many I’ve sold this hour. I know when and how much I’ll get paid for each book sold, and usually get paid about a week early. It’s pretty amazing, and I think that any author with a back catalogue of existing books is foolish if they don’t self-publish it.

The big question is whether or not it makes sense to pursue self-publishing and ignore the more traditional path. Right now, I’m not quite willing to make that leap. I still get a thrill out of walking into a bookstore and seeing my books on the shelf. And, while ebook royalties are wonderful, the reality is that ebooks reach a smaller pool of readers right now than traditional books. So, if you want to be read widely and get broad bookstore distribution, selling your work to a traditional publisher is currently the best path to that end. But, this is changing rapidly. Getting your books into bookstores might not be as valuable ten years from now, since there might not be very many bookstores left. Readers who insist on paper books will probably persist for decades, but they will increasingly become like audiophiles who insist on only listening to music on LPs when everyone around them is streaming songs through their phones.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I assume you are talking about epic fantasy? Because I would argue that the fantasy shelves of most bookstores are dominated by female writers, mostly writing urban fantasy. At most conventions I go to, the mix of male to female writers seems to be pretty well balanced. As for a difference in the writing, I don’t think I can point to any difference in male and female writing that isn’t completely masked by the variations between individual authors. I don’t think an average reader could read one of Gail Z. Martin’s novels and one of my books and come away thinking they were written by the same writer. But, the same is true of me and any male fantasy author as well.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not really. I suppose that there might be certain sub-genres where I might make an assumption on the likely gender of the writer; i.e., if I was told a book was military science fiction, I might assume the writer was male, and if I was told the book was a bodice-ripper romance, I might guess that the writer was female. But, for the most part, the gender of the author is just not a factor at all when I’m deciding what book to read next.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

How is this fun? If genuinely presented with this choice, it would torment me. Should I spend time with loved ones I’ve lost? Should I go back to my younger self and offer advice on what stocks to buy? Could I settle some big question once and for all, like whether Shakespeare wrote his own plays or if there really was a historical Jesus? Should I go to the Library in Alexandria before it burns and scoop us as many scrolls as humanly possible? What did dinosaurs really look like? What was Gobekli Tepe really used for? Could I come back with a dodo? A Tasmanian tiger? A snap shot of Cleopatra? Could I find out where the %#@$! Genghis Khan was buried?

I would forever be haunted by the ghosts of the choices I didn’t make.

Take this burden away from me. I do not have the strength to bear it.

Giveaway Question: 

Which superpower would you rather have: Flight, invisibility, mind-reading, or regeneration? And, as a follow up, which of these powers do you think science is likely to bring to you via a wearable device in the next twenty years?

I’ll award a copy of Greatshadow to the most interesting answer.

 

James Maxey (ranting) Blog

James Maxey (writing) Blog

Follow James on GoodReads

Catch up with James on Facebook

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Characterisation, Comics/Graphic Novels, Covers, creativity, E-books, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Genre, Indy Press, Music and Writers

Winner Les Petersen Free E-Book Cover!

Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin

Les very generously says:

There were three very good responses. Andrew Warrilow did the hard yards and researched the web, and then came up with a splendid response; Thoraiya mimed a brilliant answer and gave me a great smile for an hour, and Narelle was right on song with her response.

The other responses from BartBart, Greta and Melissa were well considered.

However, the answer that comes the closest to what I imagined when writing out the question was Narelle’s, therefore she wins the give-away and I’d be delighted to do a cover for her. If Andrew and Thoraiya want to get in touch with me, I’ll see what consolation prizes I can come up with.

So Narelle for your free cover contact Les on this email address:  les(at)lespetersen(dot)com(dot)au

And Andrew and Thoraiya contact Les to see about your consolation prizes!

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Covers, creativity, E-books, Fun Stuff, Indy Press, Inspiring Art

Meet Narrelle Harris…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Narrelle Harris to drop by.  

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: You did a lot of travelling: ‘three years abroad, teaching English in Egypt and Poland’. Your husband is Tim Richards a travel writer and author. Does this mean that you two can travel all over the world and write it off your tax, (him – because he writes about it, you – because you are researching for your next book)?

It’s not quite that neat! Tim can claim pretty much everything, as he is genuinely travelling for work. I could only claim if the primary reason for the travel was research, and I’d have to keep detailed diaries and all my receipts and actually produce something. While the places I go certainly informs my writing – one of my short stories in the upcoming Showtime anthology from Twelfth Planet Press was inspired by my trip to Hungary and is set there – I’m mainly going for a holiday and to watch my husband work. :D

I have claimed other stuff on tax, though: anything I’m not sure about I just submit to the tax accountant, and they work out what applies. They are absolutely worth the money I pay them each year!

Q: When I read The Opposite of Life I really enjoyed the daggy, Hawaiian shirt-wearing vampire. (Charlaine Harris of True Blood fame gave it a great write up).Did you deliberately set out to break with the stereotypes when you wrote this book?

It was one of the inspirations, yes. I’d been to see one of the Underworld films, with Kate Beckinsale, and thought once more about how film vampires are always slim and glamorous with fabulous hair and the most amazing fashion sense. I thought, if vampires were real and I got turned into one, I’d just be a chubby chick with fangs. That really was the first impetus. After that, as I wrote, I was trying to be as steeped in reality as the form would allow. Gary is the opposite of a glamorous vampire and Lissa is just a regular girl, not an outstanding beauty or anything: certainly not  kickass slayer type. So yes, every time a scene would start looking like a regular set up for a glamour scene, I’d deliberately find ways to subvert that.

Q: I see ClanDestine Press will be bringing out the sequel to The Opposite of Life, called Walking Shadows. Can you give us a hint of what Lissa and Gary get up to?

This is the blurb I put together for Clan Destine:

While the first book dealt with a murderous vampire breaking the 21st century vampire code of staying under the radar, Walking Shadows sees Gary and Lissa facing the arrival of a frighteningly successful vampire hunter, who is relentlessly picking off Melbourne’s small vampire community. Gary also has some secrets he’s never shared with Lissa, and Lissa’s learning even more about the unexpected downsides of being undead. Mundy, Melbourne’s oldest vampire, seems to hate Lissa and Magdalene, Melbourne meanest vampire and owner of the Gold Bug, isn’t much of a fan either. So Lissa and Gary have enemies no matter which way they turn.

All that while Lissa is trying to manage the return home of her alcoholic father and trying to convince her beloved sister Kate that Gary is not going to eat anyone.

Of course, before the end, there’s the blood, the killing, the fires and the running like the clappers for their lives.

Q: You also write crime, or could it be that you write crime and also write dark fantasy? I’ve noticed a lot of authors have this cross over. Your first published book was Fly by Night. It looks like a collection of short stories or a novella, it’s hard to tell. Plus there is a novella Sacrifice, both are available as e-books. Do you find you are tempted to write in the short story/novella length?

Fly By Night is two novellas (Fly by Night and Sacrifice) presented in a single volume. The book is out of print now, so I made them available as separate novellas on Smashwords and Amazon.com. They both deal with Frank and Milo, musicians at the start of their career, who are also a couple. In each story they stumble into violent crime.

Really, I find the novel a more natural length for me to write to. I seem to have so much to say! Having said that, I recently wrote some short stories, which are coming out in the aforementioned Showtime anthology, and I enjoyed doing those very much. I think I might try some more of those.

However, I’m about to get back to work on the third Gary and Lissa novel, and I have notes and ideas for several other books. I guess I’ll keep writing to whatever length a particular story needs.

Q: Witch Honour and Witch Faith were both shortlisted for the George Turner Awards, way back in the 1990s.They look like the sort of books to challenge publishers and bookstore owners – fantasy, SF and a bit of court politics. Are you more comfortable writing books that don’t fit neatly into a particular genre?

There’s that old saying about there being no new stories, or that there are only seven stories, and everything you read is just a variation. When I write, I guess I try to find an approach that is just a new look at how to do something. That lends itself naturally to genre-blending. I’m fine with that. It’s been going on for much longer than I’ve been writing, anyway. It certainly gives you a lot of scope and room to play.

Q: Your one-act play, Stalemate, was performed by harbour theatre and won Best Original Play at the Bunbury One-Act Drama Festival. What led you to write this play? Was it a thrill to see it performed live?

Originally, I wrote it response to a call for one-act plays that were ghost stories. It didn’t get picked up in that submission, but I sent it to a friend of mine in Perth, who had directed me in plays in community theatre when I lived in Fremantle. I was just wanting her input initially on how to improve it, and she wrote and asked if she could stage it at the one act festival our old theatre group was doing. From there it went to the Bunbury One Act Theatre Festival and picked up an award. I flew over to Perth to see it performed at Harbour Theatre, before it went to Bunbury.

And oh my god, yes, it was exciting to see what somebody else did with the words I wrote! With books, obviously every reader is interpreting things through their own experiences and tastes. With theatre, though, you get to *see* how that other person is interpreting things. The production was a little unusual in that the woman playing the mother got very ill just before it went on and couldn’t perform. So instead of recasting, the director, Celia, read the part off-stage while the woman playing Helen played to the space where the other actress was meant to be. They’d rehearsed all the moves, after all. The mother is a ghost, so it worked well. It would have been a disaster the other way around!

But yes – very exciting to see that collaboration with the director and performers presenting their interpretation of the story. I think I cried.

 

Q: I see you had a story in Best New Zombie Tales, (vol 2) edited by James Roy Daley. What is it about zombies that makes them so popular?

That was my first foray into zombie fiction, so I’m not sure. I suppose with vampires, the fanged one can represent all kinds of metaphors, and we project a lot of different fears and desires onto them. Perhaps with zombies, they make us reflect those fears and desires back onto ourselves. Seriously, I’m just making this up on the spot. I don’t really know. But I’ve been reading some terrific zombie fiction lately, and most of it seems to contain themes of people turning inward, finding out more about themselves through how they respond to the zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead TV series is exploring the idea that how we respond to these tragic (though dangerous) creatures questions and reflects our compassion and humanity. Felicity Dowker wrote a beautiful story about zombies, love and how much worse surviving people were than the undead.

Q: Outside the Law is a collection of True Crime essays. What did you research and write about for this collection?

I had just done jury duty for the first time ever, and became quite interested in how some fellow jurors thought about forensic evidence and the presentation of evidence generally. A few weeks later, Lindy Cameron said she was looking for essays for the collection, so I pitched that idea. Then I interviewed doctors, lawyers and forensic scientists about the issue, and whether too much forensic TV was affecting how juries operated in Australia. It was fascinating!

Q: Talk about versatility, you also write Phone Apps. Melbourne Historical, Melbourne Getaways and Melbourne Literary.  How did you get involved in this?

Actually, only Melbourne Literary is my app – the other two were done by my husband, but I’ve linked to them from my site to help him promote them. I’m working on a new Melbourne app now, though, so his will probably get bumped when that’s ready!

The app happened through Tim, actually. He does contract work for Lonely Planet, and this US company, Sutro Media, sent an email around the LP Author mailing group to say they were looking for folks to write apps for them. Sutro has the software and what amounts to a content management system, but they want good writers to partner with them to create content. Tim started doing Melbourne Historical and, seeing how the categories and layout worked, I began thinking about all the literary stuff around Melbourne and how it would fit into that format. Melbourne had been declared a UNESCO City of Literature and the Wheeler Centre had just opened, so it seemed a good fit and a potential seller. So I pitched that, Sutro liked it, and off we went.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I honestly couldn’t say! I mean, there may be some kinds of fantasy where you’d think ‘well, that’s probably a male writer for a male audience’, with lots of hairy barbarians, wenches and quaffing of ale; or women writing for a female audience with… I don’t know, magic and … dragons? Even writing that down feels terribly sexist and stereotypical. Gaiman writes like Gaiman, Bujold writes like Bujold, they both write about humanity, with a philosophical heart. No doubt they are informed by their gender, but I don’t think they write *from* gender.  If that makes sense.

I read a lot of fantasy, but I read a lot of SF, crime and ‘mainstream’ fiction as well as non fiction. I read both men and women, adult and YA. Good writing is good writing. Writing romantic relationships isn’t just a woman’s thing, writing action isn’t just a man’s thing.

Maybe there’s a difference in what some male or female readers choose to read; and there are obvious differences in writers and writing styles, but I don’t know that it can be split into gender differences like that.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not really. I’m very bored by gender stereotypes no matter who is writing them. If a book is full of simplistic gender roles and sexist claptrap, I’ll generally put it down long before I finish it. I don’t get a lot of time, and life’s too short to read books I’m not enjoying.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I think the Marvellous Melbourne period of the late 1800s would be fascinating, but I’d really want to have a first aid kit containing penicillin with me. And lots of money. I’d like to see old Melbourne in style. I moved to Melbourne in 1998 and have taken into my heart with a passion. I’ve lived all over Australia, an in Egypt and Poland, is this was the first city where I thought I could live here permanently. Seeing her in her goldrush heyday would be such a treat. Meeting those characters, like George Coppin, Fergus Hume and Madam Brussels would be a hoot too.  I kind of fancy myself in Victorian era dresses as well. I used to be a member of a Sherlock Holmes society and occasionally cut a bit of a dash in those long frocks with long gloves and fancy hats.

Give-away Question:

Narrelle has a copy of Best New Zombie Tales Volume Two (with her story The Truth About Brains) and a copy of The Opposite of Life to give away. She says, to win one of them:

Tell me whether you like zombie or vampire stories best, and why. The best zombie-lovin’ answer will get Brains and the best vampire-lovin’ answer will get the opposite! ;D

 

Follow Narrelle on Twitter: @daggyvamp

See Narrelle’s Blog

See two of Narrelle’s characters blog.

Catch up with Narrelle on Facebook.

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Dark Urban Fantasy, E-books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Paranormal_Crime, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries

Meet Les Petersen …

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Les Petersen to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: Your web page doesn’t have a bio. I tried to find a bio for you on Wikipedia. The closest I came was your numerous  listings as cover artist of various books. Next I looked up your listing on Linked in. This is about as brief as a bio gets ‘self employed illustrator and scriptwriter’. I know you live in Canberra, are married and have a son. Are you being deliberately mysterious or is a bio just something you haven’t gotten around to doing?

Not so much ‘haven’t got around to it’, rather I don’t really see the need for it. I know I’m not good at self promotion, but again there’s no need for me to promote myself at present. I have a steady income and so throwing myself to the lions (both fans and clients) wouldn’t necessarily be healthy. Maybe I’m a little bit private, as well, rather than being mysterious. But just for your info, I come from a large family of talented musicians and film makers, but I’m the one who wants to draw the pictures. My wife and son are my own world of wonder.

Michael Whelan's Cover

Q: Where did you go to study art (if you did study formally)? What artists inspired you to dedicate yourself to this calling, to the speculative fiction genre specifically?

Blame Michael Whelan. Short answer but it packs a punch. I saw a cover of his (Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars) way back in the 70’s, and loved it. Tried to paint like that, but I don’t have Michael Whelan’s sense of colour. That drove me to follow up on art as a course of study and I did 6 years at a couple of art schools. BUT I didn’t end up painting, rather I ended up print making for other artists because that paid a few bills. I learnt then that you can get trapped into professions you don’t enjoy by not sticking to your guns. Eventually I was lucky enough to get work as an illustrator and things turned around. But I would have wasted about 10 years doing something I didn’t really enjoy as much as I had hoped to. And artists can be suck picky, fernickety people with egos as big as houses.

Q: You have done at least 40 covers for speculative fiction books, magazines and anthologies (see ISFDB list here). This data base only goes up to 2009. In the book cover section of your web page there are 13 recent covers and it looked like only two of these were from the end of the ISFDB list, so you must have done more covers recently.  Do you have a couple of favourites and if so, why?

Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin

Yes, the database is a little out – I am pushing 100 covers now. Many of the missing ones are for ebooks or self-publishing clients. That area of publishing is growing all the time and is now the mainstay of my illustration work.

As to favourites, I think Shadow Queen for Deborah Kalin  and Myrren’s Gift for Fiona McIntosh.

Myren's Gift by Fiona McIntosh

Both these really pushed me for design and the colour work started to get where I was trying to go, and the task of painting them was extremely enjoyable. Both began as scribbles on a piece of paper and expanded out to a full spread. Myrren’s Gift book design was also shortlisted for the 2005 APA Book Design Awards, which made everyone happy. It was my first cover to break the US market.

Q: I see you did the cover for Isobelle Carmody’s The Stone Key. I love this cover.  Did you do the whole series? They have a wonderful feel. Could you describe for us the consultation process that went into the design of these covers and then the actual physical process involved in constructing the covers?

In truth, I can’t take credit for these covers. Cathy Larsen, the lead designer from Penguin is responsible for the design of this series; I added some of the backgrounds and a bit of jewellery etc, but Cathy’s ‘touch’ is what makes it so successful.

As to the process: Cathy sent through a design brief, which lays out what is needed for the cover. I then worked my magic on the backgrounds and she incorporated that component into the design, changing things to suit the finished product. Interestingly, the most difficult part of the process is to get sign-off from the marketing team at Penguin (it’s the same at any publishers – they are trying to get a perfect product, after all). The design team can ask for change after change, to the point it kills a product’s freshness and drives designers and illustrators batty. Note how I call the book a ‘product’. That’s exactly what we have to keep in mind when working on a cover – we are selling the author and the story and the packaging must evoke the power of the writing. It can be tricky, but that’s what makes in an interesting profession.

Q: Back in 2001 you did the cover for Trudi Canavan’s best selling book The Magician’s Guild. The new covers for Trudi’s books are very different. (They were produced in the UK). Cover styles are constantly evolving what do you think of the current ‘look’ for fantasy covers?

The short answer is ‘fashions change’. I think a cover has a life of about three years before it’s considered in need of a renovation. And there are regional differences – something marketable in Aus or the US is definitely not ok in the UK, and vice versa – so each area produces their own covers. What is frustrating about the process is every now and then you see your cover design ‘utilised’ by another illustrator working outside Australia, probably because they have been asked to adapt what you have provided. But you live with it because the contracts are fairly flexible and the remuneration is ok.

The other side of the coin is that illustrator’s change. Many new skills are need and we’re ‘updated’ as new illustrators come through. That’s life. We move on to other projects, other genres, other lives, really. I’ve been fortunate to have work trickle in, though the nature of it is different. I spent some time doing computer games, and that’s a whole new board game – a production line kind of work ethic is needed, with its own challenges and deadlines.

UK cover of Trudi's book

One influence worth noting on illustration is the influence of computer games, and special effects from movies. They’ve really shaken up our skill sets and many publishers expect you to have that kind of vision for their covers. Interestingly, the response to it has been a reliance on photo-manipulation and 3D modelling, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

And finally, there’s a wealth of talent out there. Now we can get illustrators from around the world working in our ‘patch of dirt’. I’m amazed at some of the Asian illustrators that are around – that’s skill to die for. Sometimes when I see their artworks, I feel like a fake, or a hack. Young, talented, and their currency isn’t as strong as ours – they’ve got everything going for them.

 

Q: You were one of the Exhibiting Guest Artists are Conflux in 2006. Did you come to fandom as a fan, or did you come to it after you became a professional artist?

I came along as a professional artist. Though I love the genre, and especially Terry Pratchett’s humorous take on it (my Fav author of all time), I wouldn’t put myself down as a genre ‘fan’, because I read so widely and have a few other interests. I go along to see the authors and some of the people I know, but that’s about the extent of my participation. Sorry. Mind you, if I had a fan base…nah, I’d probably die of embarrassment.

And 2006!  You realise that’s five years ago already. Sigh. What good have I done since then? No, that’s a rhetorical statement.

Q: In 1998 you were shortlisted for the George Turner $10,000 Fiction Prize for your novel Supplejack. Are you still writing? I see you’ve had several short story sales. What have you done with this book?

Supplejack sits in the archives of my computer, still unpublished. I’ve written five novels since then, all of which exist in the archives, probably because I don’t self manage well. I’m glad to say that I still write, but have moved onto scriptwriting, and have produced six full length screenplays and about twenty shorts – and you guessed it, all in the archives of my computer, though I have produced and filmed one of the shorts myself, and two of the full length and one of the shorts have been optioned by productions companies. Those of course have been shelved though because of the global financial meltdown (or whatever the current term is being bandied about).I still hold out hope.

Q: On your web page you have the stills from some animations. Are you animations up on You Tube? (I looked but couldn’t find them). Do you have a secret project which you are going to unveil to the world? If so, what is it?

Yes, I’m working on a secret project, but if I tell you what it is, it won’t be a secret.

OH OK, SINCE YOU INSIST.

I’m working on a 17 minute short ‘The Weatherman’s Gift’, which is part puppetry, part 2D animation, part 3D animation. It’s based on a short script I wrote, which was in turn based on a really crappy animatic/animation I did the Parallel Lines Film Competition in 2010. I really entered that competition to test a few animation techniques and I quite liked the story concept and the feel of the work, in the end. So decided I’ll have a try building it into something magical.

The plan is I will be making a music video first, based on the theme song my brother wrote so I can learn a few puppetry techniques, and then (using the skills I learn) produce the final 17 minute version.

At this stage I’m building the background mattes and puppets, and finishing the storyboards. I’ve been warned by Jonathan Nix not to do the final product until the animatic for the final version is exactly as I want it to be, and I’m taking that advice seriously.

Q: Also on your web page you have some character designs. Are these from your animations or for something else entirely?  

Something else entirely.

 

Q: And then you have your Gallery Pieces, which you say you do to keep your skills ticking over.  What programs have you been playing with to develop your skills?

Over the last five years, I work almost entirely from pencil sketches, utilising Poser for figure maquettes and Photoshop for production final work, but recently I’ve moved to using Vue for landscapes and I’ve been looking at a lot of film editing software, as well as 2D animation packages. I’m ok with some 3D packages, and have gotten familiar with particle system generating software to round out animation effects, but there’s still so much that interests me. I’ll probably be fiddling with all these packages till I go blind. But I always, always, always have the base work of a concept drawing to go from. It’s the cornerstone of the craft, I believe.

Q: There are also the matt paintings. This makes me think they are back grounds for animations. What have you been doing with these matt paintings?

Three of these are backgrounds for the short film I produced (Treasure) the others are for a Star Wars fan film by a New Zealand company (which incidentally did very well in a competition judged by George Lucas) as well as a background for The Weatherman music video animation. More will be added as I complete them.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring artist just starting out?

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Work your butt off.
  • Keep a drawing pad handy and use it frequently.
  • Get thicker skin on your ego because you’ll get battered and bruised.
  • Don’t concentrate on just one genre.
  • Marketing people are GODS and can destroy in an instant what you’ve slaved for weeks over so give them what they ask for as well as something you’d be proud to put in a portfolio if they knock it back.
  • Continue building your skill sets.
  • Stay current.
  • Watch what your competitors are doing, not so you rival them but so you get a sense where the market is going (very important).
  • You won’t get rich doing this job.
  • Small jobs and charity jobs can bring paying clients your way, and give you a chance to flex your creativity.
  • Read every word of the brief and watch your image dimensions/ratios.
  • Leave yourself time to do the fiddly bits ‘cause the details make the work sing.
  •  If you’re using photo manipulation, watch the colour matches, the resolution of the originals and the moiré pattern.
  • Black is a colour too (that will cause a stir!). But printers have problems with it so check with your publisher.
  • Contracts get signed but the details are quite often ignored. If you REALLY need to bark about something in the contract, do so and stick to your guns and ask for the contract to be changed before you start the work. BUT be warned, you’ll probably find work hard to get from that publisher if you’re asking too much.
  • Good faith is worth more than a contract, and most publishers work well with good faith. But a contract trumps good faith in a court of law.
  • Be EXTREMELY flexible and forgiving.
  • Work your butt off.

Oh, and one last thing – many people – and that includes authors and designers – “see” images in their mind’s eye in three dimensions so you’ll find they expect to see front and back of objects, as well as all the minute detail, all at the same time – so when you get to the nitty gritty don’t stress. Do your best and learn to smile and mutter under your breath at the same time.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. You have illustrated for magazines and done covers. As an artist do you think there is a difference in the way males and females are portrayed on speculative fiction book covers?

Isn’t that two questions? Such as ‘why aren’t there more female illustrators represented by…?’, or ‘why is there a lot more male illustrators?’ or something like that, and then ‘do I think there’s a difference etc?’

If you want an answer that covers both sides of the coin, blame the publishers and their marketing teams. We illustrators do as we are briefed to and it’s up to the publishers to hire the illustrators to do the work. The old ‘scantily clad woman in a battle bikini’ was something that appealed to the masses way back in the 60s etc, so the marketing teams wanted that, but tastes have changed. Now they want strong female role models and men without shirts, or sparkling teenage vampires and werewolves that look like Adonis. Tastes change. There’s no systemic movement to produce work that denigrates any one particular gender or limits them to the backyard studios. Everyone has to find their way through the morass, and skill and a great deal of luck gets you through.

I don’t know if there’s a majority of males in the illustration profession. Both sexes are capable of the skill sets required and most of the students going through art school with me were female, but few of them did anything with that skill. They turned to other professions – usually within management, actually.

All my ‘bosses’ in publishing, with one exception, have been women. I don’t see a gender bias against women in Australia. Also, I like to believe I was fortunate enough to get a job as an illustrator not because I was a male but rather because I’d put a bit of effort into learning the skill, then had a stroke of luck when I put an image on a webpage that Trudi Canavan saw and followed up on. In other words, the skill ‘spoke’ and I was willing enough to sell my soul to get the work that came from that.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

No. Out of all the covers I’ve done, with about five exceptions, the authors I have created covers for have all been female. There are very subtle differences in writer’s voice that you pick up on (please don’t ask for examples) and overall women can write family situations a bit better, and men write action better, but that’s probably some reflection on past expectations that boys will play with soldiers and girls with dolls or some such rubbish– and we know that is not necessarily the truth.  However, having said that, in the wash authors are fairly similar and they are usually supportive of your efforts. Some even surprise you and change their work to suit your illustration.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I thought long and hard about this and decided ( as all of you would have no doubt done instantaneously) that this question shouldn’t be answered seriously. If it was, and I said I wanted to go back into the past, it’d be too much about past regrets. If I went into the future, I’d be dialing up the expectation and a type of voyeuristic adventuring. So instead, I’ll strap on frivolity and elect to go sideways, into another dimension, to see if I was ever answered this question with a decent answer instead of all this waffle. Then I’d head over to Dixie’s house and she can explain all that stuff about birds and bees again. Lots of miming. Very interesting conversation. Especially as I don’t know anyone named Dixie. And never will, probably.

Giveaway Question:

A free custom ebook cover illustration. Quest ion: Who was Dixie and what did she tell me about the birds and bees, and how did that affect me for the rest of my life?

 

Les says he’s happy to talk illustration with others if they want to email him through his web page. (If you google him, don’t get Les mixed up with Leslie Petersen a ‘fine artist’).

Contact Les on Linkedin.

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Awards, Book Giveaway, Comics/Graphic Novels, Conferences and Conventions, Covers, creativity, E-books, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Genre, Inspiring Art, Script Writing, Tips for Developing Artists

Gushing Fan-girl Moment

I’m having a ‘Gushing Fan-girl Moment’ here. My publishers just sent me the Sony Reader Store Newsletter, with the Best Selling Bundles and Bargains.

Look, there’s my trilogy with Trudi Canavan, Brandon Sanderson, Richelle Mead and George RR Martin. Wow!

Wow, I feel all hot and flustered.

I had one of those embarassing Gushing Fan-girl Moments when I met George RR Martin at Worldcon in Glagow in 2005. I grabbed his hand and told him Tyrion was my favourite character. He was very sweet, he must get this sort of thing all the time. He told me Tyrion was his favourite character too. That was before Peter Drinklage played the part in Game of Thrones and everybody thought he was brilliant.

(If you’re interested in the King Rolen’s Kin e-book bundle here’s the link).

I feel like I should rush out and tell my mum, but she wouldn’t know who any of these people are. She’d just say, That’s nice, dear.

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Filed under E-books, Fantasy books, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, The Writing Fraternity

You know you’ve made it when …

You know you’ve made it when your books get sold in a boxed set, so you can imagine my excitement when I opened an email from my publisher that said King Rolen’s Kin Bundle, with this beautiful graphic!

 

It was only on closer reading that I realised they meant an E-Book Bundle.

So if you are into E-Books and you think $14.67 for the trilogy is a good price. Here’s the link.

And maybe one day, they’ll do a boxed set of my books. <grin>

 

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Filed under Australian Writers, E-books, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Genre

More discussion on e-books

There’s a post over at the Mad Genius Club – writers division on e-books. Apparently Penguin have entered into an agreement with Amazon. But the pricing structure of their e-books doesn’t appear to make sense. Why pay more for some e-books than you do for the paperback?

One commenter sums it up succinctly:

For Baen e-books, they have apparently set their price point a little below their currently available hardcopy. This is exactly what I see as reasonable. The truth is that there is a loss of tactual enjoyment by reading e-books. You lose the colorful cover. You lose the non-volatile storage format (excepting things like fire and water). You end up with weird layout bugaboos and editing glitches from the combined effects of data-format transfer and whatever point in time the manuscript was ported over during the production process.

What you gain? Well, the books are readable if not necessarily as friendly or professionally laid out. You get more shelf-space. The ability to have multiple “books” in one device. Library portability. And the recurring need to recharge your reader.

I recently spent 9 days on a driving holiday in Tassie. I took my laptop to write on. I would have taken some books to read but I tend to read big fat fantasy books and they take up so much room and are so heavy … A small, user friendly e-reader would have been great. I could have had my pick of books, depending on my mood. (I know I could have taken e-books on my lap top but it is a baby lap top and the screen is the size of a postage stamp. Trying to read on that, after writing on it would have driven me crazy).

One thing about belonging to a shared blog with US citizens is it makes you realise how cheap ordinary books are over in the states They talk about paying $10 for a paperback. Here we pay $19.95 and think that is reasonable. (I’m not going to get into the discussion about Parallel Importation because we would only end up with the remaindered books from overseas and it would kill our publishing industry).

Does the price of paperback and hardcovers in Australia inhibit your purchasing of books?


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Filed under E-books, Publishing Industry

Industry Links

On Saturday I ran two workshops,  Proposal Writing and How to write Dark Urban Fantasy. The attendees asked so many questions about the publishing industry and the craft of writing that I kept saying I’ll put a link on my blog. So here is the post with the links to all those sites we talked about. Hi People  (waving madly).

Getting feedback on writing.

You’ll get feedback from a writing group, preferably one that concentrates on your genre.

A lot of the attendees were writing speculative fiction (dark urban fantasy, fantasy and SF). So here is a link to the VISION writing group. They meet in person in Brisbane, but they also have an online group where you can swap industry information and ask questions.

There’s also Romance Writers of Australia for those who are writing paranormal romance and dark urban fantasy. If you drop by the Authors page, you’ll see Keri Arthur (Best Selling Dark Urban Fantasy Writer) is a member. The authors are listed alphabetically and you can see what area they are published in on the right. RWA has a paranormal e-list for writers of this genre.

You could do Year of the Edit with the Queensland Writers Centre. They also run Year of the Novel which is on the same page.

Then you could get your manuscript appraised by someone who knows the genre. The Australian Writer’s Market Place is a great resource for finding publishers, agents, competitions and manuscript appraisers.

You could also apply for a mentor through the Australian Society of Authors. A mentor will guide you through the process of writing and give you feedback. Here are last year’s successful entrants who won a mentorship. The Competition is run every year, so watch out for it.

To get your work noticed:

You could enter competitions (you’ll find them in the Australian Writers Market Place) but here are a few.

Varuna runs a number of programs such as fellowships and mentorships.

The QWC is offering an opportunity for children and Young Adult writers to work with editors from Allen & Unwin. And this is their page for general compeitions and opportunities.

CYA Conference (Children & Young Adult writers) often runs pitching opportunities as well as a competition for both published and unpublished writers.

Bundaberg Write Fest is run each year and often has an opportunity to have your work read by and agent/editor.

There’s the Text Writing Competition for YA and children’s books.

The Ipswich Writers Festival aren’t runnign their competition any more and Voices on the Coast and Somerset Literary Festicval competition are for children who write, not for children’s writers.

Steampunk

The workshop attendees were also intrigued by the steampunk genre. Here is a link to Richard Harland’s post about how to write steampunk. And here is a link to Richard in his outfit, about to set off on his book tour. Here is a link to a post I did on the topic, complete with steampunk dalek!

Editing

I did a post recently onthe editing process and here it is.

E-Books

I did a survey on e-books, who is reading, who is writing for them. Here’s the results. There are links through to several other posts on e-books.

So that is it for now. If there’s anything I’ve missed let me know.

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Filed under Competitions, E-books, Nourish the Writer, Publishing Industry, The Writing Fraternity, Workshop/s, Writing craft