Upgrading my book cover

As I get closer to the end of my second novel, I am looking for ways to tie it to my first.

The characters are not the same, but both books place young adults in natural disaster situations, to see how they fare. Character development ensues.

I have some ideas about how I want the book covers to fit together, but right now I’m just toying with the creative process. (I don’t even have a release date yet for Book Dos [or, clearly, a title], so this idea is infantile.)

Below are several book covers I enjoy, and some that invoke the same feeling I’d like to inspire with my own.

Disclosure: Not all of these books are some I’d recommend. Some I haven’t even read. These are solely for visual pleasure.

Both of these are simplistic, yet convey powerful images:

Hush, Hush (Hush, Hush, #1)Twilight (Twilight, #1)

These are part of the same series, and I love how they tie into each other:

Fallen (Fallen, #1)Torment (Fallen, #2)

Here’s another example of two books in a series playing off each other. I love the black and white, and the striking use of color to contrast:

The Dark Divine (The Dark Divine, #1)The Lost Saint (The Dark Divine, #2)

I also enjoy the similarity of these:

So, I’m looking for simplicity and drama.  In a branding format.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?




Free books at the airport!!

An article today over at goodreader.comdig-lib-1 304xx640-960-40-0 announced San Antonio International Airport has become the first to offer travelers access to free digital books.

Here’s a tidbit:

If you are passing through the San Antonio International Airport you can now borrow eBooks for free. Two Digital Library kiosks have been installed by the Friends of the San Antonio Public Library at a cost of $26,000.

The San Antonio Public Library has introduced a new innovative new feature into the kiosks that will allow out-of-town travelers to get a temporary library SAPL card that they can use right in the airport. The cards are good for 24 hours and have a limit of three items that can be checked out for seven days.

What an awesome way to attract travelers to the ebook market. And to use a library card!

Good show, San Antonio. Good show.

Word Crimes

If you are a word nerd, like me, you will appreciate this video, shared with me by an editor and fellow nerd.



Camping in the wake of a Wildfire

The wildfires that raged across central Texas in 2011 were a core plot theme in my 2012 novel Wildfire.

Recently, we camped with friends in Bastrop State Park, where the lingering effects of the devastation are still hauntingly apparent, even three years later.

Fallen trees are scattered about the landscape, and the remaining survivors reach upward, their spindly, charred bodies a thin, bare skeleton of their former selves.

It was a sad and beautiful hike, as vegetation persists, pushing up around the remains of the fallen victims.

A sign at the front of the campground warned us to “Beware of Falling Trees.” And we did witness one falling, right across the riverbed from our campsite. It was a miserable cracking sound, followed by a crash to the water below.

I love the sky in this one (no filter, I’m not that fancy):

Nature is busy repairing itself here. And small slices have been taken from some of the trees, which I assume is the Forest Service’s method of determining which trees live on against the ruin and which are beyond salvation.

In the pic below, you can see a tree on the right, where foliage springs out at the very top, a desperate attempt to live on, despite the scorched trunk below.

My oldest son’s best buddy came with us, and he mused there must be an evil wizard who lives in this forest. And it does appear to be the kind of forest an evil wizard would choose to live in.

Just two dudes, talkin’ ’bout wizards:

At one point on the trail, it seemed as if someone had set up an obstacle course (runoff deterrent?) (evil wizard?):

Among the fun, s’mores and campfire stories, this trip was a reminder of the lasting effects of the wildfire. And a comforting assurance that nature does endure.

Teen Librarian Toolbox’s open letter to the media

I’m linking to this great article written by a YA Librarian.

It is brilliant. And wonderful. And brilliant.

The post is called “Dear Media, Let me help you write that article on YA literature”.

Read it.

The Iconic Maya Angelou

If you are a regular reader, you know how I feel about Maya Angelou.

I am consistently in awe of her spirit, of her ability to shape words – and overtly simple concepts – into something beautiful and profound.

I have often looked to her wisdom to comfort my soul.

And I’ve often wondered how such a  mind worked on a daily basis.  Obviously, Angelou had pain in her life. But instead of lying back on that pain, she dug her heels into it; she used it to raise her head higher, to pull her shoulders back.

I can’t imagine what the world would be without the passion and grace of Angelou’s words – certainly a dimmer one. I’ve often thought of her words as a gift. And as we mourn her death, I’d like to share some of those words with you.

Because, when such a brilliant human being dies, it is sad. Of course it is.

But it is also a time to celebrate the gifts she gave us, to reflect on the deep and permanent mark she left on this planet.

I mentioned the simplicity of the concepts Angelou often spoke about.  And I don’t mean that as a discredit. What is so amazing about the best writers is their ability to speak to something we all are familiar with, but to shine a light on it that we otherwise would not have seen.

It’s their ability to give depth to something the rest of us see in one dimension that makes them memorable.

Maya Angelou often spoke out against something as simple as complaining, and she spoke of love as a liberating vessel:

One of my favorite lines from the video below is, “take a minute, feel some sorrow, for the folks who thought tomorrow was a place that they could call upon the phone.”

Simple, right? But giving a shade of depth to the single dimension:

If you haven’t seen the Iconoclasts episode she did with Dave Chappell, you must. It’s brilliant. Her humble, honest soul was incredible. Here’s the first part of the episode:

And of course, my very favorite. I’ve linked to it before, but here it is again:

Goodbye, Maya Angelou. And thank you.




It’s all about perception

I wanted to link to a great TED talk I watched today.

Cameron Russell breaks down the perception of success in modeling and gives an honest account about the insecurity and reality of her job.

If you watch nothing else, fast forward to 5:30, when she provides real pictures of herself alongside the constructed and retouched modeling pics, and then watch at 7:25, when she gives a shocking statistic about the body image of young girls.

Actually, it’s not that shocking. Which makes it all the more terrible.


Sexism in young adult novels

I have this friend who is an intelligent human being.  But when discussing the issue of gender stereotypes, his acumen seems to wane.  His take on gender roles: they don’t exist.

On one hand, this is a refreshing outlook on life.  He doesn’t treat women contrarily to men, because he doesn’t see them differently.  But on the other hand, he believes this is how the rest of the world operates, and he thinks me inane when I bring it up.

Here’s a snippet from a recent conversation of ours (editorialized, I’m sure):

Him: I never read The Hunger Games.

Me: Cause it’s for girls?

Him: No, why would you say that?

Me: Because boys don’t read books written for girls.

Him: What???

Me: Or written by girls.

Him: Absurd.

Me: What was the last book you read written by a woman?

Him: I don’t remember.

Me: Uh huh.

Him: I don’t remember because I don’t pay attention to the gender of the author.

Me: Have you ever read a book with a bubble gum pink cover on it?

Him: No.

Me: Cause the pink cover is there to appeal strictly to women.  Women aren’t turned off by a black or blue cover. But a pink cover makes a man run in the other direction.

Him: Whatever. How many books with pink covers do you own?

So. This is the debate.  Do men read books that are directly marketed to women?  With pink covers or a drawing of a lithe, fashionable woman holding a wine glass on the front?

Why would they? Clearly, it’s not marketed to them. Just as I am not drawn to Sports Illustrated magazine – while the articles in that publication might be very stimulating, I’ll never know, because I’m not inclined to pick up a magazine with a sweaty man in a football uniform gracing the front.

However, I don’t hesitate to read books written by men. Alexandre Dumas is one of my favorite authors of all time.  But so is Jane Austen.  John Green, I think, is one of the most brilliant writers of our generation. But I also feel that way about Suzanne Collins and Kristin Cashore. And – interestingly – the covers of their very popular books are NOT gender specific:

A recent article published in The Guardian poses this thought-provoking question:  are we encouraging sexism among young adult readers?

Interesting tidbit from this article:

Almost from birth, readers are coralled [sic] into the pink and blue worlds of sparkle for girls and adventure for boys. But, as American YA author Libba Bray points out, books have no gender – titles for young adults, she argues, should have gender neutral covers. “We have to move the needle,” she says. “If you categorise [sic] books as for boys or for girls, the message is that boys don’t need to be concerned about the female experience. And vice versa.”

Wildfire cover finalI am completely guilty of this.  The first cover for my young adult novel, Wildfire, features a young girl in a whirlwind of red hair.  (You can see the new cover here.)

This cover is not pink. But it certainly doesn’t say, “Dude, read me now.” This is exactly what I asked of my cover designer.  I had the vision in my head long before the release date.  And she delivered exactly what I wanted.

And my readership – in my mind – is also comprised of teenaged girls.

But why?

At least a handful of men I know of have read my book.  Most of them are related to me, or linked to me in some way, and they read the book out of support for me.  Which is fantastic and I love them for it. And I certainly want my own boys to grow up and read my books someday.

And why couldn’t they?

The themes addressed within the book (racism, classism, domestic abuse) are pretty universal across genders.  In fact, when I think about it, the main character could be a boy.  And I certainly think it would work that way.

Gendered book marketing has particular impact upon boys. Girls, as Brooklyn-based author Gayle Forman explained at Reading Matters 2013, will read across gender. But boys are often self-conscious about reading books that might be considered to be “girly”. “Why is it acceptable for a girl to enter a boy world, but not the opposite?” Forman asked.

Interesting debate, but something that goes deeper than books, I think. As usual, the book world is just illustrating what is going on in society as a whole.

The Courage – and Motivation – to Write the Climax

It’s crisp outside this morning.  I’m sitting with my office window open, the chirping of the birds floating in on the cool, soft autumn air.

I’ve made myself a second cup of coffee and dug out my fluffy house shoes from the back of the closet.

And I’m writing.

Coffee cup

Grazie, il caffè buonissimo.

Unlike the end of summer, when the heat sank into my bones and exhausted the ideas in my head before they had the chance to move out onto the page, the fall has brought with it a renewed sense of inspiration.

Today, I’m feeling strong enough to write the climax.

I had coffee with my writing partner a few days ago. The velocity of life has hammered at us both recently, and we’ve been skipping our meetings in favor of coping with that haste. But yesterday, amid a bustle of deadlines and obligations, we carved out some time to talk.

And it was the most important thing I’ve done for myself in a while.

Just like the cool, calm stimulus of fall, I can count on my friend to gently nudge me forward.

And she reminded me that, on the cusp of the climax, I always doubt myself.  This, apparently, is my process.

I linger on everything that is wrong with the work, allowing it to tire me out, to slow me down.  Because, once the climax hits, everything I’ve built up to this point will scatter out in all directions, then hit a peak of tension, before the falling action eases the story into closure.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

But the problem is this: I’m not confident I’m ready for it.  There is building tension, to be sure.  Characters have been established, as they collide with each other in moderate conflict.  Motivations have been suggested.  But I’m not sure the characters are prepared enough for the climax just yet. I’m worried the scattered pieces won’t all fall back into place correctly.

It’s like nursing an animal, raising it and loving it, and then releasing it into the wild.

And clearly I’m scared.

And I have to work through that.

But, as my writing partner reminds me, I always do.  (Have I mentioned how much I adore this woman?) I always get scared and back off for a bit. And then, something happens.  The weather changes, the pressing on my chest lifts, and I’m able to push through it.  But my process dictates I cower in the wings for a while before I can power through.

This stage of the process lasted a lot longer the first time around, when writing Wildfire.

I remember thinking my characters were dry and flat, with no real sense of purpose.  They disappointed me because I wanted them to be more than what they were.

But you can’t display a character’s strength without putting them in a position to discover it.

But, of course, I was scared.  Diving into the pinnacle of conflict is never easy.

And then, at the beginning of September two years ago, a record-breaking wildfire broke out, engulfing the nearby town of Bastrop, TX.  By the end of that month, the fire had claimed over 1,600 homes, more than 34,000 acres of land, and the lives of two volunteer firefighters.

As it usually is, the shock of natural disaster was quickly followed by a rising of community to action. Firefighters came from surrounding metros and states to help fight a fire they couldn’t seem to conquer. The newspapers were filled with stories of volunteers bringing food and supplies to the victims, of neighboring towns offering shelter to the thousands of now-homeless fire victims. A collection station was set up in our town square – and I imagine most of the town squares around us – and for weeks, moving trucks and trailers were weighed down with supplies. At some point, they had to start turning away donations and instead were asking for monetary contributions.  They just couldn’t handle the volume.

The stories of these people – the victims of the fire and the people who took it upon themselves to reach out and help – inspired something new in the book. I wanted to share these stories – to illustrate the courage that is possible in human beings.

What is the courage to write, I thought, compared with the courage to fight against a menacing threat that cannot be contained or predicted?

What a pansy I was.

So I sat down and wrote the climax.  The initial draft of Wildfire, which did not yet bear that name, did include a damaging fire, but its origin was not certain. Because I hadn’t figured it out yet.   I considered arson, but I couldn’t find the motivation for that.  I considered freak accident, but the details were not immediately apparent to me.  All I knew was the fire was important.

And it was. In fact, it turned out to be so important; I named the book after it.

So what if we aren’t ready?  No one is ready when disaster hits.  That’s kind of the point, isn’t it – to find out what you are made of when you aren’t prepared?

So I’m going to suck it up and dive in.  And see what strength my own character holds.

Dreams: great fodder for fiction

Today I woke up with the edges of a dream reaching out to me.  I rushed downstairs, eager to write it down, to hold onto the image – the feeling – just a little bit longer.

It’s hard, though, to translate from puffy, transcendent dream state to the hard white reality of the blank page.  It’s a race to release the words before I lose them, before they drift back to the gilded vault from whence they came.

Today it worked.  Whaddayaknow.

Today, I was able to pound out the story, and then reach out around the edges and extend it, until it became concrete.  Visible.  Possible.

Most days, it doesn’t work.  Most days, I lose it.  As I try to wrap my head around it, the fantasy of the dream crumbles, reality chipping at it until it falls away completely.

I like to think those thoughts are never really meant to be captured, but instead return to that part of the brain that created them in the first place.  Until they are ready.

I think, as a writer, it’s important to pay attention to your dreams.  Because the dream state is pure – uninhibited by the outside world, societal pressures, thoughts of whether or not the story is “good enough”.  The story just happens; right before you, like a blurry film you are somehow a part of.  You feel what the character is feeling, you SEE the scenery before you.  You know – somehow – what is happening outside your own scope –  and maybe what is going to happen next.

Dreams are the best storytellers.

Hot vamps: the ultimate bad-boy teen.

Dreaming of hot vamps: the ultimate bad-boy teen.

Stephenie Meyer, world-renowned creator of sparkly teen vampires, started the Twilight empire based on a dream she had. One she couldn’t shake.

Stephen King, world-renowned creator of all things evil and frightening, has written several novels based on dreams, most notably Misery.  He reportedly fell asleep on a plane and had a dream of a fan capturing her favorite writer and holding him hostage.  That night, he wrote the first 50 pages of the novel, before the dream escaped him.  (Interestingly, King wrote these pages at Brown’s hotel in London, while seated at the former desk of Rudyard Kipling, who wrote The Jungle Book based on a dream.) (Also, creepy/interesting/perhaps useless fact:  Kipling died at that same desk, from a stroke, while writing.)

You had to know that evolved from a nightmare.

You had to know that evolved from a nightmare.

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein based on a bizarre dream she had while spending the weekend at Lord Byron’s estate in Switzerland.

Robert Louis Stevenson dreamt once of a doctor with a split personality, then woke up and wrote Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.

And these are just a few of what I’m sure are many stories that started out as dreams.  I don’t have a title for my own dream yet.  I can think of several that sound just really bad right now.  And reading over the scribbling form this morning, the story seems far-fetched, hard to digest.  But that’s why I didn’t come up with it in reality, right?

That’s what makes it a dream.  And maybe, someday, a really cool story.

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