I’ve been thinking a lot about cover design lately, and not just because designing book covers is part of what I do for a living. This follows from my post last week about writing in series, something I’d never really planned to do but which sort of fell in my lap as a natural extension of the stories I wanted to tell. Once I embarked on this course, I realized that some of my older covers weren’t going to work anymore if I wanted people to look at them and know in one glance if they were all part of the same series. So I’ve been working on redoing those covers so everything in a particular series would match.
The Gaian Consortium series was the biggest problem — when I wrote Breath of Life, I’d intended it to be a standalone, and when Blood Will Tell came along, I set it in the same universe but didn’t think much about trying to get the covers to look similar. This was short-sighted of me, but I don’t pretend to be an expert in any of this stuff. I do what I can as I go along, and in this case I realized after I did the cover mockup for The Gaia Gambit (the third book in the Gaian Consortium series, due out early in 2013), that that book looked totally different from the other two, and I really needed to do something about it. When a reader just this past week gave me an idea for yet a fourth book, and I started noodling with the cover for that one, I knew I’d better get my act together and make sure that all of the books in the series were thematically similar, even if their individual elements were quite different. For a visual, here’s what I started with:
Toward the end you can see I was starting to reuse some of the same elements — the fonts were the same, as was the placement of the author name and the “a novel of the Gaian Consortium” tagline — but I doubt anyone looking at all four books at the same time would think they were connected in any way except that they were written by the same person. So I pulled up the older covers and started doing some serious hacking in Photoshop, and here’s where we stand today:
Now I’d say it’s glaringly obvious that they’re all part of the same series, even if you can’t read the tagline at thumbnail size. Luckily, since I do my own covers, all this cost me was some time; I didn’t have to purchase any new stock images, but only moved around the ones I already had. But if you’re even starting to contemplate doing a series, it’s probably a good idea for you to get the basic design elements to a point where you can use them over and over again if necessary. It’s visual shorthand to alert your readers that your books are connected somehow. (It’s also a really good idea to ask your cover designer which fonts were used in case you have to have someone else do later books, for whatever reason. Several times in the last month I’ve had to play Sherlock Holmes and track down fonts used on covers when clients have come to me to do the next book in one of their series.)
I’m doing the same thing with my fantasy series. I hired an artist to create original art for the second book, since I had a very distinct idea of what I wanted the artwork to look like, and I knew there was no way I could duplicate it with just stock art. However, now I’m realizing that I need to have her do the art for the first book, too, so the “look” is distinct across both books (and any future ones as well). Good thing the first book isn’t coming out until next month! In hindsight, I know I’ve sort of gone about this backward, but luckily she’s good and fast, so I’m fairly certain I should still be able to make my release date (not that it really matters to anyone except me whether it comes out September 7th or 14th or what-have-you).
Even Bad Vibrations has gotten a facelift, since its sequel is due out late next spring, and when I designed the cover for that one, I knew I had to get BV to line up with it appearance-wise. So it went from this:
So it would match better with this:
I guess the moral of the story is to have a clear vision not just for the books themselves but the covers as well if you’re intent on writing a series…unless you’re like me and just want to have another excuse to play around in Photoshop.
I'm in the midst of a massive overhaul of my website (hopefully to launch in early September, so it coincides with the release of my next book). Part of what I'm doing is breaking my books out into their separate categories, as I realized I'm starting to develop a fairly large backlist, and because I write across a number of genres, I can't expect everyone to be interested in every single thing I write. And then I noticed something.
I'm starting to write in series.
Yes, me, the woman who said she couldn't stand series and was so tired of authors writing cliffhangers just so you'd be forced to read the next book, or who made sure the main characters had lots of brothers and sisters and cousins and friends so they could write an ever-expanding number of books centering around the same basic characters. Okay, I still don't have a lot of patience for that, but…
In my case, my two main series are the novels set in the Gaian Consortium universe (Breath of Life, Blood Will Tell), and the Tales of the Latter Kingdoms series (All Fall Down, Dragon Rose, both due out later this year). The reason I went back to those worlds rather than creating new ones was that I knew I hadn't even begun to explore all the complexities of those cultures and civilizations, and so it just made sense to me to write further books set there rather than come up with a whole new milieu. However, the books in both those series are set up so you don't have to read any of the other novels in the series to know what's going on. Characters from previous books may have cameos in forthcoming ones, but it's not guaranteed.
My Sedona books are being written as a trilogy, but it will ONLY be a trilogy; when I'm done with that one, I'm done. And each book will be able to stand on its own, although of course you'll have a better idea of what's going on in the latter books if you've read the one(s) that came before them.
So I guess the moral of the story is, never say never. Because a year ago I really didn't think I'd have three series poised to take flight…but that's exactly where I am now. I also have some standalone novels planned, but I'm guessing 2013 is mainly going to be about those series. Pass the Kool-Aid.
It's been a long time since I posted anything here. Darn. And I was doing so much better for a while. Still, the reason for the neglect was a good one — my freelance business really has taken off over the past few months, and between juggling clients and their projects and trying to get my own new release (Blood Will Tell, a science fiction romance set in the same universe as Breath of Life) ready to go, things got a little nuts. I have a teeny bit of breathing space before I start on the next big project, so I thought I'd better get over here and let y'all know I'm not dead.
At the end of April I returned to Sedona with my husband for long weekend. We just wanted to get away and didn't have a set itinerary, which made it all the more fun. While we were there, we finally made it into an art gallery to look around. (Sedona is famous for its art gallery…but it's also famous for rolling up the sidewalks around 5-6. Every time before this when we tried to go to an art gallery, it was already closed for the day.)
We wandered into Visions Fine Art after lunch one day and spent almost two hours roaming around and looking at the amazing collection there. Really, it feels almost more like a museum, albeit one where you can take your favorite piece home, if you're so inclined. And that's what we ended up doing, with a piece by Manuel Nunez entitled Beyond the Veil. This was very out of character for me, because I'm not the type to just casually pick up limited-edition prints. But I fell in love with this one, and as soon as I looked at it, an idea for a new book came to me. The actual piece is quite religious in nature, but the story I began plotting that very night definitely was not. It's another take on the Beauty and the Beast story, which I've already visited in Breath of Life, but this is much more inspired by the fairytale rather than being an outright retelling of it.
What with one thing and another, I didn't have much time to sit down and really start writing it until early this week. But already I can tell it's going to be one of those books that just flows out of me. I love all my books, of course, but some come more easily into this world than others. Some are more the story of my heart than others. And I have a feeling this story is definitely one from my heart.
Inspiration is a funny thing. You never know when it's going to hit, and before this story crept into my mind and wouldn't let go, I had a nice, neat orderly publishing schedule set up for the rest of this year — finish Murders in the Rue Scribe for a late summer/early fall release, and then finally finish Binding Spell and have that come out around the holidays. Now I really have no idea what's going to come out when, but I know I have to keep going with this one for as long as it speaks to me. I feel doubly blessed now for deciding to go the indie route with my writing, because I don't have to worry about upsetting a publisher by going completely off track from a schedule set up months or even years in advance. And since I don't really write in series — although that's a post for a different day — I don't have to fret over disappointing fans who might be waiting for the next book in a certain series. All I can hope is that my readers — especially those who enjoy my explorations of the Beauty and the Beast trope — will come back for yet another interpretation of it.
It's times like this when I wouldn't trade being a writer for anything…
I’ve had sex on my mind a lot lately. No, not that way (well…ahem). Okay, also in a sort of meta-way, probably brought on at first by the whole PayPal/erotica debacle, and then by a discussion on the Kindleboards by some authors who say Amazon is purposely keeping certain racy titles out of the search function on the site.
When the PayPal thing blew up on the blogosphere, my second reaction (my first being righteous indignation over such obvious censorship) was that I really didn’t have a horse in that race. After all, I don’t write erotica or erotic romance; you’re not going to censored titles such as “Spank Me, Daddy” or what-have-you in the lineup for my books. In fact, when you get right down to it, my stuff is really, really tame compared to a lot (most) of what’s out there.
That got me thinking about “heat levels” (as they’re described at All Romance Ebooks and a host of other romance book–related sites), and where my books fall in such categories. My books, to put it mildly, are all over the place. Well, okay, so far I haven’t written anything that would require five or even four flames on the ARE scale, but Sympathy for the Devil and Playing With Fire definitely have some hot scenes, as do several of my WIPs (both science fiction romance). Heart of Gold and Breath of Life, on the other hand, are so clean you could give them to a sixth-grader to read.
“Why is this?” you ask. “Is Christine Pope schizophrenic?”
Possibly. However, I think the answer isn’t quite so simple. I think it’s because I write each book based on what I think the lead characters would do, and not on the fact that my publisher wants me to have 6.5 sex scenes per book, or one sex scene in the first 15 pages, or any of the other crazyballs things I’ve heard. It makes perfect sense for the leads in Sympathy and Playing to have sex because they’re adults living in modern America. On the other hand, doing the horizontal polka in 1883 with some bloke you’re not married to is an E-ticket ride to ostracism city for a well-brought-up young woman like Lavinia in Heart of Gold. That’s why I have such a hard time suspending my disbelief when I’m reading historical romance and the heroine doesn’t think twice to wander away from the ball and, er, have a ball, as it were. I’m not saying people didn’t have sex out of wedlock back then, only that there were some severe consequences involved for unmarried women of good family, and most young women would at least give it a second thought (or three or four) before blithely knocking boots with some earl behind a rosebush.
I guess this is just another reason why I like being an indie writer. Each story can be told the way it feels right to me, without having to worry about whether I’m satisfying a particular publisher’s “heat” requirement. On the other hand, maybe some readers don’t like it. Maybe they want a particular amount of sex in a romance novel, and if they don’t get it, they feel disappointed. It’s a fine line, but at the end of the day, I have to write a character in the way I feel is true to her own nature, and not because my publisher has a reputation to uphold for “hot romance.”
And that, my friends, is why Lavinia doesn’t get laid. (On-screen, that is…I have no doubt that once she and her amour were properly married, that airship was definitely rockin’.)
Or you know, you could read three or four. It’s up to you. Smashwords is having a big promotion to celebrate the event, and I have Breath of Life and Heart of Gold on sale for 50% off all week long. All you have to do to get the discount is enter the code “REW50″ at checkout. Here’s the link to my author page at Smashwords:
And while you’re over at Smashwords, you might want to check out all the other special offers from other indie authors. It’s a great way to load up your Kindle, Nook, iPad, or whatever device you use to read ebooks. As for me, it’s probably more “write an ebook” week rather than read one, but I’m still going to grab a few things I’ve had my eye on, since “I never paid retail” is probably going to be engraved on my tombstone.
Just because I didn’t have enough social media whatchamathingies to keep me busy, I’ve also signed up for a Tumblr blog. Actually, the idea of Tumblr appeals to me a good deal, just because I find that lots of things catch my eye, but posting about them here or on Facebook or Twitter just doesn’t seem quite right. I have a tendency to download lots of images when I’m researching a book or working on a cover design, and some of them are pretty fun. This way I can put them up on my Tumblr blog, and you can go over and take a look if you want to, or ignore them completely. In fact, (although I haven’t posted it on Tumblr yet), the image I used for the slider on my main page to accompany this post came from my searches for airship images when I was first began conceptualizing the Heart of Gold cover. Of course I had to use stock images instead, but for things like this, it’ll be nice to be able to give them a shout-out on my Tumblr blog from time to time.
Here’s the link: http://christine-pope.tumblr.com/
And if you’re on Tumblr, too, just let me know, and I’ll follow you over there.
Just a few bibs and bobs — first off, I’d like to say congratulations to Cathy in California, who is the winner of my Valentine Blog Hop giveaway. She’ll receive a $25 Amazon gift card and a print copy of Heart of Gold. If you’d still like a chance at a free copy of the book, go on over to Joanne Renaud’s blog and comment on my interview there before midnight, February 16. Also, I’m happy to say that Heart of Gold is now available in the iTunes store for immediate download to your favorite iThing.
On the writing front, I’m making great headway with the first draft of my Heart of Gold sequel/tie-in, Taming the Earl, thanks in no small part to the Pomodoro Technique. I tend to be the world’s worst procrastinator when it comes to getting my butt in the seat and actually writing, but I downloaded a Pomodoro app for my MacBook, and voilà! instant productivity. I urge all you procrastinators out there to give it a try. I have to say hearing that little ticking noise in the background just makes the words start flowing. At this rate I should be finished with my first draft in the next couple of weeks, which keeps me on track for a mid- to late March release.
That’s all for now…that little Pomodoro only gave me a 15-minute break!
Because I’m offering Bad Vibrations for free on February 12-13 (to celebrate my anniversary!), I thought it might be fun to create a sort of travelogue of the places mentioned in the book. I tend to be a very visual writer, so I have these images in my head as I’m writing (especially if I’m writing about places I’ve been or at least driven by). However, just because I know what they look like doesn’t mean you do — although if I’ve done my job right, you should at least have an impression — and that’s why I went out and found as many elements I could from the various settings in the books. So here they are, more or less in the order they appear in the book.
“El Churro” isn’t a real restaurant in West Hollywood — I made that up — but I did base it on the famous “El Cholo” here in Los Angeles. Things get pretty hopping in there, even on a weeknight, so you can see why Persephone and Ginger had a hard time even finding a place to stand.
Darn it…now I want a margarita!
Here’s the bar at the Sheraton Universal Hotel. Yes, it’s a real hotel, and that’s the real bar (two bars in a row…am I sensing a theme here?). One of the first science fiction conventions I ever attended was held at this hotel, back in 198-…mumble. Okay, I’m not going to name the date, but my friends and I dressed up as Pris, Rachel, and Zora from Blade Runner, so that should give you an idea. And no, I’ve never been to a UFO convention at this particular hotel, but I did go to one at the Hyatt in Irvine — purely in the name of research, I assure you.
The name is different, but this is the motel I had in mind for the place where Persephone and Paul hide out in Pomona. It’s right on Foothill Blvd., and there is indeed a Carrows less than a block down the street. I think I may even have eaten at it once or twice. Whether or not the motel is actually used as a party spot for local teenagers, I have no idea.
The café in Claremont where Persephone and Paul have breakfast. And yes, I’ve eaten here, too, but inside, as it was early December and approximately 55 degrees outside. Of course, there were still people sitting at the outside tables, as Southern Californians are generally nuts about exercising their right to eat al fresco even when the weather doesn’t oblige.
The inspiration for the “UFO Depot.” You didn’t think I made this stuff up, did you? (Okay, the alien conspiracy and the underground base at Secret Canyon and human/alien hybrid soldiers…maybe.) I do like to ground the craziness in some truth, though…it makes it a little more believable. They looked extremely closed and gone when we went to Sedona in November 2011, which saddens me. But maybe they were abducted?
The approach to Secret Canyon. It does look rather dark and mysterious, as if it’s hiding something. We didn’t get this far in when we went to Sedona, as many of these roads are best accessed with a four-wheel drive, which we don’t have. However, the next time we go we’re thinking about renting a tomcar so we can zip around in some of the more isolated locations.
This is Oak Creek at Red Rock Crossing. The spot is a favorite with hikers, tourists, picnickers, and anyone who wants to get up and personal with the creek. You really can walk across the red rocks to get to the other side. That is — I was too chicken to do it, but my husband took off his shoes and rolled up his pants and went all the way across. Even with all the people around, there is something exceptionally soothing about the sound of the water and the rustle of the wind in the leaves. No wonder that Persephone had a sort of “breakthrough” while standing in this spot.
And now for something completely different… This is the lovely Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica, or, to be more specific, one of the bungalows. I figured Paul and Persephone deserved some privacy in five-star surroundings after being drugged, tortured, and shot at by alien hybrid soldiers and rogue government agents.
Kara’s cozy living room, where the gang enjoyed pizza and beer after successfully routing the alien horde. I know I always want pizza after I’ve spent a day kicking alien butt. This living room is also featured in the sequel to Bad Vibrations…if I ever get around to writing the rest of it.
Just because… Sedona seriously is one of the most beautiful places on earth. How can you have anything but a happily ever after if you’re living in a place like this?