Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Jane Watson

The Magic and Mystery of Book Covers


There are many theories about what attracts us to certain book covers.

Image Courtesy of Gabriel Robledo ~ http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/groble-50361

Image Courtesy of Gabriel Robledo ~ http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/groble-50361

There are many misconceptions about what a book cover should look like.

To say that certain covers “speak” to certain readers seems true to me…

To say that an author, publisher, or designer can always conceive of the “right” cover for a book has been disproven millions of times.

Notes from An AlienMy short novel, Notes from An Alien, got the best cover I could design—many folks say it’s a “good” cover…

The same thing can be said for the cover of my poetry book, Is Your Soul In Here? Is Your Soul In Here?

Strange Fantasies I had the help of another author, Jane Watson, with the covers of Strange Fantasies and Story BazaarStory Bazaar

I’m not sure if authors really need professional artist/designers for their covers; mostly because I’m not sure what exactly makes a cover “good”.

I may like how it looks but that doesn’t mean others will…

I may be extremely attracted to the cover of a book; but, I may not like the story inside, at all…

Some folks might say a traditional publisher knows exactly the right cover for every book they publish.

Please, go talk to about a dozen authors who were traditionally published—you should find at least one who hated the cover they got…

I’m very sure there’s no readily accessible data for the books the big houses have produced that had “bad” covers…

In the realm of Self-publishing, there are all the self-styled “gurus” who demand you must keep your reader in mind when designing a cover…

Hmmm…

Perhaps a writer locked into a certain genre might “know” who reads their books; but, I tend to doubt if any author could guess the range of folks who could love their books; not to mention, like their covers…

So, with all this uncertainty and razzmatazz, I felt I had to share a particular article from Publishing PerspectivesRising Star Rafaela Romaya: ‘A Very Clear Vision for the Book’.

Rafaela is the Art Director at the Scottish independent publisher, Canongate.

The first statement that jumped out at me was this quote from Rafaela:

“There’s always an element of surprise and unpredictability regarding what draws people to covers, which is partly why each title gets the same amount of care and attention regardless of author or sales expectations.”

So, a professional cover designer admits the response of readers to covers has elements of surprise and unpredictability…

If you end up designing the cover for a book (or, consulting with someone about the design), this quote from Rafaela bears attention:

“I often have a very clear vision for the book and what it can achieve from the outset—finding the essence of the story through a small detail or unusual angle, and executing it in a style right for the audience whilst remaining distinctive.”

O.K., small details and unusual angles might help create a “good” cover; but, again, there is the wild uncertainty in the phrase, “…a style right for the audience…”—please, if someone out there knows exactly how to determine the definable characteristics of any particular book’s audience, my email address is in the blurb after this post………

You might enjoy reading the full interview; but, I will bring the video at the end of the article over here, since it shows a book cover that Totally blows my mind…


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Author Interview ~ Nicole Turner


The woman you’ll meet today is a very good friend of mine—intelligent, witty, and compassionate.

She’s described herself as, “Just a little old lady in a muumuu at heart, habitual writer, raging bibliophile, raving loony.”

I think we’re both right

I met Nicole when I was the Events Manager on Book Island in the virtual world, Second Life.

I’d be getting ready for our weekly Writers’ Discussion and Nicole would arrive and sit on the rope that surrounded the stage we gathered on

It sometimes took a bit of prodding to get her responses during the discussions—whatever she said always unique and spot-on

We don’t see each other at events on Book Island now—we meet up for amazing discussions with other writers at places like The Muse in Jane Watson‘s The State of Writing, in the virtual world Kitely.

So, I’ve been prodding her, on and off, for years, to have an interview here

Let’s get this thing started :-)

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Nicole, how about we start with some basics about you? Nicole Turner - Author

I’m a writer. A minimalist. I’m married (almost a decade now). I’m 29. I live in the great state of Alabama. I’ve been writing books in the same territory (chic-lit, new adult fiction) for over a decade.

What would you say your writing “style” is?

Messy. Flawed. Silly. But oh-so honest. I like writing about the people I wish I knew. I call them my imaginary friends because I carry them every single place I go. They keep me company when I’m lonely and give me something to sleep to at night. As a matter of fact, I named one of my mains Lullaby because for the better part of a year, that’s what she did for me—sat up in my dark bedroom with me, helping me clear my head when I needed to in order to fall asleep.

So, want to tackle “Why do you write”?

From personal callings gifted by Divine Providence to desperate dreams of sweet immortality, I’ve heard a million answers to this question. Some people are in love with the idea of it. Some people like the lifestyle. Some want to make a living. Some want to be read, to be heard, to be understood. There are people who write with the purest intentions; they want to change the world for the better. I think these are all wonderful reasons to put pen to paper. Sadly, though, my answer isn’t as colorful, exciting, or noble. I just do it because I like to.

[ Editor’s note—Nicole is now up to speed :-) ]

As far as publishing goes, what route would you say you’re taking?

I’ve been self-publishing since I was 19, I think. What I like about self-publishing is, you’re in complete control of your finished product (or mostly are). And in my case, there’s not a lot of upfront cost. If you have the time and desire to learn about cover design and basic self-promotion, you can do a whole lot with nothing but your talent and time invested. That’s pretty amazing. I don’t think I could ever do traditional publishing. I’m not brave enough. And the idea of my words being mass-printed and available for the world to pick apart and analyze petrifies me. I love that I can pick and choose who I share what with.

In your opinion, Nicole, what does it take to be a good writer?

A story to tell and a willingness to tell it. Honesty. Patience. Hard work. You have to be willing to put yourself out there. And stand there and take it with a smile when the unpredictable, sometimes unkind world reacts to your art. It’s like taking your sweet, precious, irreplaceable pet bunny and gently tossing it into a cage of starving lions. I’m sure there’s a chance they might just look at it and walk off (in a take-it-or-leave-it sort of way), but most likely, they’ll gobble it up OR rip it apart and roll around in what’s left. For me, that’s the toughest part.

Who are your favorite storytellers?

Erma Bombeck. I have every single one of her books. She was the funniest lady. I love and admire the way she could take a mundane task like doing the laundry and turn it into a 10-page chapter about trips to Hawaii and that one time she went to a potluck dinner and caught the table linens on fire. She was a drama queen in the best sort of way—an original desperate housewife. But her desperation was a different kind.

I love Dolly Parton, and I have since I was 5. I love her songwriting, her acting, and I really loved her children’s book I am a Rainbow. She’s kind and gentle, but she shoots straight. There is so much power in humble honesty.

My mom. When she’s telling a funny story, she gets so tickled by the memory, she starts laughing and can’t finish telling it. And when she’s telling campfire tales she does an impression of a chicken which can not be described with words. It’s priceless.

How do your favorite storytellers inspire/shape your own stories?

I recently decided, my new motto is, when it comes to campsites, hotel rooms, and other peoples hearts, leave it better than how you found it or leave it alone in the first place.

My mother used to clean hotel rooms for a living, and we never, ever left one we’d stayed in without her cleaning it first and leaving a tip for the housekeeper. This is very important to her. I used to laugh at her for it, but I’ll never forget and hopefully I’ll pass it down to my own kids someday.

I read a story Dolly told once about a statue of her they’d erected in a park someplace in her honor. She mentioned how her father would go out there and clean the bird poop off it. She teared up when she talked about how much that meant to her.

Care to share some advice for other writers?

There’s a lot to be said for remembering how you started out and appreciating how far you’ve come. What’s even more important, maybe, is that you don’t forget to look back and try and help out those who aren’t quite up to your progress point yet.

Nicole, I truly hope we can get you back here, soon, for another interview—Thanks a Heap :-)

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Nicole’s WebSite/Blog
Her Pinterest Page
And, Her Flickr Page

Nicole left us this postscript:
“Whenever I have books available for purchase, or for free through giveaways, links will be posted on the sidebar of my blog.”

Now is a great time to ask Nicole some questions in the comments…

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Too Old to Write a Book?


Yesterday, my Best Friend sent me a link to an article from Overland, authored by Melissa Fagan, a Brisbane-based writer, writing teacher, and MPhil candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Queensland.

Too Old to Write a Book?

Image Courtesy of mihai radu ~ http://www.freeimages.com/profile/mihairadu

The article is entitled Not Dead Yet.

I found it intensely absorbing since my Best Friend published her first novel at 50 and I, in spite of a life-long love of words didn’t get busy writing seriously till my mid-50s.

The first point made by Melissa (quoting from a New York Times op-ed) is:

“‘Age-based awards are outdated and discriminatory, even if unintentionally so. Emerging writers are emerging writers.’”

Melissa had outed herself as an “emerging writer” who’s over 35

She brings up the disturbing trend that assumes 40 is some sort of “obvious” cut-off age for a writer’s spark and verve

She also shares a compelling list of authors who quash that idea

Another excerpt:

“There are all sorts of trajectories a writing journey can take, and a writer’s emergence can be stymied or delayed by any number of things. Lack of opportunity or education. Disability or addiction. Physical or mental illness. Choosing, or being forced into, a primary caring role. Being consumed by a demanding career, or by a sense of obligation – to one’s parents perhaps, or one’s community – to meet a prescribed set of expectations. Or, as Stephanie Convery has written about with honesty and eloquence, a writer may be thwarted by her own demons: by jealousy, anxiety, or an unwillingness to fail.”

She poignantly reveals her own struggles, then says:

“Do we honestly think that it’s harder for young writers to be published, to break out or break through, to emerge to wherever or whatever the hell it is we’re emerging to? Or is there something else at play: a doubling down perhaps, or a doubling up? A preference for precocity that, when examined, starts to look a lot like prejudice.”

Do you know “emerging” writers over 40?

Over 50?

60?

Do you think youth has some special ingredient that helps writers but disappears as one ages?

Are the experiences garnered in five or six decades more valuable than the ones plucked in the spring of life?

Is it somehow “wrong” to take the whole of middle-age to finish writing a book?

Does our literate culture over-value youth?

One of Melissa’s commenters:

“Thank you for this. I’m trying to be an emerging writer and I’m 44. I’ve been trying to fit this in around a chronic illness that developed when I was 29, and I can also relate to your personal aspects of discouragement and lack of resilience….”

Another commenter:

“Why all this fixation on writing processes, I wonder? Just write the stuff, if that’s your wont, and dwell on all the other bullshit not.”

And:

“…I waited until now, when I have four small children, too many pets, and everyone needs clean clothes and food, several times a day, and here I am, finding the moments to scratch out stories. It’s less to do with youth and more to do with when you’re ready.”

Perhaps you have thoughts or feelings to share in the Comments (about you or someone you know)?
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Helping Youth Write Stories Through A Game :-)


“OH, My! Storytelling is much too serious to be taught through games!” Storium

That last sentence is from a character I created, in a story I might write, who has overblown ideas about the “sanctity” of stories…

Certainly, storytelling is Important; but, if a game can help youth learn the subtleties of telling a story, Bring On The Game!

I’ve written before about Storium—“It turns creative writing into a multiplayer game and lets you tell any story that you can imagine.”

If you want to try playing Storium <— take that link :-)

I’ve been playing a game in Storium—writing a story in Storium—with two friendswriter and publisher, Ali Noel Vyain, and author Jane Watson.

Storium is still in Beta and very soon to be in Gamma—fully-developed—with hundreds of pre-sturctured story-games to play-tell; and, fully customizable to play-tell whatever you and your friends can imagine…

And, most-excitedly, they are in beta-testing with a version for youth—Storium for Schools.

From a recent email update from the Storium Team:

“ENnie and Origin Award-winning game designer Leonard Balsera has joined our team as project manager for Storium for Schools. As one of the designers of Evil Hat Productions’ popular and respected Fate roleplaying system, Lenny has seen first-hand the power of games to inspire players of all ages, including those in the classroom. He’s passionate about Storium’s educational potential. In fact, it was Lenny who convinced us to “go for it” and make education one of our areas of focus.”

“Under Lenny’s guidance, we’ve just completed our first official trial of Storium in the classroom! Nearly 100 students at Manor New Technology High School (located just outside Austin, Texas) recently played Storium as a part of their sophomore World Civilizations class. Through gameplay and storytelling they internalized and demonstrated what they had learned about ancient river valley cultures.”

Check out what the youth who played-wrote have to say :-)


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Is Voice Recognition Software As Good As They Say It is?


Voice recognition software’s been around for quite awhile now.

Voice Recognition Software

Image Courtesy of Julia Freeman-Woolpert ~ http://www.freeimages.com/profile/juliaf

I haven’t tried it yet (except to run a couple Google Searches) but an article on the ALLi blog—Writing: Voice Recognition Software – Is It the Author’s New Best Friend?—peaked my interest.

Even if you’re not a serious writer, give it a read…

I thought I’d do my normal reportorial routine and give you excerpts from my link-out but my Best Friend, Author Jane Watson, has been using voice recognition software for quite awhile and was kind enough to give us this appraisal (the links were added by me, not Jane’s VRS):

“I first tried voice recognition software about 25 years ago. At that time voice recognition was in its infancy and, in my opinion, the programs that were available to individual users then, who did not have a special need (which perhaps qualified them for funded software, costing around $10,000), were very limited, experimental, and hardly worked at all.  I tried to use a program for the Mac called “iListen”. It could have been more appropriately called “I shout at you and you ignore me”. So many frustrated users would raise their voices when they were trying to talk to it, that there was actually an instruction in the manual telling the user that the program would not hear them better if they yelled….

“Then things improved. First with Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Windows and then DragonDictate for the Mac. At this point I began to get results that were nothing short of miraculous. I did not expect a program like this to be able to transcribe a writer’s thoughts, sometimes my sentences were long and convoluted, sometimes they did not follow what I would call conventional syntax, and yet this marvellous piece of software took it mostly in its stride. I had a special page of dictation that I used to test new microphones  – this page described a visit to a country town near where I lived and referred to an incident that had occurred, regarding the loss of a coat. Imagine my astonishment the first time I dictated this passage and DragonDictate was able to immediately recognise the word, Daylesford,  the name of the, not very well known, country town.

“I don’t agree that you cannot use software like this to ‘talk’, i.e. you have to consciously ‘dictate’. It is true that when I first began to voice my writing I found it difficult to relax and feel that I was actually ‘writing’. Initially it seemed odd to voice punctuation such as ‘comma’ or ‘ellipses’, but after a while this became second nature, just as folks once learned to press return on the keyboard instead of pushing the lever on a typewriter. This process of acclimatisation and learned relaxation is very similar to the struggle people had when they moved from the old typewriters to the new word processors. No one ever thought they would be able to write on those either…

“I realised however that I had reached the point where the software had become a tool that could increase my creativity when I did Nanowrimo, which is the insane attempt to write a 50,000 word novel every year in the month of November.  In one month I dictated all 50,000 words into Scrivener, my choice of writing software, and when I reached the end and read through what I had written I realised that what I had written was no better or no worse than what I would have done if I had pounded the keyboard – some was drivel, some seemed to have promise :-)

“In the last couple of years the accuracy of voice recognition software has become even better. It now literally takes hardly more than five minutes to train the software to a standard where it can actually start recognising your voice no matter what accent you use.

“Do I use this program every day? No, but I should. I am still a little hesitant that folks may hear me talking to the computer. But I am going to get over it. It saves an enormous  amount of time and frees me up to think. In fact, I have just dictated these paragraphs whilst relaxing in my armchair.

“Microphone off.”
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Jane lives in Melbourne, Australia
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