Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Trailers - What's the Deal?

It seems to me that the whole concept of book trailers has taken the world by storm in the past couple of years.  I wonder where the concept even came from. I do recall seeing TV commercials for L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, when I was a kid. But I either never noticed others, or that was pretty much it. Well, unless you count the thing the Latter Day Saints used to do. But I'm having a real hard time figuring out the origin of non religious books as trailers.

Regardless, I've heard a few marketing professionals chime in on the subject and say that they aren't so sure that even the very best ones are that effective in pulling in prospective readers.

Me, I think it's much more likely to make the book being marketed come off as corny. And me being one of those creative types, I would absolutely love to put one together. If I had the time, I would spend a good couple of months putting it together - and as one of those people that really wants to do everything myself, I'd also probably try to do everything from creating the background music, to shooting the footage, to adding the special effects. I would probably end up pouring my heart and soul into a 60 second thing that a few dozen people would actually watch, and even fewer would appreciate.

Which is why I hope I never get it in my mind to make one.

But, thankfully, other people do that sort of stuff. Like I mentioned before, I think the vast majority of book trailers are embarrassingly bad. A small percentage are fine, but do little to peak my interest beyond what I might have already felt about the book being marketed, and just a very, very few, are pretty damn good.

Now, last week, Alex J Cavanaugh was politely asking for folks to hop on over and vote for his book trailer in a competition at You Gotta Read Videos.

The voting ended, and our intrepid hero, Alex, finished in third place. There appeared to be a late rush in voting that allowed him to rise in rankings and place third in order to receive his award for excellence. My humble opinion is that he should have won the darn thing, as his trailer is just amazing - not to take away anything from the others that entered, I did spend time this week trying to watch them all, and some of the others were also pretty good. But it is rather subjective,  I just think Alex's is pitch perfect. Why? Well, let me give you an example of one that is by all accounts, amazing, yet still somehow manages to be corny:

That was about as big of a production as I've ever seen for a book trailer. Complete with pretty cool fx, slow motion filming, choreographed fight scenes, excellent costuming, and even live animals. That was not cheap to make - there was an investment of real money in this. My first impression was that it was a stunning achievement. But a repeat viewing made me think of those straight to SyFy movies that are a bit awkwardly acted and somehow always find a way to miss the mark. And when I think of it in those terms, I realize that is what I'm looking at here. I'm disappointed. Yes, it is unbelievably awesome, but it's still cheesy.

Because once you start involving actors things get real complicated - and most book trailers rely on volunteers or very cheap people to get the production done, I don't think you'll find many award winning performances as a result . Here is, in my opinion, the best book trailer I've ever seen that involved a real person:

And I thought it was stunning, not the same level of production as the previous one. But in a lot of ways it was more effective on me (of course, Alastair Reynolds is my favorite author, so I am biased because I geek out about anything that has his name attached).

Scott Sigler managed to create a pretty good trailer for his sci fi/horror novel Ancestor using (I think) a lot of volunteers. I'm sure his publisher chipped in something, but I do recall during the lead up to filming his open requests for fans that had video production experience to be a part of this trailer.

So even though I think the level of money involved in each production went way down with each successive one I've listed so far, I don't think there was any real drop off in quality, and in some cases, the effectiveness was better.

This brings me to Alex's trailer for CassaFire, which has been out for a little while. The direction chosen for his trailer (as the previous one for his novel, CassaStar) is to go all CG. Doubly impressive considering that unlike the other book trailers, this one isn't from one of the Big Six publishers, or from NY Times bestselling authors. This is from a small press and considering the level of difficulty involved - and the resources available (I assume), this is one amazing achievement:

If I were to nitpick, the voiceover was perhaps a bit too mechanical sounding, but that's a pretty small thing over all. This is something that is up there with the very best book trailers I've ever seen. Well done to everyone involved.

Funny though, what I think is the single greatest book trailer ever, bar none, isn't a book trailer. However, if what I've read is to be believed, it is actually a short film, again, a labor of love for everyone involved, with a budget of $0. Well, if you consider it's done by Hollywood professionals in their spare time, using Hollywood equipment and talent for every facet of the film, then you can say that it really isn't a $0 dollar production. But still, if this is the sort of thing folks can turn out in their spare time then I think writers ought to be courting film students and Hollywood folks looking to add something to their resume for future book trailers. Watch the short film below and tell me that wouldn't easily be tweaked into the best book trailer in the history of the world:

And by my count, that's five videos I've asked you to watch. If anyone actually takes the time to watch them all let me know in the comments below. I'll be sure to make a big deal about it in my next post.

Are there others out there that are also amazing that I've missed? What are they?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Oh Crap, You Just Destroyed the Earth

Work is wearing me out. I mean, really wearing me out. Not only am I spending more time there than I want to, but I'm also working much harder while I'm there. What that means for me of course, is that I'm having a tough time right now even remembering to post, let alone all the other stuff I need to do to maintain a semblance of an online presence. Heck, I haven't even been reading very much lately, very odd for me.

So, I dusted off a post I wrote a long time ago (you know, last year sometime) that I'd written but never put up because I felt like it was too pessimistic/controversial/depressing. But since I'm all but out of energy to produce something I decided to paste it below. Be warned, it's kind of long. And it rambles. And I guess it's kind of a rant. Sorry.

The Destruction of Human Life of Earth... In Two Parts

Pt I -

I was talking about the inevitable downfall of human society with a coworker the other day, a point we both agree upon, and about the things that are contributing to it in larger or lesser degrees. And I had an epiphany of sorts, it’s really a battle of for the hearts and minds of people everywhere, it’s Fantasy vs. Science fiction, and to be specific, it’s Tolkien vs. Vinge.

Fair warning, I made this a multi-part post, but I really wanted to fit it all into one, I just can’t. In fact, this one is way longer than I wanted it to be, but, I can only do what I can do. So, today I discuss the coming downfall of human civilization, and perhaps the biosphere. Much like Stephen Colbert, I’m about the truthiness portrayed here, so a few facts might be, er, misstated. Not on purpose, I just am a lazy ranter.

The scenario:

1)      The earth has approx. 7 billion people.
2)      That is too many to maintain without heavy industry and highly sophisticated farming/logistics/governance, etc.
3)      Said scientific principles are falling into disfavor as more westerners are looking for less technology in their lives, not more.
4)      It only takes one generation or two to really screw things up.

Okay, let’s look at point 1 above, 7 billion is a lot, if you think about the food you eat, the travel you make, the energy you use in your home, all of that leaves a bit of an ecological footprint behind. Best guesses have Americans at the very top of the list of who has the biggest footprint, each person uses up some portion of the earth’s available resources in order to maintain their lifestyle, that burger you had for lunch came from a cow that had to have pasture, the vehicle that shipped the beef to your store or restaurant required fossil fuels, those extra pickles you wanted – those were brought in from Mexico by plane, the heat that ran to keep you warm as you ate required a lot of coal to be burnt at a steam plant miles away. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

I’m not going on an environmental rant here, I’m just saying that 7 billion people takes a huge toll, and you can’t feed and house that many people without some seriously intense farming techniques, you can’t keep that many people healthy without some serious medical work.

I, like a lot of people, am sad when I see heavily processed foods lining the shelves of my supermarket, but the truth is that food is cheap because it is a concoction of alchemy that boggles my mind. Some really smart people were able to take some grain, an old chemistry set, and a bit of corn syrup and make almost every item from isle 3 through isle 8 at my grocery store. It’s impressive.

And it lets millions of people live that otherwise might not. Because if the whole world went for fresh foods every time they got hungry, we’d all starve in a matter of months. There isn’t enough to go around. It all comes down to math. It’s a numbers thing.

It isn’t just processed foods, it’s the genetic engineering that goes into the crops themselves, the resistance to disease, or pests, or the larger yields, or larger edible portions. Those things are created in labs, and again, they keep us alive.

Okay, I’m done with that. I have a larger point to make, try to stay with me if you can.

I’m read The Children of the Sky, by Vernor Vinge, back in the late fall. In that book the central conflict arises from this: A small community of far future humans are trapped on a planet with the equivalent to Medieval technology, and have a super advanced race of baddies baring down on them as fast as physics will allow them to. Right now they are still decades away.

The leader of the humans knows the world will be destroyed unless they can raise the local population to the highest levels of technology possible in the shortest amount of time possible… and that’s when I had my epiphany. She, the story’s hero, is essentially Sauraman from LoTR.

Yep, in a fantasy book, she is bad, bad, bad. A lot of folks in the novel see her that way. I’m not the first person to point out that LoTR does have this vague sense that science, industrialization, etc., is generally a bad thing. In fact, I’ve heard it said that fantasy, or at least that Tolkeinesqe part, is really a tale about maintaining the status quo, to fight change, to keep things just the way they are (or back to what they were). The bad guys in those stories are people trying to change the world.

Science Fiction, on the other hand, is often about people changing society, or about something that will change the world. In fact, in Vinge’s book, many people suspect that the baddies that are coming are actually good guys, and the story’s protagonist is really a bad guy… again, if the story were told from the ‘rebels’ perspective, then we would have a classic fantasy tale. When I started seeing the novel this way I really started to enjoy it a great deal more.

Anyway, I feel like this type of tale is playing out in the real world now too. There is a large amount of pushback from people that want to return to a preindustrial society, and I can understand it too. Big, faceless companies are doing scary things behind closed doors, irradiating our vegetables and throwing cockroaches into our hot dogs. We hear that cell phones cause cancer, as do McDonald’s hamburgers, diet soda, too much vitamin E, and water heaters. I mean, I can’t think of a way to test all those ideas out, and I can’t avoid everything.

But it’s not just the food industry at risk, folks don’t want to vaccinate their children (fearing a wide range of things, the biggest being that it causes autism), folks trade going to the doctor for home remedies. I had a strange moment at work where I mentioned that the thing where you stick an open flame into your ear to remove wax is insanely dangerous and has been outlawed in many places due to the number of injuries the practice has induced, and I was met with derision from a group of about 15 people… they thought was the crazy one.

See what happens if you don't get your flu shot?

Again, this stuff isn’t a value judgment, it is a dangerous procedure. You know, doctors and everything agree. Oh, but they don’t really trust doctors, or modern medicine. Sigh. It’s a lost cause. A podcast I listen to mentioned in a recent episode that a distrust for big, applied science probably comes from the 50’s and 60’s when things like DDT and <the thing where pregnant women were given things that caused horrible birth defects> ended up being worse than the problems being addressed. It was because no one bothered to do any rigorous testing to see if there were possible side effects.  The occasional nuclear disaster, like Three Mile Island or Fukijima, only deepens that distrust. It’s understandable, but turning against the scientific process in its entirety is a bad idea.

So, to try to wrap this up here, I was reading about all these science projects that are being cancelled, or cut, and how international projects, ones too big to generally be done without multiple nations being involved, are leery of US involvement at all because all of a sudden we’ve become so ‘frugal’ (I put that in scare quotes because the govt is only cutting less popular programs, not less needed ones – I mean, being frugal is supposed to be smart).

Dammit… I want to talk about the mathematician that predicted the end of humanity in the next century or two based on some scary math, but I think I’ve already gone too long. My point? The world would descend into chaos, and a new dark age will begin (along with billions of deaths) if we (as a society) fail to embrace science, become literate in it, and share a goal of making the world better for our kids and grandkids. We’ve come too far to go back now. We reached that turning point a century ago. We’re committed to the course we’re on. We have to see where this takes us. If we don’t, millions will die. Global warming, all political aspects aside, means that most of the coastal cities will be gone,

But that won’t happen. We’re all going to die. Why? We have a generation of youngsters that don’t do science, it’s been that way for a while, but we were filling that brain drain with the top minds from other countries to fill key, and not so key, roles. Meanwhile, our kids are either smoking dope, or using their talents to invent the next Farmville game. Not a lot of help there.

And since 9/11 we don’t let foreigners in our country any more, they might be terrorists. It won’t be long before no one is able to even maintain the technology we are already dependent on to live. I once heard a story about a generation after the fall on the Roman empire, Rome’s buildings were, more or less, vacant despite large number of people still living in the cities. Why? Because as the structures fell into disrepair, masonry began to fall, injuring and killing residents living in the buildings. Instead, people were building hovels in the streets, decrepit things, but they had to, because no one knew how to repair the masonry. No one.

If you are a religious person, pray for divine intervention. If you’re not, hope for that Kurzweillian singularity. Because otherwise I’m just Cassandra, knowing the future, but powerless to stop it.

Next time I feel like posting about this: Why rebuilding from a new civilization out of the ruins of the old is impossible!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Star Trek Love Song

Part I

*if you don’t like Star Trek  this post will bore you out of your head – Don’t feel obligated to read. Seriously. I won’t get mad*

I mentioned a few weeks ago about my long dormant love affair with Star Trek. Something that I fully expected to continue fading into the night as more and more years went by. I mean, other, grittier, more emotionally driven shows have really upped the ante since ST was on the air. Well, entirely out of the fondness of my memories for the series, I added them to my Netflix queue as soon as they came available. I cherry picked episodes on TOS and TNG to watch for a while, I didn’t bother with DS9 however, as I made the complete run of DS9 a few years ago when they came out on DVD, and that show is a bit more serialized than the other incarnations so seeing an episode out of context can leave me scratching my head and wondering what it was I was forgetting.

Anyway, earlier in the month, I found myself with 45 minutes or so to kill, and I had recently seen the Abrams reboot and Star Trek was on my mind. I was thinking about it some, and I realized that my viewing habits with Voyager were somewhat spotty. It wasn’t entirely my fault. If I recall correctly, Star Trek Voyager was the show that the mega-geniuses over at Paramount decided to use as their flagship for their fledgling network, UPN.

I'm not entirely sure they put in the effort
they could have into their logo.

What that meant to people like me was that Voyager wasn’t viewable. UPN was trying to strong-arm cable companies into carrying the rest of their programming – mostly urban sitcoms - and no longer allowing Voyager to be shown in first run syndication.* I believe this all came to a head around the end of season 3. And up until that time I had not missed an episode. After that time, I had nothing, no access at all, I couldn’t watch the show.**

And just like that, I moved on. Yes, things eventually got worked out, but I missed most of the fourth season before someone locally stepped up and decided to carry the UPN network. By then, I wasn’t that interested, I’d learned to live without it. That isn’t to say I never saw another episode, I did, I saw lots of them. But the spell was broken and I just wasn’t as interested anymore.  That huge gap in my Star Trek knowledge was damning.

You see, I spent most of my online time back then – the late nineties I guess – on the Trek BBS. I was there every day. Had been for years. I loved it, talking about the episodes, the technobabble, real science, and my favorite, the neutral zone, a board where folks argued about politics, religion, all sorts of stuff like that. In fact, After Voyager disappeared from my local programming, I switched to that portion of the Trek BBS and almost never discussed Star Trek at all after that. Well, until a year or so later when the BBS switched servers and lost all my account data and I had to be reset. Since newbies weren’t even granted access to the controversial portion of the forums and my post count went back down to zero, I had no reason to even go back there anymore… the last of my Trek fandom died then. I just let it go.

So, back to Netflix, I was recalling all this and decided to pick up where I left off with Voyager. I watched the last episode of Season 3 (A cliffhanger involving the Borg) and finally jumped right into the black hole of my viewing, season 4.

And through the first 9 episodes of that season, I felt like the show was very well done. I think I’d caught most of them later, but not all. Still, I thought it was an impressive run of quality. The 10th episode though, one entitled, Random Thoughts, was a bit of a mess. The crew visits a peaceful planet full of telepaths where Voyager’s engineer gets arrested for thinking a violent thought.

Not a bad premise I suppose, not really original, it made me think of that early episode of TNG where Wesley committed some minor snafu on a peaceful planet and was sentenced to death, but the execution of the Voyager episode was ludicrously stupid. At one point, the constable of the alien city is aghast at the barbarity humans displayed by even have a brig to hold people against their will. She moralized a bit and stressed that they rehabilitate their criminals, they don’t imprison them. Then, only moments later, she arrests Voyager’s engineer and starts a procedure to lobotomize her. Not one shred of irony was expressed by anyone. In fact, when the real criminal is caught later, the Vulcan seems to take some pleasure in relaying that they were keeping him in the brig. I mean, really? The entire episode was poorly conceived and poorly executed. That brought back a flood of memories in of itself, not everything Trek did was gold.
Let's see. The evil thinking engineer is the bumpy headed girl with a perm

I think I was like a guy that was romanticizing a long lost relationship, conveniently editing out the unpleasant parts. Star Trek wasn’t all awesome. There were some dark times in there.

So, here’s to a second romance. I’m still loving my run through Voyager, and look forward to watching the final four seasons straight through. Then I’ll jump onto Enterprise.  Good times are ahead.

*If memory serves, the first few years of Voyager were shown on UPN, but not exclusively, as UPN did not have an affiliate in my area at the time, local channels were allowed to carry the program.

**At the time, Nielsen ratings for Star Trek were falling like dollars at a Vegas strip club. At its height, I believe TNG was pulling in something close to 10 TIMES the viewers than Voyager was getting by the end of its 3rd year. Seems like a bad time to trying to bully people by threatening to take away your product, but whatever.

Monday, January 23, 2012

When You Just Can't Do Any More

Had a busy week last week, and a busier weekend. I've not written a word of fiction this new year. I'm kind of freaking out about that. I spent some time doing more book cover stuff this weekend though, worked at my day job (on a Saturday!), cleaned the house (looks good) and tried to get a copy of my unpublished novel printed (via Lulu) and sent to me to do another read through to see if I want to do some more revisions to it.

That last thing, about my novel, it looks like Lulu crashed while I was just finishing up. I had all the interior formatting looking good, the cover looking sweet (a vanity thing, that's all) and just as I was about to hit submit the stupid thing crapped out on me. I tried to log back in and it sent me all the way back to an earlier part of the process. I was very disappointed. So I quit and went back to working of more covers.

So, as it stands, you know what bothered me more than anything else I did this weekend? I attended my son's football banquet on Friday night. While there I had to stand in line for an hour for my food. Then I got to the front after all that only to find that they were out of salad, out of potatoes, out of bread, and out of Chicken. Yes, I paid a lot of money to stand in line and eventually eat a macaroni and cheese dinner.

Then, after all the eating was over and the whole night was getting close to being over, I had to run to the restroom. What did I see as I passed the kitchen? Pans full of chicken, all cooked, on the warming burners, and right beside the pans of fully cooked potatoes and bread. WTF?

Turns out, they had a bunch of stuff cooking that wasn't ready until dinner was over and we had to start the festivities. I suppose the cooks all got to take the food home with them... food I paid for.

Sigh. Whatever. I'm being a poor sport I know. I suppose I just had to vent a tad. A mood appropriate for Monday.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Great Internet Blackout

Yesterday was the 'blackout' of the internet that many participated in to protest the draconian SOPA/PIPA bills that, if enacted, would make the internet a whole lot ickier than it should be. Click ---> Here <--- to learn more.

Also, I was just lazy this week and didn't feel like doing anything. So it really worked out for me, I can be lazy and get points for being an activist.

For me, when people post videos on their site I rarely watch. As I am often reading posts on the go and can't really stop to watch a 5 or 6 minute video that I'm not sure I'll enjoy. But I'm asking everyone who enjoys that awkward humor that Ricky Gervais is famous for, please, please watch.

In the sketch, Liam Neeson has decided he wants to do comedy. Once they get started in on their improv session I laughed as hard as I have in a long time. Great stuff.

Ah hell, while I'm at it, I might as well post the other funniest thing I've seen - also staring Ricky Gervais. Here he is listening to a movie idea from Patrick Stewart. This clip was from his hilarious TV show called Extras.

Please watch. This is the funniest stuff ever.

Happy days folks.

Monday, January 16, 2012

News, Notes and Updates

Not really, but I always find those types of posts irresistible. Not enough happens to me that warrants real updates though. So, I don't actually have any of news. Nor notes. And definitely no updates.

Wait, I do have one. A few people emailed or otherwise sent me a message to let me know they couldn't comment on Friday's post. I couldn't help but notice that it coincided with Blogger's update to allow threaded commenting. That sounds about right. I like using Blogger I suppose, but it seems like it's buggy to me. Always things going wrong. So I disabled the embedded commenting - effectively ending the threaded commenting - and instead have pop up comments enabled. Hope that works better.

Anyway, on to the rest. I have watched a few episodes of Star Trek this week. I realized when trying to cut things from my Netflix queue that I quit watching Star Trek: Voyager, around the time 7 of 9 jumped on board. Not real sure why, but I started watching and realized that it didn't suck near as much as I thought it did. Weird, because as I went back and watched several episodes of TNG and I found I did not like them near as much as I remembered. 

In fact, I had built up Best of Both Worlds from TNG so much to my kid that he recently sat down with me to watch it. He was so jazzed about seeing it. So we watched. 

The Rubik's cube became a bad guy. They were running low on ideas.

And it wasn't that amazing. In fact, I was stunned at how impossibly weird several scenes were. Like when the away team beamed aboard the Borg cube and Riker walked around describing what he saw. Let me repeat that: He walked around and described what he saw. Like, "We're walking into a room now. The room has walls, there is a button on the wall. I pressed the button. It appears to control the lights... Yes, the button controls the lights."

I mean, I've seen similar things done in movies and such, but usually I'm at least seeing reaction shots from other people. I might have been cool with it if the Captain had to sit on the bridge and there was creepy music playing as he listened to the folks aboard the Borg cube describe things, you know, the Captain could look pensive or something. All in all, it wasn't the most effective storytelling I've ever seen. During all that Riker was just walking around looking at stuff. 

My kid was less than enthused. He's been raised on the MTV style of frenetic edits and nonstop action, and I guess I have been too, because, damn. It was really slow. I suppose I can't recapture the awe I felt when I saw the episode the first time. Or the second. 

I don't know. It was just, well, sad.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How The Cola Wars Proved You Can't Trust Anything From Anyone... Ever!

I’m a big fan of Coke Zero. It tastes like Coke, but 0 calories. Yum. Funny that, as Coke already had Diet Coke on the market for a very long time. Same product with all new marketing? Not exactly. I actually think it's an important thing though, so I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Firstly, I’m in “art mode” right now and am struggling to communicate via the written word. I’m still working on another cover that will probably take me through the weekend to get close to being good enough turn over to the respective persons that need to okay it. Then writer Rusty can wake up from hibernation and get back to work. Editor Rusty has no place in my life right now.  So he can die a thousand deaths for all I care.

Like a lot of men, I tend to compartmentalize things, and even though writing and designing/painting are creative endeavors, they seem to come from different areas in my head.  

Because right now, in my head, I’m thinking that I should be drawing a picture of this, not writing about it. Weird.

I’ll make mention that as of right now, I’m closing polling on my great cover question from Monday, where I solicited everyone’s opinion on whether or not I should replace my existing cover for A Dead God’s Wrath, which is suffering a bit from lackluster sales. I’m not fretting over it, because the amount of effort I’ve put into marketing that story is about as close to zero as a number can be without actually being zero. However, it did give me an excuse to whip out the old tablet and paint some. But I went all over that in Monday’s post.

The results:

I had 22 people respond to my question: Which cover should I use?

People who thought they were both so awesome that they would rather choose between their children than those two book covers (i.e., worried they’d offend me by choosing): 5

People who preferred the original cover: 16

People who preferred the new cover: 1

You know, back in the early eighties Coca-Cola had been tinkering with a new formula for their flagship drink. But it had been around - more or less unchanged - for decades and they were nervous about making changes to a much beloved product willy-nilly. These folks were no dummies, so they decided to do some research first.

Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement, they carried out the most extensive marketing research program in the history of the world to determine how the larger public would react to their new flavor for their drink. After it was all said and done they had an overwhelming response from the public. The new formula rocked, the old one was history.
It must be better. It's new!

So, they unveiled what is universally considered one of the largest disasters in the history of product rollouts. They labeled their product as ‘New Coke’ and quit selling the old stuff altogether. Pepsi celebrated by lighting Michael Jackson on fire, symbolic of the king of soda going up in flames (Don’t bother looking that up, that’s what happened, trust me).  Coke had a huge, and I mean huge, PR mess of their own making on their hands*. Well, actually, it was the fault of the people of America, who LOVED this New Coke more than anything ever made, until it actually hit the market, when they universally decided that they hated it.

The point? They lied. Not Coca-Cola, but the people who said they liked New Coke in the first place.

Not on purpose I’m sure, but the end result was the same. When you want to know what people want, ask them, then do the opposite of what they say. It works for product rollouts, it works for presidential candidates, and it works for book covers.

By my math, it’s 16-1 in favor of changing the book cover. Thanks everyone.**  

*Not entirely true, all those years of research that went into the formula for New Coke actually came from their introduction of Diet Coke. Which of course is why New Coke tasted like crap. It was just Diet Coke with sugar instead of aspartame as a sweetener. Coke Zero actually uses the formula for Coke (with artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, Diet coke still plugs away with the ‘New Coke’ formula)

** I’m kidding. I still might make the change, but it won’t be because I think everyone is lying. I’m not creating soft drinks here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Cover Week Continues!

I'm sure no one is entirely thrilled with this post, but since Grumpy Bulldog, Secret Agent, has publicly been soliciting advice about his book covers for his upcoming novel releases. I thought I would answer my own question that I asked during one of my comments at his site a few days ago... found here

I mentioned that he might want to consider doing minimalist covers instead of the characters in environments covers he has mocked up. This way, the bottom half of each book stays the same with each installment, except for the title changing. And the upper portion has a variation of the helmet each time. Brilliant!

Just a mock-up, I don't have rights to the helmet I lifted from the internet. And I'm sure Grumpy would point out that purple isn't the same as scarlet... I'm just throwing my idea out there.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Juggler

Yep, that's me. I managed to get a lot done this weekend around the house, and I do mean a lot. Still, not as much as I wanted to otherwise. I decided I'm not writing another damn word of fiction until I get some art related projects done for some other folks. Weeknights tend to go poorly for me in that regard, but I'm going to give it a shot this week.

I did sit down this weekend and play some more with that 3D software I got a few months ago. That has a ridiculous learning curve, I clearly have no idea what I'm doing. However, I did do something book cover wise - er, for myself.

This is the version I've had around since August
My novelette, A Dead God's Wrath, was released last August and I've never been too thrilled with the cover I did for it. I had in mind do do several installments in the same universe, and wanted the covers to all be riffs on a theme. I haven't come up with a theme, per se, but I did think the cover didn't do me any favors. I mean, it isn't bad, it just doesn't make me shout from the rooftops.

So, I have decided that I need a new cover for myself. I do realize that a lot of other folks are waiting on me to do stuff for them, and I am on a short timeline, but this is sort of an exercise, getting out of writing mode and into artsy mode.

So, I came up with the image below and am thinking of putting it up as a replacement for the existing cover on the novelette.

I wouldn't get mad if I got some advice.

A super special edition collector's cover maybe?
The man on the cover is the 3D model I made. I think he's passable enough as real except for the way his arm bends as he holds the gun, that gives away the illusion some. If I work on it enough I'll get better. I actually blended the model with regular digital painting stuff. Doing that is a cheat, because rendering hats and clothes take time and skill that I don't have. So yes, I rendered a naked man, and painted clothes on him.

But, I think I can see the potential in doing stuff with the 3D software. Once rendered, they can look pretty cool.

Anyway, should I make the change? Or keep working on it? I am a bit worried that no one would have a clue about the Science fiction elements of the story based on this cover. It might give the wrong impression.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cerulean Isle

I did a book cover recently for the fine folks over at Wido publishing. They were very kind and forgiving of my consistent unprofessionalism. The cover they let me do was for Cerulean Isle, by G.M. Browning.

I asked for ideas they wanted me to try out and they just told me to have fun with it. I submitted a version of the above picture and they liked the concept and we went from there.

Funny thing about the concept though, as it required a great deal more work than I anticipated to bring it to fruition as a final product. During the process I kept wanting to tell the great people over at Wido that it was good enough. But I am an author too, and I would be really disappointed if my cover artist half-assed a cover for a novel that I may have spent years perfecting. So I kept go back over it until all of us were happy.

Funnily enough, I spent most of my time reworking the back cover of the book. My first version had the owner of that fin pictured coming out of the water. I had been trying to portray a scene from the novel, but had gotten enough details wrong that the idea had to be scrapped altogether. Still, check out an early version of the wrap around cover:
Notice how dolphin-like the tail was at first... because I used a dolphin as a model

Yes, my son was serving as my merlord model, I've been using him as a model for all sorts of my art projects for his entire life, so it was no big deal to him. But in the end, he was scrapped for the open ocean.

By the end, I felt pretty good about how things went. The final version, had several other changes to it before it was sent to the printer, although I had nothing to do with the back cover text or spine design:

Anyhow, the process took a bit longer than I wanted it too, but I love how it turned out. I also have a host of other covers I'm working on this month. 

Happy days everyone.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Insecure Writers - January 2012 Edition

The internet has Alex J Cavanaugh to thank for Insecure Writer’s Support Group. It’s a monthly opportunity to vent your fears, insecurities, and whatever else writers get weird about, and get to know others that feel the same way.

For the first couple of weeks of the year I’m going to have to try real hard to not start every post with some sort of ‘this is the first time this year that blah blah blah…’ or ‘this is the best (or worst) thing that happened this year.’ It can be a hackneyed way of doing things, but at least for me, it’s heartfelt. One of the few holidays that really impact me on an emotional level is New Year’s.

Every year I find some time to reflect, see what I’ve done, what I’ve not done, dream of what may come, and predict what seems likely given my past performance. It’s this weird time of despair and optimism. Where I wonder if this is the year I quit dreaming and grow up, or if this is the year I actually begin to live the dream.

2011 felt like a pretty productive year for me, until I stopped to see what I actually accomplished. Which was close to nothing. I managed to submit a novel for publication, see it rejected, submit it again to someone else, and not hear back. I wrote a novelette, and novella, and a short story… I have half a draft for a novel, and another short story that I can’t really call done because it’s too horridly awful.

That doesn’t seem like very much. All that combined puts my word count for the year at close to 100k. That feels about typical for me. But that is nowhere near the productivity I would like to have. By my math, that averages out to around 250 words a day.  Not so much, that’s about a single page’s worth of text.

That sort of failure to produce is exactly why I at least try to make resolutions around writing, around goals. I mentioned yesterday some of the writing things I want to get done this year, and I need them, because without setting goals, I will achieve nothing. I’ll end up here in 2013 lamenting that I didn’t do what I hoped to.

And that’s my worry now. I did spend close to a decade of my life talking about writing, and researching for a novel I never wrote. My big moment of realization came when I, per chance, had a professional, published author, a guy nominated for a Pulitzer, offer to read over some of my stuff and give me some helpful tips.

I jumped at the chance to let him read some of my stuff. I had nothing. Nothing! I recall running home and writing a three page story about a college professor fretting about the world ending, then rushing back to his office the next day and handing him my crappy story. The poor guy very politely went over some storytelling basics with me, and gave me a book on the craft of writing that I still savor to this day.

And if I’m not diligent, I’ll spend the next 20 years of my life turning out stuff at a snail’s pace. Not because I can’t do more, in which case it wouldn’t bother me as much, but because I didn’t make good use of my time. And that, well, that bothers me.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It's a Brand New Year

I took an impromptu vacation last week. I intended on a post, or even two, but decided not to. I had already written an end of the year recap, books I liked, movies, stuff like that. But I decided against it. I saw so many of those type posts go up that I figured the world could live without it from me... of course, if the world really does end in 2012 then I'll know I was wrong.

So, I do have some goals in mind to accomplish this year. I want to write more short stories. At least 12 of them. I want to revise and edit one complete novel until I think it's done enough to submit, and write at least one completely original novel.

That's pretty much it. Oh, and just in case anyone is looking for a pearl of wisdom from me today: Hangovers seem so much worse when you're older.

I also hope to establish and follow a set blogging schedule, and be better about visiting others.

And I hope to lose at least 30 pounds. I had salad twice today. I hope I've lost most of that 30 pounds by tomorrow.

Happy New Year!