War is Coming

I am going to war.

I have been diagnosed with a left kidney stone that will kill me. Literally. Another infection caused by this stone blocking my left ureter could be the infection that turns into sepsis and kills me. So the stone must go, and my urologist believes the only way to get rid of it is to remove the kidney. But the surgery could kill me. So I’m going to war.

I write fantasy. I read fantasy. Ah, hell, I watch Game of Thrones religiously. I view my world through a veil covered with medieval figures loving and warring, and as I contemplate what I’m facing, I realize it’s a war, and I will either fight to the death or fight to survive.

I must train for this war. Hence, I must exercise my obese body. I must eat well in preparation for this war, and so I must cut certain foods from my diet. And as I step onto the battlefield (the OR), I will gird my loins to fight the good fight.

I cannot know the outcome. Everything in life is random. I may fall. But if I prepare the best I can, the odds may turn in my favor. I will not return unscathed, and the war will continue as I struggle to regain my life.

But damn it, I’d really like to survive to April 14, 2019 (actually late May 2019 when the series ends) to see the final season of Game of Thrones. So I prepare for war.

One Book or Two?

I have found myself recently running a back-and-forth in my head surrounding the efficacy of splitting the final book in the Lisen of Solsta series into two separate volumes. I’ve just passed the point where I would break it, and I certainly do not have enough “story” apparent in my remaining notecards.

books-glasses

But here’s the thing. The number of notecards left to be brought to life in the text has little relation to the amount of writing left to be done. My notecard system (previously described) continues on in an abstract configuration until I begin to narrow in on the sequence of events noted in a single card. Then that card, like a living cell, splits into two, into four, into eight—you get the picture.

So, do I have two books in this story? Or, will I end up with but one, slightly longer than the last but not long enough to split up? Stay tuned. Only time will tell.

The Build–Writing a Worthy Ending

I am not a Led Zeppelin fan. In the 70s and 80s, whenever a radio station would present the top 300 or 500 of the entire history of rock-and-roll on Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend, I’d cringe as they approached #1. It was always, inexorably, inexplicably, inevitably “Stairway to Heaven.” I hate “Stairway to Heaven.” I do, however, have a Led Zeppelin guilty pleasure. “Kashmir.” I crank it up on my car radio when it comes on. I’ve even downloaded it from iTunes and am listening to it right now as loud as my Walkman will allow me.

What, you may ask, intrigues me about this song? The build. The slow build of drums  and bass into brass and other orchestral wonders. And that relentless beat. My body moves with no conscious participation on my part.  And then the lyrical pauses with the taste of Eastern  delights.

As writers, we can learn from “Kashmir.” At the moment, I am in the middle of what could be a powerful ending to my latest novel, but that power, I realized last night, lies in the build. Don’t go too fast. I’m tempted to just rush in and then leave myself with nowhere to go because I’ve already crescendoed to the peak. I know where we’re going, and I want so badly to get there because it’s going to blow the reader’s mind. But I must slow down, allow fate to tickle at the reader’s heart but leave as little trace as possible until the fullness is revealed. This is a delicate balance which must be respected. Nuance is everything. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

73 words

I’m not the first to write on this topic, and I certainly won’t be the last. But I’m going to be short but sweet.

“Strong female hero”

Seriously?

“Hero,” definition #1a in Merriam-Webster:  A mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability (emphasis mine).

Have you ever once read or heard someone say “strong male hero”?  Or, even, “strong hero”?

Point made. Thank you for your time.

The Tales of Eowyn’s Bard

eowyn

Eowyn of Rohan opened my eyes to a new kind of hero. It was the summer of 1966 when I first read The Lord of the Rings, and I would be graduating from high school the following year. Eowyn epitomized “hero” for me—confident, courageous, willing to run into the fray, filled with empathy for Merry (another favorite character) and, most importantly, female. The fact that she had the hots for the cutest guy on the block was a bit of a hindrance, and her exclusion from the final face-off after being scuttled off the battlefield in dire need of healing almost made me stop reading. But, in the end, Eowyn rocked, and her determination and tenacity gave me hope that a woman might one day be able to stand at the front of the story as the character propelling it forward.

By the 70s, female heroes had begun to emerge. And I sought them out. But they were almost always one of two types—buxom beauties with their “accomplishments” prominently displayed on the book’s cover or tomboy girls whose elders sought (and usually managed) to reduce to a medieval Stepford prototype once she’d completed her quest. Neither of these was the hero I was looking for.

Eventually I gave in and decided to create a female hero worthy of the title. It took over 30 years to fully realize my quest, but I did in Lisen of Solsta, a young woman who steps on the stage without the usual baggage young female characters too often carry into the fight. (It helps that she lives in a world where sexism and division of labor and duties by gender have never existed, but that’s a story I’ve explored several times previously and will not further explore it now.)

One shero (thank you, Maya Angelou) from the 80s comes to mind. Sarah Connor in the original Terminator. She was the hero of the movie. Her hero’s journey begins with her as a frivolous college student/waitress and ends (for that moment, of course) as a warrior on the run from future terminators like the one she (not Kyle) destroyed.

And in the past few years, I’ve had the joy of discovering several female heroes who bash the stereotypes bloody and stand tall amidst the muck. It seems our day has come. Finally.

So, in the hopes of opening discussion of and promoting books and other media featuring female heroes, I have created a page on Facebook. I look forward to learning about more strong women in fantasy, sci-fi and paranormal settings. I also want to encourage discussion of what makes a healthy and realistic female hero as well as discover who’s slamming stereotypes up against the wall. If you’re interested, feel free to check my new page out. That’s The Tales of Eowyn’s Bard.

We Need a Hero Who Looks Like Us

It began in 1977. Somebody…God, the Goddess, whoever…said, “Thou shalt,” and I did. Thirty-seven years later, and finally, I can say, “It’s done.”

I wrote a story about a girl with a mythical destiny. Along the way I learned all sorts of stuff—like, there is a male model of myth. Male heroes fight their way out of things, killing a lot of people along the way and making a huge mess which someone has to clean up, and you know who, right? Not that Lisen doesn’t fight; she does. Not that Lisen doesn’t kill; she has. But after every step I went through to get here (write a book, check; write more books, check; rewrite the first book, done; self-publish, start all over again, self-publish again, start all over again, all check; self-publish all three books for real in the end, check) I realized that something had to give.

Back in 2005 when Revenge of the Sith was released, a short documentary appeared on the extras DVD. It was called “The Chosen One.” In it George Lucas explained how Anakin Skywalker was, indeed, the Chosen One of the Jedi prophecy. As he showed us why this worked (something I already understood), he spoke of how Anakin/now Darth Vader lost some of his power with the Force when he was maimed to the point of near-death.

Wait a minute, whoa, that’s not how I see it. Power comes from within, not from the physical body.

Snap.

That’s it. Who came up with these myths—the ones on which we base all our fantasies and life-changing stories? They may come from myths from the times of matriarchy, but they’ve been redressed and retold for the profit of men so many times that they now follow the very-much-physical male model.

Snap.

So I asked myself, “Self, how can I change this? What must I do to take my female protagonist without female baggage from the point of being the ignorant-young-person-with-no-idea-who-he/she-is and turn her into the hero of a myth based on the power-from-within female model?”

Oh, and then there was this other thing. A reviewer of book 2 (Tainted) said, “In leaving her parents and childhood on Earth behind, Lisen has been forced to rise to the occasion and prepare herself to become the adult her empire requires. This transition parallels the mental and physical changes of puberty, and thus might especially appeal to the young adult reader.” – See more at: IndieReader.com.

Well, that was an assignment I hadn’t anticipated. I was the kid who, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, replied, “Peter Pan.” And I was going to have to make growing up look like a good thing? I sat back, considered where Lisen was going to end up at the end of the story. Did it play up the perks of adulthood, you know, the good stuff? What good stuff you ask? Oh, let’s see, responsibility, freedom that isn’t freedom, life choices that wring your heart. Yeah, that sort of thing.

Okay, so Lisen ends up…oh, wait, I can’t give that away. Not now, not ever. You have to read the books. But I looked at the ending, and here’s what I decided. There’s resolution to the turmoil she suffered throughout the books. Life ain’t perfect, but she’s able to look at what she’s been through with calm acceptance. And there are rewards for her hard work and commitment. Which is the way life is when you’re a grownup, if you accept being a grownup.

So, let’s see, given the mission of telling a story, with a female hero in search of a metaphorical grail, with an alteration of the traditional male-dominated paradigm of myth and with an ending that makes becoming an adult attractive, did I succeed? Only time will tell, but if you’re interested, read Fractured and Tainted, the first two books of Lisen of Solsta which are free until 2/26/2015, and then check out Blooded, the final volume.

In the Beginning

What a few weeks it’s been. After avoiding the holidays entirely (except for the incessant ads on the television), I’ve managed to begin my new book in earnest. Even took the first scene into my writing group last week. The verdict? Well, that’s what I’m here to discuss today.

“Beginnings are such delicate times.” Thus did Frank Herbert write in his SciFi classic, Dune (p. 441, Kindle edition). And, oh, how very right he was. Where and how to open the story is one of the most critical decisions a writer must make in any writing endeavor, whether it be a novel, a memoir or an essay. In my case, it’s a novel, and although a great deal of the setting is well established, years and many events have intervened.

So, where did I begin? Did I begin with a moment of movement and the near-immediate introduction of conflict? Did I hand the reader as little back story as possible in order to avoid confusion as I have often cautioned others in the group to do? Hell, no. I wrote a scene with too many names, too many explanations—in short way too much detail—and not a hint of conflict. And boy, did my workshop come down on me. Hard.

They didn’t actually say, “This is not where the story begins,” because they don’t know what the story is. But they knew I’d dropped them into a maelstrom of TMI and not enough story, and they were none too happy about it.

Feeling a little defensive, I dutifully took notes, then started adding a few of my own as the light began to dawn. This was not the beginning. In fact, this particular scene had no place in the story at all. It turns out my tale begins with what was the second scene, with the addition of one character in order to complete the establishment of the moments I will call up for remembrance at the end.

And when I rewrote the new opening and the scene that follows it, everything came together like a piece of Ikea furniture when you finally figure out what that one diagram actually means. All the building blocks of a delicate but powerful story lay before me eagerly awaiting assembly. Now, the story begins. Let’s see what my workshop has to say about this.

Thristas (long but self-explanatory)

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

Before I wrote Lisen of Solsta, I wrote an earlier version where most everything that happens in Fractured and Tainted occurred but in a different order and under different circumstances. In that telling of the story, Lisen (who was called Ann then) didn’t go to Thristas until after she’d become Empir. Instead, out of curiosity, she sent Korin to Thristas to observe and return with a report.

I never wrote the report down back then. I had a vague understanding of what it contained but never required it in the story telling. However, when confronted with the desire to make Thristas real, I decided to compose that report for my own use in preparation for writing what is now Tainted. Thus, what follows is that report as it might have been had Korin accepted the assignment to study Thristas on his Empir’s behalf.

AN ETHNOGRAPHY OF THRISTAN LIFE
PRESENTED TO EMPIR ARIANNAS ILAZER
IN THE FIFTH YEAR OF HER REIGN

by Captain Korin Rosarel

Located within only a few horizontal miles east of Garla, divided from its parent state by the Rim, a long, mostly impassable range of mountains, Thristas cannot be further from Garla in its atmosphere, its people, and the manner in which those people persist despite what Garlans perceive as ferocious elements. Thristans have, of necessity, adopted a lifestyle which makes it possible for them to live together within the close environment of a mesa, to avoid the heat of the day as much as possible and to survive on the meager supply of sustenance available.

How they got here, how they survive here, what they do here day to day—all of these questions have rarely been asked by anyone in Garla and never by an Empir. Garla’s residents are aware of Thristas, but they close their eyes to the reality of an entire other world in existence just over the mountains. The people of Thristas know they barely exist in the minds of Garlans, and they grow weary of the ignorance of their westward neighbors. Few Garlans know how people ended up in Thristas; even fewer care. Thristas is a little itch on the arm that is the “greatness” of Garla.

It is foolish for Garlans to be so cavalier about a larger-than-they-think population of strong and willful people. One day a charismatic leader will rise up and guide the Thristans to a violent fight for their independence, either by pulling away from Garla entirely or by overcoming an unprepared Garlan Emperi Guard and wresting control of Garla from its Empir. We need to understand our neighbors to the east, to communicate with them and to recognize that differences between us exist but that those differences do not define better or worse. To accomplish the first of these tasks, I spent an extended length of time living in Mesa Terses, one of the six mesas, and now present my findings to my Empir, Ariannas Ilazer.

Your captain and defender,
Korin Rosarel

The Story:

The Thristan Story is entirely verbal. The people use writing sparingly, not all can read, and the written word barely exists in Thristas. If writing is necessary, Garlan is used more often than not. Therefore, as with all oral-only tales, there is some basis in fact, but I question portions of the account. I will, however, note my doubts when applicable.

“The People,” as they call themselves, speak of arriving in the desert an age ago. By my estimation, they most likely made their way over the mountains from Garla. They speak of it as “coming home” although I doubt those first settlers saw it that way. (See Geography, topography, weather below.) They did not come willingly, of that I am certain. “The Destroyer sent us away as punishment for our willfulness and our pride. We left behind our homes, our families, all that had once meant life to us and followed the Maker to a new life,” the oral tale informs us. I believe this refers to a marginally documented moment in the Garlan Story when Empir Osificant exiled a large group of citizens after they had questioned her right to force their young people into service to her, either in the Emperi Guard or as servants to her and/or other nobles. This occurred approximately 750 years ago and correlates well with the refinement, complexity and signs of age in the excavated tunnels within Mesa Terses.

Many of The People died in the first years. They found shelter in the caves on the east side of the Rim, but water and food were scarce. Some ventured out and discovered that the mesas could also provide shelter in caves with connecting tunnels, with the added advantage that many small desert creatures had long ago taken up residency in those caverns, far more than they’d found in the Rim’s caves. They also found water, funneled in from above, preserved in enclosed lakes for “longer than forever.” They made the trek to Mesa Terses, the closest mesa to their original arrival point, and settled there. They learned they could grow some meager crops on the mesa’s crown, and as the population regenerated, they moved on to the other mesas one by one so that today they occupy all six within sight of the Rim.

Geography, topography, weather:

Thristas is a desert. The rain that showers Garla rarely makes it over the Rim, leaving Thristas hot in the daytime, cooler than anyone in Garla would imagine at night, and dry as a bowl of water left out in the sun too long. One would expect that, in such an atmosphere, no plant life could survive at all, but that is anything but the case. One glance from the top of the Rim reveals an expanse of tawny brown with sprinklings of green. What are these hardy plants that survive without water for months on end? They are vegetation that can store deep within what little water is provided to them, protecting the precious resource within a usually tough exterior. Some of these plants also serve as nourishment to the Thristan people; one in particular has become the most important source of income for The People. (See Economy below.)

The mesas, six in all (the above-mentioned Terses, along with Orul, Tebu, Ves, Diri and Eres), are the most outstanding topographical feature of Thristas. Without them, The People would not have survived their exile. They are, in most cases, named after their original leaders, those who guided their small bands of people, soon to be known as tribes, as they broke away from the original Tribe of Terses, which was itself named after the woman who lead The People over the Rim.

Each mesa is riddled with a multitude of labyrinthine tunnels which Thristan children run through when allowed to play, and thus The People learn how to navigate the mesa without getting lost. The children are taught early not to wander the tunnels alone so that if one gets lost, there are always others who can report them missing and guide the searchers to the last place the child was seen.

It might seem to those raised in the bright sun and fresh air of Garla that life in such an enclosed space could prove daunting, but surprisingly, it is not as uncomfortable nor as claustrophobia inducing as one would think. Larger chambers, some natural, some hewn out by The People over time, serve as meeting rooms, dining areas and, in the case of every mesa, a large “Elders’” chamber near the very top of the mesa. In Terses, this chamber, as well as the Pit where emerging children are welcomed, already existed, and the tradition carried forward to the others where such a chamber had to be dug out of solid rock. (For more on the Elders, see Government below.)

Government:

The People are led by the Elders’ Council of each mesa. As the name would imply, these are older individuals who must reach the age of fifty before being invited to join the council. Not an easy task given the rigors and dangers of the desert. And age is not the only criterion for membership. Once the council determines that they will invite a new member, that individual must survive the Elder’s Trial in which she or he must spend a night alone on top of the mesa under the influence of a plant called yafra which heightens awareness. Nearly half of the candidates fail, dying before they can return.

Although the Elders’ Council would appear to be egalitarian, usually a leader emerges, never acknowledged as such but recognized by each and every member of the Tribe. This leader serves as touchstone in all arguments amongst the Council members. Considered the wisest in the Tribe, the leader guides and encourages movement towards compromise in any dispute in or outside Council without thrusting an opinion into the fray.

Economy:

The People do not possess their own coinage. They use Garlan marks when necessary in commerce with their western neighbors, but they barter amongst themselves—trading work for food, necessities for services, skills for training—and rely as little as possible on Garlan trade. The item of greatest value, however, is water. It is revered, preserved and stored in caverns deep inside the mesas (see above in The Story). When it rains in the desert, all the mesas generally benefit, their funnels channeling the gift from Mantar into the pools. Occasionally, though, one mesa may not lie in the path of the storm while another benefits from the slow movement of the clouds laden with the much-needed liquid. At these times, water is transported in wagons hauled from one mesa to the next, and a record is kept by the Elders of the transaction. Water is too valuable to just give away.

However, The People do cultivate one commodity for which Garlans are willing to pay and pay well—malla. Malla only grows on the mesas’ crowns. It survives there somehow, exposed constantly to sun and wind, no water to speak of. It is, in fact, the only vegetation native to the crown. It has thick, heavy stalks (one could hardly call them leaves), and the liquid preserved within these stalks can be dried into a grey paste which is then rubbed on the gums. It produces a euphoric effect, slightly dream like. It can also heighten awareness of sight and sound as well as open up the user’s inner sight. It is for this reason that few Thristans partake of this drug. As a group, they believe that anything that even approaches the sort of powers that the Garlan hermits possess cannot be trusted (see Spirituality below). In addition, malla possesses addictive qualities, and The People abhor the lack of discipline addiction fosters.

“The People” and their culture:

There are Garlans, and then there are The People. The People understand the Garlans only a bit better than the Garlans understand the Thristans, but the truth is that neither knows much about the other. They’ve lived separate from one another for so long that fear of each other seems to be the only commonality they share. The People follow an unwritten creed of honor and commitment. When a Thristan makes a promise, it is an absolute obligation.

The mesas are divided into levels, and each level defines a group of individuals and families of anywhere between 25 and 50 people. They share meals and friendship, and although they identify themselves as members of their mesa, they remain fiercely loyal to the people in their level. Oftentimes, people from different levels have little contact, so little, in fact, that they wouldn’t recognize each other outside the context of the mesa. The citizens of each mesa are considered to be the mesa’s Tribe. The population of each mesa can number into the tens of thousands. The mesas, when originally occupied, contained many small caves suitable for living quarters, and hundreds more in each mesa were hollowed out by the early excavators.

The People are nocturnal due to the difficulty of performing tasks in the heat of the desert day. They rise just before sunset, eat their first meal of chardhoosh (a sweet grain product eaten dry and washed down with the bitter alk), then go about their tasks. Even those who have duties inside the mesa follow this schedule which they have followed for centuries. Each level gathers again just after sunrise to share dinner, which is usually a stew made with the kerl bean which comes from a hardy vine than can survive and produce with little water.

The People see life as a never-ending ribbon of many colors, twisting and turning, filled with many knots. Sometimes the knots can be released; other times there can be no untying, and one must find a way past without falling off the ribbon. They weave ribbons through the long braids they wear. These ribbons are made of the silk produced by the everfly caterpillar, the glow moths that fill the summer nights each year, and then they are dyed a multitude of colors. Each house, or family, has adopted a color as its own, and each color has meaning. When a child’s hair has grown long enough for braiding, one ribbon bearing the color of the house of its pouching is introduced into the braid. If, for some reason, the child chooses not to acknowledge a house of origin, a black ribbon of one-without-family is worn. When the child becomes an adult at 16, they can choose to add a ribbon of their non-pouching parent’s house.

As well as signifying a house, colors also represent strengths and attributes, and new ribbons are constantly being added to a young person’s braid as they mature and reveal their truths. These usually become a permanent part of the braid. Then there are colors as symbols of a current situation. Joined or unjoined, pregnancy, pouching, parent of an emerged child, loss. I will not list every color here, but it should be noted that a house’s color is usually tied to its perception of its attributes. For example, orange, which can mean heat and fire, might be applied to a house whose members are thought to be temperamental.

Spirituality:

The People revere an entity know as Mantar. Mantar is a two-faced deity, both the Maker and the Destroyer. They recognize that their lives are filled with duality, and, therefore, their guiding spiritual force brings both life and death, peace and war, joy and grief, love and hate. Neither aspect is considered better or greater than the other. Mantar represents the equal forces pressing in upon The People every day. They scoff at the one thing all Thristans seem to know about their Garlan neighbors—their belief in multiple Creators and but one Destroyer. The People wonder at the power of the Garlans’ many over the One, at the inherent optimism and apparent naivety of that inequality.

As a group, The People believe that anything that even approaches the sort of powers that the Garlan hermits possess cannot be trusted. They fear the hermits and once attempted to find a way of limiting their powers, but their plan backfired on them.

The people celebrate four high rituals each year. These correspond on the calendar to the four Garlan holy days. What the Garlans call Evennight in the spring, the Thristans celebrate as the Farii. It is the night of fertility when several young couples (newly joined or about to be joined) ascend to the mesa’s crown, and there they wait for the manta (a snake which symbolizes Mantar) to choose one of them for the consummation of the ritual. It is hoped that the couple will conceive and thus guarantee the fertility of the entire Tribe for the next year.

Garla’s Greatday is called Arii in Thristas. The Thristans rise to greet the setting of the sun late in the evening and then spend the night dancing and singing to praise Mantar the Maker in the form of the rising and setting sun and welcome the night back as the days begin to shorten. This, of course, is in opposition to the Garlan farewell to the sun as it leaves them in darkness.

In the fall, when a child conceived in the Farii is likely to emerge, the Thristans gather in a chamber called the Pit. All infants emerge here surrounded by family, but on the day of the Holii, the Garlan autumn Evennight, the best outcome is a Farii child emerging with the entire Tribe in attendance.

Finally, and perhaps most significant, is Kolii, in which the Thristans grieve and remember those they’ve lost that year. Unlike the Garlans, they mourn rather than celebrate the return of the sun.

CONCLUSION:

Life in Thristas is difficult and complicated, and the Thristan people do not trust strangers easily. They do, however, know that life must be lived today, not tomorrow or yesterday. They face too many potentially destructive challenges not to appreciate the value of the moment. They wish for independence but have not yet organized themselves to seek it out. I would recommend extreme caution with these people. They are fierce and could very likely best us in battle.

Respectfully submitted,
Korin Rosarel, Captain, Emperi Guard

Applause, Applause, a Little Applause

Many, many years ago, I began collecting buttons. Not the kind you use for fastening clothing; the kind with statements on them. You know, the original memes? My first one, given to me by a guy in my senior English class in high school after the summer I first fell in love with The Lord of the Rings read “FRODO LIVES,” in dark blue letters on pale pink. Many more TLoR buttons followed—“COME TO MIDDLE EARTH!,” “FRODO FOREVER,” “FRODO FREAKS OUT,”  and my favorite, “FRODO GAVE HIS FINGER FOR YOU.” I keep those in a small cloth drawstring pouch in my Wedgewood tin along with the rest of these treasures.

The summer after high school I visited Wales, Ireland, England and France. I must have come home with a dozen buttons from that trip. My favorite is the one that reads “UNINHIBIT.” Well, it was the 60s, after all. I loaned that one to someone who never returned it (and if you’re reading this, I want it back). There were also the requisite 60s staples—“MAKE LOVE NOT WAR,” “LONG LIVE THE ETERNAL NOW,” and “MELTS IN YOUR MIND, NOT IN YOUR MOUTH.” Others that were not so common were “EATING PEOPLE IS WRONG” and “UP IS A NICE PLACE TO BE.”

I also own several political buttons, from Tom Hayden’s Senate campaign in 1976 to Kerry/Edwards in 2004. I have a great quote on a beautifully crafted piece which reads, “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got!” credited to Janis Joplin. And how about “NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO THERE YOU ARE”? Ain’t that the truth.

“HOMOPHOBIA DESTROYS FAMILIES”

“to Life, AIDS ACTION COMMITTEE”

“PRO CHILD PRO CHOICE”

You can see it’s an eclectic selection (though the politics remain fairly stable). I even have one that simply says, “HERO,” in white on red.

Today I’m a hero to me. Today I can announce that I am now officially “Award-Winning Author D. Hart St. Martin” whose second book in the Lisen of Solsta series, Tainted, won the Indie Reader Discovery Award in young adult fiction. See their review. Long live the eternal now!

front cover shot - low rez (2)

Celebrate this event with me. Both Fractured and Tainted books are free for Kindle from 5/30 through 6/3/14.

*The theater cat from Archy and Mehitabel

A Cover, A Cover–My Kingdom for a Cover

When I set out on the journey to share Lisen of Solsta’s journey with anyone who would listen, I really had no idea what I was in for. All I could see was that independent publishing meant I didn’t have to write any more query letters, that no agent or publisher would send me one of those one-size-fits-all rejection letters ever again, and that the control was all in my hands.

Well, not quite.  Self-publication requires a multitude of skills beyond just writing.  Here are a few of them:

  1. More-than-amazing proofreading skills and the patience to do it just one more time.
    Or…the money to pay someone else to proofread it for you, someone you trust or someone a friend knows and trusts.
  2. A knowledge of what Word can do and the willingness to follow the suggestions on your print-on-demand (POD) publisher’s web site in order to make the print copy look professional.
    Or…the money to pay someone else to format it for you, after which you must make sure they formatted it to your specific instructions and it looks the way you expected it to look (unless they have a logical explanation for why they did it differently, of course).
  3. An average intelligence in order to fill out the forms for the POD publisher, making sure the name of the book is correct, you’ve included all pertinent authors and contributors, and have chosen tags that will call others to your book when they search.  (And don’t forget your cover artist as one of those contributors—see #4 below).
  4. The artistic expertise to create a stunning and seductive cover.
    Or…the money to hire someone to collaborate with you, listen to your ideas and then bring them to life.

It is this last item I have opened up Word today to address.

I wrote my first book, Fractured, with a great deal of care. I rewrote it and rewrote it, submitting it over and over to the writing workshop I trust with my life, and when I’d reached the magic moment of READY, I did everything listed above.  Except for the cover.  I used a template from my POD publisher and a painting that was in public domain.  It wasn’t a bad cover; I did a fairly good job at it.  But it wasn’t the sort of cover that attracts young people, and my book was YA fantasy.

And it bombed.  Big time.  Fractured was named an IndieReader.com Best Indie Book of 2013, but I think I sold no more than a dozen copies.  I did get 5-star reviews from everybody who read it, but they were all friends and family, save for that IndieReader.com review (also 5 stars).

There was a disconnect.  Great book, no response from potential readers.  What was the problem?  I’ve written before about how even the larger details of marketing elude me, but I do keep getting myself and my books out there.  No, the disconnect was that adequate-but-uninspiring cover.

So…I hired a cover artist—a good one.  I had her start on book 2 (Tainted) so I could get that one published.  She did a wonderful job.  See?

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A couple of weeks after Tainted’s publication, my artist, Aidana WillowRaven, asked how we were doing in sales.  Nowhere.  I hadn’t wanted to look because I knew it wasn’t doing that well.  Who’s going to buy the second book in a series if they haven’t read the first one, and clearly few people had read the first one.  I came clean with Aidana and said that things might go much better if we got the first cover done and out there.

So now I’m on the line.  The new cover for Fractured is finished and available on Kindle.

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Gorgeous, isn’t it?

The paperback is another story.  Between typos in the back cover copy due in part (only in part) to making modifications too quickly to proof it properly and my dear POD publisher’s digital proofer somehow making the cover look like a printer somewhere had run out of ink, I’ve had to submit the thing, so far, a total of three times.  Aidana remained loyal and committed to getting it right and spent most of an entire day on my project when she could have been moving on to other work.  Heaven and the Goddess bless her.

Here’s my point.  Spend the money on a cover artist.  Find someone you can work with, someone who cares, someone who will put their arm on your shoulder and tell you they are your collaborator and they want it to be perfect as badly as you do.  In the beginning, I couldn’t afford this, and many who read this won’t be able to afford it either.  But spend as much as you possibly can.  Go as high as you can to get the best you can afford.  Look for sales, look for discounts, whatever it takes.  Because a book is like a beloved child, and first impressions do count.  If it’s truly good enough to publish, it deserves the very best you can give it.