Thursday, May 28, 2015

UPDATES: 5/28/15

Since deciding to create this blog, I have found that there is currently no shortage of content for it. There are a bunch of reviews I have already done and need to be reformatted to fit my new review template, plus two brand new ones to do as well as more reading and more writing.

The books I need to put reviews up for are:

  • Napism.Info by Mik Hetu
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us Vol. 1 by Tom Taylor
  • The Devil's Playthings by Melissa Silvey
  • Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl


Technically I will be all caught up after the first two on this list since I just just finished the others. It will probably take a bit longer to chip away at these, but I'll get there. I'm also thinking about going back to the ones I have done and adding Amazon links in case someone who reads one of my reviews just has to have that book immediately [UPDATE: Links now included with reviews]. To that end, I may also be more specific about the medium I read something in as well as other editions that are available [UPDATE: Editions listed with the links].

I'm currently reading:

  • Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff


I'm currently writing:

  • Another ghostwriting piece and then a super top secret project (not really just nothing worth sharing yet). 
  • I also wrote two short stories and submitted them to a short story writing contest where winning stories will become part of an anthology. The contest closes at the end of the month so we'll see what happens with those!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

REVIEW: BYPASS GEMINI (Big Sigma Book 1)

INTRODUCTION
I love science fiction and fantasy novels. I love wild adventures with crazy characters and high stakes. This sounds like a simple enough set of criteria to satisfy, yet stories in this genre can so often fall flat for me. It's not enough that I'm reading a story about aliens and spaceships, or knights and dragons, I need to CARE about the characters and world. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of good stuff out there, but finding something that hits just the right mixture of all the things I like is a much taller order than the statement above would lead one to believe.

HOW I CAME UPON IT
What first drew me (aside from the unbeatable price of FREE) was the gorgeous cover. I try not to judge a cover too harshly because I know they're hard to get right, but this one is so good and makes me wish the book existed on physical form because it would look great on a bookshelf. Fortunately this book has a lot more to offer than just a pretty cover. 

NOTE
To clarify the free part, this appears to be a book that is permanently free. It's the first in a trilogy of books so I think this one is just always available to anyone who wants to start up the series and buy the next two if they like it. Since this is an indie book, I think that's a pretty smart strategy and I was intrigued enough by the cover and description to give this one a go. 

HOW I RATED IT

4/5 This did not 100% meet my definition of a perfect SciFi novel, but it came pretty close. There's tons of excitement, lavishly described locales, and a cast of genuinely unforgettable characters. I had some small issues with the cast, but given the fact that everything connects really wonderfully at the end and that this is only the first part in a series of three books, I think it is safe to assume that it just gets better from here.


FORMATTING AND READABILITY 
While this isn't normally a category for me, it's worth mentioning because one of my few gripes with the work has to do with formatting. While there's nothing strictly wrong about how certain things are done, there were several things that did throw me off a tiny bit. The use of #s as the indicator for a scene change were easy for me to miss, especially the first time it was used. Spacing is off in certain paragraphs and I would have liked a bit more out of the headings. Having it be a tad bigger or maybe a slightly more interesting font would have just added a lot to the visual experience. Here's the thing though, these are literally the worst editorial issues that exist in this enitre novel. I ran into no grammar, spelling, punctuation, or any other editorial mistakes. Seeing as how it's not uncommon to come across one or two of those even in books supported by big name publishers, this level of technical excellence is really impressive. 

CHARACTERS
The characters are a rather motley crew, even for SciFi. I don't know if I would say they are all likeable, but they are very distinct. There are also a couple the get introduced early on and don't play a huge part until the end, but they are eventually addressed further. In fact, all of the moving parts are brought together in a decidedly natural way which adds a lot to the believability of the world. There were definitely points where I just wanted a character that I could like. Lex is a strong protagonist to be sure, but he's probably not the type I'd want to hang out with. The same can be said for a lot of the personalities I this story. A lot of people enjoy casts like this, but I find it draining after a while. That said, I came to like a large portion of the cast quite a bit more towards the end of the story when things really start coming together and characters develop a bit. Neither Lex, nor many of the side characters are the same as when they were first introduced which felt really rewarding to me as a reader. 

WORLD/SETTING
The world is another major highlight to this work. The mildly dystopian element complements the cloak and dagger SciFi quite nicely. There are several planets that Lex goes to and each feels really interesting and distinct. The exotic and varied locales are a large contributor to how much character this work has and played a large part in why I cared about the events of the book. Since these places are a large part of what drives the plot, not to mention where a lot of the fun comes from during the adventure, it's hard to say more without spoilers. 

PLOT/TONE
One of the best parts of the book is its fantastically paced narrative. There's a bit of hard SciFi mixed in with a really charming noir sort of feel. There's a lot of contrast to be found, but it's not cartoonish. Everything and everyone in the story is extremely vivid in the best way possible and at no point did I feel the plot drag. We're introduced to Lex, the main character, in the middle of a tense space crash and then we go back to meet him as a down on his luck ex-racer who lost everything to some poor decisions. He runs a lot of odd jobs, one of them less legal than the others. He runs a courier service which circumvent the normal and accepted travel routes from planet to planet, all of which are controlled by a dictatorial travel and communications company called Vector Corp. One such package contains something this company wants returned to them and Lex gets himself mixed up into something far more complex than he agreed to. 

CONCLUSION
It’s been a very long time since I’ve read this type of science fiction and it has been even longer since I read one with this level of quality. I may not have loved all the characters, but I liked how my perceptions of a lot of them changed as the story progressed onward. Many were used in really interesting ways. There were a number of points where I felt like some of the more important ones were underused only to have them come up in a critical way during the final chapters and prove me completely wrong. The action sequences were great and not super over-the-top so as to distract from the story. The ending also is a nice wrap-up to the main story threads while still leaving the door open for more stories. This is the type of ending that I love because I hate cliffhangers, especially when they come at the end of the first book in the series. I’m excited to see where the other two books in the trilogy take things. I want to see what becomes of these characters and how Lallo improves upon the narrative and world(s) in the next installments so I will definitely be picking them up in the near future. 

Available in eBook format on Amazon

REVIEW: KLUBBE THE TURKLE AND THE GOLDEN STAR CORACLE

INTRODUCTION
I’m the sort of reader that enjoys really gripping narratives that rip at my soul and make me think about life on a deeper level. As an avid fan of science fiction, fantasy, and every sub-genre under the sun, it’s probably fair to state that I enjoy a degree of escapism from the normal world. A good book for me has compellingly conflicted characters, a creatively contrived world, and creates an arena for deeper reflection on things that exist in our daily reality. While KLUBBE THE TURKLE AND THE GOLDEN STAR CORACLE by Philip Dodd certainly fulfills my need for venturing into a wild world of the imagination, it doesn’t actually meet any of the other things that I look for in a book. So why five stars then?! Why finish the book? Why even bother writing a review? Well, although this novel is not in line with what I typically read, I found that I loved every moment that I spent in this vibrant and whimsical world.

HOW I CAME UPON IT
As with Henry Fox, this author introduced himself to me on Goodreads and let me know he was about to begin DIGITARUM. This made me curious to see who he was and what he'd written and that is when I found KLUBBE THE TURKLE AND THE GOLDEN STAR CORACLE. That's when I thought to myself that this was a rather odd name for a book so I read the description to discover that it was a sort of humorous science fiction and then I was sold. So I picked up a copy and never looked back.

HOW I RATED IT

5/5 This is a story that was simply a fun/happy read. Thee's nothing super deep or complicated going on here, but it has a sort of Suessical splendor that I found intoxicating. I was utterly charmed by this work from beginning to end and so happy that I read it. 


CHARACTERS
The characters could certainly not be called compelling or at all complicated, but they are some of the most magnificent personas that I have enjoyed the company of in a long time. The majority of the cast is made up of Turkles which we find out are bipedal turtle-like aliens that live on the planet Ankor. The very foundation of who these people are is just silly and their perpetually cheery personalities only play into how fun they are. The main character is named Klubbe, but the cast around him play an immensely important part of the story and in the end it felt more like the heroes’ journey rather than the hero’s journey. Turkles are some of the kindest, most foolish, and charmingly innocent characters to cross the pages of modern literature. They are a scatterbrained race with high dreams and big hearts who might not remind me of anyone I have ever met in real life, but I still loved them all the same.

PLOT/TONE
I mentioned before that the concept of the hero’s journey is present, but that is not to say that this story is at all predictable in any way. No, in fact I found it to be quite the opposite. There is certainly a central theme to it all which I will not disclose because I think you ought to discover it for yourselves, but much of the action seemed random when I read through it. Not random in a bad way, mind you, just whimsically unpredictable. I never knew what sort of oddball character I would come across next or what strange feat Klubbe would pull off. The events of this book are so extraordinary that I felt I had no real way of anticipating what would be done or said next. I also noted before that this is not simply Klubbe’s story. While I do love stories that fully develop a single character and allow readers to watch them grow, there was something really special to me about getting to read about the growth of all these other personalities that exist around Klubbe. As our main character, Klubbe is still the most important presence and he is to be credited for a lot of the opportunities that other Turkles benefit from, but it was still really lovely to get to read a story that built up its side characters in such a way that they felt just as special and important to me as Klubbe did.

The immediate hook of this tale is its magical tone. It sucked me in and just made me happy. I don’t know that I have ever only been able to say that a writing style simply brought me happiness and genuine smiles from time to time. It has all the charm of a Dr. Sues picture book, but in a full length novel. Both the dialogue and the grammar are just out of this world wacky which either made this work the easiest piece of writing to edit or the stuff of editorial nightmares. The language is so deliberately and consistently strange that never once did it feel off-putting or distract from the story in any way – if anything it is what makes this tale so special.

WORLD/SETTING
The one thing that really defines the world of Anchor and the other worlds that the book took me to (it is space-centric science fiction so yes there are other worlds and other species) is the way that the author makes use of color. I made the comment before that reading this reminded me of a Dr. Seuss picture book. To be clear, this book has no illustrations or graphics of any kind beyond what is present on the cover. Despite this fact, I felt like I was looking at this magnificent painting the entire time I poured through this book’s pages – a swirly, cartoonish painting filled with vibrant colors that burst off of the page. While I would hate to spoil any of the specific locations in this book since they are directly related to how the plot unfolds, I do need to commend the way that the author makes this feel like such a visually engrossing experience when in actuality, I was only looking at words on a page.

CONCLUSION
I still love my dark, thought provoking, and heart-wrenching science fiction and fantasy novels, but KLUBBE THE TURKLE AND THE GOLDEN STAR CORACLE was an absolutely delightful break from the heavier sort of literature that I tend to engross myself in. I went in hoping for something light and fluffy to act as a short departure from my normal literary choices and I could not be happier with what I got in return. It may very well not be the sort of thing that appeals to everyone, but if that’s the case then you have probably stopped reading this review well before now and already turned your nose up to this work. If you’re still with me, though then I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s a fairly short read so if you’re just in between books or you need a break from your typical reads, then just give this one a shot because I don’t think you’ll regret it one bit. It’s not deep or really all that thought-provoking. It’s just silly and fun, and is all about bringing childish joy to those who read it. 5/5 for me, loved every word of it thoroughly and I’m not really sure what else I could possibly have asked from this book. It’s just a happy read, it’s a light read, and it’s something everyone should get the chance to indulge in.

Available in eBook and Paperback editions on Amazon

REVIEW: THE STONEGATE SWORD


INTRODUCTION
It is not often that I can describe a full-length book in a single word. Throughout my entire adventure within the Stonegate Sword’s digital pages (I read it as an eBook), the one word that continually resounded in my brain was “charming.” This is simply one of the most enchanting tales that I have read in a very long time. It brings me back to books like FINGAL’S QUEST, RED HUGH PRINCE OF DONEGAL, and THE HITTITE WARRIOR which is one of the highest compliments I can pay to a book. But what is The Stonegate Sword? That, it turns out is a little harder to put into words.

HOW I CAME UPON IT
This one arose out of a somewhat informal review swap. The author introduced himself and let me know he was reading my book, DIGITARUM. He did request that I take a look at his work, but didn't really ask for a review in return at least in so many words. I thought this was a really easy-going way of getting another author to give your own book a quick look-over. I'm sure a lot of people probably wouldn't feel compelled to reciprocate this sort of favor so I hope it has not backfired on Mr. Fox too often. At the time, I was mid-way through AN UNEXPECTED BONDING which is a fairly lengthy work, but I did get around to checking this out eventually and I was very happy that I did!  

HOW I RATED IT

4/5 This is a story that gets a lot of things right and I found myself enchanted by the author's lovely writing style. Where this fell flat fore me mostly has to do with the characters that live in this really cool world. Despite this shortcoming, the core of the cast was lovable enough to keep me invested and the plot and the events in this book are well composed.


CHARACTERS:
The story follows a man named Donald who is something of a typical fantasy hero. He is a lore-man or someone who studies ancient times. He finds himself thrown into a situation where he must become more than a mere scholar of old books. In typical fashion, he trains, gets a little better, eventually messes up, and then sets off to right his wrongs. While his developmental arch might be somewhat formulaic, he is still an immensely enjoyable character to follow and please rest assured that he is no Mary-Sue. No, Donald is a flawed individual who desperately wants to do right and simply isn’t sure of himself a lot of the time. I found myself connecting with him very deeply and genuinely caring about what happened to him. Occasionally the perspective will also switch over to follow Phillip, who is superficially a far more interesting character than Donald, however our limited time with him prevents him from becoming much more than a standout supporting character in a tale where we get to know Donald so intimately.

This brings me to one of the story’s shortcomings – the side characters. Donald is as good of a main character as anyone could hope for, but a lot of the people who accompany him are far less developed. Characters like Samuel, Abel, Robert, Grey John, and some of the characters that are involved early on are big contributors to the plot and offer some of the more distinct personalities to be found along the way. I wouldn’t say that I got to know all their deep secrets or understand them in the same way that I understood Donald, but they were certainly enjoyable travel companions. The fact that not everyone is really explored in depth does feel truer to how such an adventure would go in real life – after all we do not really get to know most of the people we encounter in our lives, but rather a select few. Realistic though this may be, because the adventure follows the familiar arch of a hero as well as lays out the story in the classic grand adventure format, I felt as though I wanted to know more of the people in this world. Given that this is such a lengthy narrative there is a certain desire that I could not help but have to get to know each any every character that the story introduced. While these were not bad characters by any means, I just wanted to know more of them on a deeper level. Had this not been such a long book, I think this shortcoming would have been less pronounced, but because I did spend so much time with it, there was a certain pressure for the novel’s many characters to connect with me in a special way and a number of them just failed to do so.

Adding to my criticism of the cast is the way that the female portion of it comes off in this story. To be clear, the representations are not demeaning, nor are they sexist, they just feel a little weak. There are a variety of female characters that enter into the story, but none of them really contribute very much. A lot of them are damselized a bit which I find to be an overused plot device. Rachel and Lady Lilith offer glimpses at stronger female personalities, but we never really don’t get enough face time to really flesh out their potential. As a male writer, I understand that it can be tough to write a compelling female character that doesn’t fall into some tropes. These women feel like they were pulled straight from the Dark Ages which is a shame, considering that the futuristic setting offered a chance to veer away from that style of character. It’s not high fantasy, so there was no need for an ultra-powerful goddess-like lady, but there really should have been at least one that stood out as a more prominent force within the story. I have nothing against a boys’ adventure, it is just the fact that so many women are introduced and all of them offer so little that bugged me in this case.

WORLD/SETTING
In case it wasn’t clear in my initial synopsis, I love the world that the author constructs for us. It is filled with distinct regions which have some laws, beliefs, and customs unique to them, while others are shared with the rest of this reimagined version of the world. It is also quite smart that the real-world places are renamed since the very dynamic of the world is drastically different than what we are used to and it would have been odd for places to be called by their actual names.
This is, as I mentioned before, a very long story. While I prefer shorter works, I found that I enjoyed just sticking around in this world for a bit. The progression is paced in such a way that I never really felt especially motivated to race toward the end. Instead, I just wanted to casually follow the flow of wherever the narrative wanted to take me and there was something rather magical about that type of a ride. Just like the portrayal of religion, the battle sequences are also depicted in a very grounded way. Those that enjoy the fantasy genre for over the top, epic battles with swords and magic flying all over the place will probably feel a little cheated if they go in expecting this sort of action, but I personally liked the slower type of warfare that is shown in this story. It is drawn out in such a way that I could imagine a real medieval-style battle playing out – with lots of planning and precise military maneuvers that kind of reminded me of classic war movies. This is the type of story that you don’t want to get to the end of – but in a good way.

PLOT/TONE
Not quite Fantasy, not exactly Christian Lit, not precisely a conventional post-apocalypse story, and not actually historical fiction. So what does that leave The Stonegate Sword with? A lot, actually, because it is truly all of these things at once. Imagine a story written like a historical fiction piece, yet set into mankind’s distant future. It’s a sort of post-post-apocalypse where the end of the world as we know it has already come and gone and now society exists in a manner similar to how it did during medieval times. While that might sound like an odd concept, it actually makes a lot of sense in that there is a ton of knowledge simply lost to the world which effectively resets things to a certain extent. What makes this really cool is all of the references to the “ancients” who are really just people that exist in a world like the one we live in today. Artifacts such as guns and ammunition can still be found in short supply and these pieces of “ancient” technology prove to be something of high value in a world that has reverted to Dark Age weaponry.

RELIGION
I mentioned before that this is part Christian Literature. The author is really quite transparent about this fact since every chapter begins with a verse (or verses) from scripture (The Bible) and the subheadings of each chapter are little images of a cross. If this is one particular aspect that does not seem overly thrilling to you, I would strongly urge you to put those concerns aside. For full disclosure’s sake, I happen to be a practicing Catholic, so this element was and enjoyable part of the journey for me. That said, I am also not appreciative of fiction that is more concerned with praising God than it is with telling a good story. As an avid read and writer, my first concern is always going to be whether or not the narrative is compelling (I enjoy stories with messages, but hate messages that attempt to masquerade as stories). God is a presence here, but His role feels very grounded. In fact, the entire representation of faith and spirituality in this world was one of the easiest pieces to connect with for me because of how genuine it is and how well it speaks to how a life of faith actually is in the real world. Not all the characters live lives of faith which allows for some interesting dialogue and between the lines thought on the topic. At the end of the story, you as the reader could very easily believe that God had nothing to do with anything that happened, but if you are a person who believes in a higher power, then you can certainly see how His hand touches the lives of the people within the story. It’s a masterful balancing act that the author performs that is inspiring where it needs to be without ever coming off as preachy or self-righteous.

CONCLUSION
The STONEGATE SWORD was an immensely enjoyable read for me. I had no real expectations going in other than to indulge in a long fantasy adventure and I got exactly that, plus a couple of things I was not expecting. I wasn’t totally satisfied with all of the personalities in the story which did make parts of it drag a little for me since I didn’t feel as invested in the fates of certain characters. Despite this, Donald was an incredibly engaging lead and the high points of the book greatly overshadowed the low ones. There is a religious component that some might be keen to turn their noses up to, but unless you are actively atheistic, I see no reason why this piece would bother you in any way or distract from the wonderful and inventive story being told. It’s not a flawless adventure, but it’s definitely one that will stick with me for a long while.

Available in eBook and Paperback editions on Amazon

REVIEW: AN UNEXPECTED BONDING

INTRODUCTION
Vampires, werewolves, secret societies, classic boy meets girl romances, and some supernatural action sequences are the very foundation of what has come to be known as the Paranormal Romance genre. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and the fact that there are so many authors who have tried to cash in on the success of a certain saga does not help with gaining it any credibility for those that might still be on the fence about the genre. In a lot of ways, An Unexpected Bonding makes a conscious effort to try and take the popularized formula and mix it up in an interesting blend of different familiar things. 

HOW I CAME UPON IT
After publishing my own book, I wanted to become engaged in the indie author community. Lilly is one of the first members of said community that I met and engaged with. She's a lovely person with a deep passion for writing fiction and I found myself connecting with her really well when we discussed each other's books. We're both first time authors and both understood that our books aren't quite perfect so we were genuinely looking for honest feedback from one another. I completed my first "review swap" with her which is a little nerve-wracking since things get awkward really fast if one participant doesn't like the work of the other. Fortunately for us, we liked each other's work and were both receptive to some constructive criticism so that our next time out is better.

HOW I RATED IT

4/5 I certainly got more enjoyment out of this story that I have from other paranormal romances. There were a lot of things that the author tried to do which I found to be refreshingly daring and I hope that is the start of a long-lived trend in the genre. That said, it was not smooth sailing all the way through for me as I found myself enjoying some of the execution a bit less than the concepts. 


CHARACTERS

Introduced at the very start of the book are the faerie, which come off in a very similar way to the fantastical creatures of childhood fairy tales. These immortal beings do not live in the physical realm in the same way that other creatures do, but they do like to meddle with its affairs. Though this is often done with the best of intentions, it often results in the mortal realm being far worse off than it was before. This layer adds quite a bit to the context of the action and opens the door for new twists to enter into the mix. One such twist is that all of the Vampire characters seem to come straight from the Ancient Egyptian pantheon of famed gods including, but not limited to Ra, Isis, and Osiris. The wolves come from mythological origins as well and both species are the result of faerie meddling. All these mystical elements set the stage for a far more interesting brand of monster than I would normally associate with this genre and create some welcome intrigue within the story space. 

While there is definitely a central love story between two characters, there are a TON of other individuals who all get their time to shine whether they are introduced in the beginning or make appearances later on. The cast for this story is enormous and each person is characterized so well that they do feel distinct from one another in a really wonderful way. There are also a lot of different relationships that are cultivated between the vast assortments of characters as the adventure progresses. The fact that the perspective changes frequently helps readers keep up with all these characters and never did I find myself confused as to who is who. There are even certain sequences told and then retold from these different vantage points so as to provide added insight into the book’s bigger moments. This all adds up to something that feels refreshingly unique and is by and large why I enjoyed the story as much as I did.



WORLD/SETTING

The story takes place in a cozy southern setting, more specifically on a ranch. While I'm generally not a Western kind of person, I did find that I enjoyed the easy going vibe that this type of location gave off. There's a certain splendor to the setting that compliments the story's tone quite nicely. There's not a whole lot more that can really be said about this since there are only really two other major locations in the book: one a more sinister homestead that is a place of dread for a number of the cast members, and a vibrant rodeo which serves as the location for the story's final climax. This is one of those stories where the characters ARE the world. That's not to say the scenery is poorly described, or that the staging is bad, because it's not. I simply found myself far more invested in the story of the characters and the world around them felt more like a well-done backdrop.

PLOT/TONE
To be clear, this is not the Paranormal Romance for people who generally dislike Paranormal Romances. It is also not a narrative for readers who need constant action. This is story that is told at the pace that it wants to be told at which winds up being something of a trot. If that sounds like a negative, it may be for you depending on personal taste, but this steadier pace also allows readers to really soak in what each and every character has to offer. If you are the type that likes prolonged, easy going stories, then this is definitely something that appeals to those interests.

This is also not a story for the faint of heart when it comes to lovemaking in literature. There is steamy romance aplenty here that starts pretty early on and can be found throughout. The author has a rich vocabulary and uses sumptuous adjectives that make even the non-sexual moments feel lusty and idealized. It’s not necessarily a grounded representation of love or making love, but when there are vampires and wolves running around, that probably is not a very valid complaint. 

There were certainly some key areas where this work did not really come together for me. The dialogue is strangely inconsistent and often feels a bit janky since it sometimes sounds like a strange blend of old English, Victorian English, and modern day slang which works 100% of the time for the Vampire characters, but is less plausible for others. There are also moments of unnecessary explanation or repetition of previously explained ideas which pulled me out of the moment, but I should point out that I read through this pretty quickly so if you like to read at a more fragmented pace, then this might actually be helpful to you.

CONCLUSION
The main audience for this piece is going to be those that are already fans about this type of story, but it might also be able to pull in those that maybe didn’t care for Twilight, but haven’t written the genre off as whole just yet (I tend to fall within this camp). While I had a lot of problems with the more technical aspects of the piece, I found myself pleased with the direction that the author pushes this genre in. The added layers of complexity not only put forth that extra something for people already on board with this type of novel, but also challenge the very notion of what goes into the Paranormal Romance formula. There is a concerted effort to break from genre convention without alienating current fans and I think An Unexpected Bonding successfully manages to do just that. This is also a rather lengthy adventure and it there are two follow up books planned for it so if you're the type that likes to dive into long books/series then this will definitely satisfy your need for a longer tale. If you’re looking for the next big thing in Paranormal Romance or you feel the genre is a little stale and are waiting for something that will shake it up, then I highly recommend that you give this one a look. 

Available in eBook and Paperback editions on Amazon

Monday, May 25, 2015

COVER: DIGITARUM'S Cover

Creating the cover for any production is a daunting task. It is the first thing that a potential buyer sees and it is what they will make their initial judgments on. EVERYONE judges a book by its cover - you have to when there are so many books on the market, all begging to be read. The book cover is what a reader is going to use to make their initial selection of what goes on their To Read list and what gets left in the dust.

When I started thinking about what to do for Digitarum's cover, I had all of these things in mind. This made the process of planning out a compelling design even more intimidating and it was unclear as to whether I should go for something really busy or favor a more basic design.



While they might not look like much on their own, a well planned design starts with a REALLY rough and unattractive sketch. The first shows off a more elaborate plan that would involve a shot of the tower of the gods along with the village of Taran and an expansive landscape in the distance. The next two sport much simpler designs. The image of the primordial egg on it's platform didn't feel like it would have enough to attract the eye and the image with the tower threatened to turn into the sort of overly cluttered environmental scenes which a lot of science fiction novels seem to go with. The third design felt like the best blend of intriguing, yet clean. There isn't a ton going on it in, but what is there felt a lot more interesting. This seemed like a better representation of the novel itself because it was important to me that the cover be attractive, but not oversell the story as something grander than it actually was.





With the design picked, it was time for an enhanced version of it to be constructed. This involved blocking out the principle figure of the piece - that being the silhouette of Yeb. I also played around with different fonts and font colors. Because the main background would be nothing more than a solid color, I needed to make sure I had thick enough lettering in order to make something really flashy out of it.




Once satisfied with the preliminary components and positioning, it was time to begin layering on some detail. This started with painting over the letters to create a sense of density. I also added in some lighting effects on the i's and creating an early iteration of the disintegration effect on the other side of the title. While it might seem like there is an awful lot of blue here, I had it envisioned to add in a bit more color variation with the whites so as to make it all more distinct.




Here is the early stages of layering detail on top of the character. I slowly rendered the musculature and facial details through painting on different values and blending them together. This was a fairly lengthy process, especially on the face, but the results were pretty decent. I knew all along that I would be adding in some broader light and shadow strokes with an airbrush, so I left the lighting alone once I was pleased with the results. I wanted to flesh out the entirety since I wanted some flexibility with how I positioned the final light effect.




Here I added in a bit more garnish to the title. The D felt a little plain and since we read left to right, the first letter in this title really needed to stand out rather than blend in so I added some smaller details to really make it pop. I also responded to some feedback on the finer details of the body during this stage.



This where the light effect came together. It might seem like a simple element of the picture, but finding something that fit what I was going for actually took a bit of experimentation. I also made the artistic decision to break away from the way that the story describes this event. The book makes the light sound like more of a solid orb whereas the cover depicts it as being a little wispy. This is because I found that having a large blob of white in the center of my image was not only distracting, but also covered up too much of the figure that I worked so hard to define. In the end, I settled upon numerous light sources which all seem to fade off from their centers. I also added some texture by using other brushes which complimented the disintegration effect on the last two letters of the title.



Once I had all the pieces in place, I made some subtle changes. At first glance, this version probably looks the same as the one before, but there are a number of small differences like the flecks of black that I added to the last letters in the title to make it look more like they are actually being torn apart.




In the end, I have a cover image that is clean, simple, and to the point, but also interesting, much like the novel that lays beneath. It's not the best cover out there, but I have also seen much worse. It also manages to foreshadow the contents of the story, but not spoil them. The scene depicting Yeb bringing light into the world is pulled from the very first chapter and it is a fairly compelling image that readers would not have to read too far to understand  the meaning of. The lights on the i's further emphasize the importance of light in the narrative and the disintegration effect is reminiscent of the polygons that all things are made from and what everything collapses apart into when it is destroyed. There are even smaller details like the checkered lines that line Yeb's body. Another more subtle reference is the vine running up the D which resembles the strange plants from the Twisted Forest.