26 January 2012

"Under the Dogwood Tree" #Fridayflash


Photo credit: taliesin from morguefile.com


It began with a family picnic on that cool November day. Gray shredded clouds lay feathered against the elusive blue of sky. Frosty eddies of air mingled with scents of cinnamon and apple pie, buttery mashed potatoes and sweet raspberry lemonade. A deep-broiled brisket, browned and tender with gravy awaited us as we picked our way through the old cemetery that occupied the corner of Pinecroft and Hillsbury. Warm summer had persisted through the weeks prior to the day and emboldened by a confident forecast, we’d settled on this day to gather and eat in the waning sunshine.
Ours was a strange custom, born of generations encouraged to remain close to those that had gone before us. Memorial parks were still parks after all, and with the headstones flat and nestled in among the freshly-cut turf, one could pretend this was only a place in which to rejoice in the bounties of life.
Lilly, with her little velvet coat and matching dusky rose ribbon in her gold-spun hair, walked with Theodore in his gentle navy blue frock to compliment his dark curls and shining leather uppers. My children. I’d brought them along with Anthony, my loving husband of more than twenty years. His urn sat silent and patient as I chattered to it as if he were lying in the grass beside me. I knew his bones were ash; he never wanted to lie rotting in the ground as his father before him. Still, dinner was had here in Hillcroft Memorial Park, a clever combination of names from the two intersecting streets, and Anthony came along, though he never had much to say.
I glanced up to watch Theodore and Lilly hop over gravestones and relate spooky stories to one another, their high voices carrying bits of their tales to me over the breeze. I wasn’t hungry, but I ate Anthony’s portion anyway. Today was special.
After the children returned to settle and eat, we cleaned our area and locked the basket in the car. Anthony came with us.
“Did you find it?” I asked Lilly, older by two years than her smaller brother.
She blinked and pointed in a direction and we detoured our path. Under the spread embrace of a dogwood tree, I spotted it. The children broke away to reach it before I did. A simple square, set in the ground, blades of grass drooping inward to it. I regarded the urn in my hand. A tear escaped to slide down my cheek.
Only now could I afford to lay him to rest not rotting. He was dust already. Memories of his laugh, his smile, his hand on my cheek raced through my mind. A year. Nothing more. An unstoppable sequence of days, carrying him away from us.
I knelt beside the hole and set the urn in place.
Next year’s picnic, we would eat under the dogwood tree.

19 January 2012

"Resurrection" #Fridayflash

Photo credit: click from morguefile.com



The earth lay covered over with a blanket of fresh-fallen snow. Grave diggers cleared away a patch and broke ground. They worked well into the day, their sweat and breath steaming in the chilly air. When they’d finished, a doorway stood open, sunk into the ground. A haven for the dead. A subterranean bed. A regal casket was carried out by solemn pallbearers, silver watch chains winking in the gloom of black. Fingerprints marring the elegant brass handles were wiped clean with a white handkerchief, produced from an unknown pocket.
Mourners stood in quiet rows, swaying to hypnotic drone of the priest’s eulogy. He blessed the raw earth’s open wound.
I am the Resurrection and the Life.
The coffin sank into the earth on whispering pulleys.
I am the Resurrection and the Life.
Holy water rained down without a sound.
A sharp cry from one of the onlookers punched through the priest’s words. The woman fainted. Prayer continued, though no one was listening.
Light faded from the heavens. The ceremony had come to the final words.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.
The fragile form within the luxurious box was sandwiched between heaven and hell, forever locked in earth’s embrace.
Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust.
A star shot through the yawning sky. Gentle mists of dew shook from the upper branches of trees in the early morning breeze. Birds  stirred and flitted about overhead, busy already capturing fleeing insects. They chirruped like crickets themselves, obviously pleased with the day’s bounty.
It was a golden sunrise, like the exterior curve of a ripe apple from the fabled Herculean myth. Shrouds of woolen clouds framed the skies, idyllic and yet ignorant in their silent grandeur.
Day returned.

12 January 2012

"The Light" - A Paranomal #Fridayflash

Photo credit: streetfishing from morguefile.com



Rain spattered over the cooling hood like blood, tinted carmine and blue alternately by rotating lights. Stein got out of the car. Ahead of him lay a dead woman marked pale and still by the patrol car’s headlights. He greeted the officer and together they gazed absently at the grisly scene before them.  Her dress, once a deep blue satin, was ripped and sullen. The impact had left her barefoot, as being struck by a speeding vehicle often would. The chance-shower paused, as if catching a breath.

“Around what time was she found?” Stein dipped his fingers into the inside pocket of his wool overcoat to fish out a cigarette. A stray breeze caught the Zippo’s flame, wrestling with the golden tongue before he cupped his hand over the determined tiny fire. The dead woman’s blonde hair was soaked in almost equal halves of blood and rain.

“Around midnight.” The officer’s badge read C. Johnson. His face may as well been carved in flint. He dragged his dark fingers up under his plastic-covered police cap through the wiry salt-and-pepper hairs, reseating it on his head afterwards. “The coroner estimates time of death to be about nine yesterday evening, but the cold could be fucking with her temperature.”

Stein grunted in assent, his eyes dazzled again and again by the camera flash as a photographer captured each fatal detail. The dead woman’s diamond wedding ring cast off a shine like a distant star.

“The driver never stopped. No signs of braking at all. Since the road is so far out, we’re figuring it took hours for the next motorist to drive by and see her lying there.”

Stein shrugged. “Or there were more, but you know people…they don’t like to get involved.”

Johnson snorted. “They would have had to drive around her then, with her right there in the middle of the road.”

Blood pooled around the dead woman’s head, sticky and diluted from the light shower. The cleaners were attempting to separate her body from the blacktop. Stein exhaled a plume of smoke and dropped the cigarette at his feet, fating the fading glow into final darkness on the damp pavement.

The crime scene dissipated like fog in the sun. He turned to the woman who stared with wide eyes, her fingers covering her mouth.  Her deep blue dress lay in solemn folds against her legs. She stepped forward on tentative bare feet.

“Do you remember anything?” Stein considered lighting another cigarette, then decided against it. He stood patient, awaiting the woman’s response. She’d stopped at the edge of where the blood stain had been moments before.

She shook her head. “Teddy and I were fighting—he said some words. We were on our way to my mother’s. He was saying awful things about her.” She turned to face Stein, her makeup smeared in black tracks over her pallid cheeks with tears.

“Go on…”

“I told him that if he hated her so much he shouldn’t have come. He told me he didn’t trust me driving alone. We argued.”

“And then what?”

“He…hit me. He was yelling terrible things. He stopped the car and told me to get out.”

“And did you?”

She nodded. “Yes. He drove off and left me there on the side of the road.” She tucked her bottom lip behind her teeth. “The next thing I knew, you were there. Waiting for me.”

“That’s what I do. Wait.” Stein put an arm around her shoulder, walking her back to his car. Long and low, people said about it when asked. Black, or the deadest shade of purple they’d ever saw. He opened the passenger door and she lowered herself into the ashen seat. Stein got in behind the wheel. Cool blue light washed over his features as the engine rumbled into life. “I’ll get you to where you need to go next.”

The woman instinctively reached for her seatbelt, but found there was none. “Where are we going?”

“I’m taking you home.” He glanced at her huddled against the door with eyes the color of tombstones. “Your name is Allis Forn. You died in 1979. Do you know what today’s date is?”

“No…what is it?”

He told her and she broke into tears. Thirty-two years she’d waited.

They drove towards the light.

11 January 2012

Getting the Cover Art You Want: A How-To

Photo credit: johmau from morguefile.com

By Nerine Dorman

So, you’ve written a work of fiction. Be it a short story, novella or a full-length epic, you’ve either decided to embark upon self-publishing it via a platform such as Smashwords, or you’re lucky enough to bring it out with a small press that will allow you to provide your own cover art. It’s thrilling to see your baby’s cover art as a thumbnail on Amazon but, by equal measure, if you’re not 100% happy with the final results; if the font is just horrid and gets lost in the background, or if the publisher provided an illustrator who got things just plain wrong... It’s going to be damaging to your career and give potential readers the wrong impression about your writing, if they buy it at all.


How do you get the cover art that you want?

Know what you want. Keep it simple. Think about an essential theme of your novel. Look at other novels in the genre. Which covers do you like? What makes them effective? When you’re up on Amazon, you’ll appear with the whole gamut of authors, from J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potterverse down to Joe Public who’s written about his pet hamster Sammy. Is there a scene from your novel, or perhaps a relationship you’d like to bring to the fore?


When Carrie and I worked on the illustration for our short story, Just My Blood Type, our tale took place in a bar. Drinks and vampires came to mind, hence the two shot glasses filled with a liquid that was supposed to be rum but suggested blood. We wanted something simple and classy.


Blood and Fire was different. The story is a paranormal thriller featuring two supernatural beings in a fast-paced, conflict-laden situation, so we felt we wanted to show the two at each other’s throats because of the potential for conflict between them. The image must communicate this tension between the two but also leave potential readers guessing when they saw the cover art. Our illustrator was selected on the basis that he specialises in comic books. The typographical treatment harkens back to classic Sandman graphic novels. 


Preliminary sketch for Blood and Fire
Remember, you don’t have to be absolutely literal in depicting a scene from your story. Before you start hunting down illustrators and graphic designers, or even better, artists who provide both services (they do exist), do yourself a huge favour and find out from your publisher what the technical specifications of its book covers are. These include the dimensions, as well as the resolution of the image (depth and width), which will need to be high-resolution of around 300 dpi in most cases (don’t worry, your artist will know what this means). These details must be briefed to your artists.

Choosing the right artist can be a real bitch. Not everyone will have friends who are gifted illustrators or photographers. I’m just absurdly lucky to be in the midst of a highly creative arts community in Cape Town. But if you’re stuck, I suggest swinging past http://www.deviantart.com where there are thousands of fantastic artists showcasing their work. Find one who resonates with you and for the love of all that is unholy, don’t just go with someone who’ll do something for free. A trade exchange of some sort is fine but remember if you pay peanuts, it's likely you’ll work with monkeys. Rather spend money on a good artist. And do yourself a huge favour: ask for references.

Last sketch before color
When you have your artist, communicate with them exactly what you want. This may involve finding sample images similar in style to what you have in mind. Write a creative brief, draw stick figures but brief your artist properly so that you are both on the same page and understand each other. I was lucky enough to be physically present to direct the shoot for Just My Blood Type. With Blood and Fire, I took care to give a detailed brief via email, and the illustrator later thanked me for being so thorough in communicating exactly what I wanted, down to the last belt buckle.

Artists like to be given direction when they are creating a unique work for a client. They don’t like it when they are asked to “Oh, just draw something.” Remember that they are not mind-readers. Also, their time is money, and neither of you want to go back and forth until everyone’s wound up in knots when they could have spent their time on something useful.

Another important factor to consider is leaving enough space so that you can later crop an image closer. Bear in mind where you’d like to have your title and name to appear.

Typography is just as important as the final illustration. An otherwise beautiful illustration or photo can be ruined by heinous text; fonts that are too overpowering, too textured on a busy background or treated in an amateur fashion. One good example is the font Papyrus used with any Egyptian-themed story. Or Comic Book Sans, in any situation. There are many no-nos that an experienced, qualified DTP artist or graphic designer will avoid. A number of self-taught garage designers won’t know any better, and need to be avoided too.

Once again, provide your graphic designer with samples of book covers in the same genre as your story, ones that you like and that communicate clearly. And trust me, it’s worth your while finding the right person for the job. Ask to see their creative portfolio before you make your decision. And when you work with them, ask them for more than one option. Don’t be afraid to ask them make changes until you are 100% happy. A professional should be willing to hear your side of the story while also standing his or her ground when you’re barking up the wrong tree. When you have three or more options you like, don’t make a final decision immediately. Get colour print-outs and show them to people whose opinion you trust. Ask them which cover they prefer, and why? Sleep on it then go back with your choice.


As a last word, I’ll state there is absolutely no excuse for shit cover art these days. One of my pet hates is when people feel that it’s okay to skimp if it’s for the electronic market. Bullshit. Repeat after me: bullshit. Nothing publicly distributed should be a throw-away. You want to put the thumbnail of your story on the same page where your favourite authors’ novels appear and feel justifiably proud.


Bio: Apart from her work as a newspaper sub-editor and writer, freelance fiction editing and being a multi-published author, Nerine Dorman is also a qualified graphic designer. She majored in illustration and photography, and has more than a decade of experience in the media industry under her belt, spanning magazine publishing, below-the-line marketing communications, print management and newspaper publishing.


Purchase Blood and Fire on Amazon (currently only version available) 
Download Just My Blood Type, free on Smashwords

Nerine Dorman on Facebook

09 January 2012

Bracing Myself for Twelve

     At the end of 2011, I was at a crossroads, deciding where I wanted to take my next step in writing stories. I knew Blood and Fire had been accepted, and Crooked Fang is still at the publisher’s, awaiting the final razor. I’ve been forging ahead with Pale Rider, the second installment in the Crooked Fang series and all in all, I’ll venture to say the character Xan Marcelles has found a receptive audience.

So what’s next? Resolutions? Promises? Try a vague guess at what I might fall into next. Real life, as always, takes an alternating leap ahead of what still feels like hobbyist writing, so the progress is slower than one might expect. At the rate I’m going, averaging a number of approximately five-thousand words a week, Pale Rider has a way to go. My mind itches to do something different, something…meaner.

There’s been requests for more stories from myself and my co-author Nerine Dorman, and I believe we shall be answering that call once again. Nothing solid yet, but we’re attempting a sketch on our longest work together yet. I’ll keep you posted on that front.

Back to the mean stuff. Rubbing shoulders with some of today’s horror greats has tickled my fancy to come up with something …horrid, but again, nothing definite yet. I had a concept for a Purgatory-like literaryscape, and I’d like to explore that universe further. I have hopes  that place too will find a receptive readership.

Writing Blood and Fire with Nerine made me realize just how out of practice I am at penning horror-style stories.  Maybe I’ll post a few excerpts right here for your appraisal.

Twenty-twelve promises to be the turning point in my status as an author. How will I fare?

Only time will tell.

-CC



03 January 2012

BLOOD AND FIRE

I’ve been talking about BLOOD AND FIRE that I co-wrote with Nerine Dorman and posting little hints about the book coming out in February. Well, scratch that. It’s out now. We submitted it to Dark Continents and ding!  There it was a few days later. (For links, see bottom of post.)

SURPRISE!

And the cover is as Nerine would say, feeeelthy-gorgeous. Two talented artsmen each contributed their expertise and skill to create a cover worthy of the NYT Bestseller list (in my opinion, of course). Nerine and I tossed around some ideas simply because we had such a ball writing and promoting JUST MY BLOOD TYPE, and she has INKARNA coming out in May 2012, so we dreamed up BLOOD AND FIRE.

It had its difficulties. We’d originally planned to project it as another teaser-style book similar to JUST MY BLOOD TYPE, but Nerine caught word that DCP was looking for new shorter works. We decided to go for it. The book was nearly finished, and with the new objective, we had to go back (especially me) and fill in some things that would enable it to be a stand-alone story. Cramming all that info into a book 22k words long without making it one big fat info-dump proved quite challenging.  But we managed.

We had the cover art already ready, after a back-and-forth with the artist, fine-tuning parts of the two characters, me for Xan, and Nerine for Ash. He came through beautifully, and signing off on that was a definite proud moment.

We sent our then current draft of the story to Cat Hellisen for the first beta-read. At this point, I’ve learned a lot about how valuable a beta reader can be to your WIPs. Get one. You really want to pass it under a new pair of eyeballs so you get a circumspect point of view.

Our second beta reader, Melissa Ecker, gave a great perspective on Americanizing some of Nerine’s more obscure references. Her questioning helped us expand on previously vague ideas. As she did it last-minute, and with a WIP on her own, her time was greatly cherished.

Nerine fell ill during the last part of the process and ended up finalizing details from her hospital bed. It was a frantic rush for the cover to meet deadline.

After all the edits were done, and we submitted it to the publisher for review, we needed typography on the cover. What some of you may not know is just how important typography can be to a book cover, especially an ebook. Consider how you view your choices when buying an ebook. Thumbnails. The art and especially the font needs to be easy to spot and hopefully read, even when it’s not much bigger than a postage stamp. Nerine worked with her husband to come up with the perfect typography treatment, via a series of emails and talks. And he did a wonderful job!

I’m proud to present to you Xan Marcelles’s next adventure, BLOOD AND FIRE, and introduce Ashton Kennedy (whose part was written by Nerine Dorman) for your reading pleasure.

BLOOD AND FIRE is only available via Amazon’s Kindle or Kindle apps at this time (all other formats after 90 days), but you can read it on Apple devices, Android via the app, and even just your computer. Consider a read for less than a fancy Starbucks coffee.




Thank you to the kind participation of the artists:

Art by Daniel S. Hugo – website
Typography by Thomas Dorman – website

A note of appreciation for our beta-readers:

Cat Hellisen – website
Melissa Ecker – website

Special thanks to my talented co-author:

 Nerine Dorman – Facebook page

Don’t forget to like the CROOKED FANG Facebook page for more updates on Xan Marcelles!

 CROOKED FANG is due out in August 2012 from Lyrical Press in most electronic formats.