Yearly Archives: 2014

How A Firefly Browncoat Changed My Life

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“Thank your readers and the critics who praise you, and then ignore them. Write for the most intelligent, wittiest, wisest audience in the universe: Write to please yourself.”
- Harlan Ellison

This is a story about fandom and how I’ve never been one. A fan that is. I’ve been dumb(dom) plenty of times, just ask my ex-girlfriends.

When I had the opportunity, I met Ray Bradbury, one of my lifelong writing heroes, in the Fall of 2007, at the Walt Disney Studios. Although I’ve spent most of my professional career at the Disney Studios, at the time, I had only been working for Walt Disney for a little over a year. Around early October, word had gone out via a flier resembling Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival tickets, there would be a free special Halloween screening of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes at the theatre on the Studio Lot with special guest… Ray Bradbury himself. An event that was not open to the public. Only to Disney Cast Members.

I nearly fell out of my chair.


Was this really happening?

Did I just read that right!?

Working at Walt Disney Studios was my dream since childhood. Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of my favorite films of all time. Ray Bradbury is one of my biggest idols as a writer. I’d get to see his movie, and meet the man, at the theatre on the Walt Disney lot, while I’m working for Disney!? At Halloween, no less! Talk about a dream come true! That night happened over 6 years ago and I still get shivers right now as I’m thinking about it.

During the movie, I kept stealing glances over at Ray Bradbury and my mind was blown. Because all those thoughts just kept repeating in my head. “I work for Walt Disney. I’m at the Studio. I’m watching Something Wicked This Way Comes with Ray Bradbury! He’s sitting 10 feet away from me! Holy crap! This is the coolest thing ever!”

I said I’ve never been a fan of anything and that is true – in the most literal sense of the words; “fan” being short for “fanatic”, I can honestly say that although I’ve enjoyed many authors and movies and the work of many celebrities, I’ve never been “fanatical” about any of those things. I’ve never been a diehard obsessive superfan nutjob. Despite a childhood that contained comic books and all-night-sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, and an active membership in the Society for Creative Anachronism, I was never a fanboy. I had a legit geek card. I did all the things geeks were supposed to do. I enjoyed these things. They were fun. But they never felt like essential facets of my being. To be honest, people who were fanatic Trekkies or gamers or cosplayers, all seemed pretty strange to me. Despite the fact I was one of the charter members of my high school science fiction club (heck, I even coined the name for the damn thing, “Mindrealms”) and I blended in with geek culture and I held the same interests, I never felt connected the way true fans did. Yes, I admit I’m the kind of person who would wear a Jedi robe and bring a lightsaber to a Star Wars movie premiere, but when I look over at the people who spend 200 hours building a Stormtrooper costume I think, “Wow, what a nerd.”

Even when I met Ray Bradbury, I didn’t act like a fan. I didn’t know how.

When the film was over, Ray gave a speech in front of the screen (if you’re a Bradbury fan, I can tell you it was the Mr. Electrico story, and you’ll know what I’m talking about) and a huge line of people began to form up the aisle. They wanted to get posters and books signed. Typical fans. Looking to collect an autograph.

As an aside – oh, this pissed me off – we all had to wait about 10 minutes extra, because some asshole executive from Disney was hoarding Mr. Bradbury’s time and wouldn’t stop talking to him. Fucking business suit prick earning his 6-figures thinks he’s special to monopolize Mr. Bradbury’s time with a room of 120 people waiting? Fuck you. How dare you be so inconsiderate to Ray Bradbury and a full theatre of people, you lousy piece of shit. No idea who the fuck that balding self-important cocksmoker was, I just hope he sees this commentary and I pray he’s no longer at Disney and is managing 3 people at toxic waste company where demonfucks like him belong.

Anyway, I was right up in the front row, so I was the first person to greet Mr. Bradbury. (The executive I just mentioned doesn’t qualify as a “person”, he was slime.) I walked up to Ray Bradbury and shook his hand and said, “Hello, Ray. My name is Eric.”

“Hello, Eric. Good to meet you,” he said.

“You too. I just wanted to shake your hand and say thank you. Thank you for everything.”

He looked at me strangely, a bit confused, then he slowly seemed to understand and said, “Oh, well, uh, you’re welcome. You’re welcome.”

“Take care. See you around.” I smiled and walked away.

“You too.”

And that was it. I left. The whole crowd just stared at me. Dozens of people watched me walk up the aisle, as though I were wearing a naked-Hollywood-starlet corpse as a hat.

That was all? Fifteen seconds? I didn’t try talking to him as long as possible? I didn’t ask him any questions? I didn’t have him sign anything? I just shook Ray Bradbury’s hand and said, “Thank you?” People were astonished. What the hell was that all about? Who does that? No one had any idea what just happened.

Look, he was Ray freaking Bradbury. He owed me nothing. I had no right to request an autograph. I had no right to monopolize his time. I had no right to ask him for anything. Here was a gentleman who has given my life so much, that the only person who had a debt to pay in that encounter was me. He was due my thanks. He was due my gratitude for all he had done. For a lifetime of stories. Ray Bradbury didn’t owe me autographs or conversations. He didn’t owe me a thing, so I wouldn’t dare to ask. Ray Bradbury may not have inspired me to become a writer, but he inspired me to strive to be a great one.

The point of this story is to convey the simple fact that even a meeting with my literary hero was a mellow moment. There was no hyperventilating. No tears. No trembling. There isn’t a soul on earth would ever make me that excited to meet them (…with the possible exception of Aly Michalka – whose preternatural radiance would likely reduce my reputable suave charm into the stuttering blather of a lovesick puppy). I digress, as usual.

This is why I never related to hardcore fans. Even as a fan, I don’t behave the way everyone else does. My passions are different.

Then, one day, a hardcore fan finally helped me to understand what I had been missing all this time…

Chuck Evans is a southern gentleman who was interviewed on the Done the Impossible documentary about the television show Firefly.

During his interview, talking about how upset he was when Firefly was canceled, he gets choked up and comes close to tears. His wife chimes in and says it’s been hard on him.

That was a powerful experience for me. A grown man crying over a television show? Are you kidding me? And why wasn’t his wife immediately filing for divorce from this sissy?

That was when the realization hit me. For the first time in my entire life, I got it. I was ashamed of myself. I had been so blind. I was so oblivious. At long last, I recognized what I truly was – I saw myself as a devil. I was a fallen angel. In the words of Captain Reynolds, “Oh, I’m going to the special hell.”

The vital lesson I was taught – the reason I’ve never become so consumed by fandom is because I am one of the creators of these fantastical worlds. That’s my purpose. I could never find myself consumed by the creations of others, because I’m more interested in devoting that kind of passion into manifesting my own work.

But not everyone is like me. I am part of an elite an infinitesimally tiny faction of society.

Most people are like Chuck Evans.

Most people need to uplift themselves in our creations. They need to live in our worlds.

That’s why we’re here. That’s why we make those worlds. We’re here to enrich the lives of all the Chuck Evans’ on this earth. Thus, I am the angel sent to save people. A music maker. A dreamer of dreams. But instead, I ridiculed them. I was to play the minstrel, but mocked them for dancing to the music. I had become one of The Fallen. I had forgotten my true purpose.

In that moment, I inescapably understood why people become fans. In that moment, I figured out what this stuff means to them. Despite being around these people all my life, I never knew. Now I saw why I could dress in medieval garb at a renaissance faire and feel like I was exactly where I belonged… and yet, feel I was an impostor. Why I was an outcast among the outcasts. All this while, I would play in the worlds other people create, but for some people, those worlds are home. They don’t play in them. They live in them. The realms we create mean more to them than I ever realized and I never saw that until I viewed it through the prism of Chuck Evans tears. The responsibility I have really hit me in a way it never had before. Once and for all, I understood why I always felt a kindred with these people, yet at the same time, felt like a pariah who couldn’t relate to them.

I felt like such a dick. Have you ever experienced that? Discovering you were a total asshole and not even being aware of it? Being an asshole deliberately is one thing. That’s fine. Heartbreaking and embarrassing to discover you were being an asshole unintentionally.

I’m like The Operative in Serenity – I’m not meant to live in the perfect world, I’m just meant to create it for others to live in. I am a monster.

There are those who would say equating myself with angelic purpose is a massively delusional pretentiousness, skirting dangerously close to a God Complex. To which I can gently reply, “Fuck off.” Knowing who I am doesn’t require your stamp of approval. Nor does your opinion invalidate my convictions. Screw you. You can’t take the sky from me.

All my life, I have said I love my fans. That wasn’t a lie. I meant it. Sure, I would mock superfans who geek out over television shows and movies and comics, but I never did that toward my own fans. Heck, truth be told, I never encountered a fan who expressed that kind of passion for my work. Now, I’m starting to think, touching people that deeply may be the level of emotional connection I should have always be striving to achieve.

I finally know who I am. I finally know what I am. I finally know what this stuff means to the fans and, more importantly, why. Harlan Ellison once called writing a “holy chore” and I finally understand what that means.

You know how life lessons tend to beat you over the head over and over, until you finally learn them? Then, after you learn the lesson, you suddenly start spotting it everywhere you look and you’re thinking, “How the fuck was I so oblivious for so long!? It’s all over the place!” Yeah. That’s me. Now I see the wailing, screaming, convulsive sobbing of superfans everywhere I look and I think, “I get it now. I finally get it!”

I know what I am meant to do now and no power in the ‘verse can stop me.

All thanks to one interview, with Mr. Chuck Evans, choking back his tears for Firefly.

“We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.”

- Arthur O’Shaughnessy

How do You Write a Book?

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“The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising… and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.”
- Neil Gaiman

Now and then, people ask me about my approach to writing and I figured that would make an interesting story to share. Fans are often curious about how a book was created and fellow authors often looks for tips and methods, so I figured this could be a worthwhile bit of information to tell you about.

Okay, actually, that’s not true. I’m lying. No one has ever asked me about my approach to writing.

However, I believe in being prepared and thus, just in case someone does ask someday, I’ll be able to direct them to this nifty explanation I created ages before anyone ever bothered to inquire.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the creative process of how to get ideas and construct a story. No, I’m talking about the actual, physical labor of writing. Do I use a pen? Do I use a typewriter? Do I use a computer? Where am I physically sitting when I write? A desk? A coffeeshop? That kind of thing.

I began to write my first novels and short stories when I was a teenager. Back then, I used an electric typewriter on occasion but, I usually wrote by hand. I just preferred a good old pen and a notebook. For years, I used Bic Fine Point Metal Roller Pens with black ink and 0.7mm tip, and more than 20 years later, those are still my all-time-favorite pens to write with. When I become famous, I expect Bic to provide me with a lifetime supply. Thank you.

Although I had abandoned about 3 novels beforehand, The Gothic Rainbow, was the first novel I ever actually completed and I started writing it when I was about 22 years old. At the time I began, I still lived at home with my family. The entire book was handwritten, in notebooks, while sitting on my bed, in my bedroom, on Behrwald Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. That was it. I never wrote in any other location. I never wrote outside my house. Never wrote in another part of the house. The whole book was written in my bed. I had two or three notebooks containing notes and outlines, one pair of notebooks possessing a first draft, and one pair of notebooks with a final draft. So, at any given time, I’d be in my bed surrounded by a pile of 6 to 7 notebooks all around me.

As to the posters in the back of the book, which you can still buy today, those were all shot on film. For many decades, book covers were typically done by painters and illustrators. Since around the start of the 21st century, it became popular for graphic designers to create book covers using stock photography. Personally, I think using stock images is absolutely pathetic. I didn’t know anything about photography when I designed the images in The Gothic Rainbow, so I taught myself how to do things. There was no way I’d use some stock images created by someone else in order to represent something so personal and such a deep seeded aspect of my own creativity.

Therefore, all the pictures were taken by myself and a few were done by my then-girlfriend, Kathyrn. I worked on gathering those images for months, shooting photographs of my friends from the clubscene. I even went to the Cleveland Museum of Art and took shots of centuries-old paintings and masterworks of classic illustrators, so I could mix and blend those images into my photographs as well. I did all the work myself in Photoshop and in the end, I had made very surreal and moody collages that to this day I still feel do a great job of conveying the emotional tone and vibe of The Vampire Noctuaries duology.

When the full text of The Gothic Rainbow was finally finished, I borrowed a Canon StarWriter 30 word processor from John Rozack (uncle of my gradeschool friend Mike Rozack) to type the entire book and save it to 3.5″ floppy disks as a rich text file. That was brutal work. The machine had a thin little LED screen on it, so I could only see about one paragraph at time. Retyping close to 190,000 words, I was literally working about 16 to 20 hours a day, for 3 weeks straight. No breaks. No days off. I was typing about 9000 words a day. That was torture. But, I wanted to get it done as quickly as possible. It really pissed off Kathryn, because I literally didn’t see her once for that entire 3 weeks. We’d talk on the phone everyday, but we never got together face-to-face that whole time. I never left the house. I literally ate slept, showered, used the bathroom, and typed. What can I say? That’s what happens when you’re dating a writer who also happens to be a selfish jerk. Plus, I was really fueled by an intense hatred for all the people in my life who saw me as “lazy” because they don’t think writing is real work. So, I engaged in this self-induced psychotic marathon of typing as a way to slowly eviscerate myself in front of everyone just as a big way of saying, “Fuck you, I work harder than any of you can possibly imagine.”

When she discovered I had been creating a dark vampire novel, my grandmother commented that she wouldn’t have let me “waste all that time without a job if she knew I was writing that kind of junk.”

Ah, nothing like the emotional support of family.

Once I was ready to publish The Gothic Rainbow, I used a 1996 Macintosh Performa 6116CD and imported my original Canon StarWriter 30 rich text files into Claris Works 3.0. Incidentally, that Macintosh Performa was actually owned by the girlfriend whom I neglected for nearly a month. See, it’s true – jerks always get the cool chicks. Seriously, I’ll always be grateful to her for letting me do all that work on her computer, because I sure couldn’t afford one at the time. Really, I owe that all to Kathryn. I haven’t spoken to the girl in over 16 years, but I truly couldn’t have done it without her. Thanks again to John, Mike and Kathryn.

Anyhow, after everything was imported into Claris Works 3.0, I did all of my formatting, so I could print boards on a laserprinter to send to my printing company, McNaughton & Gunn, in Saline, Michigan. For those who don’t know, “boards” is a printing industry term for the final draft of printed pages that get photographed, so plates can be made to use on the offset lithography printing press. How did I find a printing company? Well, at first, I looked in the phone book and drove to a few local print shops in Cleveland and asked them about printing my book. As it turns out, most of them were incredibly expensive because most print shops needed to outsource books. I learned there were only about a dozen companies in the entire country with the ability to print books. Every other printer would outsource to them. I wasn’t sure how I’d find those other companies, so, I purchased a book called The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter and he had a list of printers in the back of his book. The idea was, you write an RFQ (which stands for “Request For Quotation”) to the printers and find out how much they would charge to print your book. Once you get all your RFQ’s back, you see who has the best price and that company becomes your printer. I started to send out a few, but, this was the days before email and I didn’t want to write a dozen letters. That was just too much work. Instead, I figured, “Wait a second! Dan Poynter would have already found the most economical printer for his own book! I’ll just ask him!” So, I called the phone number in the back of The Self-Publishing Manual and asked them where their book was printed and it was McNaughton & Gunn, in Saline, Michigan. Sure enough, once I got some RFQ’s back, McNaughton & Gunn offered the best prices.

Strange Coincidental Sidenote: Saline, Michigan is a very small town in the middle of nowhere. Back then, in 1996, they had a population of about 8000 people. It just so happens, not only was my first novel printed in that little town, but a tiny grass field airport in Saline, Michigan is also where I learned to aerotow hang gliders and became a licensed pilot. Very odd convergence of life experiences in the cornfields of Michigan. My first novel and my first solo flight as a hang glider pilot, both happened in Saline.

After the book was printed, the shipping company, ABF, trucked the books from Saline to Cleveland, but they refused to deliver the books to my doorstep, because 1000 copies of a 500 page book literally weighed about one ton. My girlfriend and I had to make 2 or 3 trips to their warehouse to retrieve my novels. We loaded the books into our cars and within a few hours of hefting them off an icy loading dock on a cold February night, they ended up on pallets in my grandparents basement.

So, that’s the whole process of how my first novel was created, between 1993 and 1997 in Cleveland, Ohio – written by hand, typed into a Canon word processor, formatted and printed on a Macintosh, sent to Michigan.

These days, all of my books are written in Los Angeles, where I’ve lived since 2003. I typically write my fiction on a Windows solid state laptop – namely a HP Pavilion dm3t-1100 Notebook. I never take it outside, or write in coffeeshops, or anything like that. I either write in my livingroom on my couch or I’m still writing in bed. I will typically use a text editor like EmEditor or Notepad++ to keep track of my outlines and all my notes and things. Consolidating all my notes into a text file replaces all the notebooks I had scattered around me. The actual books are written in Writer, the word processor in Apache Open Office 3.5. I really enjoy using the Open Office software because I can actually compose my book in the final format. Within the Open Office software, I set up my pages to the proper dimensions and I use the finalized font and everything. In other words, the book I see on my laptop screen looks exactly the way the actual printed book will appear. Obviously, I learned my lesson after handwriting my first novel and retyping it and reformatting it. I never wanted to put myself through anything like that again. I have to admit, composing on the laptop was a difficult transition to make. I missed my Bic pens. I missed my Mead notebooks. Psychologically, to change from composing novels handwritten to composing them while typing, was rather challenging. Handwriting was so natural and easy for me, it was actually very difficult to transition into writing on a keyboard. But I stuck with it and eventually, I retrained myself to compose comfortably on the computer and now I love it. It’s fantastic to just create the entire story right there in the final version. No retyping. No reformatting. There’s a great serenity in knowing I never have to go back and transcribe and every bit of formatting is finalized during the creation process; which obviously saves massive amounts of time, because I eliminated the need to spend weeks reworking the layout.

So, that’s pretty much it. Notepad++ for the outline, Open Office for the working and final draft.

As for the structure of the book from a technical standpoint, although I’m diligent about maintaining an ongoing archive of redundant backups, my approach is to make each chapter it’s own individual file. That way, if anything goes wrong and a file gets corrupted, I only lose a single chapter and not the entire book. Plus, working a chapter at a time also makes editing much easier. It’s quicker to jump to a chapter in individual files as opposed to scrolling through a 600 page document trying to find the page you’re looking for.

Speaking of editing, I don’t really have a set methodology for that. In the days of typewriters, you had a distinctive rough draft, first draft, final draft. I kind of just sit down and write for hours at a time. Then I might go back over the days work and try to tweak it a bit. Then I’ll usually just leave it alone until the entire book is done. Then I’ll go back over my book a chapter at a time and make sure the book is working. Check the flow from one chapter to the next. Pay attention to the pacing and the tone. Refine it. Tweak it. Move things around. Delete stuff. Add stuff. Whatever it takes. I just keep doing that, continually reviewing it, until it feels solid and really comes together.

Depending on the nature of the book, that process might take weeks or it might take months. Sometimes a story is really close to perfect right off the bat and you don’t need to tweak anything, you just kind of flesh out a few sentences and massage things together and it’s done. Other times, you might notice an entire aspect of the structure is wrong and you need to go back and make some major repairs to that original architecture.

So, as I said, there’s no such thing as a series of drafts for my stories. Editing and revising is a flowing, organic, ongoing, continual process until the book is completed. I know that was redundant but I was just trying to emphasize that the process is always churning along.

Once the book is done, all the individual chapters get inserted into a final single file. That final Open Office document gets converted to a PDF for submission to printing companies. Then I export another copy in HTML and I open that HTML file in Notepad++ to construct all the XHTML files to make my eBook. The XHTML process is rather long and arduous, but I have made a living as an Internet developer for over 15 years and spent almost half my career at Walt Disney Studios, so I have a lot of experience with programming and consequently, constructing an eBook isn’t all that hard for me.

As for the printed copies, those are set up with multiple companies. Doing things that way, simply allows for greater exposure of my books. Plus, if any of those companies goes out of business or their website goes down, readers can still go to a different distributor and buy a copy. There are a lot of authors out there who doesn’t seem to think that way. They will ask what company is the best and what company gives the most royalties and what company has the best printing and so forth. Personally, I think that’s ignorant. Why limit yourself? I believe that my books should be made available to my readership in as many different formats as possible from as many distributors as possible. Just makes a lot more sense to me.

The eBook versions are also available via multiple companies for the same reasons. Publishing through a diverse array of companies assures that the book is always available. Even if websites go down or companies go out of business, the redundancy of multiple distributors assures that my book will still be available regardless of those factors.

There you have it.

That is my fairly detailed explanation of how I write a book. The tools I use. The reasoning behind my methods. The locations and habits of how I write.

There are some authors who are very set in their ways. They never wish to deviate from the tried and true tools they have used in the past. As someone who has written short stories with electric typewriters, and formatted books with word processors, and written entire 190,000 word novels with pen and paper as well as laptop computers, I find that the tools don’t matter. Ultimately, the words are the only things that count. The tools used to compose those words are insignificant. The stories themselves are of the essence. Regardless if the words reach the reader by paperback or hardcover or audiobook or ebook or were written on typewriters or laptops or pens or chalk on a sidewalk, it makes no difference. The tools used to compose the stories (and the format in which they are presented) is irrelevant. The words themselves are the art. The words are the treasure. The value is in what the stories have to say, not in how they were created. The process of creation is inconsequential. The way a magician does his tricks is meaningless. What matters is the sense of wonder conjured in the magic.

Something You Don’t Know About Book Covers

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“I use a library the same way I’ve been describing the creative process as a writer — I don’t go in with lists of things to read, I go in blindly and reach up on shelves and take down books and open them and fall in love immediately. And if I don’t fall in love that quickly, shut the book, back on the shelf, find another book, and fall in love with it. You can only go with loves in this life.”
- Ray Bradbury

For those writers keen to design their own book covers, I wanted to share some graphic design tips that no one else has ever told them. Yes, it is once again burdened unto me to educate the world on something that no one else is aware of and I and I alone must rescue the teeming masses from their ignorance. Hey, it’s a thankless job, but someone has to waste their lifetime making the lemmings notice the cliff. Still standing in the rye like Holden Caulfield, waiting to catch them.

The tip is simply this – stop ignoring the rules of medieval heraldry! Be sure to follow that shit!

No, that’s not a joke. I’m completely serious. Most designers don’t know anything about the rules of medieval heraldry because they don’t teach that in basic design classes in school and I know if they’re a self-taught designer, they definitely have no fucking clue what I’m talking about. So, let’s start with a history lesson.

Back in the middle ages, households and kingdoms developed heraldic symbols that were used on shields during battle.

Today, most people ignorantly presume that such crests were done for ego. To announce to the enemy, “I’m King Fancypants! Beware my wrath!”

But no. That was not the reason. The reason was to identify friend from foe in the chaos of battlefields.

Have you ever been part of a medieval conflict with vast numbers of people fighting each other at the same time? Perhaps the closest you have come to such a thing is watching Lord Of The Rings and Braveheart. And believe me, movies do not do it justice. I have been there. I’ve lived it. I have been in the midst of medieval battlefields. I’ve seen it first hand.

Pennsic War.

I’m not going to bother explaining when and where the Pennsic War took place. I’ll let you figure it out. Look it up. Educate yourself. Some of you will think I’m claiming to be a time traveler. Some of you will presume I’m lying. And that small handful of you are now chucking to yourselves, because you know exactly what I’m talking about. After standing upon the battlefields of Pennsic, with wave after wave of lords and ladies fighting in sword to sword combat, I was finally able to understand the benefits of medieval heraldry for the first time.

In the middle of the fray, it instantaneously becomes crystal clear. Thanks to your shield device, the emblazon allows you to identify your comrades from hundreds of feet away. Even amidst the frenzy and anarchy of such a skirmish, it is easy to instantly spot your allies. There’s Duke Sir Laurlen, 50 feet to the right. There’s Sir Theodric, 30 feet behind me. Ah, I see Calum is still standing – oops. Maybe not.

Most people have never witnessed warfare like that. But imagine being at an amusement park, or a giant concert, surrounded by thousands of people, and having the ability to easily identify your brother or sister when they are 100 feet away. That is what the heraldry of shields was all about. It was far more than simply blocking swords and arrows. Your shield also doubled as a giant billboard to say, “I’m Prince Eric. If we’re on the same side and I’m 200 feet away, please don’t smash me with the catapult!”

What does all of this have to do with book covers?


Just like a medieval shield on the battlefield, you want your book cover to stand out. To be bold. Identifiable.

Unbeknownst to most mundane folks, there are very strict rules regarding color combinations for medieval heraldry. Those who established these rules, and regulated this artistry, are known as “heralds”. Heralds learned that certain combinations of colors provide a more stark contrast than others. Thus, all shield crests are designed to follow these rules. That way, you can spot your King from 500 feet across the battlefield and you can make sure that your archers won’t accidentally shoot him.

What are these sharply contrasting colors used in heraldry?

Well, the hues (known as “tinctures”) of heraldry are divided primarily into 5 colors and 2 metals. (There are also patterns called “furs” but for the sake of brevity and clarity, I’m excluding those from this explanation.)


  • Gules (Red)

  • Purpure (Purple)
  • Azure (Blue)
  • Sable (Black)
  • Vert (Green)


  • Argent (Silver/White)

  • Or (Gold/Yellow)

Not to be confused with “emblazon” which is the actual picture on the shield, the word “blazon” means a way of verbally describing a heraldic coat of arms. The language of blazoning also involves strict rules of vocabulary and arrangement. By adhering to these strict rules, it allows heralds a means to record and reproduce shield devices, based purely on a vocabulary description. For example, the simple blazon, “Sable, a lion rampant or” looks like this:

Based upon the specific phrasing of that blazon, that shield will always be drawn the exact same way, by any herald.

Heraldic rules are very sophisticated and I’m not going to turn this into a lesson on heraldic studies. However, there is one very important rule in heraldry I want to get across and that is – you never combine colors with colors or metals with metals.

For example, you never put green lettering on black. You never put black lettering on purple. You never put white lettering on yellow.

You can put black on white. You can put blue on gold. You can put gold on purple. And so forth.

You always combine a color with a metal.

And that is what you need to remember when you’re designing a book cover. By following that one basic rule of heraldry, titles on your book covers will have the most stark contrast and therefore, they will remain vibrant and easy to read when they are shrunken down into tiny thumbnails or blown up into posters.

Now, for those who don’t believe me, or think this is anachronistic and outdated, because who cares about medieval heraldry, allow me to prove they are idiots.

You personally use medieval heraldry every single day you leave your house. Can you guess where?

Street signs.

Believe it or not, all street signs, in countries all over the world, conform to the heraldic tincture rules established hundreds of years ago. Colors on metals. Metals on colors. Stop signs are gules with argent lettering. Deer crossings are “Or, a deer rampant sable”. The names of streets are azure with argent lettering. Speed limit signs are argent with sable lettering. One way streets are sable signs with argent arrows containing sable lettering. Just like the shields on a medieval battlefield, modern day traffic signs all conform to the tincture rules of heraldry, so you can read them clearly from a far distance.

Thus, I invite you to work at following the rules of medieval heraldry when titling your book covers. You may presume such an idea is contrived and obsolete, when in fact, it’s based upon principals that you use every single day, you just never knew you were doing it.

And, yes, you will notice that all of my books do follow the rules of heraldic color contrasts. My vampire duology was intended to look like tooled leather, so they are not exactly conforming to heraldic tinctures, but there is a slight darkening to black around the gold lettering, to make it stand out more.

I practice what I preach, ladies and gentlemen.

One last note, I have studied art and I made a living as a graphic designer for many years, doing everything from magazine advertisements to sales campaigns for multi-million dollar retail markets. In addition, I do all my own photography and have sold my work in art galleries and photographed Playboy models like Katie Lohmann, Pamela Mars and Gwendolyn Sweet, so I know what the hell I’m doing and I can design my own covers. However, due to my extensive experience as a designer, I can also concede when something is beyond my capabilities. When I require artwork that exceeds my skillset, for example a great illustration or painting, I would not hesitate to hire an artist who is better than me, and art direct the covers.

Most self-published authors should probably follow my example and stop trying to do their own covers. Your book covers make you look like fucking douchebags. Seriously. Most self-published nimrods design book covers that look like they were drawn in fucking crayons by an eight year old. Okay? Readers should definitely judge your book by the cover, because if the writer makes a shitty cover they clearly didn’t create with care, it’s safe to presume the writing will be utter trash too. Please, authors, stop trying to make bookcovers and just hire someone better than you and let them do their job.

On second thought, I take all of that back. I’m sorry. Nevermind. Since those writers clearly don’t really care about the overall quality of what they are publishing, keep those shitty covers. Horrendous covers provide a fair warning to discerning readers they shouldn’t ever bother to read such trash. We’d hate to give readers the impression that these writers actually cared to produce work of quality. Right? That wouldn’t be very noble. At least those crappy covers reflect some honesty. You horrible authors, keep on truckin’ with that tripe.