Yearly Archives: 2014

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?

Simple.

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.)

Colors:

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

Metals:

  • 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.

With Enemies Like That, Who Needs Friends?

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“At forty-two I had come to that point in my life toward which I’d struggled since I’d been a child: a place of security, importance, recognition. The only one from this town who had made it. The ones who had had the most promise in school were now milkmen, used car salesmen, married to fat, stupid dead women who had, themselves, been girls of exceeding promise in high school. They had been trapped in this little Ohio town, never to break free. To die there, unknown. I had broken free, had done all the wonderful things I’d said I would do.”
– Harlan Ellison “One Life, Furnished In Early Poverty”
 

I’m a liar. I’m a fraud. I’m a hypocrite.

For my lifetime of posturing and preaching about pursuing your dreams and making your wishes and hopes come true, I’ve never done it myself. I’ve never even tried.

I know what you’re thinking. “Yes, you have, Eric! You do everything you dream! You became a licensed hang glider pilot soaring over a mile above the earth. You moved to Hollywood with no job and ended up working for Walt Disney. You’re a published novelist. You go skateboarding in California pools with girls who win medals in the XGames. You’re an award-nominated filmmaker. Your photography has appeared in art galleries and you’ve worked with Playboy Playmates and television stars. You date fashion models. You’re an equestrian. A motorcyclist. You’ve been dragged by horses and fallen off motorcycles and you’re badass enough to still be walking and talking about it. What haven’t you done?”

Well, the truth is, all I ever really wanted to do, the only way I ever truly wanted to make a living, was as a novelist. Nothing else. All the other things I have achieved in my life are things I’m happy about, and proud of, and certainly grateful to have experienced, and my varied career choices have been honestly fun and enjoyable. But I have never sincerely pursued my one great passion. I have never even attempted to make a living as a novelist. I’ve never attempted it. I’ve never submitted a single manuscript for publication. Not one book. Not one essay. Nothing. I’ve never queried an agent. Worst of all, in my efforts to self-publish my work, I only spend a couple of months doing any marketing and promotions before I grow bored and just give up on it.

Earning a cushy 6-figures a year as a novelist – as a career, that is the biggest and oldest dream I have ever possessed. And I have never even tried to make that dream happen. Not really tried. Only half-heartedly.

I’m ashamed of that. I feel like such a putz.

Worst of all, I lied to myself. I convinced myself that simply writing novels was enough. I told myself that the act of creation was the only reward I required. But it is precisely because that bliss of creation is genuinely sublime, that it’s not enough. The work must earn a living for the artist, simply as a way to assure the creative process can be maintained for a majority of all their days. The addiction to art must be fueled by the success of the addiction.

That’s why I’m a liar and a hypocrite.

I always tell people to pursue their passions and personally, I have only ever pursued my own passion in a half-assed way.

No one has ever noticed. No one has ever called me out on it. Not until a few months ago, one person brought it up. But no one else ever has. I have written novels. I have published novels. Therefore, I can legitimately call myself a novelist and no one can contend that fact. That’s all I need in order to “fake it” and trick the world. Make everyone think I’m “going for my dreams” when I’m really not.

Often have I complained that friends and family have never had much faith in me. Not that they expect me to fail. They just seem indifferent to the outcome.

Oh, sure, they say the right things. I might occasionally hear a “that’s great” or a “good for you.” But no one who says that ever means it. If they were genuinely supportive, they’d actually purchase and read my books. None of them bother to do that and actions do speak louder than words. Anyone can say they are supportive. Another thing to truly be supportive. Friends of mine have actually posted on websites about other people they know publishing books, but they never bothered to mention any of the numerous books I’ve written. In fact, I knew one girl who was doing a fundraiser for her dance troupe on the Internet and I tried to help her out and I reposted her promotions all over my social media sites. Getting the word out for her as best I could. When I asked her to return the favor and let people know about my latest book release, you know what she said? She said she didn’t have time to promote my stuff, because she had to focus on her own project right now.

See? I’m telling you, I truly don’t have any friends. I have numerous acquaintances and selfish fucking assholes. The friends slot is full of cobwebs.

Heck, I’ve even put some friends in my books as cameo characters, and those people never read my books either. Some people who have been part of the artwork and images in a few of my novels have never bothered to read the book. Obviously, this is not indicative of the quality of the story. Not like the writing is bad, so they can’t stomach reading it. No. They don’t even pick up their copy of the book in the first place. When friends don’t even care enough to read a book you have written them into, are they really friends at all? Perhaps I’m mislabeling mere acquaintances with more credit than they actually deserve.

Therein lies another way in which I’m a hypocrite. So frequently I claim to not care that friends and family show no support. Truth be told, it bothers me a lot. I am always nagged by that same concern: “If the people who supposedly care about my fortune and success, don’t really give a shit, why would anyone else? If these people don’t care enough to read my books, who will?”

Then, I finally realized something.

I finally realized I had it backwards.

I realized I was being unfair. If I truly want to be a successful author, the key is to discover and cultivate fans. To nurture an audience. People who will appreciate my books because of the writing, not because they know me. And that audience must consist of hundreds of thousands of people, not a few dozen friends and family. If I sincerely want to make my dreams a reality, I need to think on a much larger scale and fans are the people I have to rely upon. No one else matters. Not friends. Not family. Not old coworkers. Not former classmates. Those people serve very different purposes in life. Friends and family are not here to help me realize my ambitions. That is not their job. To imbue them with such an expectation is my failing, not theirs.

The people I need to care about are the ones who value what I create. No one else. I used to think successful “marketing” meant I needed to share my literary accomplishments with everyone. All the time. Starting with friends and family. Now I realize that was never the proper attitude. Success stems from sharing your craft with the people who give a damn. Sharing it with anyone else is a waste of time. Regardless of whether they are friends, family, or strangers – if they don’t support and share an enthusiasm for your work, they are useless to your success. Throw those people overboard. So long as they are uninterested or cynical toward your achievements, they have no place in your journey to fulfill your dreams and ambitions. Get rid of them. Banish them from your life.

Perhaps I was wrong all along. Perhaps for some of us, friends and loved ones are never meant to be supportive. Perhaps their role is to play our villains. Perhaps in the stories of our lives, they are destined to be our antagonists. The ones who doubt us. The ones who push us. The ones who test our mettle and force us to hold firm in our convictions. The ones who challenge our resolve and thereby strengthen our commitment to attaining the goal. They are the embodiment of all which threatens to usurp our determination. They are the first monsters we must defeat. They are the teachers who show us how to defy the world and prevail against everyone who opposes us.

To be a writer, you walk the path alone. There are no friends. There are no confidants. No comrades nor compatriots. There are no crowds on the sidelines cheering you to victory. To bear this task is to tread through desolation. To be abandoned. To be forgotten.

On the road to nowhere, you shall cleave no companionship.

How glorious. To gaze about and see you need not tarry for anyone to keep pace, you need not be impeded by any who presume to detour your journey.

The quest be a lifetime. And what a triumphant trail lay before thee.

BOOK REVIEW: “Faeries” by Brian Froud & Alan Lee

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“What does it matter if something is old? Charles Dickens said any book you haven’t read is a new book. What does it matter whether it’s old?… I don’t understand what this lemming-like dementia is about constantly having new stuff. When was the last time you read the totality of Steinbeck or Faulkner or Katherine Anne Porter or Shirley Jackson? Everybody always wants something new, new, new – and that’s what’s killing life for writers. This dementia for ‘new’ is ridiculous. It turns everybody into a back number… We’re dealing with a more and more illiterate and amnesiac constituency. It’s impossible to get a readership that will follow you, because all they know is what they knew yesterday… And so when I hear this what-are-you-doing-lately thing, or that the Edgeworks books are bringing back all of my older books, I say, ‘Yeah, they’re real old books – like five years old!’ See, I do go off on these things. And if you ask the wrong question, I get real cranky.”
– Harlan Ellison
 

Faeries by Brian Froud is unique among any books I’ve ever read. The book is part reference manual, part artist sketchbook, part short story compendium, and some would dare say, part anthropological fieldguide. Faeries isn’t a book that can be neatly tucked into a tidy description. Like the author Brian Froud, Faeries is truly in a class by itself.

Written and illustrated by Brian Froud and Alan Lee (mostly known for his conceptual design work on The Lord of The Rings films and his uncredited design of Legend by Ridley Scott), Brian is a world-renown fantasy artist and author of several books featuring his second-sight hypnogogic images of the realms of faerie. In addition to his wonderful illustrative talents, Brian Froud is also responsible for the conceptual design of timeless films such as Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. He also worked on the wonderful Jim Henson television series The Storyteller.

During the summer of 2003, I had the great honor of meeting Brian Froud, two days in a row. The first time we met was at the illustrious Labyrinth Masquerade Ball (which took place in Santa Monica that year) and the next time we met was at a little curio shop where he was doing a book signing, I believe somewhere over in Brentwood.

Wonderful gentleman. At the Masquerade Ball, I hung out with Brian, and his lovely wife Wendy, and I chatted with their son Toby for a time as well. Wendy is an incredible artist in her own right, helping design characters such as Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and the gelflings Jen and Kira in The Dark Crystal. Wendy and I discovered that I actually used to take family vacations up near the little town in Michigan where she was born, Traverse City. We reminisced about that for awhile and had a great chat. We hung out for a good hour or so, just talking. That was when they told me about the signing the next day and invited me to come along. Strangely enough, no one seemed to recognize Brian or Wendy Froud, so they weren’t being swarmed by people pleading for autographs or anything. We were kicking back in a little lounge area, all by ourselves, overlooking a wrought-iron balcony onto hundreds of people who were milling about on the dancefloor and socializing in other parts of the ball.

The next day, I arrived at the book signing about 2 hours early, because I wasn’t interested in getting anything signed, but I simply wanted to hang out with Brian and Wendy again. And it was wonderful because, once again, no one had shown up yet. We had the shop all to ourselves on a quiet Saturday morning and we sat around having a charming conversation in this quaint and lovely little store for a good hour or so. And that was it. I never kept in touch with the Froud family. I never saw them or met them again. On two unassuming summer days in 2003 in Los Angeles, I just had one pleasant evening and one serene morning of hanging out with some of the greatest fantasy artists of my time.

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re wondering why the hell I’m talking about hanging out with Brian Froud when this is supposed to be a review of his Faeries book. What does my stupid Hollywood namedropping have to do with the book? Right? But talking about hanging out with Brian Froud does make for a legitimate review of the Faeries book, because his visionary talent ties into who he is as a person, as well as the artwork of the book. When an author like myself is writing a novel, that’s a makebelieve story that may only reflect a fractional facet of my own personality. Faeries is the type of book that reflects an integral part of who Brian Froud happens to be. So, telling you that he and I shared a delightful discussion during a magical moment is very relevant to reviewing Faeries.

Faeries has been in print for over 20 years and for good reason. Faeries is an endless well of inspiration, influencing the imagination of tattoo artists and novelists alike. Brian Froud images have ended up on the hips of beautiful women and the Celtic legends have imbued novels like my own. The stories and faerie tales contained in Faeries are dreamy and compelling and stand as an enchanting combination of newly invented fiction combined with age old folklore. The artwork is enrapturing and every pencil-line, every brush-stroke promises to reveal new secrets each time the book is opened. You will constantly find yourself discovering a treasure trove of images and imaginings you never saw before. Imbued with the magic to constantly unveil itself to you, the book is something you will return to again and again. Because the images hold such richness and detail, everytime you read the book, it will feel like you are opening up to pages you had never noticed before.

Movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and Legend are loathed and derided by most of the world because most of the world is filled with zombies and devils and those who are dead to all magic. The few of us who love these movies and these worlds are of a different breed. Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and Legend speak to a very particular and peculiar type of person. Those films are still cherished as the favorite movies of certain people, even 30 years after they were made. To me, that kind of ageless appeal correlates directly to the spirit imbued into those motion pictures though the magic of Brian Froud’s vision. Brian Froud sees the world in a way that all of us instinctively understood as children, yet we soon forget. Brian has never forgotten. Brian never lost sight of how the world looked when we were still young enough to know that magic truly exists. Only when we become older do we become stupid and uneducated and robbed of our wisdom. As children, we are still insightful enough to recall what the world really looks like. That is why all of Brian Froud’s artwork looks so familiar. From movies to television to books like Faeries, we have all seen these worlds before. We know them. We remember them. Somewhere in our collective subconscious, we remember when The Crystal cracked. We were there when the Skeksis and the Mystics appeared. We have been lost in that very same labyrinth before. We know those walls. We can still feel their texture.

How is it that we know those things?

Why do we remember that stuff?

How does Brian Froud recall enough to reconstruct those dreamscapes on movie sets and in the pages of Faeries?

Pick up a copy of Faeries for yourself and you’ll start to find the answers. I’m willing to bet the images will all look a little familiar to you. You’ve seen these seelie and unseelie courts before. In dreams. In nightmares. In childhood memories you’re not sure really happened or did you make them up? You know you’ve seen these creatures somewhere before. For some of us, you’ll love a book like Faeries, because it always reminds you of home.