Oh, we’re so very close. This is just a line drawing of the final design. I had gotten used to seeing the ‘straight on’ view of the Bride – so when Mike dropped this different perspective in my lap, I was immediately in love. Stay tuned for the final cover reveal tomorrow!
[Sketches for the cover illustration of The Riddle Box, my upcoming novel. I’m showing off the design process and sketches this week before the final reveal of the cover.]
And then things got a little weird. As often happens, Mike surprises me with a design that I love, but has very little connection to what we had originally been working on.
Now, I love this illustration. We had some discussions about going with a very evocative image on the cover, instead of something directly related to the plot. The mystery transpires in the Manor of the Heart-Broken Lion in the novel – and Mike really responded to that. We ultimately decided to go back to the original trajectory, but SPOILER ALERT: this sketch will find its way onto the back paperback cover of the book and potentially tattooed into my flesh at some point.
[Sketches for the cover illustration of The Riddle Box, my upcoming novel. I’m showing off the design process and sketches this week before the final reveal of the cover.]
And so it begins. I am beyond excited to reveal the cover to my upcoming novel, The Riddle Box…but I have been over-quiet on the blog of late – so I’m going to need to ramp up to it. Just clog up your feeds with me for a few days, that’s basically what I want. I thought it might be fun to show a little bit of the process by releasing the sketches that lead up to the final design, before revealing the final cover on Saturday.
First the OG cover design, made by yours truly. YES, bask in its awfulness.
I think it’s safe to say that this cover is amazing. Sadly it requires a refined artistic sense to truly appreciate, so it’s probably for the best that I went for something a little more mass market.
All of the art you will see henceforth in this series will be from my illustrator, Mike Groves. [poopbird.com]. You should immediately click over there and take a gander at his work – it is delightful and amazing. The sketches I’m sharing here are rough and you should do yourself a favor and look at more of his finished stuff. He is the perfect person to draw zombies or robots for you. Fans of the first book will immediately recognize his style from the cover of Spell/Sword – I was really fortunate that he had time in his hectic schedule to work on the cover for The Riddle Box.
And now – the first sketch.
I can tell you, my heart skipped a beat when I saw this thumbnail. The book’s lived in my head for so long, to see even this sketch of my heroes got me ludicrously pumped. The final design came a long way from this starting point – here would be a good point to thank Mike for his patience with my endless vague emails and texts during the design process.
Stay tuned throughout the week for more sketches and then…DUN DUN DUNNNN…the Final Cover Reveal.
Gasp! It’s happened. In preparation for the release of The Riddle Box, I am permanently reducing the first book down to .99 on Amazon for your shiny Kindle. I’m also going to be removing the Kindle exclusivity this summer, so Spell/Sword ebooks can be made available on Smashwords and iTunes. The paperback will remain available on Amazon, but can also be ordered through Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore. I personally recommend Avid Bookshop if you live near Athens, GA – it’s my ‘home’ bookstore, and the paperback is the lowest cost on the planet there exclusively. I can also walk over and creepily watch you buy my book, if you’re into that.
Here are some quick links if you’re still on the fence now that I have reduced my brain-baby to a paltry dollar. One is to Goodreads, where there are a pretty wide-spread of reviews, one is to a mystery location that has nothing to do with my book at all.
A quiet house, a quiet street. These are rare things in the gnome city of Spice, the Underneath Wonder, the Kitchen Sink of Possibility. Gnomes are not known for their reserve or their placidity – not in architecture nor in decorum. An odd race with preposterous origins they delight in creation, invention, and discovery. Each house an adventure, a riot of red brick and gleaming neon next to a circular wooden palisade surrounded by orange roses. A miniuature castle built on top of a slightly larger castle, a tree fort where the leaves are kites, an empty grass lot with nothing besides a red sleeping bag and fifteen gray rabbits nibbling away. The streets of Spice are equally as likely to feature a nude poetry slam, an impromptu cooking contest, a cross-city game of Freeze Tag, and a hotly contested riddle-sing as the mundane traffic of work and market.
In the City of Oddments, normal is the bizarre. In the Town of Tura-lura-ay, quiet is an unwelcome stranger.
But still, a quiet house and quiet street. The house was large, a sweeping bluestone with wide windows. A friendly place, a children warren, the marks of young gnomes are everywhere in forgotten chalk drawings on the walls and semi-functional doorknobs and shower curtains wrenched askew by the unknown sagas of youthful adventure. Perhaps it is the late hour that makes it so quiet, even gnomes must sleep – the better to dream a better world to make when they burst forth into the waking hours of their lives. The scratchy symphony of a double-dozen snores came from the open windows. The children are asleep, all the lights are out, it is quite late. Perhaps this is why it is so quiet in the quiet house and the quiet street.
But that is not the reason.
One window glows golden in the cool evening. A golden doorway, soon darkened by a crouched, dark shadow.
Carbunkle looked up from his chair and hookah without surprise. The shadow hesitated at the window-sill, seeming to dim the shining lamp-light. The Black Moon was full, or Maero as her name was now known. The old librarian could not see the moon, but he knew it was there all the same. Just as he had known the quiet and made sure his sometime-squeeze Scarlet and her filthy monkey would not stop in for a visit tonight.
“I’m always a little surprised to find this window open,” the shadow said, flipping its legs over into the room.
Carbunkle said nothing, just took a slow drag from his hookah. This conversation, or one like it, had repeated itself a few times across the months and years, his visitor would come to the point without any assistance.
“Yes, I know I always say that,” black-glass eyes glittered with ferocious amusement. “As I know you take great delight in thinking yourself the cleverer one.”
The shadow edged itself into the room, keeping one claw on the window sill — as if for comfort, to keep escape close at hand. It wore only a scrap of white fabric, rough-edged. It’s skin was obsidian. It seemed to find the simple lamplight disgusting, like a haze or foul stench.
“I don’t even really know why I return here, why we have these little chats from time to time. I have work enough, great works and discoveries beginning to bud out there in the world. I and my brethren sing to the moons and dance with them. It is so beautiful, so beautiful. I wish you could see it, it is ..astonishing..no more, an astonishment. Wonder, endless wonder spreading like ivy across the unknowing world.”
Carbunkle began to reply, but his shadow forged ahead.
“I often wonder if yours was the better choice, but when I doubt I just look on the face of my Dark Lady. And then I am sure.” The shadow smiled and cocked its head to one side. “But on some nights…like this one…”
The old librarian nodded agreement from his chair. They both knew what night this was.
“Do you still remember…” the shadow reluctant turned to look out the window. “Do you still remember the first time we saw her?”
Carbunkle sighed and nodded.
“Please. Please tell me,” the shadow implored. “I know I’ve asked this again and again, but tell me. Tell me again. This time I’ll remember, this time I’ll hold it longer. I remembered the anniversary, I remembered the exact day. The day she died. This year, at least. Now please, please tell me.”
The old librarian looked at the dark thing, at his shadow, at the Other Choice and made himself smile. He smiled because this pain he understood quite well.
And so he told the story again. About Saraghina, the Sorceress Supreme. The day they saw her walking through the library, how they saw her pull a pack of ginger cookies from her sleeve and nibble on them as she read, the greatest wonder of all – that such a luminous being could eat cookies and spill crumbs and be real. He told the story again in the quiet night, on the quiet street – between golden lamp and dark moon. The two remembered together.
And then the shadow was gone and Carbunkle locked the window tight behind it.
Or the second-to-worst blogger. Or the knee-high-to-a-june-bug blogger.
Okay, there was a point. I think a lot of people use social media, their blogs, Tumblrs as a natural forum to discuss their experiences, their feelings, whatever dark gloom sits on their heart at any particular space-time juncture. And I envy them. I honestly envy them. Even as I find some of the salient details and naked emotion at play, I don’t know, embarrassing?
That’s the word, it just seems so vulnerable, so undefended. It makes me feel awkward, like watching a movie with an extremely mortifying social situation. My entire psyche is built around defense, guarded input, measured output. I’m built on an old Chevy chassis, the better to conceal the weird, quiet kid inside with flair and panache multifarious. I kind of built a new me through middle school and high school, and now I’m kind of stuck with some of the strange architecture. A lot of it has been broken, admittedly — through tragic events and the stubborn ministrations of my Beloved. But ultimately, I’m still running DOS, underneath all of the upgrades. Control what people see of me, do not react, weave the perceptions of others into a better version of me. if you know my true-name, then you have power over me, my spells won’t work, my incantations will fail.
So, when others write in a little shining box, ‘I’m hurt. I’m upset. Here is the reason that I am hurt and upset.’ I recoil a little bit, not because I think less of them, but because I can’t fathom the risk they are taking. And I feel superior, because that’s the salve of the insecure. You don’t get the emotional rewards of understanding, comfort, community, sharing — but you can twist yourself into knots and feel superior about your strength, or your isolation, or your wise, wise ways.
I’ve learned in recent years to work past the knee-jerk. Where before I would keep my hurt between my teeth for as long as it took to fade, now I still bite down – – but then slowly let go to a trusted few. Well, some of the time.
Okay, very rarely, but some times.
Which is stupid, right? It’s like being hit with a cannonball, and buttoning your shirt over the wound. “I…I got it, I’ll just ride it out. ” Letting the metal cool and sear inside you, then carrying the weight and carrying the weight and carrying the weight. And since you don’t let anyone else help, your mind has to process the metal somehow.
So I write stories.
Well, it’s not quite that simple of a correlation. I don’t write because I have shit to deal with, it’s just a convenient place to launder my emotional drug-money.
And it’s not like I’m writing simple allegories. I don’t sit down and assign roles to my pain. As is no surprise to many, I’m not a ‘plotter’, I don’t really use outlines or character charts. My writing prep is generally opening a document and typing. The story’s already out there, in the ether, in the stone, just got to tune the radio between my ears the right way, and I’ll get it.
My subconscious is my co-author. When I go back and edit, or read old stories, I’ll have little to no memory of writing certain details, or when exactly I made certain decisions. It’s like reading something a stranger wrote. And it’s not in the individual moments or scenes that I start to see the pattern, it’s in the long scope. Repeated characters and colors and things that I discover are baked into the bedrock of my fiction. Masked men, holes in the wall, precursors, music, fallen mentors, empty halls, shadows, love, and death.
I’m trying to say something. I’m trying to say something to myself.
And that’s what The Riddle Box is about.
Things that I’m afraid of, things that I believe in. The only way I can explore my interior is through slow interrogation of my sub-conscious. There are moments in the book that make my skin crawl. Because it’s very close to true. It’s very close to taking a risk. It’s very close to pulling out the cannonball. I’m sure most writers understand this, there are words that you carry, lines and bits of description, words that matter. You keep them inside your head, little touchstones of yourself, little puzzle pieces in your pocket until you find the right puzzle. I gave some of them away to the Riddle Box. I gave Rime my younger self’s words, I gave the man in the blue coat the words of vision, I gave the killer the words of the end. There are words I gave in the prologue that break my heart.
[No spoilers. Not even while I lay on the divan with my arm flung athwart my pale brow.]
I’m trying to say something. With this book, with the long journey of Rime and Jonas. I don’t know quite what it is, but as writer, or at least as a me…you point your fingers at the part that hurts and start typing. Maybe it will all make sense when I finish.
Or maybe it won’t. Ha, is this dramatic irony? I’ll bet my readers are fully aware of what I’m getting at, and none of them have thought to share.
This post will probably make more sense when anyone other than me has read Riddle Box.
So, now, even I’m confused. What was the point of this? This post? The vague feeling of unease left at the end of the road, when you can’t remember how many crows you saw, or how many trees with no leaves. Did I even travel, was I even there? Is this the same me that started typing?
I’m not 100% sure. Is this even the same dimension? We slip, you know. Often in our dreams, but not uncommonly between blinks or when we check around the corner.
[This is the perfect single post to show how ridiculous and wonderful this narrative can be. I get to have a mysterious instructor dropping a sick line, a dream-sequence with a Shakespearean quote, and a Bear man cursing in a Scooby-Doo voice all in one post. Oh delight. Ain’t no better writing workshop then staying ahead of my Players. ]
“Five minutes? An hour, two? A day, a week, a year? None of these are truly enough to cover the breadth of the subject, but it helps me better tailor my lesson plan,” the dark-haired instructor said calmly.
The three men spoke in turn, right to left.
“I am the Villain,” said the blindfolded man.
“I am a tale told by a fool,” said the Man in the Hat. “Signifying nothing.”
“My name is August Wood. Please, I don’t know where I am. Can you tell me where I am?” the final man in the white sash implored.
The Man did not seem to react to Zephyr’s administrations, his eyes tightly shut. She surveyed the room with calm and noticed two things, which also became immediately apparent to the other cadets clustered in the room.
The lights on EMBER’s main console were blinking, and beginning to grow visibly dimmer.
The two young children, the two Marks were nowhere to be seen, neither was the time-controlling Green-Glass Node.
Bear-Lucht clapped his massive paws over his eyes and cursed, “RHOO RHIIIITTTTT.”
Sorry, I’ve been super quiet on the blog lately. Kefka isn’t going to defeat himself.
In the never-ending quest to get more copies of my book out there in the world, I’ve enrolled the book in Kindle’s new Matchbook service. This is where when you buy
the paperback copy, you can then get the Kindle version at a reduced rate. And because I am a benevolent and kind author/publisher I have made the Kindle version free when you purchase the paperback. This also means, if you’ve bought the Paperback version previously, you can login to Amazon and download the Kindle version for free RIGHT FREAKING NOW.
I still remain committed to the belief that people reading my books is FAR more important than people buying the book, so please don’t be shy. I’m also running another Free Download special of the book in November, if you have friends on the fence about giving the book a shot.
“VAGABONDER.” Talitha called sweetly at the top of her lungs. “HEY, VAGABONDER.”
There was no immediate sign of her engineer, so she took a moment to enjoy the sprawling mad-tumble of her ship’s cargo bay. The interior was all darkwood, gleaming with fresh seal and polish, the sizable bay split into five sections — four small rooms in each corner: the Galley, Toolroom, Engineer’s Quarters, and Miscellaneous Stuff — with the main floor-space occupied by the Floatstone Engine.
The blonde girl smiled as she approached. Something about the cool magenta light and sedate turn of the stone always made her feel good. The main part of the
engine was in the center of the bay, on a raised platform. A vast glass cylinder lay on its side, over twice her height in diameter, capped on each end with brass and steel, bristling with lights, toggles, and wires — the largest of which fed down into the under-deck of the ship, and up into a massive console that sat adjacent. But her eyes were only for the stone, the Floatstone. It was roughly shaped like a potato, pocked and asymmetrical. It neatly filled its glass container, spinning in a calm gyre. Talitha knew that if the stone were ever removed from the Engine, it would shoot right through the roof and never stop going until it left this planet behind.
Maybe I can strap myself to it. The captain’s plan wasn’t quite as reckless as Floatstone Riding, but she would work on a saddle just in case. Ultimately, it would have the same effect as her current strategy. Out. Out and about.
“Okay, seriously. Where are you?” the blonde girl spun slowly.
Her engineer swung into view, not from his quarters or the Galley as she had expected. But horizontally from behind some nearby crates, as if he were standing on the righthand wall of the bay.
“Oh, Captain!” the tall goblin’s olive-green face split in a bemused smile. “What a pleasure, what a delight!”
Talitha walked over and saw that her engineer was wearing his Molasses Moccasins, a cunning device of his own design that allowed him to stick to surfaces as ably as most spiders and some roaches. It also left a dank, black residue everywhere he walked, requiring furious scrubbing with a mop on an extended pole when he would complete his wall-walking jaunts. There were several magical objects that had an identical effect without all the sticky goo and cleanup, but Talitha had learned early that her Engineer had a particular way of doing things. his own primrose path of popcorn and baling wire– and often would come upon most peculiar solutions on his way.
The Vagabonder slowly squelched down the wall, more of his tall form coming into view. He was nearly seven-feet tall, with a wild brush of cotton-white hair a stark contrast to his green skin. Long, spidery fingers danced on a control cluster hanging from his belt, and absently pushed the delicate safety glasses he always wore up onto his forehead. Talitha had bought him some proper goggles, steel reinforced with smoked lenses — but he had politely refused, much preferring the transparent plastic ones he favored that could be bought by the box at any well-appointed lab supply store. She had never known him by any other name than ‘The Vagabonder’ and he seemed to require nothing further. Only time to explore and improve his one true love, the Lodestar.
The goblin slid out of his moccasins and placed them delicately in a nearby pail dedicated to that purpose. He cast around for his Long-Mop. “You seem excited, child. I can only assume you have devised some new adventure, some hidden place on the globe that we will soon be flying?”
Talitha took a breath. She was the captain, and her first mate was older than she was — but the Vagabonder was a Full-Fledged Adult. And while she and her crew were allowed to come and go as they pleased, her extended family had made it very clear that the engineer was ultimately in charge. He would never allow her – or his beloved ship — to go into any true danger. Not without a surreptitious call or two to make sure the Cavalry was in the wings. She would have to approach this topic very carefully, and with a degree of tact. She ran a hand through her poorly coiled skull-locks to collect her thoughts before she began, keeping her tone determinedly casual.
“Oh, I don’t know. We’ve run around the planet so much, and seen so many things. Maybe it’s time to turn my attention, you know, to different things.”
The Vagabonder nodded affably as he dunked his mop into a nearby basin of soapy water. He thumbed the flashing green button that slowly extended the tool to sufficient length to clean his footprints off the wall and ceiling.
“And I remembered something you told me, about the Lodestar. I mean, I know it was made by the Precursors and all…”
“Yes!” the goblin swabbed with excitement. “And can I say, it does my heart good just thinking about you, the last Scion of that fabulous race, as captain of their greatest ship.”
Talitha puffed our her cheeks. The Lodestar was fast, the fastest, but she had seen far greater devices in her travels. The great city of Kythera alone — she shook her head. She was the last descendant of the Precursors, as far as anyone knew, and that fact had put her in a great deal of danger, and lead her to some pretty destructive moments. Not everyone has destroyed a city by singing a song. It was something she didn’t like to think about much, but the tall goblin was excited about the topic, so she changed tack.
“Right, right! I am, yes, no other Precursors anywhere. That’s what I was thinking. And I started thinking about how you’re always talking about the ‘black boxes’ all around the ship, the secrets of the Floatstone Engine…” she let her voice trail off, encouraging the engineer to pick up the trail.
The Vagabonder did not disappoint. It was one of his favorite topics.
“YES. After all this time aboard, I am still so far from truly understanding their purpose. During the War, we were doing our best to stay ahead of the devils, or doing our best to catch up with you and your kidnappers to really delve into the true power of this ship. Ah, the ship was barely at Level Zero when I came on board, but with patience and work we brought her up to Level Four…but then, ah I hit a brick wall. There’s something I don’t understand, some tool I lack. I had hoped to spend some time delving into the Arkanic Computer that Captain Carbunkle found on Kythera, but he took it with him back to Pice. The Lodestar is the fastest ship in the world, it’s true, but I know she can do more, if only we could find the way,” the engineer’s long fingers flexed on the handle of the Long-Mop with excitement.
“Right, right,” the current-captain smiled. He’s on the hook. Time to reel him in. “That’s what I was thinking. I think you’ve been missing the right tool. And what better tool to unlock the secret of the Precursors then…”
The Vagabonder gasped and let the Long-Mop fall to the floor, suds and mollasses stains forgotten.
“…the last of the Precursors?” Talitha grinned, innocent as a baby sheep nibbling on the first green grass of spring.
This information is not for the feint of heart or anyone considering self-publishing. But that’s who I’m putting it up for [beyond my own information and planning for The Riddle Box], anyone else thinking of taking the plunge. It’s one of my proudest achievements and I don’t regret it – – but damn, she do cost, don’t she?
Spell/Sword Sales – Year to Date
Paperback – 65 units …….$114.10 total Royalties
Kindle – 58 units …….$63.65 total royalties.
Free Downloads: 316
Spell/Sword Gross Profit: $177.75
Incomplete List of Spell/Sword Costs [approximate]
Cover Illustration, Layout and Design: $500.00
Purchase of unique ISBN number: $100.00
Printing of Beta Copies for review and proofing: $150.00
Giveaways and Promotional Material: $175.00
Shipping of Giveaways, Promotional Material: $50.00
Approximate Total Publication and Promotion Cost: $975.00
Spell/Sword Net Profit GRAND TOTAL:
Hoo. Ouch. Damn, buy some books, people.
This was way more depressing than I thought it would be. I clearly have an expensive habit, and it is called Swordpunk.