Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Of Cover Art and Freelancing

You know, it occurred to me this morning that I probably hadn't mentioned that I'm working as a cover artist these days and y'all were likely wondering why I kept posting cover art to the blog. You probably figured it out anyway, but it's still annoying that my brain doesn't automatically upload itself to the net. Silly brain. Can't I get some kind of upgrade for that?

I'm working at MuseItUp, but I'm also taking on freelance clients. I'm looking to build up my client list and portfolio, so I'm only charging $75 a cover at the moment. If anyone's looking for a cover artist, I'm available. You can see my work... Er, right there *points to the right* or more of it here!

This cover, though, is for Mary Andrews' Fireborn Chronicles: Revelations--which you already know, because it's written right on the cover. Isn't that handy? *nods* I'm really happy with the way it came out, and I totally loved working with the colors and getting the feel of it down!

Worldbuilding: Creating Geography: Desert, Part 3 – Plant and Animal Species

Photo by Moyan Brenn.
Deserts are not the lifeless expanses that we sometimes think they are. Some are extremely barren, yes, but not all, or even most. Many contain vibrant ecosystems adapted to the little moisture they receive. Desert sand and soil is, often, very rich in nutrients. What it is lacking in, is water. A desert is typically defined as an area which receives less than 10" of precipitation per year. That's not 'no water,' just 'little water.' And when it does rain in the desert, this water can stick around for a while because it soaks in and fills underground hollows. This is how oases form, and the reason why you can have such a fertile area in a dry place. The wet ground can support plant life, and the plant life can provide shade for other plants and animals.

Some oases are lush, green islands in a sea of sand or rock, but there are other types of plant life in other types of deserts. In North America, the deserts of Mexico and the American Southwest feature plants like creosote bushes, sagebrush, the Joshua tree (with found only in the Mojave desert), and—let's not forget—cacti (with one exception, native only to the Americas) and other succulents, and the Lithops ("living rocks," so very cool) which are native to South Africa. As you can see, many desert species find it hard to travel outside of their particular areas, largely due to their high degree of specialization.

There are many ways in which plants learn to live in deserts. In windy deserts, plants typically stay low to the ground. Many desert plants work to limit the amount of sunlight and heat they take in, but there are different ways to do this. Cacti have spines which break up the wind around them and help cool them down. Some plants have leaves that always grow so that the broad sides (which take in light for photosynthesis) face north or east, the directions of least sunlight.

Cacti and other succulents soak up water, storing it in modified stems or leaves, allowing them to go for long periods between 'waterings.' They're basically the camels of the plant world. And, as anyone who has ever forgotten about an aloe for an extended period of time can tell you, you can actually watch these plants turn from brown to green as you water them and the tissues in their leaves (or other storage devices) suck in the water.

Often desert plants go into a dormant phase through the drier seasons (which can be summer or winter, or any other time, depending on the position of the desert and the surrounding weather patterns), waiting for rain to fall in order to seed. They may drop their leaves during this time, not because they're dead, but just as deciduous trees do in the winter. Their dormancy means they cannot divert what energy they have to leaf production and maintenance, so the leaves drop off as the plant focuses its reserves on more vital functions.

Because rain can come on quickly, and dissipate just as quickly, some plants are waiting for the first drops of moisture in order to spring into action. Sometimes literally, as some desert plants have evolved so that their dry tissues expand when they become moist, allowing them to actually fling their seeds out. This gives the seeds a good chance of landing far enough away so that they won't be competing with the parent plant for resources, but still within an area which is likely to have resources and to get rain (because it has for a long enough period for the parent plant to become established). So, areas which get rain, and which have fertile enough ground to support plant life, can be filled with seed-shooting plants, instead of having a cluster of plants which all have to compete for the nutrients in a smaller area.

The insect and animal population of a given desert is also a 'concern' for plants. Plants have a complicated relationship with insects, especially, and this is only truer in many deserts. Some insects require certain types of plants in order to procreate (they will only lay their eggs within a given species) and others require the plants for food, which can be destructive or non-destructive to the plant, depending on what the insect needs. This can lead to very specialized relationships in which certain types of insects will protect plants they need from other more destructive insects. When that's not possible, plants may develop other strategies, such as the Lithops which look exactly like pebbles. Seriously, if you didn't know better, you would think they were just another speckled rock on the ground, except for when they're flowering. They often have very pretty flowers, in various shades, but unless they're flowering, they look like rocks.

In most deserts, mammals play a small role. There generally aren't enough resources to provide for larger mammals, but there are exceptions, such as camels, donkeys and gazelle. Most mammals are small, and many are rodents (moles, mice of varying types) or lagomorphs (rabbits of varying types). There are also canines and cats of various types. Both are generally smaller than their non-desert dwelling counterparts (mountain lions being an exception here), generally they have adaptions like large ears (a way of catching breezes and cooling the blood, which flows close to the surface of the skin when it moves through the ears. Basically, large erect ears are like radiators for desert species), smaller bodies, less or shorter fur, etc.

Reptiles—lizards, snakes, etc.—are very common in deserts. Their cold-blooded natures make them really good at dealing with the heat. Some will burrow down into the sand when it gets too hot or too cold, and then come up to lie in the sun until they're properly warmed up again.

There are many, many different types of creatures that live in deserts, and the adaptations that these species develop can provide a lot of interesting fodder for species you're creating. If you're doing a non-human desert-living species, I highly recommend researching the animal adaptations that have developed and incorporating some of that into not only your species building, but into your culture building as well.


Which will be the topic of my next desert post!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Update and more Cover Art!

So, I've been working on Sings the Distant Heart lately. It's a short (Ha!) story, but there's a lot of detail involved and it's been really fun to work with! It's absolutely speculative fiction, I don't know whether to call it fantasy or science fiction, though! A wonderful friend of mine read it over and offered some great notes. Now I just have to figure out how to pull it all together for the second draft. *ponders* There's a lot involved because the species--and therefore the point of 'view' character--are all sightless. It means that descriptions become an interesting challenge. There is so much that, even if we don't describe it visually, we use sight words to communicate. But this species evolved underground, and there's no need for them to have eyes where there is no light, so they use their senses of hear, smell, and touch to navigate their world. Everything needs to be communicated in those terms, and yet make sense to the reader. So, it's been a blast!

Also, I finished another cover for MuseItUp, S.S. Hampton's Better Than a Rabbit's Foot, and I'm really happy with it! I really enjoying doing cover art. Graphics are a bit meditative for me. There's a set of problems to solve (how to fit this, where that should go, how big that other thing should be), but all you have to do is try things out. If one thing doesn't work, go back and try something else.

The art does remind me, though, that I need to do the next post in the desert series here. It's mostly written, but I just have to read it over and get it posted. Life is chaos, but that can be fun. At least, it's not ever boring. :-D

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Lavinia by Ursula LeGuin

LaviniaLavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While there were a few things that I didn't like, overall I found this to be a wonderful book that I absolutely could not put down. I love Ms. LeGuin's writing and this book was no exception. I thought the style was wonderful, and the character voice was stunning. The first person really works here, as this is very much Lavinia's story. I loved the early Roman setting and the way Ms. LeGuin really brought it to life, filling it with so many wonderful and expressive details that made it shine. I also loved the way Ms. LeGuin intertwined Virgil's Aeneid with story, pulling out aspects and elements that made this a lovely read.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cover Art!!

Hey all! I've been way busy. I've signed on as a cover artist with MuseItUp Publishing! They're keeping me hopping, with the help of school and writing, of course. I thought I'd share some of the work I've been doing form them with you guys!

So, that's part of what's been keeping me busy! Of course, it would have something to do with books, right? I have so much fun with these covers and I love working with other authors! Hearing that they're happy with their covers really makes my day!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Copyright, Creative Commons and the Modern Writer

So, this morning, after being awoken by the urgent need to sort out the flood happening in my kitchen, I sat down to hop on the internet and check my email. This is generally my morning routine, sans flood. But this morning I found something fascinating in my inbox. This happens occasionally, because I have the best friends ever, but today it was something to do with writing, with my work, with innovation and ingenuity and ... Okay, let me just tell you what it was...

May 17, 2012 -- Unglue.it (http://unglue.it) the crowdfunding site that lets book lovers pay authors and publishers to make their already-published books free to the world under a Creative Commons license, is launching on May 17, 2012 at Noon EDT.

If supporters pledge an amount chosen by the books' rights holders before a given deadline, those books will be released as "unglued" ebook editions. The five authors and titles that will have initial campaigns at launch will be:

● Michael Laser, 6-321
● Joseph Nassise, Riverwatch
● Nancy Rawles, Love Like Gumbo
● Budding Reader, Cat and Rat
● Open Book Publishers, Oral Literature in Africa, by Ruth Finnegan.

For these campaigns, deadlines vary from approximately two to six months, and funding goals from approximately $5,000 to $25,000.

As the popularity of ebooks skyrockets, readers have been discovering both their convenience and their disadvantages. Proprietary formats and digital rights management (DRM) technology lock ebooks to specific devices and make it hard for people to keep reading their books as technology changes. Many ebooks cannot even be lent by libraries. Unglued ebooks solve these problems. They have no DRM and can be copied and shared without infringing copyright due to the Creative Commons license. Instead of receiving royalties, rights holders are paid one licensing fee of their choosing in advance. Book lovers pledge toward this fee using the Unglue.it platform.

"The ebook technology revolution creates new opportunities for innovative markets that support readers, authors, publishers, and libraries," said Eric Hellman, President of Gluejar Inc., the company behind Unglue.it. "Our crowdfunding platform will help the books that we love join the public commons for all to enjoy and cherish, while still respecting copyright and creators' livelihoods."

About Unglue.it: Unglue.it (http://unglue.it) is a crowdfunding platform which rewards rights holders for making their ebooks available to the world under a Creative Commons license (http://creativecommons.org). Unglue.it runs campaigns for previously published books, allowing book lovers to pledge toward giving them to the world. When rights holders' target prices are reached, they receive funds in exchange for issuing an unglued ebook edition which can be freely read, copied, and shared, noncommercially, worldwide. For more information, see http://unglue.it/press.

For more information please contact:

Eric Hellman
President, Gluejar Inc.

Yup. You read that right. I have so many thoughts it's difficult to know where to begin! I mean, YAY!! Right? At least, I think it's a great big yay. Copyright wasn't intended to last forever, but rather as a way for authors (and other creators) to have a temporary monopoly on their creation, to give them a chance to establish a market, make a profit, and build an audience before the work entered the public domain. However, in recent years, the term of copyright has been extended. Now, on the surface, that maybe sounds like something that's good for the rights' holder. But that really depends on how you measure the success of a work. Public domain allows works to live on in our culture, allows works to live on as part of our collective accomplishments.

Copyright was originally established to help strike a balance between a creator's need to make a profit on their works and the public's need for shared cultural experience. Copyright is a monopoly. The only person allowed to sell the work (to make 'copies,' as it were) is the one who holds the rights. But authors have been selling those rights for... Well, ever. We sell them to publishers, so that they can provide us with cover art and marketing and distribution. We sell the foreign language rights so that our books can be published in other languages. And, while publishers generally don't buy foreign language rights right off the bat, this isn't any different, in that sense. Except that you're selling certain rights directly to the public and putting a cap on how much you earn for some of your rights.

Now, let's take a closer look at these points

1) Selling your rights directly to the public. Self-pubbed authors do that every day, and many with small presses as well. In fact, unless you get an advance, the amount of profit you make off your book is entirely dependent on the public. If they buy your book, you get profits, if they don't, you won't. In unglue.it's setup, the public pays first, and then gets certain rights to your book. What those rights are depends on the CC license under which you release it. You can read about specific CC licenses here.

2) Many books which go through traditional publishers never earn out their advance. I've been told (anyone out there who can confirm or deny this, please do comment!) that $5,000 is a pretty good advance these days and, so far, that's the minimum amount an author has requested for this project. Now, with that kind of advance, and a trad publisher, you can also sell foreign language rights, which is more lucrative. But with a Creative Commons license, you are still absolutely free to sell your book, and you can choose a non-commercial license which means that no one else is allowed to sell your book. Only give it away. So, who would want to buy your book if it's legally available for free? Well, we give books away all the time. We give books away for review, we give books away for promotions, and sometimes we make certain titles free just to get our name out there and generate buzz. Whether or not you want to trust that a given title will continue to sell after being released on a Creative Commons license is up to you, but what about that novella you were going to put up free on Smashwords? There are some things we'll only know when there's actual data coming in, and it's a perfectly valid (and wise) choice to wait for that data. However, we give things away all the time.

Depending on the license you choose, the only difference there has to be here, is that you're saying that the people who have this book? They can give it away, give away copies of it, and lend it out as well. Even if they didn't pay to get it in the first place. Which is the truth with actual physical books. Anyone who buys a book (or is given it by a friend) is absolutely free to give it away, lend it out, scribble in the margins. It's theirs. Now, these are ebooks, and digital media allows people to make unlimited perfect copies and someone could, conceivably, create thousands of copies of your book and give them away for free. Oh, no. The horror. The horror. Is this what we're afraid of? Seriously? I mean... sign me up! I would be thrilled if there was even one person how there who loved my book that much! (Who wasn't a good friend, my fiance, or directly related to me, obviously.)

And, moreover, Creative Commons licenses are customizable! Unglue.it doesn't tell you what license to choose. You don't have to give away all your rights, that's the point of the Creative Commons license. You can choose which license you wish to apply to your work, and which works you choose to apply it to, and which ones you want to keep under a tradition copyright. You could choose to license your work as 'Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs' which would mean that people could give your book away, but could not change it, or sell it, and must attribute it to you. Or, you could use 'share alike' meaning that any work using your work to create a derivative, must also be licensed the same way. And all Creative Commons licenses require attribution.

Now, for those who worry that this kind of thing will encourage piracy, or that this type of licensing will mimic piracy... think of what Neil Gaiman has to say on the subject, or this article, and this article on Forbes, or this article on Discover. Okay, the last one is a little off topic, but the video is funny!

So, those are my thoughts on the topic. I'm sure there are tons of other opinions out there, and I'd love to hear them! What do you guys think about this idea of crowdfunding for the release of rights? Would you ever consider selling your rights this way? What are the possible pitfalls that you see in such an option? The advantages? One way or another, I think this is something we should absolutely be discussing. So, talk to me, people! :-D

Okay, now I have to go check on the progress of Project Dry Out the Kitchen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rain Makes All Books Better

I love writing or reading when it’s raining. There’s something about the sound of it pouring down outside and being curled up with a good book, of any variety. Even books that don’t want to get written, or books that I’m not enjoying as much as I’d hoped, are better when I’m reading them during a rainstorm. It’s even better if there’s a blanket, and the lights are dim, and it’s just me and the book. Except for maybe a cat. A cat kind of completes the experience. *nods*

Mysteries are particularly good like that, of course, because all mysteries take place on a dark and stormy night. Except those which happen on a bright, sunny day, of course. Thrillers, ghost, and horror stories are all equally fun when it’s raining. Noir is a personal favorite for those times. With fantasy, well, it doesn’t really add much to the atmosphere most of the time, but there’s still something soothing about the sound of rain. And it’s not just the rain itself, but the sound of the wet outside. The wet tree limbs moving in the wind, the sound of cars going by on a wet road.

It’s all somehow evocative. I even love being out in the rain, so it isn’t just that it’s nice to be curled up, warm and dry, with something to help pass the time. It’s cozy, I guess, and it seems to almost shut off the outside world. Maybe it’s because it helps you get lost in the book, because all the distractions seem to quiet down for a while.