This year as I took my children and husband on the daunting drive across the Midwest, over grand rivers and endless plains, in rain and sun, and countless bathroom breaks with required forays for truck stop random goodies, I found myself singing this tune anticipating the lovely little woman who looks and acts half her age in a delightful way. Hearing her soft southern accent and smelling her perfume that I've never forgotten no matter how long I spend away.
It seemed to take forever and yet only an instant as I pointed out landmarks I remembered and argued with my husband about accuracy of the GPS now that there was construction blocking an important turn off. A few random work calls because upper management never truly get a day off of anything, my children best behaved they have ever been on a long car ride, and by the time we hit city limits it didn't seem to take quite that long.
Of course a stop along the way to see my brother helped too. Packed with cheese for both our loved ones, I couldn't wait to get to either place. My brother had the good sense to live directly on route between our home and my aunt's. I didn't stay long, but to hug him with my own two arms was a great gift. I don't have words for what that meant to me. I left him with cheese curds done up only the way a Wisconsin factory can make them fresh, and threats of coming to visit me or else! *Hint hint* Next time. Next time there'll be time enough to say all the things and laugh at all the jokes.
Hundreds of miles between there and here, the home of BBQ and Jazz beckoning me like a dream of all the best childhood memories. There I found her there waiting for us, arms open. Her home looked like it always had, maybe a new counter top and stove, maybe a new couch or a new color on the walls, but still, most emphatically Carolyn. A map of her heart, and a reflection of a life well lived. Her walls and surfaces were covered in the most amazing collection of family heirlooms and bits from her world travels. I was hard pressed to find very many countries that weren't represented. Treasures new and old from a crafty niece found their way into the mix. Recent paintings I had made gifts of and an old hand sewn and beaded leather pouch from my first decade of life hidden in among family pictures.
There are always new things at my aunt's, the ebb and flow of life changing like the ocean reef she loves so much, but always the much loved art and things my sisters and I always remember. The mantle clock that plays Westminster chimes owned first by our great grandparents a much loved shadow of its former self. No matter how old, or how time has aged it, or even state of disrepair, there will be a war over that clock on a date I pray will be distant yet. I would sleep in the middle room, sometimes alone, sometimes sharing with a sister, the clock right outside the door and listen to sound of time passing through the night. Bum Bum Bum Bum every fifteen minutes.
I have a deep love of Kansas City. I've lived in other big cities. I know what they hold. I would probably lose my mind in the maze of buildings and the pace of a thousand things to do should I live there, but I always feel drawn back to this place. Drawn to the love of my aunt, drawn to the childhood memories of playing in her yard, picking her tomatoes, and a hundred adventures with a woman who always seemed to have a friend everywhere she went. But I'm also drawn to the feel of midtown and Westport. You can see the lights of the Historic Plaza from her home, the feeling of jazz all around. That smokey bit of good BBQ, like a sax singing you to sleep. The tinkling of laughter through open windows as the sun set, a good melody on the piano. The pulse of life a sedate beat wafting through the air. The spray of a hundred fountains, water blue for their favorite sons, the KC Royals (World Series Winners!), like a soprano softly finishing the chorus. There are lights like any large settlement of humanity, but something about the warm air and the early sunset mute them until you feel part of the air, seamless and calm.
As always BBQ is involved in our trip. Either one meal or a large tray that feeds us for weeks, but one way or another, when we see Aunt Carolyn, BBQ will happen. There's a whole culture to KC BBQ. An odd mix of greasy spoon, cafeteria, and sit down. Some are upscale and some are nothing more than holes in the wall with one or two tables. The best BBQ is always in the older neighborhoods, plain chairs and tables found in mom and pop diners from the 50's, and never fancy. Just your average inner city corner grill that serves fish and wings or philly cheese steak or any number of regional foods. In KC you go to these little, old, less maintained places and find the food of your dreams. Sauce sweet and smokey, or spicy and tangy, or my favorite, both at once. Smoked meats piled high, the smell greeting you down the block of stacked brick buildings and absent grass. You walk down a cafeteria like counter yelling out your order to the cooks, cutting meat right in front of you, get your beer or soda and find a table where someone nice with a dulcet KC accent makes sure you have enough sauce and drink.
My children are mixed. The recent less than absent race relations in the US always has me edgy. I worry how my children will be greeted. I worry how I will be greeted. I worry how we'll be greeted when seen together because their glowing dark skin is so obviously different from my sack of flour and freckled complexion. I was amazed that no one paid us any mind. In Ohio we were stared at often. In KC all the neighborhoods seemed mixed and no one cared, we were just people. You respect them, they respect you. I don't know enough about the issues in KC government or society to tell you if this is what everyone experiences, but I was comfortable and greeted well by all manner of people.
This trip was a little ambitious for me, with my health being what it isn't, but still, wonderful things happened. Sea Life Aquarium was beautiful. The staff friendly and informative and always seemed to have time to stop whatever they were doing to tell you with such excitement all about the exhibits. A collection of rare animals, rescued and rehabbed animals, and animals from their world known breeding programs greeted us, seemingly just as curious about us we are of them. An octopus sucked against a window half hiding an eye and blinking closed every time she was caught watching. The missing link between sharks and rays strutting her stuff for all to see while she waited to grow up enough for a mate. One had already been chosen for her. A turtle patrolling and watching all that came by. A sea anemone that would hug you if you poked it between the spines while horseshoe crabs nestled in close. Sea horses bright and dark, large and small, happily going on with the business of increasing their numbers.
Another staff member herded the worshipers of all that goes bump in the night down a pitch black turn then whisked my daughter and I out. He showed her the back staging and the sets still under construction or repair and talked calmly the whole time. Embarrassment quickly faded as he declared we were the third ones that night, and they had only been open an hour. Kindness on a night of fright. Well trained, compassionate staff. That's what took a famous haunted house and made it truly world class.
We watched the opening pitches of the final game in the World Series while sitting at an old wooden bar table that wobbled, with sticky floors and chairs a decade or two past their prime, inside a true flea market, not a tourist attraction, to eat world class burgers. Food Network had featured the place, and no one cared, or maybe they even enjoyed, the dilapidated décor. Packed wall to wall, standing room only, clusters of beer glasses in hands around TV's to listen to the National Athem and some singing along. The noise was epic, but unified in a way only sports fans all rooting for one team can give you. Everyone from doctors and nurses, to cooks and wait staff, to business men and women, to children and elderly all wearing Royal blue. A sea of a city united, even non-sports fans, celebrating as one. Fireworks and honking horns filled the night. Even a few unexpected late hours in the ER for something easily fixable did not dampen the feel in the air as KC won her title.
Of all these amazing things luring me in like strains of jazz and BBQ smoke wrapping me in a hug, my favorite moment was sitting in front of a Samhain fire, sticks of incense in hand talking my aunt through a basic ritual in remembrance of loved ones lost. Explaining to her what that night was all about, and feeling the intimacy of a thousand emotions as she remembered those that have journeyed on. KC has a million things to do, all of them interesting, most of them culturally enriching, most of them fun, but it is her I seek. It is to be in her presence and talk. About life, love, fond memories, struggles, her adored shi-tzu begging to be pet and Westminster chimes flowing through our consciousness like smoke until we didn't even notice how many times the chimes sang at the top of the hour. It is making her my famous butternut soup and watching her enjoy it. It is holding on to her arm in a haunted house and listening to the history of all the places she took us. Fond memories of family friends she brought into our lives and her adventures with Uncle Dr. Jim in those very places we walked.
Not everything planned happened. In a way I'm ecstatic about that. It means more thinly disguised excuses to be in her presence, to share her life for a few more days. It means we can all pretend I have more reasons to go back again and again, when I only needed that one. Her.
Aunt Carolyn you are adored. I will always come back. KC is as much my home as Point because you are there. Thank You for another trip of memories and laughter and love.
I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City her I come. You got some pretty little women there, and you are the most adored one!
In the history of the world very few mother daughter relationships go without incident. It seems as daughters we’re trapped between desperately wanting this woman’s approval of us, and needing to be our own people. Breaking away invariably leaves both parties scarred, and it is those scars that shape the relationship just as much as c-section scars, stretch marks, post baby feeding breasts, the extra weight in hips and thighs, and your very own belly button are a reflection of all it took to bring you into the world.
I find myself wondering why society puts such pressure on women to become mothers. It was very clear early on that my own mother had merely succumbed to this pressure and didn’t really want to be a mother. Or perhaps she liked idea of motherhood and being one of the two youngest in her family never got to see the reality. Well reality hit hard. It often does. I don’t think anyone is truly ready for their first child. It just happens no matter how much you plan and read and think you know. Suddenly you’re a parent and forced to figure it out as you go.
My mother’s dragons were insidious and slow. I don’t think anyone dreamed in the beginning what it was going to be like. To this day some of her very dearest friends remain ignorant of a large portion of what went on. As an adult I find myself referencing some of things my sisters and I deal with for our mother and they had no idea. Outside looking in I suppose. I always believed they knew everything. As much as I love these women I’ve known all my life it is discordant to speak with them now about Mom.
This woman, who I remember making bratzli’s with (a special swiss cookie), and reading Caldecott and Newberry award winning books with, a woman who knitted the most beautiful designs while I sat at her feet and learned about color and pattern, was very ill. Slowly, creeping up like a thief in the night, bits of her sanity were eaten away, pulled into a hungry void of mental illness. We didn’t understand how we could love her so much while she abandoned us so completely by never leaving her chair.
I am the youngest of three. My oldest sister was enough older that she took over as mom. She took care of Mom’s needs, Mom’s errands. She made sure I didn’t touch a hot stove. She was the one yelling out my three names and sending me to my room. I thought this was normal. I was an adult before I realized how very much she did…how very much Mom held her responsible for. That’s crushing for a 7yr old girl. My first word was her name, which were not sounds easy for a baby to make. Mama or dada typically are because they are the first sounds their little mouths figure out how to say. Mine was my sister’s name. A Juh sound.
Our entire lives was built around Mom’s naps, or telling my father when I stayed home sick from school I would hear her get up more than once during a nap to take pain pills, or going to the grocery store to build up her stash of candy that molded her into one of the super-heavy people you hear about on TV. My mother wasn’t like everyone else’s. She was big and soft, easy to hug, and sad all the time.
I’m not just talking depression, though that would have been life changing enough. In my early teens, not very long after my parents were divorced and both my sisters grown and out of the house, Mom starting hearing voices and having delusions. We were lucky. She could have become violent. It was still scary enough. It got to the point where I was afraid to talk to her. She lived a few hours away at this time, intent on going back to school. I didn’t like to visit her. It would be hours in her apartment in a large city I didn’t know while she napped, sleeping nearly 20hrs a day. My mom was gone.
Gone were the beautiful designs woven by lightning quick fingers. Gone were the hours of discussion about book plots and cover designs (any wonder I became a publisher, artist, and writer?). Gone was her beautiful voice teaching me old songs. Gone was the intelligent light in her eyes that was there no matter how sad she became. Late onset non-differentiated schizophrenia stole what little was left behind by the depression. I was in the process of becoming an adult and wanting her near so badly she actually moved back to our tiny town, but scared of dealing with all that a relationship with her would entail.
I ran. She was not the only reason I ran. There were a great many difficult life changing things happening then. Most my parents never knew anything about. Outside the family. At home. At work. Mom. Things were a mess and she got relegated to the long list of why I would never come back to Wisconsin ever again. I had $300 to my name and a friend a distant 12hr drive away who was willing to put me up until I could land on my feet. I actually ended up, struggling, crumbling, covered in road rash, wrenching my body up the cliff with bloody fingers and toes. I’m still not sure I’m completely on my feet. Are any of us ever?
My oldest sister left the country. That left my second sister to do the dirty work. I have never completely gotten over my guilt at that. I didn’t call Mom. I didn’t write. I had virtually no contact with anyone on purpose. I would hear about most hospital stays, but I was not engaged. I didn’t want to be. My second sister spent her adulthood being caretaker for this woman who looked like our mother but wasn’t. There was a lot of anger dealing with the depression, but even then there were sparks of who she could have been. By this time, even those were gone as knitting was left piled in the closet, tangled and undone.
For decades, life went on. This was the new normal. I don’t know quite when things changed. A good visit or two from my father and step-mother. Maybe it was the trip home for Dad’s birthday when all of us were there, and we three made our first attempt at a united front for Mom. But things did change.
My second sister, who had devoted so much time to the bodysnatcher in Mom got an opportunity to spread her wings. We told her to go with no guilt. It was time she got to do this. It also became clear Mom needed one of us. I stepped up to the plate. My sisters had both done their time. It was time I was the sister and daughter I should have been and take over. So I did.
Now I watch her dragons from afar, hiding behind walls of medication and doctor visits. Death kept at bay by a surgically smaller stomach that caused more problems than it fixed taking this once large woman to a frail grandmother twenty years older than her birth certificate. I was strong. Not taking her crap, not letting her manipulate me. I was hard, drawing lines no one could jump over. I didn’t want to love this woman in front of me. I wanted to do my duty so others could live and so that I would know I was there when needed.
Then it happened.
A tiny insignificant cell decided it wanted to live forever.
Tumors. The true immortal vampires of lore. All cells have an automatic shut off sequence. They die on time so other cells can be born. Cancer is when one cell decides to live forever and just breed, more and more of them sucking the life right out of you.
Mom found the lump in her breast, a part of her body that was a true mother, having fed and nourished all three of us. My walls and lines were all useless. I wouldn’t say the chip on my shoulder is healing, but it’s been worn smooth by this fight. My sisters do what they can from where they are in the world. I am not alone in this fight with her, but there are days…
I watch her shake with fear, her resting tremor getting worse as we walk through the doors to the cancer center. I hold her tiny bony hand that looks nothing like my mother’s while we learn all about HER2+, and metastasizing. I kissed her head as they wheeled her away to take her breast. My vocabulary grows to include the lexicon of chemo nurses while they bustle about in the ‘infusion’ room. I sit in hard plastic chairs with my own knitting trying to take her mind off all the tubes and the poison dripping into her body. I talk to the staff where she lives about side effects and just how poisonous her bodily fluids are now we have set out to destroy some mutinous cells.
Now I must face the possibility that her dragons are only lying in wait for the cancer and treatments to do their job, tenderizing her emaciated frame, before they devour her whole. Sometimes I wonder, is the spark truly gone or am I just blind to it, my own issues robbing me of clear sight?
Each new diagnosis, each new test, each new treatment I worry if this is going to be the one that finally breaks her. I wonder daily if that’s a bad thing. Cancer treatment is torture. I’m not saying don’t treat it, but if someone opts out, I don’t blame them one bit. As her daughter, each new bump or lump I find on my own body becomes a three doctor circus to rule out the possibility of my own renegade cells. Through it all she has been lucid and on the ball in a way I haven’t seen since I was a child. It’s cruel to get a spark of her back just when she enters into the most grueling leg of her journey.
I want to know, how much longer until the sun sets? I don’t want to miss a minute of it. I’m terrified of every second.
You don’t know me, but I know you. See your shining face with hope already jaded in your eyes. I know of your struggles and your dreams. You are a fighter, dear child. A rainbow warrior ready to fight to be who you were always created to be. Ready to change the world so that others can find the same pride in themselves that shines out in you like a star. Sometimes it’s hard. This world is not always ready for a trailblazer such as you. I hear the words others would say to you, to your parents, to your sibling. I see the questions brewing in those who do not want to understand. Know this, they are afraid to understand because that means they might be wrong, and if they’re wrong about this they might be wrong about other bigger things. Human grownups are strange that way. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to learn. I see you, dear child, for all that you are. We need you so desperately in this world. Know this, when the road is hard, and people do or say hurtful things they are merely afraid and your fierce love will help them in this new world. Be who you are. Set the world free.
Dear young person,
I only know you a little, but already I love you for this shining handsome, lovely person you are in the process of becoming. You’re on the cusp of adulthood. There and not there at the same time. Learning you are free, but still held back. No person goes through this time unscathed. I’m here to tell you to have courage. You have the power to shape your future. There will be hard times, there will be people who don’t understand, but the same is true for everyone. Be who you were always meant to be. You can do it. Even as just one person, I stand behind you. Call your name out to the universe and let it be heard. You are more powerful than you know, and they fear the day you discover it.
Such love echoes though your soul. You would walk through the fire to give your children a fair and just world. You will not see the ripples you cause by walking this road with your child, letting them lead you on this quest. You cannot know how much it will impact the world when your rainbow warrior stands tall and leads us to our salvation. As a parent I know the fears. Both my children have chosen hard roads and walk them unafraid while I cower in the background swallowing my fear. I see the traps, I see the thorns, the snares. I see the places where the road ends and a leap of faith must be taken. No one can know, save those that love a child unconditionally, what it is like to have to watch them while they grow. Your courage is no small thing and it is not smaller than that of your rainbow warrior. It is your courage and faith and love that feeds them. Your joy in their being is what creates the fierce love they fight for their world with. Have faith. We all watch them galloping down the path on a steed of self actualization. I give you my love and faith. For you are a rainbow warrior too.
You are glorious in battle. Did you know that? Did you know how you shine when speaking out for others? I know you fight to fix this world because you’re fighting for your own right to exist. Don’t let those that fear you take away your joy. I know you’ve seen it all. The unspeakable atrocities our parents hide us from when we are young. The pain of seeing beautiful souls unloved for the petty excuse of changing their shell. Those things are real and speak to a society in distress. Fight. Break the dome of our existence in two. Show others a light they can’t even conceive of. You were gifted by knowing who you were from an early age. You are battle tested making yourself into that person. Now blaze through in justice and love, and carry us in your wake. You may not always see the ripples and tides you cause, but they will come back and lift you higher. Fear not loneliness or hate, for you are surrounded by love.
With gratefulness that you are all in my life, thank you.
Horror has been, almost since its inception as a genre, a boy’s club. While organizations like the Horror Writer’s Association seek out to engender equality by offering memberships based on merit, the fact remains that women horror writers are often relegated to the kid’s table, while occasionally lesser writers that happen to have a man’s name carry the forefront.
This is a societal problem, and a reflection of the lack of gender equality. Other genres are hit hard as well. Science Fiction is notorious for gender inequality. And very few men romance writers are taken seriously and often have to work harder for the same audience. There is an erroneous idea that a person’s gender identity is encapsulated by a name or that that dictates their ability to write different genres.
The NY times recently reported, Women who use a genderless pen name like P.D. James, or J.D. Robb (who happens to be Nora Roberts) have higher sales. Part of the problem is exposure. Reviewers, which can be the life blood of sales often feed into the gender gap.
According to The Guardian, in 2010, 74% of reviews by the London Review of Books were of books by male authors, 65% male dominated reviews by Granta Magazine, and 83% male dominated reviews by the New York Review of Books. Or look at this study by Edward Champion on the gender bias of individual reviewers for the New York Times. Each reviewer has their own graph of how many male vs. female authors they reviewed in 2013.
Here is a simplified one page version.
Here is another graph from Australia.
Gina Denny has another article with tons of graphs to show the discrepancy.
Okay, I’m going to stop filling you up with percents and numbers here and get to the point. Recently J. Ellington Ashton Press did something to quiet all arguments on the ability of different genders in horror. It took the current climate and put it on its ear. We hosted our own Male vs. Female horror short story contest, the results of which will find their way into two amazing anthologies.
We picked two teams. 13 men, and 13 women. Not all the participants were necessarily horror writers. A few on both teams find their voices in other genres from romance to science fiction. Amid the friendly trash talk the writers were paired up into round competitors. Each round had one writer from each team and were given a place, a weapon, and a big bad (thing that caused the trouble). Then they were set free for 30 days to write a 5 to 7k word story.
The judges were kept secret, and the authors kept secret from the judges. They were handed stories with only titles and which round they belonged to. No other information. Everything was based entirely on merit.
The results? Almost entirely equal. The women took it by one story. The honorable mentions were split equally between genders. The overall winners were split equally between genders. When gender was taken out of the equation, authors that would have otherwise been ignored stepped into the light. Primary genre had little to do with it as well. Some of the winners are not horror writers. At least one of the honorable mentions is a fantasy writer. That squashes the argument that women prefer to write certain genres and are therefore not adept at horror. Really this contest proved all previous arguments are unfounded.
But don’t take my word for it. Keep an eye out for the upcoming MvF anthologies and judge the work for yourself.
Update 2/29/16: Both books now live on Amazon!
Click the images below to buy your copy today!
Cover Art by Michael Fisher
From the twisted imaginings of:
Essel Pratt and Dona Fox
Ts. Woolard and Alice J. Black
Michael Noe and Dani Brown
Jim Goforth and Christina Engela
*Andrew Freudenburg and Brenda Evans
**Stuart Keane and Amanda M. Lyons
Brian Barr and Wendy Potocki
Kent Hill and Lisa Dabrowski
Michael Fisher and Sharon Higa*
Roger Cowin and Susan Simone
Mark Woods and Tabitha Baumander
Justin Hunter and Michelle Garza
John Ledger and Catt Dahman**
Bold indicates round winner. * Indicates honorable mention. ** Indicates overall winner.
I think the power of thought and intention is taken for granted. We have so much power to affect our lives but it is largely ignored. Someone I respect has legitimate problems with organized faith in general. She makes good points, but she hit on one that bothered me. Making fun of people asking for prayers for a loved one or a hard time. I looked at that and thought how can she be spiritual (which she is greatly) and not see the power of intention?
The universe is a vast animal that, by all accounts, will provide. You can call it science and say it’s the electrical impulses of our thoughts, something that has been proven, reflecting back to us. You can say it’s the power of the elements around us that answer our needs. You can say it’s God or a Creator answering your prayers. It all amounts to the same thing, but in our human need to understand it we all have different ways of defining it, different ways of understanding the rules. Person of faith to person of same faith, even, will have a different belief in how it works. That is the human condition. Some mysteries will never be fully answered.
However, I can tell you with great certainty from my own life, the universe will reflect whatever you put out. It’s this cosmic caretaker that wants nothing more than to provide what we want, but it doesn’t understand our basic human flaw. This little glitch we were all created with. Fear and worry and a need to obsess over it. See the Universe, however you define it, pays attention to what we think and feel. Its job is not to judge those thoughts, but reflect them. It doesn’t understand that you really don’t want to lose your job it sees only that you are spending a lot of energy thinking about that. So it gives it to you. Likewise for the good things. Ever notice how negative people keep getting negative things happening? Like the klutz that proclaims they’re klutz right before tripping on air. Or the person convinced they are hexed having all things they’re scared of happen. They focus on these thoughts being truth and the Universe reflects.
My point is this: We know the Universe will give us what we focus on. Spells, prayers, good energy, are all attempts and keeping the negative out our minds focusing on what we want to have happen. Simple belief can change worlds. It doesn’t even matter what you believe in. Those calls for prayers, or a focus on happy, healthy, whole, may not cure cancer. They can’t unlight the fire that burned down someone’s home. But they can and will reflect the good intention put out. Never discount, even if it’s not your faith, the power of someone’s call to prayer. Don’t feel you have to answer them in the way they say either, but with your own good intention however you see that happening.
Never discount that they are praying because they care. I’ve been through many hard times, and when things are at their worst, knowing someone cares, even if they can’t do a thing, makes me stronger. Heartfelt caring has more effect on me than actually fixing the problem. To know I’m not alone and this person actively has my back. People call to prayer because they feel helpless and go to what they believe in their hearts to be something bigger and stronger and humble themselves, something that is very hard for any human by our very natures, before it and ask. That is no small amount of caring.
Now this isn’t say that prayer should replace all help. Sometimes people say it and not mean it. Sometimes they feel it will wipe away their moral obligation by saying trite words and moving on. Making 100K a year, and prayer for a cure to cancer rather than donating to research or supportive organizations (Not Susan G Kolmen fund, don’t give them a cent, but that’s another rant. Research and you’ll see what I mean). Or showing yourself topless because you want to save the tatas but don’t encourage others to put in time or money to actual help. Raising awareness is another form of intent, or prayer that’s more pragmatic, but same thought. Get the Universe to reflect your needs.
But prayer, good energy, a spell, a call to awareness, given from pure good intention. That is gold. That is more meaningful than anything else we can do as a global society when action just isn’t feasible or possible. Even if I’m dying, and no doctor, or transplant will save me, to know I am loved, to feel the energy of people around me as I go is a gift you can’t put a price tag on.
Focus on the good. Focus on the outcome. Do what you can. And when you can’t do? Write a spell, announce your intention to the Universe. Pray.
In the end, love really will change the world.
X-Posted to Shadowed Paths
Cover art is probably one of the most important aspects of your book. Think about how you choose a book to read. You go on a library or ebook site and search through literally 10’s of thousands of books. You might put in some author or subject key words, but you’re still left with hundreds. You scan the cover thumbnails. When something pops out at you, *then* you look at title, synopsis, and ratings. Cover art is the first impression your book makes on the world, and unfortunately it is judged by it. Good and bad cover art will affect who reads and who doesn’t.
I always advocate working with an actual cover artist. They can take your ideas, clean them up, and make them pop. They know the difference between legally used images and pirated images. They can make sure your cover is unique and 100% legal. *For more info on legal image uses see my blog ‘The Importance of Cover Art’.* It’s also helpful to have someone to bounce ideas around with.
Most cover artists will give you what you ask for, but design is a two way street, and many people fail to listen to their artist to their own detriment. Yes, you want to see the image that is in your head made real, but it is important to take in the advice of your artist. There are reasons some images won’t work no matter how bad you may want them. If your artist is trying to talk you out of an idea, there’s a reason.
One of the very first things myself and the other artists on staff think about is how the cover will look as a thumbnail. 90% of the books out there are only seen as thumbnails because readers only scan the massive lists before them. What looks great big, or when the book is in your hands, doesn’t always look good small where it is first seen. Look at the difference in these two covers. Both happen to be my work, but The Librarian was before I went to art school. I broke many rules. the title is hard to read in smaller size. The image is too busy, and while the posterization seems like a cool idea at the time, it is an overused device to hiding blending and layering problems. Even the coloring and lighting is different for each subject in the image.
The title needs to be legible as a thumbnail. Script writing is pretty and works well with shorter titles that are a major part of the cover space. Long titles or titles taking up a smaller space will be invisible as a thumbnail. Longer titles work best when you take the most important part of the title and making it large enough to grab attention, then you can use other devices like script writing for the rest of it. Personally, I rarely look at the title listed next to the book, and some sites don’t even list that. Your title has to be seen. You can only rely on interest of the image so much. Big time authors with clout and several books out can design covers that show off their name as more important than the title, but that doesn’t work well with newer authors.
A busy cover will be lost entirely as a thumbnail. Sometimes that’s important to the book, but there are ways to get around that. Using a blocking technique, for instance. That’s where you arrange the elements into specific blocks on your cover. This can be putting a banner or plaque over top of the image to hold your title, Or having a clear top and bottom to draw the eye around. Also changing focus by leaving less important elements purposely blurred or darkened helps your reader to pay attention to the subject. Making the title glow can work in some places but often adds to the muddiness of the image and if done without proper nuance can look like a child’s drawing.
Beware of color choices. We are tempted to go monochromatic because it all matches and may even set the mood for a book, but it turns into a muddy, hard to read mess as a thumbnail, and even as a full sized book it’s hard to see the nuances. This cool design and font get lost. There needs to be enough contrast between the title and background image to be seen. You can use dark on light or light on dark, or look at your color wheel for complementary colors. Usually, when looking at a color wheel, opposite colors work together the best, or even 3 equally spaced apart, this is a tetrad. For instance blue and yellow or orange make an impact without jarring the eyes. Or orange, green and violet.
Image blending is one of the first things I see as an artist. It tells me instantly the level of skill the artist had while making that cover. When making a piece of art from several smaller pieces, you cut them out and layer them into place. The edges need to be softened and feathered, and the image needs to be adjusted for lighting, color, and opacity so they blend with the other images on the page making it look like one whole scene. Untrained viewers can also easily see this was an amateur job; they’re just not always sure how to explain it. Ill-blended edges look chunky and some parts seem too bright or too dark.
Do research on your genre. The rules change for each genre. Certain color choices or symbology attract the readers of that genre. When talking about zombies, biohazard signs bring the most attention. Having a loving couple might be important to your zombie book, but readers will see that and dismiss it instantly. Look at the covers of popular books in your genre. You want to walk the fine line of standing out, but attracting the right audience. This is hard, but is another thing professional artists have been trained to do. Both of these are good covers, but if you want a zombie story, which one are you going to read?
Take a look at some of these covers and think about which ones you want to read and why, and which ones you would just pass over. Trust your artist. Give them a chance to wow you, and ask questions before you reject an idea. The artist's name is going on these covers. Trust me, they don't want their name on bad work. It will forever haunt them.
*No commentary is made on the quality of the writing in any of these books. Some of the stories behind the bad covers will surprise you.*
I have seen too many good authors get scammed lately or worrying themselves out of good contracts only to sign a bad one. The main reason this happens is lack of information. Here are 7 of the most important questions everyone should ask their publisher...even if their work is already out.
1. Do you have an LLC?
Here’s why: LLC stands for Limited Liability Corporation. What this means is this is a licensed business that pays taxes and is accountable for what they pay you in royalties. All that is reported. The owner of a contract that does not have an LLC can be jailed for accepting income. All the authors published under such a shady scam, will likely never get paid for their work and may never be allowed to publish those works elsewhere because of release rights…which brings us to…
2. What is the length of release rights?
Here’s why: Copyrights mean it is your intellectual property and no one can duplicate it without your permission. Release rights means you have given someone (your publisher) permission to show your work to the world. This also means they can choose to never release your work and still not allow you to take the work elsewhere until the term of the contract is up. They can release your work for whatever price they want which can affect your royalties. If you part ways with the publisher you cannot repackage the work with new cover. However the press that owns the release rights can. Copyrights are well and good, but release rights can make or break you. Pay way more attention to that part of your contract than any other. You want a solid term length. Three to Five years is usually standard. You want to make sure the release rights are for the work you are trying to contract and not future works. If the company folds and is unable, due to jail (see LLC) or bankruptcy, to show your work to the world, the courts and the IRS now own your release rights until the end of time.
3. Are the release right exclusive or non-exclusive?
Here’s why: Exclusive rights means regardless of any time limit to the contract the release rights are owned by the contract holder for life. You can never take that work anywhere else again. Those are typically paid for, either in lump sum or higher royalty percentage. This also means your release rights can be sold to another press by the contract holder and you have no control over that. Should a movie company buy your exclusive release rights they can stop production or printing of your book, and again you have no control. Non-exclusive rights are a set term limit as outlined in a contract. Once that time is up you can take the work anywhere you want to go. These are typically paid for by a lower royalty percentage or are non-paid. If your contract says, for example, “two year exclusive rights” that means your book will be printed for two years only and then if they don’t want to print anymore your book is gone for life.
4. Is this an independent business or a co-op?
Here’s why: A co-op is a cooperation of a few different companies or individuals working towards a common goal, i.e. producing your book. The problem with co-ops is one or more of the parties involved may not have an LLC. This is bad news right here, if one part of the co-op folds or is in jail it can cascade to everyone and every piece of work they’ve touched. The other scary part, you are giving release rights to every party involved. If the co-op splits this holds your work and your money up in litigation for potentially years. Another way it could go is now several people are releasing your work, not all of them contracted to pay you for that privilege. Some co-ops are fully licensed with all parties and really do some great work, but get details and track record, and find out about each party so you don’t get stuck giving away your release rights to someone unscrupulous.
5. I am part of anthology, what will happen if my editor leaves the project?
Here’s why: If you have a stand-alone work, most likely other staff members of the press will pick up the work. As an author in an antho you now run into the problem of the editor trying to take the work with them. They don’t really own the release rights, but it turns life for all the authors miserable as the legal battle ensues. A good press stops it cold (i.e. stopping production or unpublishing the work), makes sure it isn't exclusive, and returns rights (get out of jail free card allowing the author to walk with their story) or releases under a reputable editor. Repackage by the original press is one way to make it quick and simple for everyone and allow for ebb and flow. A new press can never accept the original anthology because of muddy waters where release rights are concerned.
6. Do I pay you anything?
Here’s why: True publishing is always 100% free to the author. Publishers make their money off a percentage of your sales. Industry standard is 35% to author. A solid company will list what they offer and what you will have to go elsewhere for. Find out what 65% of your royalties goes to. Good publishers will offer editing, formatting, and cover art. Some smaller presses may not be able to provide cover art, but they should be explicit about this point. You should never pay them for the cover art, but the artist or artist’s company itself. Any press that asks for any money, even five dollars, should be avoided at all cost; they are either a scam or a vanity press, which isn’t much better.
7. How will I be paid?
Here’s why: As stated above, industry standard royalty is 35% of the final sale goes to the author. Each press is a little different. Make sure you know what your percentage is and how it compares to the industry in your country and genre. Non-fiction books have a different percentage, for example. However, the actual number quoted in your contract is at the discretion of the contract holder. Failure to pay you what they quote is a contract breach, but it doesn’t end the contract. They still hold your release rights until the term stated is up, or in worst case and the company is bankrupt…forever. If this should happen to you, contact a lawyer. You want to have explicit information on what your royalty is, when it will be paid out, and what method the press will use to get that money to you (i.e. Paypal, check, direct deposit).
*I am not an attorney and this is not meant as legal advice. Authors should consult an attorney for legal advice.*
I really should just name my blog that. An unpopular voice. That is what I am on a variety of subjects. For the most part I tend to be non partisan enough most people don’t bother to get angry and comment, or they care too much about my personal relationship with them and keep comments private. I supposed that’s fine. Not everyone feels the need to broadcast their political and social opinions to the world or engage in debate. That’s cool too. What does any of this have to do with my post? Probably nothing; just a momentary lament for the quiet unread blog that will probably blow up soon.
The world has changed. There’s no denying it. Even if the Ferguson riots/protests quiet for the foreseeable future, the world has changed. An event happened, lines in the sand were drawn, and a battle forged across the line. The rules are now different for my kids because they’re bi-racial. How the world, their friends, and community see them is forever changed. This is deeper than anyone without someone marginalized in some way a big part of their life can possibly understand. A fundamental shift in how we interact has happened and most of us had no control over it. All because of two scared men.
I wasn’t in Ferguson. I wasn’t there to see Michael Brown’s last minutes. I have only what the media allows me to see. I flip flopped on this so many times because, depending on where you went and their own personal politics, you saw two completely different sides of the issue. My husband and I both researched and both got different information, and we were very critical of the sources we chose. Finally MotherJones.com posted the actual deposition the grand jury heard. Go read it for yourself. Form your own opinion. But read the whole thing, not just the little yellow blocked out snap shots the editor pulled out for easier reading. It might change your whole world, or it might not.
I was really frustrated when I got this. I wanted to share it with the world because this document is as close to the truth as any of us are ever going to see. I shared with a few friends, people I know to be level headed and educated. People who happily look for the truth most of the time. These same people continued arguing their side without even reading it. I found an uncomfortable truth and an unpopular opinion.
Unpopular Opinion #1:
No one wants the truth.
The situation in this country has gotten so bad, that aside from what is now a true minority—white, male, upper class—life has gotten increasingly hard. Working college professors worry if they’ll have enough food on the table. Everyone is tried and angry. Each group has their own whipping boy to blame for their situation. Michael Brown was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. No one wants to be challenged by how this happened or who was guilty of what. They want their feeling justified so they can continue to be angry and not look for ways to change the world in the right way.
Unpopular Opinion #2:
Mike Brown was NOT innocent…but neither was he guilty. Darren Wilson was NOT guilty….but neither was he innocent.
After reading the deposition I have my own theory about events. You have a predominately black town with a primarily white power structure. Even if completely on accident, this breeds racism. When the group with all the power is different from you and your community, all you see is the group in power keeping you down. When you’re in power being challenged by a group that is different from you, all you see are the challengers out to get you.
Both Mike Brown and Darren Wilson are products of this environment. Wilson, I believe, really was scared. He saw a black man bigger than him, though youngish, challenging him. Wilson, by virtue of being in this society, had been taught that a black man challenging him meant he could die. He was angry and scared and reacted on pure instinct. He was not thinking nor was he making good choices or allowing himself to hang back a little and see this critically. Cops are taught when the gun is pulled it is to hit the target. They are taught when someone takes their weapon they’re going to die by that weapon so do what you have to to get it back and end the threat. Had Wilson been the product of a different environment he might not have been as scared of Brown. He might just have seen a punk kid who was frustrated and a little afraid and tried talking instead of feeling the need to push his authority around.
Brown, I believe, was truly scared. He was from an environment were all he saw were white cops hassling and arresting the other black kids his own age from his own neighborhood. I lived for a short time in a very poor run down neighborhood. When you called the cops there, it was knowing, even as the victim, you might get arrested. Brown was 18 with all the messed up thought processes and need to prove himself that come with the age. He saw a cop hassling him. He made some bad choices we can all agree on. You never strike a cop even when they deserve it. He got scared. He knew he was going down for this and didn’t know what to do. He was scared of this older, armed, cop, an authority figure. He was not thinking clearly. He was not making good choices. He could not step away and look at it critically.
Now we get into the heart of it. The real questions. Why did Brown turn around? The cop truly believed he was going to get charged and possibly harmed. Brown *might* have intended that, but I doubt it. He *might* have had a moment of clarity and wanted to salvage it somehow. We will never know.
Fear and Anger. Fear and anger killed Michael Brown. That’s all any of this is. There is enough fear and anger in this country that this one case out of the multitudes (literally thousands) of other examples became the deciding line.
Unpopular Opinion #3:
This case should never have been the deciding line.
This was a case of two scared people letting their fear take over their actions. Either one of them could have chosen different things if they weren’t so scared of each other.
Unpopular Opinion #4:
The case in Cleveland of a 12 yr old boy shot by police SHOULD be the deciding line.
At first I just shook my head. The initial media reports told a boy with an airsoft pellet gun. He had taken off the orange tab (or possibly it was off before he found it or it was given to him) and the gun looked real. I saw pictures. It looked real. The media said he was brandishing it around and pointing it at people. They said he threatened a cop. So sad.
Then the NY Times released a video of it and the 911 call that sent officers on the scene. Watch it. I dare you.
In the 911 call the caller makes it clear he thinks the gun is just a toy, but it’s scaring him so could someone go check this out. He’s asked to describe the “guy”. The caller starts in on clothing, and is interrupted several times by the dispatcher asking if he’s white or black. This question was repeated a few times before the caller finally said, “black.” No one asked if he was Asian or American Indian. The call ends almost abruptly after the caller admits the “guy” is black.
The video is worse. I gasped and literally stopped breathing for a minute. You see the boy, very clearly a boy, waving the gun around in an empty park. Then you see the cop car roll up on the scene inches from the boy and the cop in the passenger seat shoots in 2 seconds. The door isn’t even fully open.
This is the travesty. This is the case people should be protesting over but will likely ignore.
Unpopular Opinion #5:
Freedom of speech no longer exists.
Yes, you read that right. The Cleveland case is a disgusting abuse of power and race, but the media portrays a kid that did something stupid and should have known better. The media shows us the gun and we shake our heads thinking if we were that cop with that pointed at us we might have to shoot too.
During this most recent wave of Ferguson protests and riots I saw what the news showed. And I watched independent live stream from people just walking with the crowds and documenting. I watched things as they happened. They most assuredly didn’t match. There’s a picture circulating of cops helping a man up from a teargased street. That was staged. I watched an independent camera stream from UStream as cops set it up. The mainstream media denies the use of teargas, saying it was only smoke. Yet I watched on several streams as the fallen canisters were picked up clearly labeled. I saw cops use teargas to corral a hundred people into a business and then set off teargas inside the store forcing them all into the basement. When they had to leave to breathe fresh air they were threatened to go back inside or get arrested by the same cops that put the teargas in there.
The original Wilson/Brown case is so skewed we have no hope of knowing anything with 100% clarity. Credible sources on both sides of the fence showed entirely different stories. Each one choosing their own martyr. It was so skewed in fact I fully believe there would have been riots and protests no matter what the grand jury decided. All that decision did was decide which group would riot first.
Why? Fear and anger yet again. No one wants to be challenged. No one wants their side to be proven in error no matter how small. If that happens then everything they were fighting for loses strength. The wind is out of the sails, and the incredibly heady experience of being in the center of activity for an important purpose suddenly sours. So you fight so you can feel justified.
White people: The system is flawed and bred more racism and hate than I’ve known in my life time. Wilson is an ignorant, flawed, person who made some bad choices. It may not have been intentional but it colored his actions.
Black people: The system is flawed and bred more racism and hate than I’ve known in my life time. Michael Brown was an angry scared kid who made some bad choices. It may not have been intentional but the state of his world colored his actions.
Now both groups and many friends can be angry with me. I couldn’t sit on this anymore and watch the fighting go on. It’s nice to be neutral. Sweden is a nice country. No one gets angry with you and you avoid a lot of drama. You don’t feed into the problem…but neither do you feed into the solution. Racism in this country is massive. That’s uncomfortable. It’s unpopular. Pretty much all my white friends are going to take exception to that. And they can because I don’t hang around with bigots of any kind. Ask around, it’s the quickest way to get on my bad side and I don’t care what color or gender or orientation the bigot is.
We NEED to address this. We need to talk about it. We need to understand that ALL colors are capable of being racist. We need to understand that even with a bi-racial president our government is corrupt and it wasn’t necessarily his fault. If you still blame the president for anything you don’t understand the problem yet.
However scary it is, this country needs an overhaul. What is going on now needs to happen.
I must really like the political hotbed. I keep stepping in it. I don’t think it’s a huge surprise that Thanksgiving isn’t a happy time for everyone. Nor do I think it’s a surprise that history has been rewritten. We sort of accept this as par for the course in our nation’s history, but too often we shy away from it because it’s ugly and we don’t want to be reminded of that.
Let’s face it, as a nation we suck at dealing with unpleasant truths. It’s a societal problem. No one enjoys having angry memes that tell them harsh truths thrown at them. We go to great lengths to refute articles based on title without giving the information time to trickle in. I’m just as guilty as the rest. I’m feeding into a racist society? No! Not me! I couldn’t be! But I am, just as much as everyone else majority and minority alike. Until we start acknowledging the truth and our own personal parts in it we will never evolve past this point.
For Thanksgiving specifically, the truth has nothing to do with pleasant pilgrims and happy Indians sharing a meal after a good harvest. I really want that to be true. I want my kids to hear this version and think of all the ways we can get along regardless of beliefs.
The first Thanksgiving was a party thrown by the mayor of a small town in 1671 after the slaughter of over 700 American Indian men, women, children, and elderly. A white man had been murdered and the nearby tribe was blamed. The town went crazy as mobs tend to do and slaughtered hundreds of innocent. For a century after that the Thanksgiving feast was celebrated as thanks for that “victory”.
There is a really ugly truth. I don’t like it. I have reason to believe I have Monacan blood, but I also have puritan blood. Like most American’s whose families have been in the country since the 1900’s or before, I have a lot of mixing in me. I doubt I’m pure anything. I don’t think there is such a thing as purebred in America. It’s simply not possible.
I don’t wish to take away a holiday from people. I love any reason to party and spread joy. I don’t think it serves anyone to abolish the holiday. I do believe there are parts of it that have morphed into true giving of thanks, and I have a lot to be thankful for. However I don’t think the holiday means nearly as much if we don’t accept the ugly truth. Having studied Ojibwa and other grassland tribes in my youth I fully believe our ancestors would want us to find a way to honor them and have joy.
I will eat turkey, and green bean casserole, and stuffing (gluten free), and cranberry sauce and make my famous pumpkin fluff and probably steal a few pieces of gluten riddled pie. Why? Because I like it. I don’t care a whole lot what they really would have eaten in the era of the first Thanksgiving. I enjoy the traditions my family and friends have created over the years.
But I will also pray for the slain American Indians from all battles during the “settling” of the United States. I will remember them. I will attempt to continue their memory and live by their teachings which have had a huge influence on my spirituality as long as I can remember. I will not feed into this false truth of gentle pilgrims and generous Indians. I will openly and honestly attempt a dialogue that does not shame those left with this legacy so as to teach them. And at noon on Thanksgiving Day, the time when the National Day Of Mourning observance begins at Cole's Hill Plymouth, I will bow my head in silence and feel the beat of drums in my heart.
All this week I will be filing my twitter with images of American Indians. My purpose is not shame or anger, but remembrance and honor. We serve nothing by blaming the living for an act that happened almost 400 years ago. We have everything to gain by accepting the truth and making something beautiful out of it in their memory.
You can blame Kirk Cameron for this one. I saw an article about the actor’s claims that Pagans stole Halloween from the Christians. The title alone is a good indication of what you will find inside. Trust me, it went downhill from there. So today I offer a history lesson.
The Pagan year is divided into two halves, the light and the dark. Samhain is the official switch over from the light half to the dark half, while Beltane (May Day) is on the opposite end. Many Pagans see this as a sort of New Year. The word Samhain literally means ‘Summer’s End’. In Ireland it’s pronounced Sow-in, Wales Sow-een, and Scottland Sav-en.
Before the Gregorian calendar the date for Samhain was calculated as so many days after the Blood moon, the first full moon in October (Blood moon does not refer to a lunar eclipse). However now, it’s just easier to pick a nearby date, and has been October 31st for so long no one is quite sure when it started that way.
The most significant part of this celebration is inclusion of ancestors and loved ones passed. It is said that on Samhain and Beltane the veils between the living and the dead are thinnest. To a Pagan that means it is more likely to have ghosts wandering around and communicating with you. This is not a scary thing. It’s a blessed thing. Think of it, that grandparent you miss dearly, or an ancestor from far back in your line, coming to you tell you they love you and are proud of you, and to offer advice. Millions of people worldwide currently seek this service out through mediums. In the Pagan world this is the time most likely for that to happen and is a time we honor them. A Samhain ritual focuses on honoring the dead and receiving their messages, as well as all the fun stuff of food, games, and community. In some traditions this is also considered the launch of the Wild Hunt which rides the entire dark half of the year. This is when the male form of deity rides with his 'huntsmen' in search of the most evil among us to provide swift justice. (There is a link between this and Santa Clause, but that's another post.)
Some parts of the world this has evolved into something very similar. In Hispanic countries it is common to celebrate The Day of the Dead on November 1st. This community, multi-faith, celebration involves large block parties and parades. Names of loved ones gone are written and spoken in honor. The loved ones’ favorite foods are prepared. They believe that their ghosts will walk among them on that eve and be able to eat those foods and enjoy them. Skeletons that are already a huge part of that culture become prolific. This particular celebration has melded Samhain with All Saint’s Day, a Christian holy day.
This is where the biggest confusion comes in. Very early in Church’s history there was a holy day established for the remembrance of the dead. The first record of All Saint’s Day being observed in the Western Church is around 608 A.D. on May 13th. It was moved in 741 to Nov. 1st, the official word being to link it with the consecration of a new basilica, which may or may not be true. I choose to take it at face value and believe the public made their own inferences of the date. The historic exploits of the Christian Church to win over ‘Godless Pagans’ is well known. There are several innocuous and malignant examples of this.
The night before All Saint’s Day was known as All Hallows Eve, hallowed meaning sacred. It shortened in every day speech to Hallow’ een, or Halloween. With the Pagan rites involving ghosts, the Church remembering the dead, and the constant pull from both sides in the early church years, one says sacred the other says evil, it is a very short jump to see how it all got jumbled. It is also why modern Pagans make a general rule about using the word Samhain over Halloween.
The advent of costumes and Trick-or-Treating is fairly recent the first actual record being in the 1930’s. There are some loose connections to old Samhain traditions though. In England Soul Cakes were made as offerings for wandering souls. People would ‘A Soulin’ for the cakes, going door to door to collect them. There was also the practice of Mumming. As lore of Halloween being a time of all manner of dark and evil things became prevalent and the true nature of the day relegated to old wise tales, it was still common to put out offerings to appease the dark spirits. Adults would dress up as these creatures and attempt to fool their friends by acting out trickery in exchange for the offering.
Some also link Guy Fawkes day. This would actually be the basis of Anonymous and the V for Vendetta movie. Essentially, on Nov. 5th., a man in the famous Anonymous mask bombed parliament and started a revolution. Guy Fawkes day is a day of mischief and pranks, and of course it’s costumed to keep you from getting caught. I can see the basis for Hell Night, the night when older teens and young adults are knowing for playing sometimes dangerous pranks, in this.
Many modern Pagans don’t like Trick-or-Treating, or costume parties. They feel it takes away from the true spirit of the season and feeds into the myths of evil witches. Personally I don’t have a problem with it. In every celebration there is a place for children. Games, special clothes, general merriment. As long as we are there to teach them the true meanings, I say let them play and enjoy.
Susan is a writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends. She walks the path of a Siedr and strives to grow day by day.