(Yet Another) Revised “Acceptance” Cover

I should subtitle this post: Stop me before I Photoshop again. (If you all haven’t realized it yet, I’m a bit of a perfectionist with a Photoshop compulsion.)

While I actually like the new front cover of Acceptance, I don’t like the plain, gradient background; it looks like a homemade job. After working on a cover for my second book (more on that next week!), I went back and redid the back cover for Acceptance.

I have two picture options. I’m leaning towards the one of the setting sun (although, in the picture, it looks more like the moon than the sun).

Acceptance-Alternate-Cover-

This is pretty much the final form of the entire cover, barring a little (compulsive) tweaking.

Accept-Alternate-Cover-v3

If I end up with this back cover, I’ll format it to look like the cover above. (I didn’t want to do a lot of work for something I may not use.)

Acceptance Cover (Front only) ThumbnailI couldn’t remember if I had already enlarged the title or not, but I see now that I haven’t. Is everyone still in agreement that it needs to be bigger? This is what it looks like as a thumbnail, roughly the size it would be on Amazon:

You know, I think I’m actually pretty decent at this cover design thing. I wouldn’t mind doing it for cash. A decent cover designer seems to charge $100-$200 for a pre-made cover, depending on whether it’s ebook only or a full paperback cover. Based on the time I spend making a cover, I’d say that’s pretty fair. (About $10 an hour wages, not factoring in the cost of photo and font royalties.) Although, some of that time includes searching for the right image for my book and doing my blurb, so I might could get a bit cheaper if selling pre-made covers.

Anyways, once I finalize my cover, I’m going to proofread my book again to correct some typos that I’ve found since publishing (if you have seen any, please leave a comment below with the typo in question and the sentence it appears in (so I can search and find it)). I plan to issue the new edition sometime late this spring or early in the summer. Which means if you want a paperback copy of the original cover, you need to hurry up and order it.

Redo My Cover?

acceptance front coverYou know how I said I didn’t want a dark, sultry, or “vampirish” cover for my book? Yeah, well, I’m thinking I might change my cover up, just to see if I can generate more sales. While I like the cover I have, maybe a different cover would be more attractive to others.

So, here’s a possible new cover. Does it seem a bit more vampiric, romantic, and/or dark (as in theme, not in coloration).

I also rewrote the back cover blurb a little bit. What do you think? I think it’s not quite suspenseful enough; there’s a lot of action in my first book. But it doesn’t sound quite as juvenile. Despite the fact that my protagonist is a teenager, I’ve never held this series up as teen/young adult book. (I like the emerging New Adult genre, which aims for an audience 16-25 years old.)Acceptance-Alternate-Cover

 

 

HTML/CSS Design Question

I hereby interrupt your regularly-scheduled post to insert a question. This is for my web design friends.

On my website, I have a banner, sidebar (w/ links) and a footer. I want these elements to be the same on every single page.

As of right now, each page is individually coded to have those three elements. But now I want to add a link to my sidebar and, guess what?, I don’t want to add that link to twenty separate pages.

I want a master template where the code for my banner, sidebar (w/links), and footer text resides so that when I want to add another link or update the footer, I can change the template and all of my pages magically update.

Now, I do have some CSS knowledge, and I now have the code necessary to put the same background, header, link block and footer block on every single page.

What’s missing, however, are the links in my sidebar and the text in the footer. From everything I’ve read online, you can not put static text or links in CSS.

So how can I make some sort of master template or file that all of my pages can pull information from, so when I go to make changes to my links or footers, I only have to change the one file, not all of them?

(I do not have Dreamweaver or FrontPage; I’m using a free WYSIWYG editor with the ability to code the HTML/CSS by hand. So I need actual code or a link to a free something-another that allows me to do this.)

 

“Devotion” is at Crossroads – One Book or Two?

I was driving home last night, thinking about a scene I want to add to my second book, Devotion, when I started to wonder what my word count was. I knew it had been at about 120,000 at one point, but I thought I had added some things since then.

When I got home, I checked: 150,000+ words.

Acceptance clocks in right at 109,000. For traditional publishers, this is on the high-end of the word count limit–at least for a first book. Oddly enough, though, Smashwords reports that fantasy and science fiction sell best around 120,000 words. (Most genres sell better at slightly higher word counts than the publishing industry aims for.)

Sequels and books by established authors tend to be a bit longer than the first book, so I figured that I’d aim for 120,000 words or less for Devotion. If the draft wound up at 130,000, I still had room to do some editing and get it down to 120,000.

But 150,000 words? And I need to add more? There’s no paring that down to 120,000–not without cutting out entire chapters.

So, I’m starting to entertain the idea of breaking the book into two (making my trilogy a what… quadrology? Plain old “series”?).

Pros

  1. The book, as it stands now, divides into two pretty naturally. A very big something happens in the middle, and that can become the end of Part A. And with the scenes I want to add, I can probably make both Part A and Part B about the length of my original novel.
  2. Right now, I’m cramming an entire year of Kalyn’s life into a single book and I feel that it’s rushed. My husband specifically asked for more scenes in the second half of the book because he didn’t feel like I took enough time with it.
  3. Both of my beta readers said Kalyn and Anselm’s relationship moved too fast. While I do have an overall timeline to keep, if I had an extra book, I could put in more scenes and have more interaction between them, which would make it feel like it’s developing slower.
  4. While Acceptance was all about action and getting a sense of what the vampire’s world is like, and the final book is going to be an action-packed conclusion, the middle book(s) is/are supposed to be a bit slower–a bit of a breather–and about character and relationship development. (Think The Empire Strikes Back and Luke having to take time out to train with Yoda, and Han and Leia having to take a little time to fall in love.)

    Development of characters takes time, especially when you have as many characters as I do and most of them have very long pasts (not to mention Kalyn has a lot of emotional trauma to work through; while she holds up pretty well in the first book because she has to, I don’t want to give the impression that she has no emotional reaction to any of it). Two books let me play with everyone more and reveal more.

    And while Kalyn is the protagonist of this series (look, I’m already calling it a series), I plan on introducing prequels which revolve around some of the other characters, including Rose, Isaac, and Joshua, so it’s a good thing if I make them interesting in this series so people want to know more about them.

  5. Strictly from a marketing standpoint, the more books you have, (generally) the better. If I had four books in the series, I might be willing to offer my first book for free to get people hooked. (Something that’s commonly done in self-publishing and is really helping authors get discovered.) When I only have three books, it hurts worse to make one free.

Cons

  1. I have to come up with another book title and cover design. In fact, the split may require I rethink the title/cover I do have, meaning I might need two totally new titles/covers. (You don’t know how much I agonize over picking a picture for the front of the book that captures the mood. And coming up with a title is even worse.)
  2. It might make things too slow. God knows Eclipse (third book of the Twilight series) should have been reduced to a few chapters and tacked on to either the second book or the last. It was like a Seinfeld episode–a whole lot of talking about nothing.
  3. I don’t want it to feel like I broke one solid book into two just to make more money (although if I make the first book free, I’d still only get paid for three).
  4. “Trilogy” is just such a nice, neat term. Three is such a nice number. Something just feels off about four. Not to mention I do not want people drawing comparisons between my series and Twilight just because there are four books in each.

I think I am going to try breaking Devotion up and give it to my beta readers to see if they like it better that way or not. If they think it’s too slow that way, maybe they can suggest what parts make it too slow, I can edit them out, and end up with a single (albeit still fairly hefty) sequel.

World-Building “Acceptance” – History and Politics

I’m attempting to get caught up with Sharon Bayliss’ worldbuilding challenge, so I’m going to be posting a little more frequently than usual (don’t get used to it; have I bitched lately about how dial-up sucks time out of my life like a Count Rugen torture device?).

My last post was on the geography and climate of the world in Acceptance. Now I’m going to delve into the history and politics of Kalyn’s world.

History

The Canichmeh vampires are not entirely sure of their origins, as their oldest texts fade into myth. According to those texts, they are the direct descendents of Cain and were taught how to be vampires by Lilith.

In reality, however, they recognize the fact that a blood-borne virus is responsible for making them what they are (the virus alters their DNA, actually making them a separate species), and they think that they and the virus might have evolved together somewhere in Mesopotamia less than 6,000 years ago.

The prevailing theory is that they hooked up with the Jewish people while the latter were in exile in Babylon, and this is when they began organizing their culture into what we see today. It was from the Jews that they came by their organization into family tribes, their laws and court system (based on Biblical law and the Sanhedrin), and their belief in monotheism. It was probably also at this time that they wrote their origins into the Biblical narrative.

The Canichmehah seem to have migrated to Judea with other Jews around 500 B.C., where they lived predominately as nomads. Amongst themselves, they recognized a difference between their people and the Jewish people, and they considered themselves merely an allied tribe (although they may have outwardly acted as Jews). As vampires cannot have natural children, they must turn humans in order to create new members, and it seems that they took most of their number from Jews (based on a statement in one historical text from around the year 0, which stated that almost no one among them–vampire or human—was uncircumcised). So, for most of the vampires, they were both Jews and Canichmehah at the same time.

At this time (or perhaps even earlier, before their immigration into Judea), vampires began keeping humans as slaves. Slaves were considered communal property, owned by all vampires in common (although individual groups, in reality, claimed ownership of individual slaves; all slaves had to wear a seal which indicated which group leader they belonged to). Because they were a common asset, it was illegal to kill, free, or sell a slave; they could only be traded amongst the vampire groups. It was, however, permissible to turn any slave over the age of majority (at the time this was 12 for a girl and 14 for a boy). So, for a slave, the only way out of slavery was death or to become a vampire. Slaves at this period were predominantly Jews by birth or converts as well.

By the year 0, most vampire groups had settled into towns and cities, giving up the nomadic way of life. Outwardly, they appeared to be Jews the same as everyone else, but they continued to maintain their own language, customs, laws, and government in the background.

When the Romans exiled the Jews in 150 AD, many vampires went with them, ultimately establishing groups throughout Europe. Around the year 200, the humans (Yaechahre) were freed. They were offered a choice: leave with nothing but their freedom, or stay and be provided with housing, protection, and a source of income. Most Yaechahre chose to stay. From that time on, becoming a Yaechahre was (at least legally) optional, beginning at the age of majority. The seals that they had worn evolved into tokens which showed that they had agreed to be Yaechahre. (Instead of showing who owns them, it states who accepted their service.)

As Christianity made it increasingly difficult to be a Jew, and as Jews scattered and became a small, isolated people within the larger European community, the demographics of the Canichmehah began to shift. While vampires in the middle east remained, by and large, Jewish-by-birth, the vampires of Europe became increasingly Christian until, by the high middle ages, there were few Jewish vampires still in Europe, and they lived, outwardly, as Christians.

The demographics of the Yaechahre changed too, becoming predominately Christian even earlier than the vampires, as they had to marry in Christians to keep up their numbers and prevent in-breeding. However, neither the vampires nor the Yaechahre forgot their Jewish origins; their laws and system of government continued to be Jewishly-based and their capital continued to be Jerusalem (although it was sometimes temporarily relocated, due to war). The Yaechahre had a system whereby the Christian Europeans intermarried with their Jewish Middle Eastern cousins every few generations. This helped keep the people (Orunameh) from splitting into two separate peoples.

Vampires went to the New World along with other Europeans, establishing groups in North America and some in South America. Later, some established groups in Australia. Currently, there are more vampires groups in the United States than in any other region of the world. American groups make vampires and bring in humans to be Yaechahre at a higher rate than anywhere else (although the Yaechahre in Israel have a higher birth rate than any other region). The current religious makeup of the vampires is about 60% born-Christian, 30% born-Jews, and 10% other. Among the Yaechahre, the numbers closer to 45% Christian, 20% Jews, 35% other.

The age of majority was raised in the 1300’s to 16 for girls and 18 for boys. Other than that, next to nothing has changed since the middle ages, and, in fact, relatively little about their culture has changed since 500 BC.

You can read the history of the vampires in more detail here. You can read their mythological origins here.

Politics

Vampire culture has always functioned as a culture within a culture (think Diaspora Jews–maintaining a separate cultural identity while also functioning quite well in the culture in which they live). Their customs and laws are supreme and trump any local or state laws. However, all Canichmehah and Yaechahre are encouraged to be good citizens and to not break local laws unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Because of this situation, vampires have many fewer laws on their books than any equivalent human government. Vampires are odd in that they have one single, central government, and they own all money and property in common (think communism), and yet they are fiercely independent. They much prefer that custom–not law–dictate what is and isn’t done, as custom can change more easily over time and in differing circumstances.

The individual adult vampire is generally allowed to go about his daily business with little interference from anyone else. Vampires are required to live in a group (defined as three or more vampires), and they are given a living allowance, as set by their group leader. Other than that, how they spend their money and their time is their own business. They may turn anyone they want, although they are legally responsible for the actions of that person while s/he is in their majority, and they are only allowed one child at a time.

Each group has a leader, who is democratically elected by the adult vampires of the group (although the opinions of the Yaechahre and the vampires still in their minority are usually heard and considered). This leader serves until s/he decides to step down or until the group votes to remove him/her by a simple majority (a vote of no confidence). The leader is responsible for keeping the group on a fiscal budget (as dictated by the High Council), for taking care of the group’s Yaechahre, as necessary, for Accepting new Yaechahre, for handling any interpersonal conflicts between the Yaechahre and the vampires, and for handling any legal problems–either with internal laws or external laws.

Every group leader is answerable to the High Council. The Council itself is divided into High and Low Councils. The Low Council has little function outside of ratifying all laws and upholding (or denying) a sentence of capital punishment made by the High Council. The High Council concerns itself with the day-to-day operations of the people and with the administration of the law.

The Council has a leader–the Erujtah–wh0, like group leaders, is democratically elected by the other members of the Council and serves for life, unless s/he chooses to step down or is voted out by a 2/3rds majority. While most major decisions require the High Council’s vote, many day-to-day decisions can be made by the Erujtah. Joshua–through his competence and sheer force of character–has greatly expanded the responsibilities of the Erujtah in his 500 years of service, to the point that his role most closely resembles that of a constitutional monarch.

How the Council worksThe difference between law and custom
Yaechahre culture and law

Bonus: One book reviewer thought that my vampires’ origin (i.e. Cain) was lifted from White Wolf, but White Wolf actually took that idea from very old legends. The epic poem, Beowulf, states that Grendel and all other monsters are descended from Cain. (Tolkein took the word “orc” from the Old English word “orcneas,” which was a type of demon mentioned in Beowulf.)

Lilith as a source of monsters and demons is also a very old legend that appears in multiple near eastern cultures (it’s thought that the Israelites got the legend from the Babylonians).

World-Building “Acceptance” – Geography and Climate

I just found an awesome little idea on Sharon Bayliss’ blog. She is encouraging world-building by way of a little contest. The contest is almost over, but her categories and questions regarding the imaginary world in your book are great. I would encourage everyone–not just fantasy and sci-fi writers–to do this exercise at some point during the creation of your novel. (In fact, it’s a great thing to do when you have writer’s block; it can really help you get unstuck.)

I’ve gotten a lot of compliments from my readers that Acceptance has a really great, well-developed world and characters. That’s because I spent a lot of time writing the history of my vampires and working out their culture–not to mention doing medical research to make them more believable. I also spent a lot of time coming up with the back story for each character.

Now, I won’t say that you should write all this stuff out before you begin your story. I’m not a plotter; I’m a pantser. (That’s sort of a word; a lot of writers use it to describe their by-the-seat-of-my-pants writing/plotting style.) I believe in letting your characters–even their world–evolve naturally as you write. But, there does come a time when you need to sit down and hammer out the details so that everything you write is consistent and makes sense. It also helps add an extra layer of depth to your characters if you know little things about them–like their favorite music or their birthday (example: Anselm’s biography). Those aren’t the sorts of things you need to know before you start to write, but definitely something you need to know before you are finished with your edits.

(If you need more examples of how to do this, check out Mike Robinson’s blog entry. It’s a fabulous, travel-guide description of his fictional town.)

So, with that being said, let me try my hand at this task using the urban fantasy world of Acceptance. (I’ll repeat this again later with the historical world of The Flames of Prague.)

Geography & Climate

The Acceptance Trilogy is set in our modern world (aka urban fantasy). Kalyn’s Acceptance takes place on May 22, 2009 (which means the prologue–when Anselm rescues Ciaran–takes place in late spring, 2008).

Geography

The primary location of all three books is Lenoir City and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. They are both small cities about 30 minutes apart and each about 30 minutes south of Knoxville. (Can you tell I’m Southern? We don’t measure distance, but driving time.) The secondary location is Jerusalem, Israel (specifically the Old City). Charleston, SC also makes a brief appearance in the first book.

Kalyn was born in Lenoir City and has lived there all her life. The landscape is broad, rolling farmland, which is often separated by dense woods, and it is all overshadowed by The Great Smokey Mountains. The Smokey Mountains are actually listed as a temperate rainforest, due to the levels of rainfall and overall moisture (a lot comes from dew and fog) that they receive. (The valleys, however, do not receive nearly as much rainfall.) The mountains came by their name from the fog that so frequently rises from them. Even on sunny days, fog may rise from the mountains, and rainy days can produce some very magnificent shows of “smoke.”

The wide Tennessee River is the predominant feature in the valley, with many smaller rivers coming down from the mountains and feeding into it. Even when drought conditions exist, East Tennessee residents never want for water; lawns are watered, cars are washed, pools are filled, fountains splash. (I had never heard of water restrictions until I went to college in Roanoke, Virginia, which had to get its water from a reservoir.)

Lenoir City has a population of roughly 6,500 people. Oak Ridge is larger (thanks to the nuclear industry and continued use by the military) with about 29,000 people. Knoxville is the third-largest city in Tennessee (after Nashville and Memphis) and has about 179,000 residents (although that probably doesn’t include the transient student population at the University of Tennessee). In all three books, Kalyn and her group live outside the borders of the cities.

So, all in all, it’s a rural setting. And this does have an effect on Kalyn, as she is a bit more self-sufficient than your average 16 year old. She grew up hiking in the mountains and playing in the woods around her house. In the second book, Devotion, we see her doing farm work: feeding and watering horses and goats (and the dog that guards them), putting up hay, helping mend fences, learning to ride. She goes swimming not in a pool, but in a river flowing through the mountains.

Linguistics

Kalyn has a Southern accent. Sentences frequently end with prepositions. She says “ya’ll.” She measures distance in time, not miles. She eats Krystals and drinks cokes (note the use of the small “c” there). She has a deep prejudice against Chicago (and anywhere up north, in general). She is a loyal UT fan and hates Alabama.

Weather

Tennessee is considered a fairly temperate state, with decent amounts of rainfall and relatively moderate temperatures. Spring begins in March. (“Don’t plant before Easter” is the gardener’s motto, as freezing temps can continue into early April.) Summer begins in May. Fall begins in September. January is usually the coldest, messiest month; December frequently the wettest. The end of July and pretty much all of August is the hottest, driest part of the year.

Cold snaps in the winter can see temps into the teens and in the single digits in the mountains. We very rarely experience anything below 0 (unless it’s the windchill). The average temp for the winter, though, is about 40. The weather in the winter can be quite unpredictable, as it’s not uncommon to have at least one a 70 degree day in January or February. Then, it may turn around and snow the next day. (Occurring right now, in fact; yesterday’s high was 70, last night we had tornado warnings and severe storms, and tonight it’s sleeting.)

East Tennessee usually experiences a few snow/ice events each year, with usually at least one measurable snowfall per winter. 1-3 inches is about average for a “good snow.” Higher amounts do occur, but not on a yearly basis. The mountains, obviously, receive higher amounts of snow, and it’s not uncommon to see snow on the mountains and none in the valleys.

Rainfall in the summertime usually comes by way of thunderstorms, and some of these can produce tornadoes. Although East Tennessee is not as susceptible to tornadoes as the much flatter portions of West and Middle Tennessee, they do occur. You can expect at least one tornado warning–if not an actual tornado on the ground–every year in East Tennessee.

I have pictures of the landscape, cities, and buildings of Kalyn’s world. See them on my Pinterest board.