Self-Publishing Cover Design for the Indie Author–Glas Daggre Logos

ImageThe challenges of print-ready cover design are now upon me, and I required not one, but TWO publisher’s logos: one for the spine (usable as single-color clipart-quality, for everything from letterhead to business cards) and a fully-realized one for more formal requirements (in this case, the back cover).  I was lucky enough to locate an image of an actual glass dagger, in exactly the kind of jade color I favor!  In case anyone wonders, the concept for “glass dagger” connotes the paradox of force and fragility–one can imagine that such a weapon would have to be employed, like language itself, in a very precise manner not to miss the mark and shatter.  In plainer terms, I also wanted to suggest that writers convert or at least reveal the beauty of mundane, or even terrible, objects.Image

To complete the “simple” task of cover design (I’ll reveal it if, and after, it survives the approval process of Createspace and/or Lightning Source) I’ve had to employ at least three software suites:  MS Office, Adobe PDF or equivalent, Zoner Photo Studio, (and Paint when I needed something simple.)  Quite a learning curve.

Anyone have an opinion or suggestions?

Cyber Monday? Seriously? Is Resistance Futile?

Harrison Ford and Sean Young as human replicants in Blade Runner

Well, why not just go full cycle with Bionic Tuesday, Pneumatic Wednesday, Hydraulic Thursday and keep the whole Black Friday assembly line going, until we’re all just equivalents of the mindless computers and games and dolls that they’re trying to push on us until the money comes out automatically and we can jack right in without all the advertising?

I mean, we’re already forbidden from saying “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah,” as they’ve been homogenized into the ritualistic and asinine  “Happy Holidays!”   Why not just skip the holidays (the food and good cheer, the visits and hugs with friends and family, the warmth of the hearth and the joy at snow outside, and the charity toward those less fortunate,) entirely and just have one big Skype-fest?  After all, it’s as good as being there. . .

Awhile back, I did a post called “Who Programs You?” https://clothosloom.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/who-programs-you-15-2/and this is exactly what I was talking about.

So how’s that for a nice short, efficient rant?  My IPad will be jealous.

LibraryThing Giveaway of Clotho’s Loom E-Book

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In the spirit of the season, I’d like to offer those short on funds–and especially those new to this site (WELCOME!) a chance to obtain this novel for FREE.

Whether or not you’ve entered the GoodReads print-book giveaway for Clotho’s Loom by Shawn StJean (look to the left column if you haven’t,) you can get a chance for a FREE copy of the e-book over at LibraryThing until Christmas Eve or so!  LibraryThing is a member-site similar to GoodReads, which provides a valuable meeting place for authors and readers.

http://www.librarything.com/er/list?program=giveaway (peruse the whole list while you’re there).

As I always like to say, what’s better than FREE?

So When Did Black Friday Become A Bigger “Holiday” Than Thanksgiving?

Need I say more?  Well, I’ll say a little.  If aliens are intercepting our media transmissions, they can’t help but come to the above conclusion.  I barely watch 1-2 hours of television nightly, and yet I’ve seen hundreds of BF-hype commercials this week, and hardly one that even  mentioned our nation’s unique holiday of gratitude.  I seem to recall this started out as a kind of ironic joke–“Black” means awful in this context, right?  Now, forget aliens, what message is this sending the kids?  “Okay, we’re grateful for what we have through the preceding year, blah, blah, let’s get 3-4 hours sleep and rush out for more.  Why such a hurry?  Well, little Joey and Sara, it’s so cheap.

My broad interpretation is that the vendors and stores and conglomerates and credit agencies and banks are slowly and surely buying us and our values–and they’re getting us pretty cheap.  Now, I know everyone is not participating.  But someone must be.  Otherwise these things wouldn’t get bigger every year.

Anyway, in a spirit of Thanks and Gratitude, I’d like to take a personal, non-commercial moment to name a few of the milestones for Clotho’s Loom (the website and the book)–ironic, I know, as these are by definition commercial entities. So if you’re reading this, you might want to stop here–your time would be better spent meditating on your own stuff.

CL the site has been in existence for about six months.  Since that first post, “A Modest Beginning,” we’ve had about 100 posts, and 5000 unique views.  CL the book has gotten on 100 shelves over at GoodReads and 250 people have entered the giveaway of the forthcoming print edition there.  I have just finished laying down the raw audiotracks of the Audiobook edition (all 205,000 words–whew!)  The print edition is on schedule, unbelievably enough.

So if anyone is still here and has contributed to any of this, THANKS SO MUCH.  Enjoy the holiday season, wherever you are. . .

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Marvel Comics pays tribute to Norman Rockwell’s famous painting, and more importantly, the American Holiday

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Indie Authors: Beware Amazon’s Auto-Renew (and Miscellaneous Pitfalls of KDP Select)

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Activision’s Pitfall Harry finds a new way to get his heart broken

As a follow up to my post, Cowboys and Indies: Amazon and Monopoly in the Free Market,  in which I joined the chorus of e-voices lamenting Amazon’s latest wave of review removals (I’ll return to this further down,) I’d like to draw attention, especially for the benefit of new and aspiring authors, to a few of the other potential landmines in your path, if you choose to go with a program specifically designed to benefit fledgling writers: KDP Select.

First, I want to be clear that you’re making a good choice. It’s a great way to get launched. I’m not embarking on some anti-Amazon crusade—my own books are published there, and likely to remain, no matter what other steps I take to sell them. But the system is not perfect—and its flaws are, without question in my mind and whether designed consciously so or not, biased toward the building of the Amazon monopoly.

So if they’re going to police us and our reviews, we’d better police them. While we still can.

There’s a “convenience” feature (their word, not mine) built into KDP Select that renews you for a second (and third, etc.) three-month period, which requires you to UNCHECK the default setting of “go ahead and do it.” This obligates you to publish your book EXCLUSIVELY through Amazon for that period. At first, I thought I was unique in my blunder at overlooking this. Once you’re aware of it, it’s easy to locate within your author’s dashboard—one might say, it hides in plain sight. You will not, among your dozens of other Amazon e-mails, receive a reminder. I’ve since discovered several other authors who’ve essentially committed the first SIX, not THREE, months of their book’s existence to the the giant bookseller by this same lapse in vigilance.

At the end of the first 90-day period, you may feel comfortable enough as an author/bookseller/promoter/agent to want to branch out with outfits like Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Lulu, Google Play, and a host of other players in the market. You may also have given away hundreds or thousands of copies through AZ’s program, and feel that’s plenty to get your toe in the door of the electronic marketplace, especially if you are channeling those readers in venues like GoodReads, LibraryThing, blogs, and forums like the UK’s Kindle Users Forum (you should be).

Now, should you stumble into an Auto-Renewal, it may occur you to shrug and just do as you like, anyway. If you feel like it’s too much trouble for Amazon to take legal action against you because you’re so little, just don’t forget they have other options. First, it’s their store: they can ban you and your works. Second, due to the royalty payout structure, Amazon will have custody of up to three month’s of your royalty money at any given time. If you breach, and they counter-breach your agreement (somehow your money doesn’t arrive,) are you willing to pursue legal action against them, given they’re so big? Oh, and if I’ve reviewed the guidelines correctly, the 72-hour grace period for withdrawing only applies to the first signup period. I found it all-too-easy, assuming all along I would not renew, to miscalculate the exact day I thought to withdraw, and became obligated for another (big holiday) term.

Perhaps needless to say, this really does look like another of the many, many moves it takes to corner a market, build a monopoly. And you may not really be selling that many books, but as long as you’re also not selling any through any other channels, well, Amazon doesn’t need to concern themselves about you, do they? You’re not contributing to their competitors becoming a threat.

A quick update on the review removals: I’ve confirmed through several sources that it isn’t just certain reviews that AZ’s software bans: it’s certain reviewers from reviewing certain books (products). So that means, if you as an author are in contact with a reviewer (very common, and often very legitimate) and can persuade them to reword or even completely re-write a review, even in strict adherence to the guidelines, it will not stick. I wish to emphasize the importance of this. In my view, it reveals that the official line about reviews violating guidelines is baloney. And in the final analysis, if you can’t get enough positive reviews (the fundamental, traditional means of selling books,) then aren’t you even more dependent upon the Amazon distribution machines, like KDP Select and its giveaways, or whatever they come up with next?

By contrast, if you get stuck with a one-star review by someone who obviously did not read your book, did not buy your book, and for perverse reasons of their own would clearly like to sabotage your book, AZ had provided a “report abuse” button for you to push. I have not discovered many authors getting justice this way, however.

As several sensible folks have already remarked, blenders and generators and computer motherboards are one thing—you NEED reviews to help make an informed decision—but as far as content like books and music goes, perhaps it’s time we began behaving, as consumers, in a non-traditional way: READ the SAMPLE. At least several pages—and decide for yourself. As a literate person, you don’t need Amazon’s robots, or friends and family of the Author, or some ex-girlfriend with a vendetta, telling you who, and what, and how, to READ.

Casting Call–Miscellaneous characters–“Fair is Foul, and Foul Fair”

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Summer Glau as the viper, Ms. D.

As I record the final Audiobook chapters of Clotho’s Loom, I found myself searching for a voice characterization of “Agency” huntress Ms. D. (who appears to take custody of Nexus Wyrd‘s baby from her, as an unfit mother,) and it occurred to me that I wanted a faux-friendly, precise but somewhat robotic and mechanistic set of intonations, emblemizing the perfect company-woman: policy, rules, documents define her existence.  Also known as the Woman in Black, she relentlessly tracks the mother-and-son fugitives (sound familiar, Sarah Connor Chronicles fans?)  So the choice was inevitable: Summer Glau (Firefly is commemorating it’s tenth anniversary already, for you time-relativists).  Dye her hair black, put her into a sharp black business suit, heels, nails, hair–hell, everything jet black, even her car–a great contrast to the palest skin she can manage (we’ll have to catch her in winter, not summer.  Or maybe she has an obscure sister?)

The character of Jack (one of Will’s helpers) is best described as a desert rat: inhabiting the wasteland ranges west of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, he’s a deranged, starved, scarecrow of a hermit.  Probably doesn’t sound like the Sam Elliott many of you know as the narrator of The Big Lebowski, or of countless westerns, but I can see it there: the age, the eyes, the wild hair and potentially out-of-control facial grooming.  Strip him down to about 160 pounds of tall, lean muscle.  Jack functions as prophet and seer, which recommends Sam for his best feature (no, I don’t mean the moustache): his voice.  Jack doesn’t talk much, but when he does, you best listen–it’s all resonant.

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Sam Elliott as Jack the Hermit

Evil Archetypes of Pop Culture: Zombie Apocalypse Now

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A history of Zombie evolution through the 20th century is beyond my scope here, and I’ll confine myself to a discussion of the genre, post-Romero. The old resurrection of corpses by a lone human agent, whether through Voodoo or arcane science, is sufficiently similar to the Frankenstein myth to enter into a separate analysis, another time.

Zombies as individual threats have, over time, been replaced by zombie hordes and ultimately by the all-inclusive Zombie Apocalypse, so familiar to audiences nowadays that exposition in films can be all but dispensed with, and we can proceed straight to the grisly action. How and why Armageddon happened hardly matters (we can reasonably infer it the result of human perversion,) only when, where, and most importantly, to whom. The phrase “zombie apocalypse” has become a widespread joke, masking deep-seated cultural anxieties about the future, with tentative laughter, while we quietly dig our holes (whether real or symbolic) and fill them with canned goods.

Apocalyptic tales in general are a cultural fantasy of starting over, because the mess we’re in now (economic, moral, political –- pick your poison) is just too deep, and nothing less than a scouring down to a clean bottom, not unlike the flood from which Noah escaped with his chosen few, will set things straight. Here I use the term “Fantasy” as not just the imaginative incarnation of a desire, but also an unconscious fear. We can never, by force of will and cooperation, dig ourselves out of the mire of industrial waste and human sewage we ourselves have created. This societal attitude finds its way symbolically into the story: instead of harnessing the id-energy to just “Run!,” most of the disposable characters simply cry, stumble, give up. Are the “tough” characters any better? On this archetypal level, both the “strong” wish to carry on and start over, and the “weak” act of simply falling down and letting the disaster overtake you, amount to the same abandonment of hope in society, as it now stands. In short, the apocalypse is a dramatization of the embracing of our race, collectively, of that deadliest of all sins: despair.

But what makes the Zombie Apocalypse so special?

The eating of the flesh, but especially the dainty of the brain, is telling. For it’s the left brain, the logic and the reason, that have brought all the crud down upon us by overwhelming the dictates of the right, creative and compassionate, and therefore undervalued, side of the mind. Today, computers replace the arts, infodata replaces knowledge, and destructive weapons replace generative technology. Therefore, in the aftermath of the fall, humans are often reduced to lower and lower forms of tech (trucks, then guns, chainsaws, finally axes and clubs,) and communications fail. For those paying attention to every detail, note the prevalence of images and use of the bare hands. Poetic justice.

Like the decline of civilization itself, the advance of zombies may at times be shambling and slow, but it is inevitable, and ultimately no escape is possible. They have the numbers, and the inexorable force of inertia. The horde is only the virus writ large. To spread, absorb, and move on is its very nature.

Enter our small band of resistors —- white blood cells incarnated –- varying from a single person to perhaps six or eight defined characters. Most will be claimed, one by one, amid the agonizing recognition that once someone gets infected, there’s simply nothing to be done. Unlike an alcoholic or addict who can get into a program and be reclaimed by, in a word, love, these stories tell us that love and trust are not enough, because they’re overpowered by too many other factors, mindless selfishness foremost (sometimes disguised as survival instinct.)

And that’s the point. Although it only explicitly resurfaces occasionally, inspired by the Romero sequel Dawn of the Dead, zombie stories, amid their barren landscapes, do furnish fertile ground for social criticism. They almost always employ an isolated setting and a microcosm of disparate characters, the last representatives of types of people now gone. The plot archetype beneath the collective and individual struggle for survival emerges as what Campbell called the Scapegoat Myth, wherein other human beings are sacrificed impulsively for one’s own personal safety/comfort (as in the all-too-human pushing of someone aside to escape the pursuing horde), or ritualistically, for the supposed good of the community at large, as simply told in the classic Shirley Jackson tale “The Lottery,” or most recently convoluted by Joss Whedon in his Cabin in the Woods (2011). In such tales, Man is revealed as the most monstrous Thing of them all, because alone among created beings does he turn on his own kind – zombies, aliens, pirahna, at least, do not eat each other. But a man will slay his brother, or steal his life savings, or repossess his house, or covet his wife. All in slavish worship of his insatiable hunger.

Afraid of what might happen? Brother, the symbols are telling us it’s already happening.

Digest this refrain from The Hooters’ 1985 song “All You Zombies”:

All you zombies hide your faces

All you people in the street

All you sittin’ in high places

The rain’s gonna fall on you

* * * *

Endings of these stories vary according to the temperaments of the writers, but, almost always, there is little hope for humankind to be gleaned from them. This runs counter to the typical Hollywood paradigm, and may partially explain the resistance of Big Money to embrace the genre. Mainstream films in America like to offer hope. But the perennial willingness to scapegoat others signals, unavoidably, hope’s antithesis: humans, as a species, haven’t evolved enough resistance to the disease of our desires and fears, and don’t deserve to survive.

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Ask yourself, Why is this funny?