Monday, 25 November 2013

Here be the cover

Here’s the cover for my new book, A Wolf of Her Own. It’s the next one in the Two-Natured London series so the cover resembles the previous books. As always, it’s my own creation so all the praise and blame can be directed at me.

A Wolf of Her Own by Susanna Shore
I’m happy with the cover, although I may change the colour of the author’s name yet. I have two choices and I change my mind about them constantly. The other would be a slightly lighter blue, almost similar to the white of the title. It looks clearer in the thumbnail, but otherwise I like this one better.

What do you think? Is it a good cover or do I need to tweak it some more?


A Wolf of Her Own comes out next week if things go as planned. Those who subscribe to my newsletter will get the first chapter sent to them in coming days. The rest will have to wait for it a little longer. Or you can sign up too. You will get a free short story set in the Two-Natured London world when you do. Subscription form is on the column on the right.


Postscript, December 1st: I made a small change to the cover after some helpful comments I got. Basically, I changed the colour of the man’s shirt so he stands out a bit better. What do you think?

Monday, 18 November 2013

Picture perfect

I’m making a cover for my next book, A Wolf of Her Own, so I’ve spent quite a lot of time on various stock photo sites trying to find the perfect photos to use. Since I’m not a Photoshop expert – or GIMP, the free equivalent that I use – perfect means pictures that are both suitable for the cover and something I can work with relatively painlessly. It took some searching and studying the wares of more than one site, but I found what I needed. Come back next Monday to see what I made of them.

In the meanwhile, here’s a list of my favourite stock photo sites.

They all have a nice selection of quality photos for many different purposes. All photos are royalty free, meaning you don’t have to pay for their use. There may be some limits to their use though, such as how many copies you can make of a photo. It’s usually quite a huge number so you don’t have to worry about it. However, make sure to read the terms of use before buying.

They all let you buy pictures with credits – you can spend as little as $10/£10/€10 on them – so that you don’t have to commit to expensive subscriptions when you only need one picture. iStockphoto even lets you buy individual pictures without buying their credits.

All sites are relatively easy to use, but they have differences in their search functions. The more you can narrow a search, the more effective a site is finding accurate pictures. When it’s a difference between going through 10,000 pictures or 1000, you tend to value effectiveness. Fotolia has perhaps the best search functions, but since the photographers add the search words themselves, it’s not always optimal either. I tend to use loser parameters for that reason.

The credits cost approximately the same in each, but the photo sizes and how much they charge for the largest photos vary a lot. Fotolia is occasionally more expensive when you’re buying larger pictures, but not every time. And the fact is that when you find the perfect picture, you’re willing to pay a little extra.

All sites allow you to store your favourite images to light boxes for easier comparison. Dreamstime has made it easiest to sort the pictures to different files even as you save them.

All three sites offer some free photos too, but their range and quality aren’t great. However, there are a couple of sites that offer photos for free. The photos tend to be smaller and not suitable for book covers, but they’re great for illustrating your content on blogs or G+ for example. I’ve mostly used these three:
Of these three, I like morgueFile the best. They have beautiful photos for almost every possible purpose that work especially well as illustration. And unlike the first two that exist to drive traffic to paying sites – they only show a few free pictures and then suggest paying ones – they show their own stock first. Many pictures on this blog are from there. They’re large enough to work as book covers too, should you find something suitable. However, the paying sites are infinitely better for that purpose.

These six sites should get you started. If nothing else, you can spend hours on them, looking at beautiful photos. Sometimes that’s valuable too. Just don’t get lost.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Imagined worlds

Every now and then, I come across blog posts or tweets about world-building, be it for fantasy or science fiction. The reason it comes up, among other things, is that imaginary worlds tend to divide both the readers and writers. Some like their worlds filled with endless details, so they can marvel at the imagination of the author that conjured them. Others prefer stories to lead and the world to follow it to as little extent as is needed.

As a reader, I fall somewhere in between those two positions. I like imaginative worlds, especially if the author has dared to imagine a world wholly different to ours. But they seldom do. In fantasy, especially, it seems to be a rule that the world is fashioned after some imagined human past that then dictates the way the world functions.

I say imagined past, because often the only features assumed from our past are the unfair social hierarchy, gender disparity and a rudimentary level of technology. No author ever makes use of the facts that people didn’t live past forty and that everything smelled. A medieval town, where human and animal waste, rotting food and offal were dumped on the streets, stank to high heavens. If you can overlook that in your fantasy world, you can overlook pretty much everything else from human history and let your imagination roam free. A society that can magically keep their streets clean can have women in more prominent position than in our world. For example.

I’ve seldom come across an imagined world where I would have been given too few details. The only exception is perhaps Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos series where I spent quite a lot of time raking my brain filling in the details. But that only meant I had to concentrate on my reading or miss the clues otherwise.

On the other hand, the opposite has often been true. There is a certain type of fantasy that I avoid reading simply because I believe the sheer size of the books indicates attention to detail I have no patience with. I don’t mind clever details, but if I have to wade through half a book reading specifics for battle arrangements, I’ll lose my interest in the story itself.

What I like is people. I want to know how they feel and how they would react to and make most of their environment. That is true for stories set in our world too, not just imagined worlds. I agree with the UF author Allison Pang who notes that she is a “fan of organic world building. I don't need to have everything set up for me give me characters I can relate to and let me learn about it as I go.” I like details to emerge as the story unravels and only insofar as they are necessary for the story. I try to follow that in my own writing too.

I write urban fantasy – or paranormal romance – where the world is like ours with additional paranormal elements. I don’t have to imagine everything, be it the infrastructure or cultures. But I can’t take everything for granted either. In my urban fantasy world, humans have always lived openly side by side with two-natured, my version of superhuman creatures. That has to have affected the course of history somehow, and the way things run.

I need to ask questions like what kind of power structure the world would have. Vampires are the most powerful creatures in my world, but do they rule it. I decided early on that they don’t so I had to come up with an explanation for why. The solution is that humans outnumber the two-natured and that two-natured don’t have interest in ruling the world – at least openly. I also created a long war that would have weakened the two-natured and affected the way societies structure themselves.

So there were quite a lot of basic questions about society to solve before I could start figuring out the details. Most of it is just for me and won’t make into the books until they are actually needed. I’ve mentioned the war a couple of times, even though it’s in the past, as a way of explaining why one of my creations, sentients, are basically absent from my books.

Then come the endless details. When an imaginary world is so close to ours, the details for how they differ are necessary. What makes vampires tick? How do shifters shift and when? But even they have to serve the story. No detail is valuable for its own sake. Only when it’s important for how my character behaves or is able to function is it necessary.

The temptation to fill the books with details is great. I’ve spent quite a lot of time honing them, trying to make them unique, so I would naturally like my readers to learn about them right away. I often write them in and then delete most during the editing to keep the story flowing. Because, in the end, I have to remember that I write romances. What matters is two people finding each other and falling in love. The rest is just garnish.

If you are trying to balance the thin line between too much and too few details when you plan a world, here are some questions you can ask yourself:  
  • Is it similar to or different from our world?
  • How much does it differ? Could it differ more? Could it differ differently than is done before? 
  • Would it be better to assume one large basic cultural difference than many little ones? How would that large difference change the entire world?
  • Are the differences necessary for the story? Can you make them necessary for the story? Make use of the differences so that it justifies them.
  • How detailed does your world need to be to make the story understandable? If you need endless details, is your story perhaps too weak to manage on its own?

I’m sure there are other questions, but these will get you started. Imagining worlds is fun, but it’s easy to believe that the world is more important than the story, if you’ve put a great deal of energy and effort into conjuring it. Write a strong story; everything else will follow.

A Wolf of Her Own, the next book in my Two-Natured London series will come out at the end of November. Subscribe for my newsletter to be the first to read the opening chapter and learn more about the book. There’s a short story set in my imagined world for all who sign up.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Revise, revise, revise.

A Wolf of Her Own, my upcoming third novel in the Two-Natured London series is currently undergoing heavy revising. And I mean heavy. My books always change enormously during the rewrites, but this one has almost become a different book.

I don’t plan my books much before starting them. I usually have a brilliant idea, a character or two, and a goal where the plot should be heading. Those elements remained more or less unchanging in this book too. Everything else, however, was free game.

Scenes changed places to make the pace better. A character was edited out completely and another, different character appeared, but not to take the first one’s place. My hero and heroine gained characteristics and lost others in order to make them more believable and to make their love story worth rooting for.

The changes are worth the effort, however, if the result is a better book. And let’s face it. No one will know what the original version was like. The only thing the readers will see is the finished book.

It hasn’t been an easy lesson to learn. When I was revising my first book, my heart bled every time I had to make major cuts. Now, writing my fifth book, I didn’t even blink an eye. If a character had to go, it would get cut. Some of the deleted scenes I may be able to use elsewhere, but most likely they will be gone forever. And that’s fine. Nothing I write is so perfect I would have to cling to it.

As I was preparing for this post, I came across 8 Lessons to Learn from Screwing up Your Manuscript by Victoria Mixon. It more or less affirmed what I had already concluded:

  1. Writers get to erase.
  2. Nobody can tell how many times you’ve erased.
  3. Plots are endlessly adjustable.
  4. Characters can’t rat you out.
  5. Settings always look as good as new.
  6. Dialog gets more interesting as it gets more disjointed.
  7. Actions are always replaceable.
  8. In imaginary space, no one can hear you scream.
Read the original post here to find out what she means with all this. However, her most comforting advice is this:  


So there you have it. Write the first draft and then revise, revise, revise. It can only make your book better.