The Golden Hour: For Writers

golden hour.jpg

Take a basic course in photography and you will likely learn about the Golden Hour.  It’s a special time right after sunrise, or before sunset, when the angle of the sun casts brilliant reddish hues over everything.

I remember my photography instructor gushing about the amazing possibilities this little window of time would provide.  I was attending the Defense Information School at the time learning how to be a Navy journalist.  I recall thinking, “I came to learn how to write, not take pictures of random nonsense!”  My younger self didn’t realize how much photography would grow on me, and it became more than just a part of the job—it was something to fill my free time.

camera-1240219_960_720.jpgSo when people ask me when the best time to write is, I always think of the Golden Hour. While writing is different than photography, they are both art, and they both require the artist to show up.

The thing with the Golden Hour is you can charge your batteries, pack multiple lenses and filters, strap a tripod to your back, and lug it all out to the perfect location, but there is no guarantee you will get a single usable image.  Maybe clouds roll in.  Maybe you just have a bad day and don’t get an interesting angle or inspired shot.  Maybe you just sit there and get lost in the moment and don’t take a single photograph.  But every now and then, as long as you keep trying, you will get that one photo that takes your breath away when you open it up to edit.

Writing is the same way.  While you don’t need to wait for sunrise or sun fall (or lug heavy gear), you still have to be present.  On any given day, you may find inspiration or you may flounder.  Those mental clouds can roll in and ruin even the most perfectly planned day of writing.  If you stay consistent and keep hitting those keys, eventually “it” will happen.  You will have a moment of perfect clarity.  A moment of pristine mental light.  In this Golden Writing Hour (or maybe multiple hours if you’re lucky), all those rough days will be worth it.  The result, well, it might just amaze you more than any photograph could.

The Editor[Editor’s Note]

This is one of the first posts I generated here on QE.  Since then, I’ve taken a book with a handful of chapters and finished it (and edited a couple others).  During that time, there were more cloudy days than golden ones.  The lesson I learned is bounce back.  For me, that’s the ability to forget about a lackluster day and treat a new one with an open mind.

With that being said, when those golden days shined, they changed my book in big ways.  On some of those golden days, I didn’t write within the manuscript at all but simply remapped and re-outlined sections to enhance the story.  I saw additions and concepts that weren’t fully formed solidify.  Honestly, I attribute this to simply being present.

This is why I encourage those I collaborate with to at least take a small amount of time each day and write.  Even if it isn’t to tackle the ever-looming word count, progress comes in different ways.  Sometimes, all it takes is for us to be present and willing.

question-markThat’s it for today!  It’s fun for me to re-read and give some of these older posts a second life, and it’s also interesting to think about where and what past-Corey was doing back then.  Do you have a Golden Hour in your writing life?  Do you have a method you use to help you bounce back from a rough day?  I’d love to talk about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Zen in the Art of Writing: Book, Blurb & Collage

Zen in the Art of Writing.jpg

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Zen in the Art of Writing, written by Ray Bradbury. Clicking the image will take you to a higher-res version on my Flickr page.  This collage was created by me and is free to share.   

 

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is one of the most enjoyable call-to-action type books I’ve flipped through.  I know, I say that a lot.  But heck, it feels like Bradbury is slapping you on the back while you read this and whispering, “you got this,” from the grave. Before I get into the meat of the book, you can give it a glance on [Amazon] or [goodreads] if you would like.

A quick aside.  I purchased this book on Amazon, but purchased a used version.  It came to me from some small bookstore.  When I flipped it open…jackpot!  There was a message written on the inside cover.  I don’t know about all of you, but I love stuff like this.  Here is the message:

Erin,

Bradbury shares well, and with wit, the timeless creative spirit, objective and true. This work reminds me of the eternity I see in your eyes, in you. May it find and inspire your creative self well.

Joe

Joe, if you are reading this, I’m sorry man.  It looks like Erin was not impressed by Bradbury and sold the book despite your inspiring words.  I enjoyed the book though.

zen in the art of writing.jpgErin, if you accidentally misplaced this book, shoot me a message and I’ll get it back to you.  I hope you did find your creative self.  If you did sell this book, I hope you fall off your bike and knock out your two front teeth!  Okay, I hope nothing that bad happens, but sheesh, have a heart.

*Corey considers deleting the previous insanity then shrugs his shoulders instead*

Back to the book!  Bradbury’s book was very different than most call-to-action type books I’ve read.  There is a surge of energy behind his words and a contagious optimism.  Yes, he is realistic about some of the challenges, but there is still an undertone of positive lightning.

Bradbury offers a ton of takeaways and recommendations.  Some of them seem insane, and some of them make a lot of sense to me.  I’ve listed a spattering of them below.  They have been ordered from least insane to most.

  1. Write every day.
    I like it.  Doesn’t have to be a WIP, but at least keep your fingers moving.  I even count these blog posts as part of my writing regiment.
  2. Read every day.
    Right on Ray!  You’ve got to eat your greens and gorge on desserts every now and then.
  3. Get out in the world and experience life to enrich your writing.
    As a hermit, this is hard to digest.  But I wasn’t always a hermit.  There was a time I sailed the oceans, traveled the world, spied on terrorists, and chased criminals.  I wrote a post a while back about how Herman Melville’s style and voice changed after he signed up to be a crew member on a whaling boat. It worked out well for him when he wrote Moby Dick.
  4. Utilize word association to generate interesting ideas.
    This is my kid of weird, literary science.  Bradbury has a list of crazy words and phrases he used to help generate fun ideas and concepts. He encourages the writer to choose things that resonate with them on some level and play with the concepts.
  5. A Refined ListActivate the readers senses.
    This is great advice.  It could have populated any of these first spots on this list.
  6. Make the skeletons in your childhood closet dance.
    This is probably great advice for some, but I had an awesome childhood.  Growing up on a farm and playing in the woods.  For me, this is a well with no water to pull out. But for some of you, this might be an exploding geyser.
  7. Write a short story every week for at least five years.
    For some of you, this is no sweat (I’m looking at you, Andrew and SDS).  For me, this seems a little intimidating, but hey, I can’t argue that it wouldn’t be effective.
  8. Play with story ideas for years before you bother trying to write them.
    This one is a bit harder for me.  Bradbury talks about twenty to thirty years being an okay amount of time to let a story marinate in your brain.  I guess because I write post-apocalyptic fiction I assume the world will have ended by then…
  9. Write like a man/woman possessed by the gods.
    At first I thought, heck yeah Ray—write the words, all of them!  Then he talked about how he would write the first draft on a Monday, the second on a Tuesday, and so on until the story was ready to mail out on Saturday.  While this was likely regarding short stories, and not full-length novels, this is still a tremendous pace.  I’m not sure I will ever be confident/skilled enough to pull this off even for a short story.

I know I almost always say, “This is a great book,” but this has become one of my favorites.  Between Ray’s shout-outs to his cats, to his infectiously positive prose, it’s hard to not find yourself giving him high-fives from beyond the grave while you flip through it.  If I am feeling cynical and need a boost, I’ll read On Writing, Bird by Bird, or Writing Past Dark.  If I’m feeling good, but want a couple extra jolts of inspiration—this is the book.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Update: What is QE Doing?

Photo for Human Legion.jpgI know it’s Wasteland Wednesday, but I wanted to take a day to share what I’m into these days.  I haven’t taken a day to talk about life for a while and Wednesday is as good a day as any.  Perhaps, in addition to wasteland updates, I will start offering some author/editor updates on Wednesday too.  As always, I’m tweaking this page as I go.

First off, some book updates.  My rewrites of Wastelander: The Drake Legacy will kick off here in two weeks or so.  I’m excited to get back into the mix, get the rewrites done, and start pushing the book out to my beta readers and my editor (yes, I pay an editor even though I’m an editor).

As for the novella, The Wastelander Survival Guide, it has been outlined completely and I have begun the first-draft.  However, I’m only getting about one hour a day (maybe two if I’m really lucky) of solid writing done toward that project right now.

The graphic novel idea is in its infancy.  The concept is to provide an origin story for Drake.  The current book starts thirty years after the fall of the United States.  So naturally, there is a lot of backstory I could condense into some graphic novels without repeating information from the main book.  This project is a lower priority, so I dedicate time to it when I can (mostly  when my wife has the day off and is spending some one-on-one time bonding with Thor).

As my digital artwork is slowly getting “better,” I am hoping to be able to dump a large amount of imagery on my artist for him to run with.  I know he can work faster when he has better blueprints to work from.  It’s rough, but I take a few minutes every day to practice and improve my artwork, or at least watch a video or two at Ctrl+Paint while I’m eating food (one of the best websites I’ve found that has free videos and content to improve your physical and digital art).  Here are some examples of things I have found on the internet for inspiration and digitally painted or sketched in Photoshop.

 

Also, obviously, I have been writing the content for the graphic novel.  This has been slow going as I have been reading a bunch of graphic novels to develop a style of writing to complement the imagery.  In the way of eating your greens (and really desserts too), graphic novels are perhaps one of the more enjoyable studies into writing mechanics I have embarked on.

The Editor

Now for some other projects I’m collaborating with as an editor (that the authors are okay with me mentioning).

M.L.S. Weech is currently busting through the rewrites of his new book, Caught.  We are old friends and have worked together on other projects as well (The Journals of Bob Drifter).  I know he is likely excited as he is closing down on the final stages on Caught.  For me, it’s really exciting to see how the book has improved with each pass he has made.  When he started, it was a great story.  Now, it’s even better.

Also on his horizon, we have been looking at his book, 1,200 (but that’s a book for him to introduce and talk about more when he is ready).  I’m also expecting to see a short story from him as he is collaborating as part of an anthology (good job bud). He wrote a post about that collaboration you can read about right here.

SleepingLegion_Book1_08.jpgI‘ve also just recently started collaborating with the Human Legion.  Tim C. Taylor and J.R. Handley are working on two separate military science fiction series over there (separate series, but in the same universe).  Currently, I’m working with J.R. and the Sleeping Legion series he is writing.  They were even nice enough to write a post about me and welcome me to their team.  (Thanks Tim!)

As I’ve just dipped my toes into that universe, I’ve been reading to familiarize myself with the content.  I’m about halfway through The Legion Awakes (Book 1 of the Sleeping Legion series), and I can say with confidence, if you like military science fiction, you are going to enjoy these books.

On the homefront, Thor keeps me on my toes and my atom splitting wife is on 12-hour rotational shifts.  Depending on what happens in the next few months, we could possibly be relocating to Virginia, Washington, Hawaii, Japan, California, or who knows where else.  While we are a Navy family, the Marines say, semper fidelis (always faithful).  I like to say, semper gumby (always flexible).  As such, I’m ready for every eventuality.

thor and me.jpgWith all this being said, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who find the time to stop by my page and give it a read.  I really love when we get to exchange some comments, and I’m always learning from all of you.

Given all the projects I’m currently working on, and the stay-at-home daddy daycare (which is highest on the priority list), I haven’t been able to comment on as many blogs as I would like.  I’m sorry for that.

When I find the time, I make every effort I can to browse and read all of your content.  Just know if you see a “like” from me, it isn’t a “spam like.”  I probably am reading your post on my phone while feeding Thor a bottle or juggling some other task.  Trying to write a comment of meaning on my iPhone is nigh impossible (my fingers are too big and clumsy).

Also, the days of me being able to reply to comments as they roll in have unfortunately come to an end.  Thor is only taking two naps instead of three, and that reduces my daily work time by about 1.5 hours.  I still am replying to all the comments I get on my posts, and I love getting them, but I am doing it all at once now.  So if your comment sits for a bit before I respond to it, just know I was likely managing some kind of diaper mishap or blistering my fingers on a style guide.

Did I mention semper gumby…

That’s the update!  Again, thanks for swinging in.  I’ll try to pepper in some of these author/editor updates from time-to-time so you don’t all think I’ve become some kind of cyborg blogging construct (not that I would divulge it if I was).  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

Cover Art: First Cont[r]act

Into the Wasteland

*Note* All images, with the exception of my poorly drawn pencil sketch, come from the artist I am currently working with – Michail Mamaschew.  The images are owned and copyrighted by him.  You can view his artwork, bio, and contact information here (DeviantArt), here (his webpage), and here (ArtStation).


mage with sword.jpgA couple of days ago, I posted about my research into book cover art and my fruitless hunt for an artist (here).  As fortune would have it, I just landed a cover artist.  We had been playing email tag for a bit, sorting the details, and getting a feel for each others legitimacy.   This is an important first step, and something I will talk about in a minute.  Once we felt we were a fit,  I prepared the contract (also important), sent it out, and now we are off to the races.

It should be noted that it took me about 10+ failed attempts to land an artist.  I thought today I would share why I had such trouble, how to avoid these problems, how I found a creative solution to relay my vision, and give some shout-outs to my new artist/co-conspirator.

First, take a look at the image below.  This is what would happen if I created the cover art myself.  No, my baby boy Thor didn’t draw this.  It is, in fact, a Corey original.  I thought it would be nice to post the before and see what happens when Michail takes a swing at it.

Cover Art ConceptIt’s pretty obvious looking at this crudely crafted drawing as to why I needed a cover artist.  No matter how crude, it was an important first step.  Deciding what the cover should feature.

I chose this scene because the location is central to my story, it features my books protagonist, Drake Nelson, and also contains some other important details.  These details are not readily visible in this amateur version, but I will make it clearer in a minute or so.

My first step was to research cover art in my genre and cover art in general.  Again, this post talks about that process.  I did a lot of, “post apocalyptic,” “wasteland,” “apocalypse,” “nuclear fallout,” internet image searches.  If I could trace art I liked back to the artist, I contacted them.  I then went to websites like, Deviantart, Freelancer, Artnet, and Artists&Clients to name a few.

wasteland cowboys

The more I searched, the more I began noticing certain styles of artwork appealed to me.  Largely because these styles of art reflected my feelings about the book I was writing.  Darker painterly styles appealed to me.  Once I isolated a style, I began contacting artists.

This is the next thing to consider.  When looking at an artist portfolio, look for examples of cover art, or a resume saying they know how to format for cover art.  The first few artists I contacted, while they had undeniably beautiful artwork, weren’t sure how to do what I was asking for, didn’t know anything about formatting for cover art (digital cover vs. print cover), or the language barrier prevented effective communication.

iron girl.pngThis should be obvious, but the language barrier is a legitimate issue.  An artist is going to be taking your words and converting them into art.  If you can’t effectively communicate those words, you are destined for failure.

My initial mistake was falling in love with artwork and artists, then playing email tag with artists who wrote in very broken English.  This led to frustration on both ends.  I don’t say this to be cruel, but when email is your only means of communication, and basis for the art to be created, it needs to be clear on both ends in this context.

Contracts.  These killed the next few contestants in the cover art game.  If the artist isn’t willing to sign a contract, you shouldn’t be willing to pay them.  You need to protect your investment.  Worse, the artist could use copyrighted material, and if you don’t have a contract to protect yourself it will be on your head when the real content owner comes knocking.  Or absolutely worse case scenario, you publish, the book does well, then the artist claims he/she owns the rights to the cover and demands additional compensation.

Here is an article about this very real issue from the Independent Book Publishers Association.  And from CreativIndiehere is one place to find a basic template for a book cover contract.

das tal.jpgWith all this being said, I am now working with Michail Mamaschew.  Like I mentioned in the intro, he created all the art you see in this blog today.  When we first started emailing back and forth the scope of his questions, professionalism, portfolio, and obvious knowledge all gave me that warm fuzzy feeling.  Also, his dark painterly style absolutely captivated me.

Then the real challenge came.  Aligning our visions.  How do I take the horrible pencil sketch I made and allow that to make sense to an artist?  I could provide a chapter from my book that describes the scene (again, a contract will protect any emailed story material from being released to a third party, so don’t send a chapter until the contract is signed).  I could offer some photographs.  Or I could write a giant email.  I did all of these things, but I also created a Prezi.  A Prezi is simply a wiz-bang version of a PowerPoint if you are unfamiliar.  It’s a free program and they have free classes on the website (and you can check Youtube) on how to use it.

This is what I came up with.  date with a mage.pngThat link will take you to the Prezi I made to sort out some of those creative details.  You can make it full screen and use the arrows at the bottom to navigate forward and backward, or use the arrows on your keyboard.

Hopefully you found some useful information regarding finding, selecting, and communicating with a cover artist here today.  Regardless, I was very excited to share progress on this front.  I will keep you all up-to-date with incoming concept art and progress on what is being generated for Wastelander.

Do you have cover artists you’ve worked with in the past that was stellar?  Have you had bad experiences?  Are you still sorting out the process?  I’d love to hear from you all about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

Deadly Flowers & Cover Art

homo sapienHomo sapiens adhere to the adage, “You taste with your eyes first.”  It probably wasn’t always so.  I like to imagine there was some trial and error involved.  The kind of trial and error that left bodies in its wake.

Imagine Homo habilis in his natural environment two million years ago.  Two of these majestic half-man/half-ape bipedals prance along the countryside, frolic as they dodge danger, and gather delicious snacks to fill their bellies.  One of our hairy predecessors picks a flower and looks at it – it’s beautiful.  He throws it into his mouth and chews.

His friend sees this and his sloped forehead wrinkles.  He says, “Ugh oog errgl aggg uc chocow bop?”

flower.jpgFor those of you rusty in this forgotten form of communication, this roughly translates into, “Is that safe to eat dear friend?”

Chewing, the questioned man-ape looks over at his concerned companion and shrugs.  A tickle springs up in his throat, his windpipe closes, and he falls over dead.

The survivor looks down at his fallen friend and makes an important realization.  I went ahead and translated it ahead of time.

He thinks, “I saw Krul eat pretty flower. Krul choked and died.  Pretty flower not pretty.  Pretty flower bad.  I crush bad flower.”

We’ve come a long way since then.  At least we like to think we have.  Even though a couple million years separate us from Krul and his unnamed friend, we share a lot in common.

reading ouside.jpgFor us writers and bookworms, the countrysides we frolic in are bookstores – both real and cyber.  The pretty flowers have been replaced by cover art.  Those all-important artistic creations are our first impressions.

While there is still potential we pick a pretty flower and it kills us after eat it, we often decide to taste based on what we see.  Unless our prior knowledge of the flower overrides our survival instinct (i.e. we like the flowers creator, we enjoy flowers of this genus, a friend ate the flower and didn’t die).

So what makes for a pretty flower?  This is a hard one for me, and something I’ve been spending a ton of time thinking about and researching.  As I’m wrapping up my first book, Wastelander, and getting ready to start the companion novella, my eyes are already drifting to the horizon.  I’m thinking about re-writes, editing, more editing, cover art, illustrations, and type setting.

The Road.jpgIn regards to cover art, what is important?  Do you focus on a particular scene from the book?  Do you take the main character and make them the central component?  Do you go with abstraction, surrealism, minimalism, or some other technique?

Take The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, for example.  It’s a far cry from most of the post-apocalyptic genre covers you will see.  With that being said, there is a subtle beauty in the simplicity of it.  Most importantly, in my view, there is a whole story in the image.

Much like studying great writing makes you a better writer, studying a wealth of cover art is a good place to start generating ideas.  Here are some places I’ve been visiting to study the the pretty flowers.  I haven’t eaten one yet that’s killed me.  But a few have left a bitter taste in my mouth.

From ShortList is this article, The 50 Coolest Book Covers.

Here’s one from Flavorwire, The 20 Most Iconic Book Covers Ever.

A glimpse at more recent covers comes from The Casual Optimist, 50 Memorable Cover from the Last Four Years.

Gloria Hanlon (a fellow WordPress Wizard) wrote the post, Book Cover Design Tools and Inspirationthe same day I wrote this article.  In it, she offers some amazing insights and tools.  One example she provides looks at 9,999 pieces of cover art and examines how even the color of the cover could have some subconscious impact on the reader.  It’s a very interesting read.

email waiting.jpgI‘m still playing email tag with a couple artists for my cover.  I already have a concept in mind, but the more I research cover artwork, the less confident I feel.

Also, there are some issues with explaining the requirements (size dimensions, dots per inch for print, pixels per inch for digital, the list continues) to an artist that doesn’t specialize in creating cover art.  But hey, that’s a topic for another day.

What pretty flowers appeal to you?  What is about them you enjoy?  Are your desires based more on context or feeling?  I’m very curious, and honestly, a bit in the weeds.  That’s it for today.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

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