Music Monday: Mayor of Simpleton by XTC

Mayor of Simpleton
by Andy Partridge, Copyright 1989

Never been near a university,
Never took a paper or a learned degree,
And some of your friends think that’s stupid of me,
But its nothing that I care about.

Well I don’t know how to tell the weight of the sun,
And of mathematics, well I want none,
And I may be the mayor of simpleton,
But I know one thing,
And that’s I love you.
When their logic grows cold and all thinking gets done,
You’ll be warm in the arms of the mayor of simpleton.

I can’t have been there when brains were handed round
(please be upstanding for the mayor of simpleton),
Or get past the cover of your books profound,
(please be upstanding for the mayor of simpleton),
And some of your friends thinks its really unsound,
That you’re ever seen talking to me.

Well I don’t know how to write a big hit song,
And all crossword puzzles well I just shun,
And I may be the mayor of simpleton,
But I know one thing,
And that’s I love you.

I’m not proud of the fact that I never learned much,
Just feel I should say,
What you get is all real,
I cant put on an act,
It takes brains to do that anyway. (and anyway…)

And I can’t unravel riddles, problems and puns,
How the home computer has me on the run,
And I may be the mayor of simpleton,
But I know one thing,
And that’s I love you (I love you).

If depth of feeling is a currency,
(please be upstanding for the mayor of simpleton),
Then I’m the man who grew the money tree,
(no chain of office and no hope of getting one).
Some of your friends are too brainy to see,
That they’re paupers and that’s how they’ll stay.

Well I don’t know how many pounds make up a ton,
Of all the Nobel prizes that I’ve never won,
And I may be the mayor of simpleton,
But I know one thing,
And that’s I love you.

When all logic grows cold and all thinking gets done,
You’ll be warm in the arms of the mayor of simpleton.
You’ll be warm in the arms of the mayor of simpleton.
You’ll be warm in the arms of the mayor.
(Please be upstanding for the mayor of simpleton.)

Music Monday: Bull in a China Shop by Barenaked Ladies

This week’s Music Monday comes to us courtesy of my favorite Canadian band, Barenaked Ladies. This one is off their 2006 album, Barenaked Ladies Are Me. I’ll let it speak for itself.

Bull in China Shop
by Ed Robertson and Steven Page, copyright 2005

I’m a kid in a candy store
I’m a bull in a china shop
I’m a tired old metaphor
For everything you can’t afford
And everything you can’t afford to be

I’m a public embarrassment
I’m a bottle of diet poison
I’m a walking advertisement
For everything I never meant
And everything I never meant to be

I can’t hear a thing
Cause I’ve stopped listening

I’m the reason I don’t go out
I’m afraid I might tell me something
I’m the shadow of every doubt
I’m the product this song’s about
I’m the product this song’s about to be

I can’t hear a thing
Cause I’ve stopped listening
I can’t hear a thing
Cause I’ve stopped listening

Every morning
Since I was born
It’s been hard to look in the mirror
And see my face for the horns

All the fun that the law allows
All the fun but with half the meaning
Come on over, I’ll show you how
If you lived here you’d be home by now
If you still lived here you’d be home now with me

I can’t hear a thing
Cause I’ve stopped listening
I can’t hear a thing
Cause I’ve stopped listening

Historical vs Contemporary: What’s the Line?

The other day, several folks on Twitter (Jane Litte of Dear Author, Angela James of Carina Press, and a few others) were discussing how long ago a book has to be set before it can reasonably be considered a “historical” romance. Some said the 1920s, others the 1950s, and there may have been other responses I didn’t see. One thing that seemed pretty clear, though, is that everyone agreed a book set in the 1980s isn’t a “historical” romance. My first impulse is to agree with that–the 1980s don’t seem very much different from today. Well, okay, except for the Internet, smart phones, the end of the Cold War, the end of Happy Days, and…well, I could actually go on and on.

And all those things that have changed since the ’80s (which, by the way, I remember quite well) are what make me wonder why it’s NOT proper to call a book set in the 1980s a “historical”? I mean, the 1980s are definitely history; my kids are learning about Ronald Reagan and the fall of the Berlin Wall in history classes, after all.

But it does seem odd to call a book set in the 1980s (or even the 1960s) “historical” because the things we associate with historical romance and historical fiction don’t seem to hold true. Fashion, mores, technology, sexual politics, etc. don’t seem to have changed much in the past 40 or 50 years. At the same time, though, there’s something not quite right about calling a book that isn’t set in the time period in which it’s being written a “contemporary,” because that’s obviously equally untrue.

On a side rant, it drives me absolutely bonkers that most retailers classify Austen as historical romance. To us, her stories are set in a historical period, but when she was writing them, they were contemporaries. (And, of course, romance didn’t exist as a genre with the conventions it currently has, so Austen certainly didn’t think of herself as writing romances, either, but that’s a separate issue.) Either way, it seems ludicrous to me to classify a book as “historical” based on the relationship of the time period it’s set in to now. By that rationale, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is historical fiction. So is War of the Worlds and Sherlock Holmes. And if a book set in the 1980s isn’t historical, the George Orwell’s 1984 must now be considered a contemporary novel. Does that makes sense? I certainly don’t think so!

All of this is my way of saying that it’s pretty clear that trying to divide what I’ll call “real world” (as opposed to paranornmal/science fiction) romances into two simple categories, historical and contemporary, really is insufficient. Although I’d hesitate to use the term “historical” for a book written today and set in the 1980s (or even the 1990s) because it carries too many false associations, I can’t call that book a contemporary, either. To be a contemporary, the books should be set in the time period in which it is being written. And the book doesn’t become historical at some time in the future because the time period it was written in is now sufficiently far in the past to be considered “historical.” It’s still a contemporary, because the author was writing it as such.

This dividing line seems important to me because writing a story set in your own time period is fundamentally different from writing one set in the past (just as it is different from writing one set in an imaginary world or in an imagined future). Maybe we need some additional terms for books set in the recent past–Modern Historical? Vintage Contemporary (Angela James’ suggestion)–but calling them contemporaries is just wrong, as far as I’m concerned.

And while we’re at it, can we stop lumping Austen in with Historical Romance? Because frankly, after almost 200 years, she’s STILL outselling my ass and messing up my rankings!

Sticking It to the Man

So this is an installment in my ongoing (and sporadic) series on the reasons I’ve chosen to self-publish–and the reasons I haven’t. This one falls into the haven’t category.

So, there’s a certain “I’ll self-publish and show you mean publishers (aka “The Man”) how wrong you are about me/my writing/my book!” mentality out there. I can understand the appeal of it, too. If your book has been rejected over and over again by traditional publishers and you go the self-publishing route and do really well, selling lots of copies and making good money, it’s easy to imagine that the publishers who rejected you are looking at your success and crying bitter tears into their cups. How could they have been so wrong? How could they have missed such an amazing opportunity?

Except, realistically, they’re probably not. In fact, in most cases, they’ve already forgotten about you and your book. I’m not trying to be a buzz-killer here, but honestly, even when editors lose a manuscript they hoped to acquire to another publisher, they don’t spend a whole lot of time bewailing their loss. For every manuscript they buy, there are tens (perhaps hundreds) of others they could have bought instead, and the difference between bought and not often comes down to very small things. If the book a publisher wants to buy is picked up by another house, there are many, many more waiting in the wings, and a lot of them are probably just as good or better than the one they lost. And if yours was one they didn’t even want to buy? Frankly, they’re unlikely to even know you self-published it, let alone spend time watching your Amazon rank go into the stratosphere.

Do some self-published authors do really well and eventually get picked up by New York houses who eventually realize their mistake? Absolutely. But believe me, when they do, it’s because it’s a business decision that makes sense now, not because they regret passing on the author’s books in the past. And if they do regret a past error of judgment, it’s not the main reason they change their minds. Publishers win and lose all the time in this game (hello, publishing houses that passed on Harry Potter and the one that paid $5 million for Audrey Niffenegger’s second book) and compared to those whiffs, missing out on a self-published author who sells a few hundred thousand copies at 99 cents (or even $2.99) apiece is small potatoes.

In short, I don’t view my self-publishing efforts as a way to strike a blow against the oppressors. It’s not Occupy the Big 6. It’s just me doing what I enjoy (writing books) and getting them to readers in the way that makes the most sense to me at this point in time.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

After I wrapped up the cover art design for Wrong Side of the Grave, Stephanie Draven mentioned on Twitter that my experiences were making her wonder if packaging shouldn’t come before writing the book. Or, put more bluntly, whether I was foolish to be spending time and money on cover art for books I haven’t written yet and could, in theory, fail to finish. (ETA: I don’t think Stephanie actually meant that at all. I’m totally joking!) Since I’ve wondered the same thing (especially since I have a hard drive absolutely cluttered with unfinished manuscripts), I thought I’d talk a little more about the thought processes that drove me to commission the cover for Incarnate and fritter away three days on the cover of the prequel.

The primary reason I commissioned the cover art for Incarnate, as I’ve mentioned before, is that the artist, Nathalia Suellen, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Knowing Nathalia as I do now, I’m sure she would have done the artwork for me at the same price she quoted me six months from now, but at the time, I was more than a little worried that if I waited, I wouldn’t be able to afford her.

But I’ll admit that there was a little more to it than that. Specifically, it’s precisely because I have all those unfinished manuscripts littering my hard drive that I decided to get the cover art done now. You see, I need motivation. And there are few things more motivating when it comes to finishing a book than a) having spent money upfront on it and b) a gorgeous cover. And because what Nathalia did for Incarnate is honestly so much more perfect and wonderful than I ever dreamed, I’m truly motivated to finish writing the book (even if I am a little intimidated by the prospect of having to write a story that lives up to the cover).

Okay, so what about Wrong Side of the Grave? After all, the idea of doing a free short story as a prequel to Incarnate only occurred to me last week! And I’ve already got cover art? What am I, crazy?

Well, I am crazy, but that’s a separate issue :).

Here’s the reason I did the cover now instead of waiting until the story was written: I found an image on iStockPhoto that was practically perfect.

But why was a looking in the first place? Honestly, mainly for inspiration. I didn’t have a clear plot in mind for the prequel, just some pretty vague ideas about exploring my heroine’s backstory in a little more detail, and pictures can often spark ideas. And then I found this near-perfect image of a woman standing next to a gravestone. The model even looked startingly like the model on the cover of Incarnate. It was kind of like kismet. The image itself wasn’t cheap, but it was something I knew I could work with even with my very rudimentary graphic design skills.1 Knowing that sometimes artists take images off iStockPhoto, I didn’t want to wait until the story was written (or even started) to buy it, and of course, once I bought it, I had to go ahead and do the design, just to see if I could do something that looked reasonably professional on my own.

So, do I think it’s a good idea, in general, to do the “packaging” for a book before actually writing it?

Well, first of all, this obviously isn’t even an option if you’re not self-publishing the book, unless you want to spend the time and money on creating cover art solely for your own use. It’s a rare publisher that lets the author provide the cover art. But if you find having an image to be motivating or helpful, then by all means, go for it.

But if you are self-publishing, I do think having the cover art (as well as the cover copy) earlier rather than later is good thing. Maybe not THIS early–I’m obviously listing books on my website that won’t be out for a minimum of six months, which is very far in advance–but it’s certainly not a bad thing to begin letting your readers know about upcoming releases earlier rather than later, and I think cover art gives readers something visual to help them imagine the story. (Just as, indeed, that visual can give the author inspiration for the writing process.)

In the past, I used to say that the way I wrote a book was “Title, Hook, Book.” That is, I usually come up with the title first, which then suggests a story for which I write the cover copy. I’m pretty religious about writing cover copy before I write the book. I’ve found in the past that if I don’t do this, I often discover a fatal flaw in the story idea that prevents me from continuing it. (If I can’t write a blurb for a story, it almost inevitably means I have insufficient conflict.) Only after I have the title and the hook figured out do I actually write the book. (By the way, I have even more titles/hooks for unfinished books on my hard drive than I have unfinished manuscripts. I may start selling them one of these days…)

But now, I’m thinking maybe my process is going to becoming “Title, Hook, Cover, Book”. I’ll have to see how it works when it comes to writing these two books, but if it goes well, I may actually decided that packaging should come before writing. At least for me.
______________________
1Actually, calling them “skills” is too kind. Here’s how I actually put together the cover. I use a free graphics program called GIMP. I understand how to use about 5% of its capabilities. I don’t really understand how to make all the layers separate, so everything I paste into the image becomes part of the main layer, which means if I need to change anything, I have to start over. I know this is not efficient, but it hasn’t bothered me enough that I’ve bothered to learn. I am absolutely clueless to how to insert text directly into the image in GIMP, so I use Word’s Word Art feature to create blocks of text as images and paste them in. (Lucky for me, they come over with transparent backgrounds.) This is how I did my Romance Trading Cards, too. It’s a totally lame process, but it works.

Music Monday: Don’t Give Up on Me by Timbuk 3

A few years ago, I briefly did a feature I called “Lyric Thursday” where I’d post the lyrics to a song that I found interesting, inspirational, or just plain fun. I got lazy and stopped doing it, but lately, I’ve been listening to music much more (mainly because I’ve been spending so much more time in the car!), and I keep finding songs I want to share. With that in mind, today I’m starting Music Monday. I hope you enjoy it!

For my first entry, I’ve chosen a song by Timbuk 3, most famous for The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades. This song, however, isn’t nearly so well known, as it comes from one of their later and much less famous albums, Edge of Allegiance, which was released in 1989. I love Timbuk 3 for their incisive, amusing lyrics and their harmonies. This song isn’t one of their absolute best on the lyric front, but the reference to monkeys and Shakespeare makes me smile every time, and the refrain “Don’t give up on me,” is really speaking to me these days!

Don’t Give Up on Me
by Pat and Barbara MacDonald, copyright 1989

I’ve been a beggar, I’ve been a thief,
I’ve given you all kinds of grief.
I’ve been bad, but I’ll be good, you’ll see.
Oh baby, don’t give up on me.

You’ve been a prisoner for quite some time
Since I forced you into my life of crime
Just one more big one, and then we’ll be free.
Oh baby, don’t give up on me.

Your time’s not wasted, believe what I say.
Your big investment’s gonna pay off some day.

They say that a monkey in the right frame of mind
Given enough paper, and given enough time,
Is bound to type Shakespeare eventually.
Oh baby, don’t give up on me.

In the school of hard knocks, I’m the class clown.
The only thing I’m good at is fooling around.
But one more semester and I’ll have my degree.
Oh baby, don’t give up on me.
Oh baby, don’t give up on me.

This song is nowhere to be found on the internet as far as I can tell (at least not unless you have a subscription), so if you want to listen, click here.

Final Cover for WRONG SIDE OF THE GRAVE

No one is allowed to find anything else I need to change ;)! Things I did change/settle on for the final version:

1) I’m using a shadow instead of beveling to get my name to stand out. I didn’t like the way the beveling seemed to pixellate in smaller sizes.

2) I changed the color of the text on the headstone from a steely gray to a more taupe-y gray to better match the headstone itself. I think it works.

3) I went with the “engraved” text that seemed to be the most popular option among commenters. Sorry if you were an outlier and I didn’t go your way.

Here’s the final result in three different sizes:

Now, I really need to get back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing–writing. But I must say, that was a great way to procrastinate for three days! I’ll never be as good at this as the professionals, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

More Cover Tweaking

Stephanie Draven posted a few suggestions in the previous thread for improving the cover art for Wrong Side of the Grave, most of them having to do with font choice/colors. I still kind of like the Papyrus font for the title, but I did a couple of versions using different fonts (for one, I chose Perpetua because a headstone engravers’ website suggested it as appropriately “stately”). I think I prefer the fonts that look more eroded, but that could just be me. Her point about my name disappearing a bit was a good one, though, and I tried a couple of different text effects to correct that.

So, here are three new and (I hope) improved versions:

Option 1

Option 2

Option 3

So, which version of my name and title do you like best? (You can mix and match. Believe it or not, all the names have a slightly different bevel setting.) I think I need to nail this down pretty soon, or I’ll be doing more cover art designing than writing!

A Real Do-It-Myself Project

Last week, I decided that I wanted to put out a short story as a prequel to INCARNATE. The heroine of the series, Elodie Capshaw, has a pretty interesting backstory and I thought it would be fun to explore her history a little more fully. I also thought a free short might spur interest in the series when the first book comes out.

But not only did this mean writing another several thousand words, it meant coming up with a title, a storyline/cover copy, and cover art for the prequel. Of the three, I was most worried about the cover art. I’m not a graphic artist, but I can’t afford to pay a professional like Nathalia to do artwork for a story I’m giving away for free. I needed something I could do myself using relatively inexpensive stock art and my limited skills. I started poking around on iStockPhoto, but I wasn’t expecting to find anything I could use right away. And then I came across an image that was so near perfect, it seemed like the artist who created it must have had my story in mind. It was a fairly expensive image to purchase, but I think it was well worth it.

So, here are two versions of the resulting cover. (They are pretty much identical except for the color of the tagline text.) I’m leaning towards the version on the left, so if you strongly prefer the one on the left, let me know!

I’m still toying with the cover copy, but I have the bones of it:

On a chilly morning in 1852, Elodie Capshaw gets the surprise of her life when she wakes up dead. As if her sudden demise at the tender age of twenty-four isn’t enough of a shock, Elodie discovers that she is capable of materializing in fully solid form. This appears a welcome reprieve from the hollow existence of the spirit world, but it has its own set of hazards. First, her family is convinced her resurrection is the work of the devil and is determined to drive her out of her childhood home. Next, her ability to maintain her physical form will vanish if she doesn’t return to her grave periodically and pour the blood of a living animal into the soil. And finally, there are The Reapers—angels whose mysterious and seductive beauty lures unsuspecting specters into shuffling off their immortal coils.

It’s a wonderful afterlife…if Elodie can survive it.

It’s Not a “Woman” Thing

I get the joke. No, I really do.

It goes like this: There’s this video of a chimp raping a frog. It’s had over 11 million hits on YouTube. So Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler riffed on this viral video when they put out a free book called “Be the Monkey,” subtitled “A Conversation about the New World of Publishing.”

So yeah, I get it. The book is purporting to help authors avoid getting screwed. And given some of my experiences in the wild, crazy world of publishing, I have occasionally felt like I got bent over a barrel, metaphorically speaking.

The problem is that, even though I get the joke, I don’t find it very funny. But the reason I don’t find it funny ISN’T because I’m interpreting this as some kind of slur against women. I certainly don’t think Konrath and Eisler are advocating rape. I don’t think when they say “Be the Monkey,” they are addressing men and suggesting said men go out and rape women.

But Konrath apparently thinks that’s what I think, as his tweet to me suggests: “@jackiebarbosa “Be the Monkey” DOES NOT EQUAL “Rape women.” Shame on you for saying it is the same. Shame, shame, shame.”

So, here it is, in black-and-white and for the record:

Women aren’t the only ones who get raped. Men get raped, too. So do children (hello, Jerry Sandusky, in case we’ve already forgotten). Rape isn’t about gender. It’s not a women’s issue. It’s EVERYONE’S issue.

And the reason the “Be the Monkey” joke just isn’t funny (to me, anyway) is that there’s a big difference between not making yourself an easy target for victimization (i.e., doing smart things that help keep you safe) and actively victimizing other people. Even if the metaphor is supposed to be “take control and have power over your publishing career,” that’s a far cry from the actual message, which is “don’t just avoid getting screwed over, screw people over yourself.” I’m sorry, but it’s just not amusing to me, even outside the context of the actual, real-life problem of rape.

It’s also not true. You don’t have to actively harm others to succeed in publishing. Whatever route you take.

So please, let’s not advocate doing so, even as a metaphor. Or a joke.