Celebrating the Small Things, Christmas Edition, 2015

Welcome to Celebrating the Small Things, one of the loveliest blog hops on the blogosphere anywhere, run by Lexa Cain and her two wonderful co-hosts L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge and Tonja Drecker @ Kidbits.

It is Christmas.  I am sitting in my bathrobe (shame on me!) without any slippers on.  The fireplace is cold, which is perfectly OK beause it is hovering around 61 degrees right now.

I finished designing the cover for the third book in a series of mine and am debating cleaning the house.  I  had meant to fill in holes in a nearly finished manuscript.

(Sibling is at Mom’s; other sibling and family are down in Virginia enjoying the weather.  Third sibling is stranded in upstate New York with a broken down car and a shoe-eating Lab puppy named Mack (for the truck).  He doesn’t just eat shoes, either.  

The proud owner of quite a case of puppy-wiggles, he is enthusiastic about everything but shots and baths, and hasn’t met a hotdog he did not like.

Puppies are always smile-makers unless it is the middle of the night, you have been wrestling with the ‘joys’ of housebreaking, and you have just started to take that long, slow fall into dreamland in the middle of your warm, desperately desired bed, when you hear the prefatory yips that you just know, with a sinking feeling in your stomach, means that you will shortly be pulling on what passes for a bathrobe (I know someone who uses a quilt) and stumbling to the door to stand there while said puppy decides whether it really wants to squat to (name the function) outside, or maybe should go back to the nice, safe papers.

That, however, is not my situation.  My grand old dog, Jesse James (aptly named as far as his attitude toward food goes) has been housebroken for…let me see…fourteen years.  Labs age gracefully, but he spends a lot of time snoring.  I may rent him out to people whose significant others are traveling and are feeling lonely at night.  Some people have actually said that the sound of snoring is very soothing, and it helps them to sleep.  I can loan out Jess (his nickname) and do a good deed.  He no longer bellows in your ear when he wants to be let out, but he still stares when you are eating, and he does a wonderful job mimicking a starving puppy.

But I digress.

Today I am celebrating those book covers.  Someday I’ll bore everyone by posting them, which means that I will be smitten with an urge to change them forthwith.  I am celebrating the fact that while my family is far-flung this Christmas, there are no feuds, arguments, simmering bad feelings.  We all get along, we all watch each others’ welfare and we actually love each other.  Truly a cause to celebrate.

I am celebrating last night’s Christmas Eve service.  Since I was holding down the fort at this end of the country, I went alone. It was a wonderful service, everyone was welcoming, the music was lovely, and my thoughts were happy ones.

Tomorrow I drive to my Uncle’s house a few hours away.  He turns 90 tomorrow, and I MUST be there.  Where have the years gone?  He’s a little deaf now, but still the sharp, wonderful uncle I always called my bess frend (I was very little).

Right now I am going to get up and pop a chicken in the oven.  I like to make roast chicken, and a side of rice, cranberry sauce (with candied ginger, pineapple bits and mandarin oranges) will be good.  Not sure about dessert.  Perhaps the orange-tinged fudge (homemade).  Pity I don’t feel like drinking a bottle of Champagne by myself.  It’ll have to be a nip of Drambuie.  I think I can take it.  

It’s been a lovely couple days.  I hope it’s been the same for you.

And now, just for pretty, a picture a friend sent me.  Nearly as good as being there, she said:

All the best to all – and may 2016 be a wonderful year for you!

Crocodile Rockin’ – Two book covers

I have said before that I sometimes do graphic work, usually for myself.  I find it enjoyable, and it allows me to pretend that I am an artist like the rest of my family.  If you check my books, you will see my work, since I design my book covers, myself.  …Although the Crocodile story needs a cover that I can’t design.  I think.  I’ll try it shortly… or maybe I’ll listen to my family: 

The Sea Witch by Frank Frazetta

Keep working on that and you’ll mess it up and you’ll never be be able to fix it!

Ordinarily I’d snort derisively, but Frank Frazetta tells a story about ‘losing’ the mean expression on the face of the central figure in his painting ‘Sea Witch’:

Of course, I could say that since my idea of a good time is not to stand in a gale with my clothes being pulled to pieces by the wind, with a giant iguana sneaking up behind me and a Kraken staring me in the eye between foaming waves, it isn’t a big deal for me.Picture

At any rate, I’ve been working on covers, most recently for a friend whose book, A Kiss For Moet, magical realism and beautifully written, needed a cover  overhaul. 

She approached me, asked in the most flattering way, and of course I agreed.  It was a nice challenge, and I was pleased with the result.

She provided the images, specifically the island in the center.  She had picked the font for the story, and it was all right.    But then, out of the blue, she contacted me. with an offer: a beta-read of anything if I’d fiddle with her cover.

I have a terrible shyness when it comes to beta-reads.  I have a fear that someone will read something of mine and give the beta-reader’s equivalent of ‘PEE-You!’ 

So I took a look at her cover, concluded that it didn’t need much work, and went to town.  It had a semi-magical alligator in it (it’s a nifty story) and I thought he needed a place on the cover.  She had a photograph of the island that is featured in it, and it’s a very pretty shot.  The rest involved adjusting things, tightening the composition, deepening colors, arranging texts, and I was finally finished:

She was flatteringly complimentary, reiterated her offer of a beta-read, and went off to post the cover.

She does write well, and works with Magical Realism, among other genres.  I’d recommend reading it.  The cover isn’t up yet (I just sent it to her this evening), but the book is very good.  You can get a copy on any Amazon store through this link.  She’s also available through various stores including Barnes & Noble, and anywhere else that Smashwords services.

    I keep a record of my projects, and I uploaded the cover to my website, on the same page as another story (mine) involving a large crocodilian and what happens when he comes to the earth and seeks to return to the sky (if you read it, it’ll make sense).  This one (the crocodilian, I mean) is more gentlemanly than her ‘gator (but that will make sense if you read the story).  Still, there are similarities.

Maybe I’ll send her the Crocodile for a beta-read?

…or maybe not.

It isn’t finished yet, in any event.

*Sigh.  And I must start uploading my other books, all six of them, to the various other bookselling sites.

It should be a busy end of summer…

                                                                   ‘Night, all!

Tinkering with Art When One Is Not An Artist

Diana, reading a newspaper affixed to an easel
Artists run in my family.  There is so much sheer talent among my family members, they could populate the Royal Academy or else serve as Staff for the Rhode Island School of Design.  I must have been busy elsewhere when the artistic ability was handed out because I most emphatically am not one of them.  My drawing ability is limited to stick figures and somewhat fantastical horses. 
No false modesty, no hiding my talent up my sleeve: I can’t draw or paint and that’s flat.  But I do enjoy designing book covers for my work.  Fiddling with images is not the same as drawing or painting, but it can be rewarding.  Sometimes.  Then there are times where you want to tear your hair out.  

Book 1: Tuileries
I have a series in the works, with the first book out.  It is set in 1830’s Paris.  The series is called The Orphan’s Tale.  The second is, I’d say, 80% finished.  The third is not too far behind.  Because Book #1 is published, it stands to reason that it has a cover: 
The lady, who is Elise, the heroine, is taken from a portrait of that era, and the structure in the background is the Tuileries palace in Paris.  It stood opposite the Louvre, but was destroyed around 1870.  This painting, executed some 20 years after the setting of my story, shows a party at the palace.  It works very well with the lady’s hair and fashion.

The second book is not out yet.  Projected release is year’s end.  I do have that cover designed.  The boy, Larouche, is taken from a Victorian genre painting.  I really wanted to use his whole form, but was forced to drop that idea when I realized that the full-length painting depicted a newsboy peddling the New York  Times, a publication that would have been difficult to find anywhere outside the United States.  The building is the Hotel de Cluny in an old quarter of Paris.  The painting, executed by a Californian in the 19th century, is titled ‘Christmas Morning’.  The book ends with Christmas Eve, and the painting works.

Ummm…  No.
The big problem arose with Book #3.  It originally had Larouche in place and, it taking place during one of the periodical riots that plague Paris, was appropriate.  Or so I thought.  Unfortunately, some of my nearest and dearest pointed out issues with the painting.  The fellow motioning to the rough-looking crowd is rather dopey-looking.  The face fungus appears out of period, the apparently dying boy (who somehow appears  strong enough to hold up a flag straining in the breeze) is not an asset, and the dopey young man is wearing striped trousers.  Enough said.  Besides, I needed a depiction of the main male character, Paul Malet.
That was difficult.  He is described as a tall man.  His hair is thick, dark, and graying, and his eyes, set under straight, dark brows, are a light brown, almost green.
When you are working in period, as opposed to simply trying to set a time-like feel to the story, you have to be careful about facial types.  The western Europeans of two hundred years ago do not look the same as they do now.  There has been a blending of peoples.  One forensic anthropologist, often called upon to identify bodies found on a certain battlefield, said that he could usually tell by looking at the skull.  In my case, I needed images to work with, either to be purchased, or in the public domain.  I started looking among portraits of the era.  Sir Thomas Lawrence was a portraitist active at that time.  I strolled through his paintings.  I wanted someone who was under 50 years old, moderately refined.  I only needed a head.
I found one.  This fellow, one Sir Codrington Edmund Carrington, was a distinguished and well thought-of aristocrat.  Perhaps a little too refined, not to say effeminate.  Paul Malet had been an artillerist in the armies, was a swordsman (they used edged weapons in the military – in Malet’s case, heavy, long swords).  As a high-ranking police officer, he would still carry a sword.  But he had dark eyes while this fellow had gray eyes and, unfortunately, a cast in the eye on the right.  That was fix-able, I thought, and I broke out my Photoshop and set to work.
I came up with this.  The coloring is appropriate, though he still looks delicate.  Still, I had been looking and LOOKING, and this was the best I had.  A little refined, but setting the head in a uniform coat seemed to help for the moment.  Now to look for some appropriate settings.
Well, there was Lawrence’s portrait of Admiral Pellew, who fought in Britain’s navy during the Napoleonic wars.    The body looked pretty good from the neck down.  From the hair, crew cuts were a Napoleonic invention, but I didn’t plan to use the head.  It only remained to paste the head I had designed atop the body.  I set to work and finished it fairly quickly.  The proposed image is below:
A Frenchman in the Royal Navy?  Uh… No.
The big problem with this, aside from the apparent olive color of the uniform coat, is that the hero, Paul Malet, would have been the last one to wear an English uniform, admiral or not.  I was aiming for historical accuracy.
I tried another uniform, just to see how it would look.  The hero, being a veteran and a police officer, would have worn a uniform.  This one was a little better, though the man who posed for that one was Russian and, for reasons unknown, had stopped in the middle of doffing his cloak.  
May I take your coat, sir?
The general effect is rather awkward.  And this ruddy smiling fellow, also painted by Lawrence, was Russian.  Hm…    I found I could not take the painting seriously.  When I added the head of my character, the result was especially laughable. 
It was worth a try, but the result could be summarized with the words…

Uh…  No.
The possible solution was to simply use an inset head on the cover with an image I wished to use.

I tried it.  Truly I did.  It should have worked.  The background image was perfect, and I had my adjusted head.  Unfortunately, I learned to my dismay that while the head, somewhat over-refined, was not so bad from a close vantage point, when you put it at a distance it looked somewhat like a snipe.  Or,  perhaps, like Bob Hope.  In fact, it reminded me forcibly of a cartoon by Honore’ Daumier:
Blast!  It was back to the drawing board. 

Fortunately, I found the perfect image when I wasn’t looking for it.  In fact, I caught a glimpse and spent a good long time trying to find it again.   
General Maurice-Louis Gigost d’Elbee

This man was one of the royalist generals who fought in the counter-revolution during the Terror (French revolution). 
Freedom of Worship had been denied, the king was imprisoned, and the Terror was in full swing under Robespierre.  Led by a peasant, wearing the emblems of their faith, aristocrat and commoner, wealthy or poor, they fought with courage and firmness.  The ‘Republican’ government’s suppression of the revolt, is considered genocide.  It was a terrible time, but heroes and heroines arose, as happens during such times.  This man was one.  I am surprised that he is not better known, but then people tend to shy away from those who lose wars.  Napoleon, by the way, came to power while the strife continued, though weakened.  He made inquiries, realized that the people were fighting for freedom of worship, and stopped the war and the killings.  The portrait was commissioned posthumously by Louis XVIII after 1817.

Uh, no…
…And, on a less impressive note, I had an image I could use.  It was in the public domain, and I could not imagine that Maurice d’Elbee would object to my borrowing his portrait as a basis for a character that was also a hero.

I adjusted the image: the epaulettes were out of place, the hair out of fashion.  During the action of the third book, the hero is trying to make his way out of a riot.  He would not be in uniform and the uniform would not, at any rate, look like that.  He would, at least at first, be carrying that heavy cavalry sword (it’s a sword, for thrusting, and is straight: sabers, used by light cavalry for slashing, are curved) I tried the earlier cover: 
There is too much going on.  Too many bodies, too tangled.  And the expression, looking grimly to the left, does not work with the background.  He doesn’t appear to be paying attention.
I liked the flag, but …  No.  I needed something to show tumult.  I also needed to find something to go with the theme of the earlier covers, which incorporated monumental buildings. 
I had an idea, and I tried something else:

This is a little better, but rather boring, truth to tell.  It’s a good thing the Chief Inspector is placed where he is, because if his hips were not in that exact spot you would see the Duke of Orleans, who became King Louis-Philippe of France, riding his bright bay horse across the cobblestones with his doffed hat in his hand.
In fact, the cover was boring as all get-out.  And another thing: the white silk sash (used by the counter-revolution to show support for the Bourbon kings) was out of place.  I decided to remove it.
That took some work.  I had to reconstruct the man’s coat, which involved constructing the double-breasted placket down to his waist, creating cloth and blending it in.  I admit that it was fun:
While I was at it, I added what I thought were lively people on the left, complete with tricolor.
It being Christmas day, a friend asked me what on earth Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim were doing there.

Almost there

They had a point.
What the heck to do?
I sat back and thought…

You can’t get much more monumental than the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris on the Île de la Cité.  Placing the figure on the other side of the composition provided balance.  It worked.
Well…  Maybe.


I sat back with a frown. 
Aside from the fact that my hero appeared to have a light saber embedded in the heel of his right boot (on our left) with the blade beaming downward, it was OK but not really good.  So what to do…?

I eyed the design, reached for my mouse…

…now all I have to do is finish volumes II and III.

Piece of cake.
…and avoid watching my nearest and dearest as they draw and paint. 

Yes, M. Gustave (Courbet) I know the feeling!

New Cover!

I’ve finalized the cover for Mourningtide:

I wanted to follow the format of the other covers, using sculpture that tied in to the story itself.  This took some doing.  There was no statue of the main character that I could use with any success.  I had had the notion of showing the king in mourning. One of the serene sculptures of that era – but with tears in its eyes – was what I had envisioned, but I had no success with sculpture in the round.  In fact, my efforts – using the famous black statue of Ramesses II found in the Turin (Italy) museum – were particularly unfortunate.  The disembodied face with tear-streaked cheeks looked like nothing so much as Darth Vader, hung-over, leering down over the planet of Tatooine.  It was so bad, I deleted it in its entirety once I was able to sit up straight and wipe the tears (of laughter) from my own eyes.  So it was back to the drawing board. 

After a lot of searching I chose to use this bas-relief from the tomb of my hero.  With the sort of arrogance that utterly flabbergasts me whenever I encounter it, people who came to the tomb in the early nineteenth century decided that they would cut it away from the wall and take it back to Florence with them. It is now in the Louvre.  This depiction seemed to be the best prospect, though I could have wished the headdress had been a little different.   People, looking at long hair and what they perceive as makeup (kohl circling the eyes; worn by both sexes in Egypt), tend to think “Ah!  A woman!”  For those in the know, those two gold strands around the king’s neck are military decorations of the highest order – ‘the Gold of Honor’.  This is a warrior-king.  I mention it in the story:        

         Ptahemhat smiled and offered a packet wrapped in cloth. “Lord Nebamun sent these with me.  I’m ordered to hand them over to you after you have been stopped from throttling me and, by reference His Holiness.”

          Seti frowned at the package and then sat down and opened it.  Jumbled within the layers of cloth were three cylindrical gold necklaces, two rings and a falcon pendant of gold, lapis, turquoise and carnelian.  Seti stared at them and then looked up at Ptahemhat.  “And what am I supposed to do with them?” he demanded.
          “I imagine His Holiness  thought you might wish to wear them,” Ptahemhat replied.
          Wear them?  I’m an itinerant scribe!  Where would I have found them?”
          “You are also a king.”
          Seti frowned.  “And another thing:  What are we to do with it?”
          “Hide it,” Ptahemhat replied with a promptness that made Seti’s mouth tighten.
          “Servants come to clean the houses in this village,” Seti said.
          Ptahemhat shrugged.  “Are they thieves?”
         “No.  But they might think that I am one!”
          “I rather doubt it, Sire.”
          “Stop calling me ‘Sire’!  Someone might hear you!”
          “They’ll probably think I’m your son.”
          “Worse and worse!”

I have earlier versions of this cover in this blog; separating the figure from the background was awkward, and I decided to keep it in situ, though I did blot out the extraneous writing at the top.  Fitting the carving into the frame of the cover was a challenge, but I think it worked.  I like having the hands and the edge of the wig overlap the borders of the frame. The gradient coloring worked well, too, highlighting the blue and gold balance.

Now I absolutely must not fiddle with it any more.  (And it would help if I could finish the novel, which is currently at about 77,000 words – 320 pages.)

(Added July 22, 2015:

Mourningtide: Final Cover

Of course, being myself I ended up fiddling further with the cover after I received a trial print of the book, which made me realize that the cover would not work. 

The tone/tint of the flesh came out too red on the cover.  This was fix-able, but other things simply looked wrong.  While this is a depiction of a king wearing the standard ceremonial headgear of the time, the depiction looked, even to my eyes, a little too much like a woman in heavy makeup wearing a wig. 

I did some further work and created this image.

The bas-relief is from Seti’s great mortuary temple at Abydos, which was finished by his son, Ramesses the Great.  The tear took a log time to get right, but it worked, actually, much better than the original concept.

I was able to return to my notion of monumental sculpture, featuring one or another of the characters, whether directly involved in the story or related in some way to the story, as the focal point.