Dr. Fell Art Preview!

In addition to the sweet cover drawing seen here-

drfellcovercredit

-the amazing artist Will Terry is supplying Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom with a number of full-page, black & white illustrations, one for every other chapter. Below is a sneak peek at the illustration for Chapter 1.

drfell-1 Chapter

In all, there are 14 or 15 illustrations (I forget the exact number), each one bringing a specific moment of the story to life. I love Mr. Terry’s work, and think he has done a fantastic job capturing the chilling joy of the story.

Seeing someone else interpret my work in this way has been an absolute thrill. When I saw the first pencil sketch of the Dr. Fell cover, I nearly cried. It was perfect. It was obvious at first glance that the artist had not only taken the time to read the book, but that he got it, that he understood it, and that he was ready to play in the same world. There are background elements on the cover that you don’t even notice but that are directly taken from the story. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Last week, I was shown an early pencil sketch of a cover design for Doors and had a similar reaction. Sort of like ‘Wow, this is real!’ Again, the artist (a different artist, and one whose identity I will disclose at a later date when I know I’m allowed) captured the feel of the story and brought a pivotal moment to life. I’m equally excited to see what the artist does with the remainder of the story (although truth be told, I have not specifically been told that Doors will feature internal illustrations the way Dr. Fell does. I’m only assuming because I’ve also not been told it won’t. Does that make any sense?).

I’m not an artist, at least not in the ‘I draw things that look good’ sort of way. My drawings are generally stick figures. And space ships, I always tend to draw space ships for some reason. But people? Living things? Forget it. I can’t even make a tree look good. My blades of grass leave a lot to be desired, as well. So when I see characters I created depicted on the page in two-dimensions (haven’t yet gotten anyone to make hologram of one) I am in awe.

Drowning in Red, Green, and Purple Ink

I have received Book 2 back from Copyediting! Wooo!

This means it’s time for me to re-read my work and see just how much I did wrong.

It is a humbling experience. Even when everyone likes the book (which they tell me they do), there are still a hundred or more errors sprinkled throughout. Getting the manuscript back from Copyediting is always a nervous experience (I say having had the experience all of two times). I have a relationship with Excellent Editor. We work together on ideas, I get suggestions and comments and critical thoughts from someone who is (or at least does a great job making think they are) invested in my book.

But Copyediting is something altogether different. It is a faceless, anonymous arm of The Man. A layer of evil every book must venture through before being reborn on the other side a creation of purity and goodness. Copyediting has RULES and GUIDELINES and stuff. There is no thought of massaging a writer’s ego, no care taken to remain gentle and nurturing. It is the harsh world, and their job is to toughen our skins.

Upon receiving the file from Copyediting, I downloaded and opened it and stared at the mass of red ink. And blue ink. And purple ink. And green ink. Everything is done through the Track Changes function, and everyone’s comments and edits are included. In an attempt to be helpful. everyone’s comments are different colors. And then there are all the colors slapped on that aren’t notes, but highlights for formatting. One color for italics, another color for bold, etc. It’s actually quite pretty if I ignore the fact that much of it is based on tearing apart my baby.

The truly soul-sucking notes are the ones I get over and over on a given manuscript. For Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (coming out August 9, 2016! Pre-order your copy today!) this note manifested with the word “toward.” I had written it as “towards” throughout the entire book. So they made a note to change it each and every time. If I had 200 edits in the entire book, easily 30 of them were that single error.

This time is the word “OK.” I have used that work as written for forty years. I’m pretty sure I used it in Dr. Fell. However, at this time Copyediting does not like OK. It wants me to spell it out. Okay. So every time a character says OK, there’s a note to change it. Every. Single. Time.

It is a learning process. I must slowly but surely learn proper grammar. Eventually it will be ingrained within me and come naturally, but until then, it will be corrected. Over and over and over and over.

It is a slow process, but in the end my brain will be washed and all will be well.

The Sequel of Doom!

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom officially launches in less than four months! August 9, to be exact!

drfellcovercredit

I am, of course, ridiculously excited for the launch of the book, but there really and truly isn’t very much for me to do with regards to Dr. Fell between now and then. Except wait. And wait. And wait some more.

There seems to be a lot of waiting in the literary world. Maybe that’s why everyone likes to drink nice, soothing tea all the time.

Anyway.

So while I wait for Dr. Fell to jump into stores and off of shelves (and computer screens, remember, you can pre-order at Amazon today!), I instead concentrate on Book 2!

Except that I’ve already turned in Book 2 (which is not a sequel, but is, instead, the second book in my 2-book deal) and right now I’m waiting (there’s that word again) to get it back from Copyediting. This can take a while, as they often need to replenish the ink in their red pens in order to better underline everything I’ve done wrong.

So I turned my attentions to Book 3 (which is not a sequel to either Dr. Fell or Book 2, but a separate story that is totally awesome and which Awesome Agent will have the task of selling eventually). And finished the first draft. And sent it off to my early readers. And am now… you guessed it… WAITING to hear back from them.

So that’s three books all in the pipeline of being written and/or published, none of which I can actually work on at this point in time. What’s a writer to do?

Write something else.

Now I love new and original ideas. All three of these books are completely different works. My fourth book (which was actually the first one I wrote) is also its own beast. So that’s four books, four worlds. It can get lonely.

So I decided to revisit. I decided to begin work on a sequel.

Of course, the most likely book in need of a sequel at this time is the first one, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. I say this simply because it is being published first, and I wanted to revisit Dr. Fell’s world.

It’s a lot of fun.

The thing about writing a sequel is… trying not to make it the same thing. It needs to take the story someplace else. Build on what has come before. Take the reader by surprise while still feeling familiar. A tall order. Made taller still by the fact that the first Dr. Fell wasn’t necessarily written to have sequels. Mind you, I do keep the door open at the end. But this isn’t part one of a three-part trilogy like Lord of the Rings. Neither is this like “The continuing adventures of…” whomever you want. It’s like… you know how Stephen King wrote Dr. Sleep, a sequel to The Shining? The Shining didn’t need a sequel. It was a complete story. But eventually, King wanted to revisit that world and so he wrote a sequel. And it works.

That’s what I need to create. Something that works.

I have LOTS of fun ideas, and am already crafting a lovely, demented little tale. It is just the matter of finding the right way to tease the legion of fans of the first book (oh yes, there will be legions) while also being open to those who, for whatever reason, have not read Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (they were probably in a coma).

Fingers crossed, but I think I’m on to something. I wanted to start familiar, let old readers think they know where this is going, but then slowly but surely pull the rug out from under them as the true story takes hold, shakes them up, and spits them out.

Yum!

If nothing else, it’s something to do while I wait for August 9…

 

And Now I Do a Little Dance

Huzzah!!!

I have finished the first draft of Book 3! Which, if you’re keeping score at home, is actually Book 4 since my debut novel Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom–you’ve all pre-ordered it, right– was actually the second book I wrote. The third book I wrote, which is officially Book 2 (name to be revealed shortly) is the second book in the 2-book deal, so this one, Official Book 3 is as yet unsold. As is Official Book Zero.

If you think it’s confusing now, wait til I start writing sequels. All four books are stand-alone novels. Yet two of them (Books 3 and Zero) are written specifically to be series and the other two could easily have sequels if there is a need. Then I’ll have Book 2 of Book 3 Series and Book 4 of Book Zero series and the second Book 2 and…

…and then my head falls off.

But today I am rejoicing finishing a book! It is such a great feeling to get to the end. As always, the closer I got to the end, the more I wanted to ignore everybody and everything and lock myself away to write. Family? Food? Going to the bathroom? Bah! Don’t bother me, I’m ALMOST DONE!

When all was said and done, I sat back and smiled. And grinned. And giggled. There’s a little euphoria that settles in when I finish, suddenly everything is alright in the world. The birds sing sweetly. Flowers bloom. People smile. Life is good.

Then came time to edit and life is bad again.

Confession time–I actually finished the rough draft last week. I then spent the week reading through it and editing it. Cutting wherever I could. Cringing when I found typos. Reintroducing myself to the first few chapters (“Whoops! That character only has one eye. I’ll have to either give him his second eye here or go in and fix it everywhere else.”) is always fun. You can rediscover characters you’d forgotten about! Props! Entire themes!

“Oh, yeah! This is all an allegory depicting the evils of global climate change. I totally forgot about that!”

So I edited. I cut. I added. I cut some more. I altered. I argued with myself. I lost the argument and cut some more. And now I have a first draft! A little bundle of Middle Grade, horror/comedy joy ready to be loosed upon the world, or at least on an Army of Early Readers.

Letting go will be hard, and my Army of Early Readers will undoubtedly be cruel, if for no other reason than they can. But let go I must. I need other eyes to view the work before I send it to Awesome Agent.

So I send. And I wait. And I wait. And I constantly bother my Army of Early Readers .

“Have you read it yet?”

“No.”

“How about now?”

“No.”

“Now?”

“Give me a break! You sent it to me twenty minutes ago!”

“And you haven’t read it yet?”

“No!!”

“OK, OK. No need to shout.”

[two minutes later]

“Have you read it yet?”

It’s a wonder I have any friends left at all.

**

HEY KIDS (and adults)!

Wanna join my Army of Early Readers? You can! Just send me an email and once I’ve checked your references against my database of Truly Despicable People, I can send you a pdf and you’re on your way! All I ask is that a) you read the book and b) you write me and tell me what you thought. What you liked. Didn’t like. Hated. Loved. Didn’t understand. That sort of thing.

Join the Army! Be cool!

Talking Heads Do Not a Climax Make

My kids came home and found me playing with my Star Wars figures.

I told them I was working. I’m not sure they bought it.

But it’s the truth! See, I’m writing the final act of Book 3. It’s complicated, with a ton of different characters showing up. I was worried I’d lose track of one or two (something I’ve done before) so I assigned a different Star Wars figure for each character and acted out the entire scene. The Bib Fortuna character enters, and Chewie engages him. Boba Fett drops in it takes Han and Leia together to keep him away from BB-8, who is trying to help Lando reach the Hoth Rebel Gunner Outpost Playset. Meanwhile, Luke and C-3PO are tangling with Jabba the Hutt (I needed something to designate a very large character).

See? Complicated.

But using the figures made me realize that I didn’t give Generic X-Wing Pilot anything to do. Without them, I probably would have totally ignored that character and left him out of the rest of the book. Which would be awkward. So I made sure he helped Han and Leia. Presto! He’s involved.

I tried explaining this to my kids, but their eyes glazed over. Then my daughter made me switch out Slave Leia for Endor Leia. You know, to preserve her dignity.

So with the climax all mapped out, I put my figures away (with only a slight sigh of regret) and got down to the business of writing it all out. Things started smoothly. The bit where Boba Fett drops in is funny, and I was able to give Generic X-Wing Pilot some love when that section began. Then Jabba the Hutt entered and this is exciting because it’s a big reveal and characters are thrown for a loop and so forth. Also, I love writing for my Jabba the Hutt character because I love his voice. So Jabba taunted. Luke rebutted. Lando and BB-8 argued (BB-8 is standing in for an actual person. I’m just using the BB-8 figure because I really like BB-8). Chewie and Bib Fortuna had to get involved. More from Jabba. More from Lando.

And now I’m bored.

I scrolled back up the screen and saw that I’d just written a page and a half where everyone stood there chatting. Oh sure, it was witty, plot-moving chatter. But this is the climax. And they’re all just standing there. Lame.

As a writer of anything other than text books, I have a duty to my audience not to bore them to tears right at the part where they ought to be on the edge of their seat, ignoring their over-extended bladder, hanging on every word. Reveals are nice and all, but I need to incorporate action into the reveal. Well not exactly action, since my book is a Middle Grade supernatural horror/comedy book not an action book, but I definitely owe readers some Middle Grade supernatural horror/comedy.

I have that problem with a lot of books I read, to be honest. Everything is zooming along and suddenly the action stops so the author can spit out everything he or she needs to spit out. Tie up all the loose ends. Explain what the heck they were thinking. The trick is to find the balance. I like to think of old Errol Flynn movies. Not because I’ve ever seen any–I haven’t–but I have a basic idea that they include a lot of theatrical fencing while the bad guy and Errol trade frightfully witty barbs and reveal the plot. It’s a formula:

***

“I will not let you harm the Princess!”

Errol slices at Bad Guy, who parries.

“You fool! The Princess has been working for me the whole time!”

Bad Guy slices at Errol, who ducks. Bad Guy’s sword cuts up some flowers that are in a sconce on the wall.

“What? That’s impossible! We are in love!”

Errol thrusts sword at Bad Guy, who parries it away.

“She doesn’t love you! She loves me!”

Bad Guy clonks Errol on the head with the pommel of his sword. Errol staggers back down a step (because they’ve been fighting on a stone staircase the entire time).

“No! It cannot be! She said she loved me!”

Errol clutches his hand to his chest in emotional agony.

“She lied to you! Also, she’s you mother!”

Bad Guy stabs Errol in the heart. Errol falls off the staircase to his death.

***

Or something like that. The point is, it’s exciting and informative at the same time. There are no talking heads. Talking heads are boring. Boring is lame. Case closed.

So even though I’m only at the beginning of the climax, I need to go back and start over. The last thing I want to write is My Dinner With Andre. That just not very kid-friendly.

 

Hunting for the Perfect Title

I’ve written before about titles. They are, like, way important. More important than I would have thought.

It makes sense, though. Whenever I rattle around a bookstore and browse, I’m not pulling each and every book off the shelf to read the back and see if it sounds interesting. I’m running my finger along the spine quickly dismissing titles that don’t sound interesting. If my finger reaches “Pretty Pansy and Her Pouty Puppies” then it’s going to slide on by. That title does not interest me. I don’t care of the series is highly acclaimed, everyone loves it, or anything else. Pretty Pansy is not my thing.

On the other hand, if I see “Descent into the Tomb of Ancient Evil” I’m probably going to pause and at least slide it out to look at the cover. Because I’m a big fan of tombs of ancient evil.

My debut novel, coming out this August (can you tell I’m a bit excited?) is, of course Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. That is an awesome title. You read that title and you have a very good idea of what the book is about, the tone of the book, what ages it was written for, and that my favorite color is green. Confession time: it wasn’t my original title. The entire time I was writing the book, the entire time I was polishing the book, and the entire time Awesome Agent was selling the book it was known as, simple, “Dr. Fell.”

Excellent Editor decided that wasn’t enough and slapped “…and the Playground of Doom” to the end of the title. And even though I originally hated the addition, I now thank the Heavens for the change. Because nobody knows who Dr. Fell is. Nobody can get any idea of what the book is about from the title. Fingers would have slid by the spine of my book, blissfully ignorant of how totally awesome it is. Now many of those fingers will stop, pull out my book, and–God willing–purchase a copy.

Book 2 (due out August, 2017! Remind yourself now to pre-order it next year!) has long needed a title. I didn’t have one while writing it. I didn’t have one while polishing it. I didn’t have one last month when I was dealing with all 95 of Excellent Editor’s notes. We had always been referring to it by a single word, which for the purposes of this post I shall pretend was Avocados. I have always known that Avocados is too vague a title, and that it needs more. When I submitted Avocados to Excellent Editor, I assumed Excellent Editor would come up with a much better title. After all, Excellent Editor came up with Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom! Of course Excellent Editor will have a title!

Excellent Editor did not have a title.

And so I did rewrites on what we were still temporarily calling Avocados.

Time pressed on, Excellent Editor warned that we needed a title soon because they are already discussing cover art (for a book coming out in 18 months). I held a brainstorming session with my daughter, who has read Avocados. I wrote them all down and sent them on. The list contained elements like:

  • The Avocados of Doom
  • The Tastiest Avocados
  • When Avocados Attack
  • To Be an Avocado or Not To Be an Avocado
  • The Killer Avocados From Atlantis

You get the idea.

I didn’t love any of them, but hoped one of them would spark a flame of title genius from Excellent Editor.

No such luck.

I did some more thinking. Went for a run. Had some ideas. Sent another list.

  • The Avocados That Ate Manhattan
  • Death, Taxes, and Avocados
  • The People Who Eat Avocados
  • The Pits (get it? avocados have pits)
  • The One Strange Girl Who Didn’t Like Avocados

Didn’t really like any of them either. Then I got an inspiration. Maybe we’re spending too much time focusing on avocados. Maybe the title should reference something else. New list.

  • The Winged Lemur
  • Lemurs of Doom
  • The Winged
  • The Lemurs of Philadelphia
  • Bedtime For Lemurs

While none of them jumped out at me, I liked the concept of untying the title from avocados. Finally, I thought, we were on the right path.

Then I get an email from Excellent Editor.

“David. Got your new list of title suggestions. Also got your new new list of title suggestions. I’ve shared everything with everybody, and it looks like we’re going to go with Avocados. With a fun subtitle, like ‘Eat them!’ or ‘Great for Guacamole!’ More to come.”

So Avocados it (probably) is. Though not Avocados, because that’s a fake name I made up for this blog post. But it is the one-word title we’ve been using all along as a temporary title. I actually think it’s a good title, and I’m very relieved that the ‘finding a title’ task is complete.

As soon as I get the official word that the title is locked, I’ll share. Heck, I might share all of the suggestions, as well. So you can see the entire process play out on screen.

Won’t that be fun?

 

This is a Bad Title

Titles are hard.

Sometimes. Sometimes they’re easy. I have written books and short stories based on a title that popped into my head., bringing with it an entire story. Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (pre-order it on Amazon today!) was easy. Although my original title was simply Dr. Fell. The publisher added ‘and the Playground of Doom’ and I at first hated it but now I love it.

But sometimes they are hard. Book 2 is hard, and it doesn’t have a title yet. This is even though I’ve turned it in to the publisher and just today got their notes and am excited to dive into a second draft–all without a title.

Book 3 is easy. The title came first, and it took me a bit to wrap the story around everything the title promised. And I’ve been streaking through the writing process ever since (I wrote over 33,000 words in January!).

What do you want a title to say? What is its purpose? As a writer who spends a lot of time locked up in his little room with his keyboard, a cat, and some old Star Wars toys, I thought a title should be what the book is about. That’s why my first book was called Dr. Fell. It is about a small town where Dr. Fell arrives and then all Hell breaks loose. My publisher had other ideas. They thought the title should grab the potential book-buyer’s attention. They thought ‘Dr. Fell’ didn’t do that, because nobody knew who he was, so who cares. So they added ‘…and the Playground of Doom’ and presto chango! Now it nabs your attention.

“Ooo! A playground of doom? I must read about that at once!”

It also helps that the Playground of Doom shows up quite early in the book and is a focal point of the story. It works.

I’m currently reading Omega City by Diana Peterfreund. It is good so far. A fun read with fun characters, fun puzzles and conspiracies, and some other fun stuff. I like the book, despite what I’m going to be writing in a moment. I plan in finishing the book, which is a big thing for me.

The problem is, Omega City doesn’t work as a title. At least not for me.

I am currently only 70 pages into the story (the book is 318). The back of the book reads, in part “…Gillian sets off into the ruins of a vast doomsday bunker deep within the Earth.” Later on the back cover it reads “Now Gillian and her friends must race to explore Omega City and find the answers…”

So OK, it looks like much of the story revolves around an adventure inside this totally awesome Omega City.

I’m on page 70 and we’re not there yet. We don’t even know it exists. The characters are finding clues and not sure what’s going on. One of the clues mentions the word ‘Omega’ and they don’t know if that is important. Omega means last, so maybe it refers to the last of something?

No, it refers to the friggin’ lost city. Duh. Get on with it.

See, I read the back of the book. I know they’re going to find Omega City and go adventuring in it. So I’m twiddling my thumbs waiting for them to get there. Why create a puzzle for your audience of the title of the book gives the puzzle away? I hate being smarter than the characters, and right now anyone actually reading the book is automatically smarter than the characters by virtue of knowing the title of the book.

Cheating and skimming ahead, it looks like the characters find Omega City (but don’t yet know that’s what it is called) around page 100. Between now (page 70) and then (page 100) they are following a series of clues, not sure exactly what they’re looking for.

That’s going to be a frustrating 30 pages.

I wonder if the author had this title from the start, or if it was given to her by her editor/publisher? If anyone knows Diana Peterfreund, ask her for me, will you?

Meanwhile, if the back cover copy and title didn’t give it away enough, here’s the cover art.

omegacity

To recap. I’m on page 70 and there is nothing even resembling that image yet. Sure looks exciting. Somebody wake me when they reach the underground bunker.

To Create a World

I am reading the second book in Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Company series, The Whispering Skull. As you may remember from a previous blog post, I enjoyed the first book, The Screaming Staircase, but was incredibly disappointed when I figured out the twist ending 3/5 of the way through the book.

Still, it was a good world and well-written, so I grabbed the next book. I must assume that Mr. Stroud read my blog post, because thus far he has not made the same mistake in Skull that he made in Staircase. (The fact that my post was written a year and a half after Skull was published does not, in any way, diminish the possibility that he read my post. He may very well have read it, then gone back in time and fixed the sequel. These things happen all the time in the literary world.)

I’m very pleased that nothing has happened to make me displeased because I really, really, really like the world he’s created with this series. It is cool. It is slightly silly. It is chilling. It is exciting. It feels realistic. I want more (I’ve already ordered book 3 on Amazon). It got me thinking about the importance of the world we create in our writing. For me, the world of the story has always been the most interesting aspect of a book.

Give me a world fully-thought out and I’m yours. It’s what I try to do in my own writing. In many ways, the very distinct world of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (pre-order your copy today!) is what sold it to the publisher in the first place, and I take great pride in that fact. While writing it, I felt the world take shape, becoming a character all its own. I tell anyone who asks that the book really wrote itself. This is true, because I just woke up one day and my laptop was open and words were appearing on the screen while the cats floated upside down above the keyboard vomiting blood.

Not really.

But the strength of the world brought me back to the keyboard. I wanted to exist in the world I’d created. It made coming back to pound out the pages an easy, enjoyable task. The hard part was accepting when I’d finished it. I almost felt like my access to this wonderful world had been cut off, now I could do nothing but wait until the rest of you got to visit.

Or write a sequel. Which I’m itching to do. I’ve got the plot, the characters, the story all set up. Even written a few initial chapters. I just need the book to do well so the publisher wants a second. So it’s up to you. Buy it. Buy many copies of it. My fate rests in your hands. No pressure.

What are the elements of a good world? Well, I think it involves integration, for one thing. When I create a random character, I try to place them in the context of the main characters. When can I bring these random folk back onto the page? I want the reader to say:

“Hey! There’s Gilly Burbage again! She was on the playground talking about really liking fish, and now they see her at the fish restaurant! I know her! That’s so cool!”

Every character needs to come alive. Every character needs to exist on their own, as opposed to just “Here’s a guy they meet on the street who tells them their boots are cursed. He’s served his purpose, we’ll never see him again.”

I take great pride in my secondary characters and locations, making sure each one has a personality and point of view. Often times they are as interesting as my main characters (I was going to say they are sometimes more interesting than my main characters, but I don’t think that’s a good thing for me to say).

But a world is more than the characters within it. It is also the set-up. In Stroud’s Lockwood & Company series, the set-up is that 50 years ago ghosts started coming up and bothering people. To combat this, child agents (children are the only ones who can sense the ghosts before it is too late) combat these ‘Visitors’ whenever they appear. It’s cool. Fun. Also relatively simple, which is a good thing. Stroud gives himself a narrow window through which to craft his world, and he takes advantage of the focus. Every minute detail has been thought out. Nothing is by chance. The man did his homework.

I am writing Book 3 with this in mind. It is a distinctive world, and I need to make sure every detail is important. That nothing is left to chance. I try to keep the geography of the book in mind as well. If I do my job well (fingers crossed), then the result should be a world readers will want to revisit again and again.

Becuase I’m pretty sure authors get more money for sequels. 🙂

The Art of Art

I just finished a very good book.

Being a Middle Grade author, I read a lot of Middle Grade fiction, and I just finished the MG adventure The Zodiac Legacy, Book One: Convergence by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore, with illustrations by Andie Tong. I enjoyed it, found myself driven to finish it (and I don’t finish every book these days–just too many books to read to waste time on something that doesn’t hold my interest).

The book comes with a ton of illustrations, and as you might guess from the name Stan Lee, they are very much illustrations in the ‘comic book super hero’ style of art. It’s good art, and the illustrator is obviously talented.

But the book would be better without them.

 

I have nothing against illustrations in a book. My own, forthcoming novel Doctor Fell and the Playground of Doom (have you pre-ordered your copy yet?) has over a dozen very cool illustrations within its pages, and plenty of great books have great art that adds to the overall experience.

The art in Zodiac, however, didn’t add anything. In fact, it detracted. There is a disconnect, for me, between the story and the art. And I think this falls into the larger issue of how and why you add illustrations to a book in the first place.

The first question to ask is, do you need illustrations? In the MG genre, they are quite common. You’re dealing with readers who haven’t been reading chapter books for all that long and you’re weening them from picture books to the wonderful world of text. Good art can really help the reader solidify the images he or she is creating in their head, particularly if there’s a visual picture the author/illustrator team is trying to convey.

Also, in this particular case, it’s Stan Lee. He’s kinda known for comic books. So you sort of expect there to be illustrations. But I question the art direction. Many of the images are chaotic, confused jumbles that make it difficult to place oneself in the story. Also, the themes played with in the book were much cooler in my head than they were in the pictures. In some ways, the illustration limited the scope of the adventure by showing me things I was imagining. A number of times my response to the art was:

“Oh. That’s what it looks like? Huh. I thought it was way cooler than that. Bummer.”

As a general rule, you should never have anything in your book that makes people think “Bummer” to themselves.

Also, I question the choice of which scenes to illustrate. There were a number of set pieces that sounded very cool and I would have liked to see them, but instead we’re given image after image of the characters fighting each other as if standing in an all-white studio with nothing around them. There’s little sense of place in many of the drawings, and for me, that’s important.

I don’t mean to bash on the book. As I said up front, I really liked it and would highly recommend it. And the artist is certainly talented. But they looked to be illustrating a comic book, not a novel. You could almost see thought bubbles above the characters’ heads.  In a comic book, the art is fluid, moving from one frame to the next to tell the story. You don’t need a single frame to capture a moment as much because it is only part of a sequence of images.

But in a book, we get snapshots of time. The single image has to convey a lot more, has a lot more responsibility. And as we all know, with great responsibility comes great… I screwed that up, didn’t I? Oh well.

Bummer.

The Last Little Edits

If you’re read any of my previous posts, you know that my debut Middle Grade horror-adventure-comedy, Doctor Fell and the Playground of Doom, is coming out this coming August.

I’m kinda excited.

The timeline of the book’s creation and sale has been an educational experience.

August 2014 – I get the idea for the book and start dabbling.

September 2014 – After toying with it and a couple of other stories for a bit, and after an encouraging word from Awesome Agent, I get obsessed and dive into Dr. Fell wholeheartedly.

November 2014 – I finish the First Draft and send to friends and readers.

December 2014 – I finish Second Draft and send to Awesome Agent.

January 2015 – Awesome Agent likes it and starts sending it around.

April 2015 – Crown Books for Young Readers purchases Dr. Fell. I dance and sing and leap up and down like a little kid on an unending diet of sugar.

May 2015 – Excellent Editor sends it back with a ton of notes, including typos.

June 2015 – I finish Third Draft. Excellent Editor has more questions. I make more changes. We fix more typos. I eventually send in Fourth Draft.

September 2015 – The Copy Editing department goes over it and sends it back with a ton more notes and typos and questions.

September 2015 – I answer more questions, fix more typos, make more very slight changes. Call it Fifth Draft.

October 2015 – I receive Advanced Reader Copies. Totally freak out. These copies are based on Fourth Draft.

December 10, 2015 – I receive email asking me to OK typo fixes on 6 separate pages.

How did any typos remain undiscovered through all of that to December 2015? When you think about all the times I’ve gone through it, all the times Excellent Editor has gone through it, all the times the Copy Editing department went through it… it ought to be impossible. Yet there they are, plain as day. Six pages, each with an obvious typo or issue on them that needs to be addressed.

This is why I am no longer surprised when I find typos in published material. My book is only @215 pages or so. 45,000 words. The latest Rick Riordan is three times that length. Even going over it with a microscope, toothbrush, and metal detector, typos are going to slip through. They are literature’s little gremlins, and cannot be stopped, only contained.

Worse, I can almost guarantee (thanks to the inevitable law of human cluelessness) that there will be a hidden typo somewhere in the final, printed and published and on the shelves version of the book.

And my children will point it out within ten minutes of opening the book up to a random page.

Be strong.