Jan 30, 2012

Cover Art

As some of you know, a friend of mine has been doing some artwork inspired by my first novel. I'm planning to use some of these to decorate my blog when they're done.

Yesterday I got to see the work done so far on my hero, Nathan Shepherd. I am loving this. Actually seeing my characters in this way is such a giddy rush. I'm dying to share these with people.

This got me thinking, though, about cover art. What makes a book really stand out? What are some favourites at the moment? Personally I like the title and author's name to be very clear. If the font or background image are too complex it distracts me and I have to pause for a moment to figure out what they say. That's not a great encouragement to pick up the book and check out the blurb on the back cover. Usually I also prefer abstract art, such as a logo or stylised image, over something with a model in a pose. That said, a really well done cover with a picture of characters from the book can be very evocative. I just get tired of seeing the same run of stock images that say nothing about the book itself.

I'd also be lying if I said that all this hasn't got me wondering just how much say an author gets in their cover art. Can they make reccomendations? If they see a proposed cover and just hate it, can they ask for something else? Or is it one of those things that needs to be ironed out on a case by case basis?

Jan 27, 2012

Video Games

Here's a topic that I've thought about for quite a while. I'm not a hardcore video game player by any stretch of the imagination. I'm lucky to play though two new games a year. When I do play, I choose games heavy on story over sports simulators or the latest cover-based shooter.

My all-time favourite series over the last decade has to be Mass Effect. I'm anxiously awaiting the release of Mass Effect 3, though Arkham City is keeping me well satisfied at the moment.

My question to all of you is do you think video games are worthy of consideration as a form of narrative? Do you feel that a good video game can have as gripping and engaging a story as a good movie or novel? In the future, could there be grounds for video games to be regarded the same way, subject to the same expectations, examinations and criticism that we apply to older, more acknowledged modes of storytelling?

Personally, I'd love to see this happen. Each medium offers different opportunities for narrative and needs stories to be told in different ways. I think the latest story-heavy video games like Skyrim and Mass Effect are pushing the boundaries and encouraging writers and audiences alike to explore new ideas in storytelling. This can only be a good thing.

Jan 25, 2012


I've hit a bit of an editing slump. With my latest round of edits on Locked Within in the hands of my editor, I actually have plenty of time to work on my edits for Silent Oath, the second book in the series.

Of course, this is just the time my brain keeps telling me it wants to do other things! Stupid brain. I'm 23 pages in out of 249. This needs to improve if I'm to be querying in March.

Time for some rousing motivational music:

Jan 23, 2012

Classic Movies

Last night my wife and I decided to watch Robin Hood, the old Errol Flynn version. I love it. She loved it. I find it hard not to appreciate how great a film it is, especially when you take the time to learn how much work went into making it.

The composer for the film, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, wrote the music to be in the same key as the voices of the actors while they were speaking.

The sets included the great hall of a castle, built from scratch - no CGI or special effects to make it seem larger.

Every arrow shown striking a target was fired by Howard Hill, unofficially known as "The World's Greatest Archer." Any cast member who had to be hit wore a sheet of balsa wood under their costume and Hill shot them, past every other person on set, right in the middle of scenes. Again, no tricks, no special effects. If you see a character get shot in this movie, they were actually shot, with perfect accuracy, by hill. And apparently, even with the balsa wood to protect the actors, it still packed a whallop.

It's only really now, as an adult, that I can appreciate the amount of work and craft that went into a movie of that scale. It was a different time for filmmaking. Everything was experimental. But even then the core elements of performance and scriptwriting were the foundation for the story. It's incredible to look back and see how people took on those challenges to manage what must have seemed impossible in order to tell the best story they could, to see how many things have changed and what has stayed the same. And also, perhaps, to compare what we've gained in filmmaking to the things we have lost.

What about you? What are some of your favourite classic movies?

Jan 20, 2012

Energy Levels

This has been my wife's first week back at work and we've had to start getting up at 6:30am again. I don't mind, because it means I get a lift into work and I get more time to get settled at my desk, have my coffee, and do a bit of writing or editing before work starts. In fact, I pretty much got my first book written almost entirely in the hour before work started and on lunch breaks. I owe quite a lot to these early mornings.

But damn if it isn't hard to adapt to sleeping almost a full hour less each night. We've been getting to bed earlier, but sometimes (like last night) we wind up staying up late because something catches our fancy on tv. Last night it was Dylan Moran. We are eating a lot healthier which will hopefully help with our energy levels. I've been taking vitamin B complex as well as multivitamins & iron. Don't know where I'd be without those. I also perform Reiki on myself to help keep myself feeling focused and relaxed.

And coffee. Coffee is my friend. I'm no good to anyone before I've had my first coffee.

What do you guys do to help alleviate flagging energy levels?

Jan 18, 2012


Today sites such as Wikipedia, Reddit, Mozilla and Minecraft are going dark in protest of the SOPA and PIPA bills.

While I'm behind efforts to curb online piracy, I've been paying attention to how, at least in its original form, SOPA was poorly-defined, to the point of being open to abuse. I've read the stories about how it could lead to small online business being shut down, or someone's blog could be taken down for posting images from a movie they were discussing or links to the movie's homepage.

I've also seen that certain changes are being made to SOPA, like removing the US courts' ability to instruct ISPs to shut down sites based on the suspicion of copyright infringement. These are good things to hear, because it means someone is listening to the fears and is taking steps to better define exactly what SOPA is meant to do.

In the end, I know there's little my voice does compared to internet giants like Facebook, Google and Wikipedia. I'm not even sure I'm qualified to fully understand the scope of what SOPA means or offer reasonable suggestions as to alternatives.

What I do know is that, as a blogger, I rely heavily on the freedom to provide links to outside sources, so I would hate to see anything damage that. As an author, I would rather risk a few people pirating a digital copy of my book if it meant that those who bought and enjoyed my book could freely share that love and talk about it openly.

I hope that, whatever happens, we'll all still be able to share information and maintain this amazing global community which the internet has allowed us to create.

Jan 16, 2012

Rude or Assertive

There's a big difference between the two. The crazy mess of it all is that, by and large, most people are taught that you should be respectful to others. The exception to that, generally, seems to be any time the person you're speaking to is dealing with you as part of their job. If someone offers to help us with our bags, tell us where something is in a shop, or advises us on insurance policies, we're gracious and pleasant. The moment we realise that someone is doing this because they're being paid, our attitudes shift. It's a tiny, subconscious thing, but it is there.

Now, personally I get set on edge by salespeople. Nothing puts me off making a purchase faster than a shop assistant walking up to me and asking if they can help. I'm just that kind of person. So, I'll always politely say I'm fine and just having a look around.

Generally, whenever someone catches me off guard or gives me an answer I didn't want, I try to be polite and accept that they're just doing their job. Most of the time I manage to keep my cool if something bothers me, but sometimes I fail. Not everyone makes that attempt.

I've worked in retail, in a fast food restaurant, in customer service and in office administration. I've seen customers speak to staffmembers of different companies as if they were dirt. I've been spoken to that way myself, more times than I care to remember. The worst part of it isn't that someone got annoyed because we were out of a particular breakfast cereal, or couldn't sell them cigarettes without ID, or that our company's policies don't allow us to give out another customer's contact information.

The worst part is how the person who gets annoyed somehow expects that it's part of our job description to stand there and take their abuse.

I've had soft drink bottles thrown at me. Been threatened with physical violence, or legal action. I've been called rude and unhelpful just because a caller on the phone wanted me to give them information that would have been a violation of our company's privacy policies and my own job contract to reveal. There have been times when I've let myself be drawn into an argument with such people. There have been times I've quietly taken the verbal abuse while fuming inside.

And there have been times when I've calmly and plainly told the person that I would not be able to help them if they continued to be aggressive. These are the times when I'm proud of myself. They're also the times when I see the true character of the other person. Will they back down and apologise, realising that they're letting their temper get the better of them? Or will this only incite them further, accusing me of being "smart-arsed," "rude," "defensive," or "cheeky?" I've been called all of these and worse, even had to ask people to stop swearing at me.

I don't believe that people doing their job should have to kowtow to someone who is being abusive or unreasonable simply because they're at work. Everyone, everywhere, has the right to go to work and be treated with respect by everyone; collegue and customer alike. There is nothing worse than going to work in fear of what someone may say to you just because they don't like not getting their own way. People like that are nothing more than bullies, and bullies can only be dealt with by remaining assertive and not allowing yourself to be abused.

We can remain strong and assertive while at the same time being calm and polite. Remember this, especially any of you still working day jobs while reaching for something better. Don't be fooled or browbeaten into thinking that standing up for yourself is something you shouldn't do.

And if you're the customer waiting to be served by that one cashier stuck on their own during the busy period, give them a break. You might be having a bad day, but so are they, and your bad day isn't their fault.

Jan 13, 2012

Friday the 13th

The most unlucky day of the year, except maybe for whoever owned the rights to all those horror movies. I wish I knew where the fascination with the number 13 came from. At least in China, their superstition about the number 4 comes from it sounding very close to the word for death.

I love superstitions. There are some I believe and some I don't, but I never simply dismiss them. They're a fascinating look into the human mind and how we can take one small element ("don't whistle backstage in the theatre; that's the signal to drop the sandbags") and turn it into something different, but still related ("whisting backstage at a theatre is bad luck").

Much like my interest in the supernatural, I'm particularly drawn to superstitions that suggest the involvement of magical creatures. If you've grown up in Ireland, you know that you should never break ground in a fairy ring. If you have to dig, let someone else break ground first, then you're safe. You also never fall asleep inside a fairy ring or you might not be able to leave before dawn, or unless you turn your coat inside out and put it back on.

For those who're scratching your heads, fairy rings, or fairy forts, are circles of mushrooms, flowers, trees or stones which have not been arranged in that shape intentionally. They are believed to be home to fairies who will become angry if you disturb them and will curse you for doing so. Most everyone in Ireland has heard at least one story growing up of someone breaking a fairy ring and having something bad happen to them later. Like all good superstitions, no-one really knows where they first heard it, but it's quite a common story, even if most people don't believe it anymore.

Superstitions aren't just ancient stories passed down through generations. Modern society has all kinds of superstitions that influence our lives. Everyone's heard stories of sports players wearing the same underclothes at each game, for example.

Among gamers like myself, there's a common myth that dice have a will of their own, and can turn on a player they don't like, causing poor rolls. Some people blow on their dice for luck. If a die rolls badly too often, it might be consigned to the dice bag for the rest of the game. Another player might only roll theirs when the game calls for it, for fear of using up all the good rolls.

Myself, I'm quite careful about my dice rolls. Don't want to make the dice gods angry, now do I? ;-)

Jan 11, 2012

Supporting Others' Talents

We writers talk a lot about our own work and about other writers we enjoy. I think we should also take the time to celebrate the range of other talents possessed by those in our lives.

My wife, for example, is an astonishing singer and can play piano, guitar and some violin. My dad is a great guitarist. My sister is a dancer and my mum could probably lead an army, having tested her organisational skills against youth drama and working on film sets.

For Christmas I got my wife a USB microphone that she can use to record herself directly onto the computer. She's really looking forward to bringing more music back into her life and we'll be sharing some of her recordings as we go. So keep an eye out, because I'll be posting links to her Youtube channel!

Is there anyone in your life who has a talent you're proud of? What can you do to encourage them to share and develop that talent further?

Jan 9, 2012

Review: Paranormalcy

First review of the year! Shortly before Christmas I finished reading Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White.

Score: 5/5

What we've got here is a gem of a book. From the start, Kiersten White challenges the usual expectations of urban fantasy. She gives us Evie, a sheltered girl working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency. Her unique gift to see through the magical disguises of supernatural creatures makes her an invaluable tool to the IPCA, despite her young age. As such she has grown up facing down vampires and fairies, yet learns everything she knows about teenage life from television shows, desperate to go to a real school, ahev a proper boyfriend, and her very own locker.

While strong and brave in the face of the kind of threats she has lived with all her life, Evie is still quite girly. She's a great contradiction; neither the helpless damsel nor the alpha female heroine so often seen in urban fantasy.

The story has some of the most truly scary threats and villains I've seen in a long time. Reth, the fairy who is obsessed with Evie, honestly creeps me out. I dreaded turning the page whenever he showed up and cheered whenever he was thwarted. That said, White does an excellent job of showing us that fairies are completely alien to us. They're neither good nor evil, and that makes them all the more uncertain and untrustworthy, because you just know they'll take any chance they can to get what they want.

For a genre often steeped in violence and sex, it's interesting that White's book contains little of both. The romantic tension between Evie and Lend, the shapeshifter whose true form only Evie can see, is intoxicating but completely sweet and innocent. The action scenes are tense and heartpounding, but the book contains no graphic violence. Yet, while this is a book I'd happily let any small child read, it never once felt like the story or themes were dumbed-down or immature.

What I loved most about Paranormalcy was a strong sense that White is showing the reader that magic and fairies are all well and good, but completely pale in comparison to real human feelings and desires. I admit to feeling a bit inundated at times by urban fantasy books where humans are the beaten-down runts of the writer's narrative, where the pleasures and heights of the supernatural far outweigh anything any mere mortal could experience on their own. In Paranormalcy, Evie's greatest desires and most profund moments of desire and happiness come from normal things. Holding a boy's hand. Talking to a friend. Feeling loved. It's honestly refreshing to know there's at least one series out there that lets the beauty of human love shine over the temptations of the supernatural.

Jan 6, 2012

I Need A New Look

I've had this blog layout for a while now. I like it and it's served me well, but it's not really "me" enough. Also, I've got a different haircut and a full beard instead of the goatee now so my profile pic is well out of date.

I'm thinking about my options for a new look for 2012, specifically to help spruce things up around here for my launch. For the blog itself I still like the current text format and the semi-transparent background field, but that might have to change. Once I have a book cover settled, I'd like to try and use that as the background image for the blog, but in the meantime I have a few choices. I have a friend who has been doing some artwork for me based on my book. It's fantastic work I hope to share closer to the launch date. He's always been an incredible artist and this is some of his best work yet. I may be able to find one of those that would be suitable. Afternatively I could just look for some royalty-free photos of New York, to reflect my book's setting.

Regarding my profile picture, I think it's really time I got my author photo sorted out. I've been thinking a lot about this. Thankfully another friend of mine is a photographer and has agreed to do the shots for me. I have to admit to having no idea what would best suit me as an author photo so I may have to post several online and get some opinions.

Does anyone have any advice for how to decide on author photos or appropriate blog artwork?

Jan 4, 2012

Own The Year

Happy new year, everyone. It's safe to say that I'm very, very glad to see the end of 2011. There were good things, absolutely, but it's hard to look back without remembering just how hard a year it was for my wife and I.

So instead of dwelling on that, I'm going to look forward. This is 2012. A new year with new opportunities and new challenges. My first novel is coming out later this year. That's huge, and not a little scary. Over two decades since I decided I wanted to be a writer, it's actually happening, and I couldn't be happier about that. I'm also planning to get the sequel ready and submitted to my publisher soon, ideally in time for the 2013 line-up. Once that's done I'll be starting work on the third book in the series. I'm a firm believer in getting books out there on the shelves, both physical and digital. I'd release a book every month if I could.

On the non-writing side, my wife and I are planning a trip back to New York some time this year. That city will always hold a special place in my heart and now that the hidden world of my series is really taking shape, I want to go to the places I've written about and see them with fresh eyes.

Last year we learned how much our friends love us and what they'll do to take care of us. So this year we're going to do so much more to enjoy being with them. Dinner parties, game nights, cinema trips, you name it, we're going to find ways to share more of our lives with our friends.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I intend to take this year and own it.