#3. “Writing is very hard and bad for your health,” – a writing professor at the New School, New York, N.Y.
Back when I dreamed of becoming I writer, I took a course on fiction writing at the New School. This was so many years ago that I’ve forgotten the name of the teacher, but I’ve not forgotten him. He strode into the classroom, took up a piece of chalk and scrawled his message across the blackboard.
“Writing is very hard and bad for your health.”
He wrote this at the beginning of every class, and then stared back at us, his students, eyes narrowed daring the feeble hearted to get up and leave. No one budged for quite some time, but by the end of the course very few remained.
I seldom turned in an assignment to this teacher that he didn’t select it as an example to hold up before the class. This was done anonymously, so only the gulping of my breath; the beating of my heart, or the sudden flushing of my cheeks would give me away. His style was to praise first, words of glory and bright expectation, and then rip to kill. I would slink from the class, vowing to never write another word.
Fortunately, I learned early in life to think for myself, and so I interpreted his warning to suit me. In my experience, working at something you don’t like to do but have to do in order to survive is very hard. Writing is a calling. I don’t mean it’s a high and virtuous profession, but if writing calls you, you cannot help but answer. If you develop a habit to write everyday, writing will provide you with the energy, passion, and imagination it takes to get its stories told through you. Writing will become irresistible.
Also, because of this teacher, I determined I would not allow writing to be bad for my health. I walk three miles a day, do yoga each morning, and lift weights at the gym three times a week. I meditate every day. I’m twenty years into my writing life and I’m fit for many more.
Thank you, dear writing teacher at the New School.
#2. “Nobody dies on page two.” – Erica Duncan, author/teacher.
I lived in Sag Harbor, N.Y. at the beginning of my full time writing life, where I attended a writer’s group lead by *Erica Duncan. Erica, a celebrated literary voice, believed there was no such thing as a person who could not write. How lucky for me, as I had neither read a great body of literature nor acquired the degrees someone of her caliber might expect of a student.
Nobody dies on page two. A character might die anywhere in the book, but if death comes as early as page two, then it probably belongs on page one.
Writing this blog caused me to review the first chapter of my latest novel Time Blade, about to go off to my editor. Gosh be darned, if I didn’t find the inciting incident of the story on page two!
I write fantasy, and Time Blade opens with Sky, the main character, traveling by train to Cornwall, UK. Crossing the River Tamar, Sky meets Tamara, Spirit of the River, who appears in a glittering body of astral light. Tamara tells Sky he must return to the ancient lost Kingdom of Ruberah to fulfill a promise he wrote eons ago. I had preceded this scene with seventeen-year-old Sky interacting with an elderly fellow passenger, a woman who never appears in the book again!
I wrote that scene to reveal certain character traits about Sky, which it did and which writing I perfected daily, as the document opens on page one and I could not resist tweaking it at every glance. Now I recognized it as one of those ‘darlings’ that must be killed.
Writer-Up! Off with its head! Nothing is lost! Sky’s character unfolds naturally within the story.
I knew next to nothing about writing when I attended Erica’s workshops, which was a blessing, otherwise I might not have dared to set foot in her establishment. Erica critiqued me as fairly and evenly as she did her most outstanding students.
Thank you, Erica.
*Erica Duncan: A Wreath of Pale White Roses
Unless Soul Clap its Hands: Portraits and Passages
I read Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird some twenty years ago, when I took to the writing life full time. The advantages of writing a shitty first draft recommended by Anne, lingered in my consciousness for years, yet I didn’t write one until I began my third novel last year.
I was in a writer’s critique group for most of these years, and out of respect for my fellow writers I felt compelled to turn in a decent piece of work. However, many a well-polished page never made it into the published book. Time wasted? No. Craft learned? Hopefully.
It took me five years to write my first book Dream Chaser: Awakening and another five to complete Written in Ruberah: Age of Jeweled Intelligence, the first of a trilogy. At that rate, it would take me fifteen years to complete the trilogy! Time to speed up. I turned to the shitty first draft, and I wrote one in six weeks for Time Blade: Age of Jeweled Intelligence.
I came to the page every day, terrified, forbidding myself to even glance upon what I wrote the day before. I shoved a sock in the mouth of that nasty little editor in my head, whispering, you’ll regret this. Like hell I will!
Then came the read back. OMG! I repent. What rubbish is this? When will I come to something I can use? My gut fell to the floor. I wallowed and wailed, but once I gained control of my emotions, I read the draft like a puzzle. I began to find bits of story gold here and there. I also spotted unnecessary storylines I might otherwise have chased down, writing them over and over, trying to fit them in.
I wrote three more drafts of Time Blade within ONE year, bringing the story to what I call ‘editor ready.’ I will publish Time Blade: Age of Jeweled Intelligence this fall, cutting my novel writing time from five years to one and a half.
The possibility of a brand image for my books hadn’t occurred to me until I read *Six Steps of Self Publishing, an excellent blog by Libby Fischer Hellmann. Libby, a crime writer, uses red herrings in her imprint. Her emblem awakened the playful child in me. I immediately imagined fishing trawlers chugging into Mevagissey harbor, the Cornish village where I grew up, tossing a catch of herring onto the quay, which under my magic wand, would turn red and fly onto the spine of Libby’s books.
This response excited me. Would my own book imprint automatically trigger my child-like imagination? Names swarmed to mind, but I found they had all been taken. The key was to think of something very personal to me. What did I like to do most of all as a child? Answer: gaze into the sea and dream up stories.
Today we have a guest post from designer Scott Hale who has worked with Christina on multiple projects. In this post he will discuss his thought process and the steps he went through to create the art work for the cover of Christina’s new book, Time Blade.
When Christina asked me to write about the process I went through to create the cover art for her upcoming novel, Time Blade, I jumped at the opportunity. Christina and I have enjoyed a creative collaboration for several years and I strongly believe that this most recent project couldn’t have happened were it not for the many, many hours we have spent creating together.
The cover art began, as it always does for us, with a conversation. Christina is a very visual person and she described the concept of her new work using very descriptive language. Key phrases and words she used that sparked my visual imagination where “cycles of time, radiating blades, midnight blue and abstract.”
Because this book is part of a series, we knew from the beginning we wanted the cover to relate to the first book, Written in Ruberah. The cover art for that book set up a circular theme, which works well with the idea of cycles of time, so I knew this book would also use the idea of a central focal point that radiated outward.
I began researching moments of powerful change and quickly came upon a supernova. “A supernova is a stellar explosion that briefly outshines an entire galaxy, radiating as much energy as the Sun is expected to emit over its entire life span, before fading from view over several weeks or months.”
Visually, a supernova is stunning, creating a full spectrum of colors which often appear circular as the energy radiates outward from the center. Upon sharing the idea of using a supernova as a visual reference I was stunned to learn that Christina’s novel actually began with the death of Miron, a planet wiped out by a supernova. Perfect!
However, one of my design considerations was to keep the cover imagery abstract so the viewer could interpret it a variety of ways. Simply putting a supernova on the cover would be far too literal. So I continued researching. I think the actual phrase I Googled was “energy that radiates in a circle” which quickly led me to visual references of the Tesla coil.
“A Tesla coil is an electrical resonant transformer circuit invented by Nikola Tesla around 1891. Tesla used these coils to conduct innovative experiments in electrical lighting, phosphorescence, X-ray generation, high frequency alternating current phenomena, electrotherapy, and the transmission of electrical energy without wires.”
I started layering images of Tesla coils electrical energy over supernova explosions and the results were visually interesting, with variations in color and texture, while still being predominately midnight blue, another of my design objectives. Now the viewer would see an abstract representation of a powerful change occurring, such as time being sliced or cut.
The design for the radiating blades came from a discussion with Christina about avoiding the genre of knights in armor wielding swords. Christina was clear that the cutting of time was not a singular event and should not be represented as such. This caused me to design a very simple blade which when overlapped and radiated outward from a central point became a rather beautiful abstract shape itself. The blades were layered over the supernova and Tesla coil electricity and I knew I had something interesting.
This lead me to one of the most important choices for any book cover—choosing the font for the title. Having worked with Christina many times before I knew her personal esthetic towards clean lines and minimalism. I also was aware of how easy it would be to choose a font that would be genre specific (ie. Game of Thrones, Lord of The Rings, or any novel featuring vampires) and lead the viewer down the wrong path.
I needed a font that was crisp and clean, sharp and modern without being trendy. I tried several different fonts and even alternate titles suggested by Christina. One font I found early on, called Cirrus, had several characteristics I was looking for. It was clean and modern and had sharp edges, but at the same time it lacked the visual weight I needed. Finally I came across Broadband, a font I had used multiple times before but had never considered for this project because when in lower case it was totally wrong. However, when used in all uppercase it had everything I was looking for minus two small enhancements; I added points to the crossbars of the “E” in the word time and the “B” in blade.
Because of the nature of publishing it is entirely possible changes will be made to the cover before it goes to press, but as of right now, this is the finished cover for Time Blade: Age of Jeweled Intelligence.