Of Thanos and Polymer Clay

I should probably have written this right after I actually saw Avengers: Infinity War, but…I didn’t. But I have seen it and it was fine. Nothing overly special but vastly better than Age of Ultron and Civil War – each tied for worst Marvel film.

The spoilers start here, so if you haven’t seen it, skip to the superman head!

Avengers-Infinity-War-Team-Cap-Banner

I was wrong-ish about who would die, because I completely forgot that there was a second film, originally pitched as Infinity War Part 2. I said Iron Man and Captain America would die. I stand by that, but obviously with a conclusion still on its way, that’s the one where it will happen.

Speaking of dying, we might as well jump straight to that. It was bad. Does anyone actually believe that Spider-Man is dead? Or Black Panther? Or the entirety of the Guardians? Of course not. We know they have their own solo films on the way. Then again, the way Black Panther goes, off-screen, makes me think that the Russos never actually intended for us to believe that these heroes are all dead. Rather, I think we’re just meant to wonder how they’re going to get themselves out of this situation. The answer will sadly probably be alternate timelines or time travel, neither of which I’m fond of. But really, I think the problem is that it’s an issue at all. I know the fact that Thanos actually clicks his fingers is meant to be a shock, because that’s the big finale that the heroes are meant to prevent, but all that death doesn’t make for a sad ending. It’s too much and it’s too obviously temporary. If anything, the very last scene of the film should have been the click. Then cut to black. Leave everyone wondering what it meant and who died.

Otherwise, it was decent. Absurd that right after they find out that their friend is dead, along with an entire race of people, Iron Man and chums are cracking jokes. But that’s just the Marvel way of desperately trying to cram comedy into every gap. There are a lot of heroes to keep up with, and mostly it’s balanced well. Perhaps too much Thor and Vision, perhaps too little Black Panther and Captain America/Nomad, but generally, it was well done. Other than how they chose to make Peter Quill fairly unlikeable and Gamora little more than a token sacrifice.

AIW

Thanos himself was good. I liked the way they made him less bloodthirsty than they might have. He talks to the heroes, rather than monologuing at them. He understands and respects – to a degree – their efforts to fight him. Even when he has defeated one of them, he doesn’t kill them. He knocks out Nomad, but then just steps over him. He reaches down to the defeated Scarlet Witch, but just holds her head in an almost comforting manner. He might be mad, but he’s not 2D, cartoon evil. This is, of course, contradicted by the earlier parts of the film, where he slaughters every last Asgardian and murders both Loki and Heimdall. But still…

And then there’s the after credits scene. Nothing too special, other than A) I don’t think Fury will be one of the ones to come back, and B) She’s coming! I’ve been looking forward to the solo Captain Marvel film since it was announced, and I’m looking forward to seeing her arrive in Avengers 4. The colourful logo on Fury’s pager seemed a little over the top though. I maintain that, rather than the logo, a shiver-inducing, exciting end would have been:

…CONNECTING…

…CONNECTED…

Fury?

I’m coming.

And also that she should be in his contacts as ‘The Other Cap’. But that’s beside the point. It was good, I’ll watch it again, but I hope Avengers 4 will be better.

And now Superman:

Superman head sculpt

I mentioned before that I tried my hand at sculpting in polymer clay, and Superman was the result. I then tried sculpture 2, the main character of the book that I’ve just finished and am now editing.

DSC_0187

It includes this weird, Winston Churchill-looking baby. Better than the original ET-Yoda hybrid look it had before. Alex herself, on the other hand, didn’t turn out so well. Confirmed by the number of times people called her a he.

S7300259

But the finished product turned out well enough. Plenty of issues, as with the Superman head, but I at least have an idea how to avoid those issues next time.

Final-Before

As for the book itself, even when I’ve edited it, I still need to finish writing another book that has to come out before it, so it will still be a while.

Anatomy of a Book Cover

As usual, a slightly misleading title. I’m not going to share my theories of what makes the perfect book cover. I’m going to share my process of getting a book cover. Because I don’t have anything better to do.

Step Uno

The first thing I do is think what I want the cover to be. Quite an obvious step.

Shadow of the Wraith, Kindle coverPaperback cover

For Shadow of the Wraith, I decided I wanted a stark space scene, with the almost-titular ship looming over a planet featured at the end of the book. I later decided that I wanted a different cover for the e-book version (I don’t really remember why). I decided that one should be slightly more informative, so I decided that it should show the ship heading towards an Earth-like planet (Orion), having just cut straight through another ship. I thought/hoped that would give an idea of the threat before people even read the blurb.

Temple of the Sixth Cover

For Temple of the Sixth, I wanted an image of the titular character (the Sixth) standing at the mouth of her ‘temple’, seemingly oblivious of the predatory animals stalking her. She had to be looking out at an eclipse. From within, a thin stream of blood was to trickle out. The first part was a scene from the start of the book, and the blood and eclipse were references to the supposed End of Days omens that start appearing halfway through the book. The blood stream ended up looking more like a crack in the ground though.

Kira Cover

For Kira, the cover seemed obvious to me. The ‘camera’, as it were, was to be looking down a street in the city. Cold, dark, scary. The end of the street was to open into a stark desert, with nothing in sight. In between the two, I wanted Kira, as though stuck between two worlds, both equally unwelcoming. She had to be looking out towards the desert, where her future was. But it’s bleak, empty, nothing on the horizon. Above, the sky was to be dark and stormy.

Wyrd Worlds Cover

Wyrd Worlds is a sci-fi and fantasy anthology by several authors. To be completely honest, I wasn’t fond of any of the covers other authors were putting forward, so I created my own. It’s very difficult to put together something that portrays both sci-fi and fantasy at the same time, and I think the others were trying to hard to accomplish that, so I decided on something that didn’t try. Something fairly plain that also clearly showed that it was an anthology. The books putter-togetherer created a poll and mine was voted the cover to be used.

Acts of Violence Cover

Acts of Violence was different to all the others. I had to work at it! For the others, the cover presented itself to me easily, but for AoV I couldn’t decide. I had a few ideas, mostly comprising rain and darkness. Eventually I decided on a scene from the book. I thought that having the main character, Jack Mason, sitting in a diner, staring across the road at a club, gun on the table, would convey some sense of what the book contained. It would be the small, subtle things that would make the difference.

Step Zwei

Now, my second step is simply emailing the artist to see if he’s available to do the cover. But I had to find the artist first.

For Shadow of the Wraith, that wasn’t too hard. I did the cover myself. Then I decided to have a different one for the e-book, so I had to find a proper artist. My first (and only) stop was deviantART. deviantART is full of artists of all kinds and degrees of skill. There are amateur photographers all the way through to professional oil painters selling their work for thousands. Quite a lot of concept artists for games and films have their work on there.

First, I trawled through page after page of art to find artists whose work I liked. Then I would send them a message to ask if they were interested in doing a commission, and if so how much they would charge. Most said no, or were too expensive.

Secondly, I went to the forums, where there is a specific section set aside for advertising your project to find an artist. I got a number of responses there, including one from Mark Williams. I told him some more about what I wanted, and he thought he could do it and quoted me a good price for it.

Since it was the first time, I wrote up a brief contract to specify what work was being done and how much I was to pay him and who had what rights and so on. I don’t do that any more, but it’s probably a good idea the first time you work with someone.

Kira came next, and Mark was unable to complete it, so a friend of a friend (Cui Yuan) did the cover for me. His style is just right for what I want in my covers, so I stuck with him for Temple of the Sixth too. He was unable to do Acts of Violence, so I went back to Mark for that. The picture of Juni was drawn by Mark too, as an apology for having to stop halfway through doing Kira’s cover.

Steppe The Third

Now comes the tricky bit: working with the artist. Artists are fond of doing their own thing, and it can be difficult to get them to do your thing! You have to find a balance between cementing the important parts of the cover, and leaving the artist to their creativity and freedom with the rest.

The first thing I do is put together a very rough and ridiculous looking example of the basic layout. Thankfully, I’ve deleted those from my computer, so I can’t show you. Then I write as detailed a description as I can, including quotes from the book/s if it’s a scene, or involves a character.

Temple of the Sixth Rough Draft

By Cui Yuan

Next, the artist does up a rough example of his own, to show me what his vision of the cover is. Sometimes, I draw a little bit over it to show what changes I want. Then it’s a process of more and more alterations and slightly more detailed previews until the whole layout and ‘camera’ angle and sizes and so on are correct.

The artist then puts in full detail and colours and shadows. Then it’s a matter of going back and forth to sort out little details.

Step Chetyri

Once we are both happy that the artist has finished, he sends me the full-size image (and I pay). Then I make my own little alterations to it. These may range from simply inserting the title and my name, to changing colours and the like. I have not yet employed the services of someone who can create the title and its font for me. So far, basic and fairly plain fonts have suited the covers well enough.

And that’s about it. Below, I’ll post some images from the process of each cover (though I don’t seem to have the process images from the e-book version of SOTW).

I always recommend against people doing their own covers (mildly hypocritical), as I have yet to see more than a handful of covers that the author has done themselves that are actually decent. People DO judge books by their covers, and it will always be the first thing they see of the book. It needs to look professional. Searching the internet for some stock images and shoving them together in MS Paint will not achieve this. That’s not to say that getting a good artist will result in a good, professional cover. Book cover design is an art in itself, in a way. But I’ve also seen a good deal of covers created by so-called professional cover designers that aren’t much better than those stock image ones I mentioned. So you simply have to shop about and make sure you see plenty of previous work by the person.

Hopefully this was helpful, or at least vaguely interesting.

Shadow of the Wraith – Me (E-book version by Mark Williams)

My first idea for SOTW

My first idea for SOTW


Second try

Second try


Hardback Cover

Hardback Cover


Paperback Cover

Paperback Cover

Temple of the Sixth – Cui Yuan

Cui Yuan, Coloured Update

Cui Yuan, Coloured Update


Coloured and Shaded

Coloured and Shaded


Final Version

Final Version

Kira – Cui Yuan

Cui Yuan, WIP 1

Cui Yuan, WIP 1


Yuan's Final Version

Yuan’s Final Version


My Final Version

My Final Version

Wyrd Worlds – Me

Original Idea

Original Idea


Wyrd Worlds Final

Wyrd Worlds Final

Acts of Violence – Mark Williams

I started this one myself before I knew the title. It was more to waste some time than a realistic effort to make a cover.

Rough Attempt 1

Rough Attempt 1


Rough Attempt 2

Rough Attempt 2


Rough Attempt 3

Rough Attempt 3


Rough Attempt 4

Rough Attempt 4

Then I contacted a professional.

Mark Williams, First Sketch

Mark Williams, First Sketch


First Update

First Update


Mark's Finished Version

Mark’s Finished Version


My Finished Version

My Finished Version

Acts of Violence

As you may have gathered from the counter on the right ending its countdown, and from me saying several times, Acts of Violence is now available!

Acts of Violence is a semi-noir (though beta readers have stated there’s nothing semi about it) thriller. It is, strictly speaking, sci-fi as well, but there’s little enough of that for people with no inclination towards sci-fi to still enjoy it. Basically, it happens to be set in the same universe as the NEXUS series (though not a part of that series), but in a very low-tech, poor colony town so strongly fueled by crime that even the incessant rain can’t douse it.

Links:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Smashwords (all e-formats)

Within the next week or so, Smashwords will also distribute to retailers such as iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Waterstones, etc. But there’s no need to wait, as Smashwords itself has the book in nearly every conceivable format!

Acts of Violence Cover

My name’s Jack Mason. I made a mistake. Took home the wrong girl. Now she’s dead. Cut up. And they’re telling me I did it.

It’s the same cop that tried to take me down ten years ago. Now he’s coming at me hard. And he’s not the only one. Cole Webster, the city’s crime lord, thinks I stole from him. Broke me out of custody just to ask me about it. Then I killed his son. Now he really wants me.

Add to this equation a government agent, and I’m a real popular guy right now. Pretty much everyone I meet wants me dead, lawfully or otherwise. There’s nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. I’ve got till morning to uncover Webster’s trafficking operation and take the heat off me. And all I’ve got to go on is a pissed off homeless girl with a thirst for revenge.

Guess it could be worse. Can’t quite figure how.

Bullet In The Rain

That was my first thought for the title of my next book, a semi-noir(ish) thriller. Then there were other possibilities, mostly comprised of rain and darkness and bullets. There are a fair number of bullets, though, and a lot of rain, so I decided on something a little more relevant to the story: Acts of Violence.

Acts of Violence is science fiction, set in the same universe as the NEXUS series. Unlike that series, though, it would pretty safely fit under Hard Sci-Fi. Also unlike the series, AoV is not New Adult. With plenty of swearing and violence, this is aimed at an adult audience. With some hard work, and a little bit of luck, it will be released later this very month!

Mary Fan (a name you’ll have heard many times on this blog) recently hosted a cover reveal for Acts of Violence. Now that it is safely revealed, I can post it here too, with the (current) blurb:

Acts of Violence Cover

My name’s Jack Mason. I made a mistake. Took home the wrong girl. Now she’s dead. Cut up. And they’re telling me I did it.

It’s the same cop that tried to take me down ten years ago. Now he’s coming at me hard. And he’s not the only one. Cole Webster, the city’s crime lord, thinks I stole from him. Broke me out of custody just to ask me about it. Then I killed his son. Now he really wants me.

Add to this equation a government agent, and I’m a real popular guy right now. Pretty much everyone I meet wants me dead, lawfully or otherwise. There’s nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. I’ve got till morning to uncover Webster’s trafficking operation and take the heat off me. And all I’ve got to go on is a pissed off homeless girl with a thirst for revenge.

Guess it could be worse. Can’t quite figure how.

New Year, New…Year

Yes, funnily enough the transition from 2013 to 2014, AKA Tuesday to Wednesday, has not heralded some transcendental change or indeed a sudden desire to lose weight, or gain weight, or eat more celery and less pig, or take more risks or less risks. It means we’re that much closer to machines taking over the world and sparking a giant zombie spider uprising and that someone stole my heating oil. Or we used too much and it ran out. I’m unsure. Also that I’m posting my first blog post for a while.

I’m going to pretend that you care, and tell you how my Christmas was. It was fine, thank you. I ate mince pies and bread sticks and custard and chocolate and juices and stollen. In various combinations. And I watched Person of Interest, Arrow, Agents of SHIELD, Terminator, and the world spin around me every five minutes due to being unwell. My New Year’s day was the same, minus much of the chocolate and mince pies, and some of the spinning.

On a more interesting note, this should be the month in which my thriller will be published. As it is quite short compared to my previous novels, I don’t intend to put it out in paperback form at the moment. I don’t think I could keep the price low enough for a 71k word book (the last two were 128k and 98k respectively). So it will only be available in all e-formats. I will be revealing the cover soon.

I have a fleck of gold paint on my jumper and I don’t know why.

There are also stirrings in the Wyrd Worlds 2 direction, but that won’t be until later in the year, if it happens. Also later in the year, I hope to have the third book of NEXUS finished, but I intend to work on that and something entirely different simultaneously once my thriller is out, so I can’t be sure.

Enjoy 2014, and if you win a lot of money give it to me, because I want it.

Thrillers, Horrors and Supermen

My upcoming thriller has been rewritten and is now with beta readers. The feedback so far is very good. Although I think I may have made a wild guess in one post, I don’t have a release date yet. After I get it back from the proof readers, it will need a few edits, as well as rewrites for anything they pick up, and then off to the proofreader. But I thought I’d update my…uh…legions of loyal fans?

I also thought I’d give my thoughts on two of the things that have been taking up my non-writing time: Man of Steel and The Last Of Us.

I intended to write a full review of Man of Steel, and even sat here for about an hour writing and putting in images and so on. I was going to write about the theme and about what Superman means to people, and why does he remain arguably the greatest of superheroes… But in the end I decided I didn’t actually know where I was going with the review and it was sounding too negative. So I’ll just say a little this time.

I enjoyed Man of Steel, but it did have a few flaws in my eyes. One of the most obvious things when I think back is the music. Though the music was very good, there was one track that was used over and over and over, pretty much any time something happened that involved Zod or Superman. Just when you thought it had finally finished…it would kick in again! It got quite irritating. I’m not one that argues that the proper Superman theme should have been in there. Though it is no less iconic, and no less Superman, than the cape or inability to dress himself properly, this was a complete reboot. That means distancing itself from the old films, and in doing so, not having the theme makes sense. I miss it, but it wouldn’t have made any sense really. It would have been almost like putting the na na na na na na na na, Batmaaaan into Keaton’s films.

The next biggest let down of the film was a lack of drama. There’s plenty of it in flashback scenes with Robin H…Pa Kent. But there’s none whatsoever in two of the most important moments of the film: the first time he shows off his powers, and the first time he puts on the suit. None. Whatsoever. Let’s take the show of power first. It’s not a spoiler to say that this is when he rips open the big metal door and is covered in flames. That’s the first time we see his power. So why is there no drama to it? Why is there no more made out of it than of the scenes of him hauling fish about? Again, this is a reboot. That means it should be treated as though the audience has never seen Superman before and doesn’t know what he’s capable of. But no. Just have him a rip a door out of its frame, and appear ablaze, and treat it as though he’d just wandered into the kitchen.

Worse still is that there was absolutely nothing to the first time we see him in the suit! Just as Bruce Wayne talks about being a symbol in Batman Begins, so is Superman a symbol. And without that gaudy suit, there’s no symbol. So when we first see him walk out of those doors, cape flapping in the wind, it should have been a big moment. But there was nothing. The door opened and he walked out. Like it was the tenth time we’d seen him in the suit. Not only that, but why was he so accepting of the suit? Why didn’t he want to know why he had to wear tights? Why he had to have a big snag-on-everything cape. How come he’s suddenly clean shaven? I also didn’t like what comes next. He doesn’t immediately take off and rocket into the sky like he appears to in the trailers. That comes a little later. What does happen could be considered a tiny spoiler, so I won’t say, but the minute or so between emerging in the suit and taking off into full flight would have been better suited, in my eyes, to the beardy, checkered shirted Clark Kent.

Then there was the ending. The resolution with Zod. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t very Superman. I can’t really talk about it without spoilers, but it wasn’t the best. Nolan was apparently adamant that it was wrong and should happen another way, but Goyer eventually persuaded him. But at least it was written in a way that it was unavoidable. It just…shouldn’t have been.

My last big problem with it was the tornado scene. I know what they were trying to do with it, and in theory it was a great, emotional, moving scene. In reality, it wasn’t pulled off very well at all. It should have also been the last flashback before that final one. The final flashback was very good and would have been a lot more moving if it had been the only one after the tornado scene.

But overall, it was good. Perhaps very good. It wasn’t amazing and brilliant, and was lacking something I can’t put my finger on. A fundamental Superman-ness. It was, however, much better than I’d been dreading it might be. I’m one of the few people who really liked Superman Returns, and was very disappointed to hear he wasn’t being allowed to continue on with the sequel he had planned. But this makes a suitable replacement. Cavill is a good Superman, although he could do with less jaw clenching and getting angry, and did a lot of work to make himself look like Superman. But really, it was Clark Kent’s film, not Superman’s. Hopefully the sequel will bring us more of a Superman feel.

I’m looking forward to the Justice League film, though there needs to be a few standalone films to introduce the other members first. DC needs to pull its thumb out and get on with that. Marvel has nine films coming in the next couple of years, DC has…one. The MoS sequel that’s not even confirmed.

Overall, I’d give Man of Steel an 8/10. Just. Maybe 7.5/10. But I’ll definitely be getting the bluray as soon as it’s out.

In the interests of not making a big long post, I’ll write about The Last of Us tomorrow. So for now, I’ll leave you with this:

All Authors Blog Blitz

Today, I am hosting an author interview as part of an ‘All Authors Blog Blitz’, started on Goodreads. My own will be hosted by Patti Lavell. My guest is Max E. Stone, a thriller writer. So…here he is, I guess (just pretend there’s trumpets and things):


Let’s start with the obvious: tell us about your book, August To Life.

“August to Life” is the story of three families—the Warrens, the Bennetts, and the Johnsons—unwittingly and reluctantly thrown together by their children which forces them to deal with the secrets they’ve buried for years. And that’s just the beginning.

What led you to write in this genre? Would you consider venturing into other genres, and if so, which?

I’ve always enjoyed reading fiction and writing it is no exception. It’s an escape for me and gives me an opportunity to create something new. For instance, “August to Life” was the result of a series of traumatic incidents during my junior and senior high school years. During that time, escaping through fiction writing was all I really had to keep me sane. As far as other genre’s I would like to at some point do paranormal and maybe children’s books.

Thriller and mystery works seem to me some of the hardest fiction to write, with all the interconnecting threads and so on. How do you go about it?

You’re right. It’s not an easy genre at all because there are so many different threads of storyline that you have to clearly connect to create this yarn of one interwoven story and then you have to show the audience how its all connected. It took me years of practice with writing prompts, reading, agent rejection letters, and the like to have an idea of how to do it and even now, I learn something new every time I pick up a book by another author.

What kind of challenges did you come across in bringing this book to life?

Writing in a way that scared me was one of the most challenging aspects of bringing this to life. My mom, one of the smartest people and biggest book lovers I know, taught me that. I always let her read my drafts. I let her read the first draft of “August to Life” and she commented on how dialogue should go with the character at least in the context of the moment. From then on, I had to make sure I said what my character said, regardless of my feelings.

Another challenge was publishing. I didn’t know much about the self-publishing industry or publishing in general, which is another place my mother shined. She found all these details and information about publishing with Amazon and Smashwords. It helped me to get my voice heard so thanks mom 🙂

What lessons have you learned so far from your writing?

One lesson I learned was not to be afraid to be me. Sometimes what works for someone else may not work for you. For example, Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder were just two people who changed the face of music simply by doing what they did best: being themselves. My writing role model is Quentin Tarantino. He’s not afraid to say what needs to be said the way it needs to be said. His structure and dialogue is phenomenal.

If you knew everything you know now about writing, what, if anything, would you go back and do differently?

There are a few things, but mainly I would definitely read more of a wider range of authors both in and outside of fiction to see their different styles and tactics of reaching an audience and telling a story.

I’m pretty sure it was Elmore Leonard that said (but don’t quote me) that writer’s block is just another term for lazy. What do you think of that? Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

Well, I’ve never really considered it before. I have suffered from writer’s block before so I would have to both agree and disagree. You’re never truly blocked just because you don’t know where to go. Sometimes you just need to write or talk it out to get back on track.

Lastly, tell us anything else you want us to know: coming projects, tips, interesting facts about yourself… Anything.

“August to Life” is part of a series so you’ll be seeing more of the Warrens, the Bennetts, and Johnsons. The second in the series “The Bleeding” is a hard core thriller that goes into why one character is what he is and what he is planning next (if anything.) It will be available September 2013 and I will be posting updates and changes on twitter on my pages at @maxestone and @maxestonebooks as well as my blog “The Coloured Blog” on Tumblr at http://thecolouredbook.tumblr.com/


August to Life

‘Around, Around, and Around they go. Where the blood stops?…Who knows?’

August to Life is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US now.