Behind the Cover

I’ve never been one for following rote advice or rules. Like Laith, one of the narrators of Mage and Source, “Emily does what Emily wants,” and in the case of my Tales of Blood & Light covers, Emily wanted to make them herself, so she did, against the advice of just about everybody, everywhere.

That said, I’ve learned a lot by going the independent route (as usual), and I certainly beefed up my Photoshop skills, which were a bit rusty after a stint many years ago as a photo doctor in a psych lab in college. (Side note: back then I was editing images of Breyer horses and yearbook pictures for a study on prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces, in case you were curious.)

I always enjoy learning by doing, and working on my own covers has allowed me to do that.

While my favorite cover thus far is Sterling’s–all the pieces just fit together so well to get a striking image–there is a big “darling” in the Mage and Source cover that I wanted to share because I love it so much.

Here’s the Mage and Source cover:

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Take special note of the interesting background colors and textures, the iridescent greens, blues, and violets. Those colors came from an image of a very specific thing. Can you guess what?

In the series thus far, each cover’s dominant color has represented the aetherlight color of the narrator. In Mage and Source, I have two narrators, and thus I needed to represent two colors on the cover, neither completely overpowering the other.

I am a relentless hunter of interesting public domain images, and I finally found one that I thought would serve as a good background image for Laith and Elena’s colors. It was this one:

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from the USGA Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab’s Flickr stream. Government science images make my nerdy heart happy.

This is an image of a bee’s wing. Specifically, it is the wing of a female Xylocopa carpenter bee from Thailand. It was so cool I had to use it on my cover!

The rest of the images were sourced from more mundane stock photograph sites. The bird of paradise flower image in the center represents a fictional night queen bloom.

You’ll have to read the book to see how the night queen bloom and the bee’s wings relate to the story!

You can pre-order Mage and Source here.

Add it on Goodreads here.

 

Seven Questions: Tamara Shoemaker

Anyone who reads my blog is aware of Tamara Shoemaker, YA author and editor extraordinaire. This woman never slows down, and her tenth full-length novel just came out, the final installment in her Heart of a Dragon series, Unleash the Inferno.

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In Unleash the Inferno, you’ll finally get the rousing conclusion to the epic story of Kinna, Ayden, Cedric, their dragons, and of course, the villain, Sebastian. One of my favorite aspects of this book was the backstory and development of Sebastian the evil king, turning him into a grayer antagonist than you might find in a lot of YA Fantasy.

Since Tamara has answered my seven questions so many times, I focused this interview less on her latest book itself and more on questions other writers might have about how this powerhouse keeps cranking out multiple books in a calendar year while the rest of us flounder along hoping to produce one, if any.

Tama Author Pic Print

  • Tamara, this is book ten, eleven if you count your children’s picture book. What have you learned between book one and book ten that you would share with a novice novel writer?

This is cliché, I fully admit, but I also hold the view that there is a reason things become cliché: because they work, they connect. So, this is what I’ve learned: Never give up. I mean, NEVER give up. Not when you come down off the high of publishing your first book, not when you get your first poor review, not when you get your first rejection to a query, nor when an agent says your writing isn’t quite what they’re looking for and better luck next time, nor when a harsh critique comes in from a trusted friend, nor when the pure agony of marketing overwhelms you, nor when you’re tired, nor when you’re sick, nor when you’ve hit a plothole that could swallow a skyscraper.

The discouragements that litter the road of a writer are many and varied and often hard, and it is a career that is certainly not for the faint of heart. But I think almost any obstacle can be gotten over with steady diligence and an attitude of “Never Say Die.”

That’s been my motto since I began.

  • How have you changed as a writer over the years? Is your focus different? Has it gotten easier? Harder?

Some things have gotten easier, some harder. 🙂 When I began writing, I didn’t expect to stick with it. I wrote my first book on a bit of a dare from my husband (he dared me to write a book, so I said I would, and I did). I half-heartedly tried to submit it in a few places, but then I put it away and didn’t pursue it again for several years. In 2012, I heard of a small press that was looking for manuscripts, so I thought—why not? I got my manuscript out, dusted it off, and sent it in. When the company offered to publish it, my dreams and goals increased exponentially in a matter of seconds. I saw myself—a world-famous authoress topping every chart from the New York Times Bestsellers to USA Today’s—gaining international acclaim, and of course, while signing off on movie rights at every Hollywood studio, jotting book after book in my cabin in the woods where I would never, no never, attempt this mysterious thing called “marketing.”

Obviously, the real story is VASTLY different from what I had anticipated, but in some ways, that eases the road for me. Expectations are less when you are less known. My focus shifted from writing for readers to writing for myself—what did I want to see in a story? The independent publishing market swept in and gave me more freedom to do what I wished. I jumped genres from mystery to fantasy, and that’s where I am today. Every step I take presents its own set of challenges, but every step is also rewarding in its own way, because it’s all a part of living my dream. I haven’t topped any lists yet, and Hollywood steadfastly ignores me, but I am writing, I am creating, I am weaving my worlds, and that is important to me.

  • What inspires you when you’re feeling creatively dry?

So many things! My children. My surroundings. Nature. A book I’ve just read. A movie. A conversation with a friend. Music. Dreams. Sometimes I feel like I’ve come to the end of a road (that creative dryness you mentioned), and I realize it’s just a turning, a curve in the road, and something will spark a new thought that I want to explore to its farthest end.

  • You are also a freelance editor. What do you feel is different about editing someone else’s work and editing your own?

I think there’s such a thing as being “too close” to a story. When I write my own work, I am so wrapped up in the “nth details,” as I call them, of the world I create, that many times I can’t see the larger picture to know what is missing, or what should be tweaked. I rely heavily on beta readers when it comes to finding those things, but MOST of all, I rely on my editor to see those things (who, I may also add, is a worker of all things miraculous when it comes to literature of any kind).

So, in my work as an editor, I try to be that for other people. Authors get too close to their work; it’s a by-product of the profession, and that’s why it’s essential to get a good editor to help you see the larger picture. When I edit for other authors, I am able to grasp the bigger picture more easily than I can in my own books, because I’m coming at it from the outside of the work, and not inside it.

  • I’ve often noted that you seem like a very diligent writer who stays incredibly focused. I also know you go through phases of the typical writerly despair and uncertainty. How do you get through that and stay on track?

Hearkening back to my answer to question #1: Never give up, never say die. Sometimes, it’s like pulling teeth to make myself sit down and write. Sometimes the words don’t come, and the words I force to come are pure and absolute drivel that have no business anywhere NEAR what one would call a quality book.

I guess I look at it like the difference between a river and a pond. Scum collects on a still pond, because it has no movement. But in a river, the water is constantly flowing; there’s no chance for scum to form on the water’s surface, because it doesn’t stay still. When I’m writing, even if it’s drivel, even if the words are just awful with no quality whatsoever, the creative process isn’t stagnant. It’s still there, and eventually the quality floats on down the river to me, even if it takes a bit.

  • What is the hardest thing about the entire book process for you?

The middle phase: developmental edits. I love the first part: creation. I get to write whatever under the heavens I want to write, because it’s my story, and I can make it happen exactly as I want it to happen. I also love the final part: the line edits. That’s the spit and shine on the hard work I’ve put in. It’s where I see the story start to look like an actual book I’d want to read in a bookstore. It brings so much satisfaction. But that developmental phase in the middle is a bugger. It’s where I see every last flaw in the story, usually huge ones, and I have to go untangle them and rewrite them and rearrange things and cut whole sections and add whole sections and tear the entire story apart so I can put it back together again in a coherent manner. It’s awful. But I couldn’t complete a book without it. 🙂

  • Tell us a bit about your next projects.

I’m currently in process of finishing up a co-write with my beloved editor and friend, Emily June Street, (WHO?) set in an 18th century parallel world featuring music as magic and with steampunk touches. We’ve already co-written another book, set in an 19th century parallel world to the post-Civil War American South, featuring elemental magic and plantations, and we plan to pitch these books to agents at a conference in New York City in August. Meanwhile, I have begun sketching out the plans for a new YA Fantasy that includes between-world travel, fairy tale settings, and of course, my favorite, political intrigue. I’m hoping to begin the actual writing of that in June. I’m also busy picking up freelance editing contracts where I can in all my… you know… spare time. 😉

You all can learn more about Tamara and her writing and editing activities at tamarashoemaker.org

Read Unleash the Inferno!

After the Battle at ClarenVale, Kinna Andrachen unites those who spurn King Sebastian’s tyrannical reign, mustering a rag-tag army of soldiers and creatures to face Sebastian’s far larger Lismarian army. Victory is elusive and allies are scarce, but Kinna’s tenacious spirit cannot succumb to injustice. Her fiery heart must learn to lead

At last mastering control of the four Touches of the powerful Amulet, Ayden finds himself at the center of an epic struggle to destroy the corruption that has tainted the throne of Lismaria for centuries. As time runs out, his options for survival fade, surrendering him to a dark destiny.

Tied to a fate he does not want, Cedric Andrachen resists his inheritance, fleeing the lust for power it sparks in him. As war looms, Cedric faces his choices: will he turn his back on his throne and his kingdom? Or will he enter the struggle against tyranny, bringing the freedom his people have so long sought?

Sebastian sits, at last, on the Lismarian throne, stolen from him twenty years prior. But now the Rebellion, led against him by his niece and nephew, threatens his security from across the Channel, and the Amulet’s promise of power tempts him into even darker shadows. Ghosts of the past brutalize Sebastian’s present until the lines of reality blur with nightmare.

Flames of war ignite between nations. Peril threatens the Andrachen line.

Who will survive the inferno?

Deleted Scene : More Hinge Backstory

This little snippet was originally in The Gantean, a piece of information about the magic of the Gantean Hinge. Ultimately, I found a way to “show” rather than “tell” this information, but, like a lot of writing about magic systems, I had to write out the theory of it before I could even attempt to integrate it more naturally into the story.

Leila was the narrator telling this info, though it could have been the Cedna, too:

“Because of this Hinge, all other magic was possible, for in its opening, the Ancestors had made the Layers permeable, so that we could walk from one to the next. The Gantean People were the Guardians of this Hinge, and it was our sacred duty to protect it, to keep it hidden, safe, and open. Not just for ourselves, but for the whole world, for all the nations who used magic. The Hinge, high on the ice plateaus of Gante, was the source of all magic.

Every Gantean knew about the Hinge. Such knowledge made us Iksraqtaq. It was a secret funneled into us, never spoken, but lived and felt and inhaled from our very first breath. If we were a stern and somber people, it was because of this great responsibility we guarded. We kept the Hinge open by feeding it the dead, their flesh and spirit and blood, to appease its endless hunger.”

Deleted Scene/Lethemia side story: The Writings of Lord Ronin Entila

One of the sometimes-frustrating things about creating a multi-book fantasy world is how much extra world you build that never actually ends up in any book at all. This excerpt is one of those situations. Lord Ronin Entila made a brief appearance in Tales of Blood & Light Book 2, The Cedna, in a flashback explaining how the Cedna herself came into existence. Lord Ronin Entila was her sayantaq father, an explorer/conqueror from the southern lands. At some point in my writings, Lord Ronin wanted to have his perspective known, and so I gave him the opportunity to narrate a travel journal–though it was always pretty obvious to me I wouldn’t use it in any book, and after edits, events in The Cedna ended up contradicting his tales, as in his journal he spends a long time with the Ganteans, while in the book, just a single fateful night. So here are the opening entries of the impossible journal…

A Travelogue, by Ronin Entila

Those who know me well know I am not much of a writer. I am a man of action rather than words, but it seems if I am to explore these cold lands, I must record my impressions, for I have so many thoughts I cannot hold them all tightly in my head. I came north with the blessing of His Highness, King Tryphon I Galatien, in this fine year the 804th of the nation of Lethemia, domain of the Holy Amassis. I came to discern what prospects these lands held for us, if they had any merits for trade or cultivation, and to finally bring the Ganteans under the shroud of our holy country. Too long have the residents of the northern isles been practicing unholy ways. I shall write more of these ways later. But we have long known they practice some strange magic up here.

A family of our own kind, of an evening, might gather together, and the father might read to his brood from the Book of Amassis, or of our history, or even, were he liberal, from one of the great poems. But the Ganteans do not gather to talk at night, or if they do, they do so out of my presence. What I feel from them all is this tightness, this secrecy, this wall of silence. I know we call them barbarians, but that is because of how rough and dirty their life appears, isn’t it? They have no plumbing, no steel, no bitumen, no engines. They live up here in this blasted cold. But it seems to me they have a deep and complex society, full of all kinds of rules and niceties I can barely discern. There are times I feel the fool.

The role of the woman they call Cedna is unclear to me: a queen, a soothsayer, a goddess? All three? To be sure, she holds their magic more than any other, and is often inebriated with their foul plant broths. So, I think, she is a shamaness, a soothsayer, more than anything.

But then I see how she lives, with those around her giving her deference and space, much as we would do with the Queen. She is cared for more than any other, and in a place where life is cold and hard, she is given more: her food is prepared and brought to her by others, her fires made in her stone house before she arrives. These are not a deferent people: each and every one does their own work, and such work it is to keep them busy just to keep themselves alive. (I cannot help but admire the stout and hardy dispositions of the Ganteans. They do not complain.) And so when Cedna sits idle when all those around her scurry about with the exhausting business of her survival, I think of a queen, more than anything (no disrespect meant, of course, to our Majesty Halcyone, whose wisdom precludes any notion that she does not deserve her leisure!)

But there is something more in the way her people treat her, something I have never seen before except in our temples of worship in Lethemia. A heady combination of fear and awe—as if Cedna was to her people as the dread god Amatos is to us. Holy, yes, but terrible, too. A goddess then, in the minds of her followers.

The woman herself is something to remark upon. Her hair is such a glimmering auburn I could best only compare it to a flame, but such cliché would cheapen the reality. She is youthful and yet old beyond her years, she speaks little and watches everything. ‘Twas this young thing who greeted me when I made land, and offered me warmer welcome than I had come to expect. I suspect the other tribal leaders put up with me only because of her apparent liking, but I find it strange she has no lord of her own. No one stops her when she takes me into her stone house at night (and I do not stop myself, though Amassis knows I should! What can I say? Her flesh burns even warmer than her hair, and I have never been one to turn away a willing woman!) Even so I can see the tribal leaders do not like that we share a bed, but they are too in awe of her to put a halt to it.

Every third sennight they perform a ceremony of some kind, and Cedna is away the whole night through. She returns in a drunken state and pale as snow, looking weak, almost bloodless. I cannot explain the strangeness of these nights. There is a flavor to the woman’s kisses that fills me with dread, and yet I hunger for it even more than the touch of her flesh. A bitter, strong flavor, I believe it is the plant drug they imbibe to worship their gods, or whatever it is they do. I know I ought not taste the plant, but I cannot help myself, and following her kisses I spend a sleepless night, wandering in dreams I cannot be having. I can barely recall the elusive madness the next morning, but I know I see her, Cedna, in those dreams. She carries a flame in her bare hand, and holds it against me, so warm in all this ice. Ah, but her tears! So many tears. A thousand tears to wash away the warmth.

Deleted Scene: Miki becomes a Dragonnaire

Here’s my first deleted scene. This one takes place in the series timeline right at the end of The Gantean, after Leila has left Costas and her son, Tiriq, to go after Laith and the Cedna. As you will see it is told from Miki, her Gantean brother’s, point of view. Leila left Miki on the ship with to take care of Tiriq while she was away, but there was some lingering animosity between Miki and Leila’s husband, Costas Galatien. This little scene was part of a prologue I had originally written for Mikien’s book (Book 7), but the big timeline changes I made in the overall series arc made that particular prologue unworkable, as I felt the jumping around in time was too confusing. It also turned out that Miki becoming a Dragonnaire was less central to his story than I had originally imagined, so using this scene didn’t have the story-relevant impact I needed for the opening of a book. Below is just a snippet from the entire scene.

Scene: 

Costas sat down on the bed with Tiriq in his lap, ashen. I shifted awkwardly, wishing I could leave, but the ship was small, and I had no where to go.

“I’ll have to call off my men,” he muttered. “I’ve sent them ashore to search for Leila.”

“They’ll never find her. Leila can blend.” It was a uniquely Shringar talent, that easy adaptation, melding into every circumstance like a drop of water into the ocean.

Costas pulled himself together. “Very well. I will allow her to perform this duty. I practically gave it to her myself. But if she isn’t back in a fortnight, I’m going after her.”

I lifted my brows, suppressing a skeptical snort. “To Gante?” Costas had all the usual trappings of a southerner—the rich, thin clothing he wore would kill him in a second in Gante’s harsh climate, not to mention his thin skin and a preference for weapons and magic rather than raw resourcefulness.

“That’s where she’s gone?”

“Undoubtedly,” I said. “But give her at least a moon. I expect she’ll be back to you by then. In the meantime, don’t you have a city to retake?” All through our sea journey from the harbor of Engashta, where Leila and I had gone to find Tiriq and Costas after they were captured by Xander Ricknagel, Costas had been planning how to retake the High City from Ricknagel’s remaining army. Galantia and Province Ricknagel were the only places in the country still held by those loyal to the man who had usurped Costas’s throne.

Costas stared at me for a long moment. Then he threw back his head and laughed. “How old are you, anyway?”

“Fourteen winters,” I said sullenly. As a Gantean—a small one at that—among sayantaq, I was usually mistaken for a child.

“Leila says you are her brother, but I see little resemblance between the two of you. You look fully Gantean, as she does not.”

“Ganteans do not reckon relationship by blood,” I said shortly. “But I call Leila a sister, and I call Tiriq a brother. I always will.”

Costas gazed down at Tiriq in his arms. “You feel for them both like family, though no blood connects you?”

“This is the Gantean way. Our island is a hard place. We look after one another. We are connected by the land itself.” We were connected by blood, too, but in a different way from how he would understand. All Gantean blood fed the Hinge.

“Interesting.” Costas set Tiriq back down on the bed and began to pace. “Allian told me you killed my mage Oruscani.”

I retracted toward the cabin door. I had feared there might be repercussions for killing the mage once Costas pulled himself together and regained his power. I still had the ulio I’d picked up from Leila, the Gantean ritual blade, stuffed in my back pocket. I scrambled for it and crouched. Once again I wished I’d had some kind of training in the martial arts. I’d seen Costas’s Dragonnaires practicing their moves, and they had looked useful. Costas had easily snapped the blade from my hand earlier, and he had all the training the wealth of the world could buy.

All I had were instincts honed by a lifetime of dangers.

Costas stared down at the ulio that I held in front of me. “Now why would you go and do that?” he wondered aloud. “You’re not stupid, boy. You don’t want to fight me.”

“Allian Kercheve put me in binds for killing the mage. He said there would be consequences.”

Costas laughed again. “You’ve been exonerated. Allian was actually quite impressed with you. He said you were fast. Coming from him, that means something. He was the fastest fighter I had.” Regret tinged his voice. Kercheve had died fighting Xander Ricknagel as we’d rescued Costas from his upscale prison in the Duke of Engahsta’s home.

Costas’s eyes never left the ulio. He moved like summer lightning, springing towards me, then darting to the left, and finally snapping his hand down on my arm.

I didn’t drop the blade; I went with the force of his blow, crouching lower until one shin rested on the cabin floor. I spun on my toes on my standing leg to avoid his next blow and skittered away from him.

“Good instincts,” Costas said. Again he moved, this time in a frontal attack, both hands whizzing through motions too fast to track. With the wall at my back, I had few options. I ducked and somersaulted, coming to my feet behind him. Now he was pinned by the wall.

“Ingenius,” Costas said. “But you’re still outmatched.”

I cast a quick glance at Tiriq on the bed.

“Don’t you dare,” Costas said, his face hardening. “If you touch my son, I’ll murder you with my bare hands.”

“I’d never hurt him,” I hissed. “He’s my brother.”

A satisfied look crossed Costas’s face. He struck anyway, launching into a dizzying array of strikes, punches, and kicks, too fast to track. His foot connected precisely with my wrist and the ulio went flying. Before I knew what had happened, he had me on my belly with two fingers digging into the back of my neck like iron pins, his knee in my back.

“This grip,” he said, “is a secret known only to me and my Dragonnaires. I can push so hard I can knock you unconscious, just from the pressure. It cuts off the blood supply to the brain, you see. If I hold it long enough, I’ll kill you.”

I writhed but he held on.

“Listen to me, Mikien. I’m giving you only two choices. One, I keep squeezing. I can do this for as long as it takes. Two, you agree to pledge your loyalty to me, become one of my Dragonnaires, and have your oath bound by a mage. My men have gone ashore and they will be bringing at least one mage back to the ship when they return.”

“What does that mean, bound by a mage?” I rasped. I could hardly breathe, what with the force of his knee into my ribs.

“It means you will swear your life to me, as all my Dragonnaires do, blood and breath. A magemark will be put upon your arm, written in my own blood. This makes you physically incapable of harming anyone who carries my blood. And you will serve me. We will put these good instincts to better use.”

“I’m Gantean,” I spat. “I will not kneel to a southern king.”

Costas Galatien’s laugh had begun to grate on my nerves. “You’re already kneeling, boy. One way or another. Come now, pick life. I like you too much to have you go to waste. And I fear Leila would never forgive me if I killed you.”

“Will you train me to fight?” I asked.

That grating laugh again. “I most certainly will.”

“Yes, then,” I said as my vision began to blur. “I’ll do it. I’ll take the pledge.”