Today, I’d like to offer you a couple of paragraphs of my short story “Finale for Harp and Voice”. It’s part of my short story collection “Here be Dragons”.
It was first printed in its German incarnation in a little anthology called “Diebe Drachen und Dämonen”. I then translated it into English and published it myself.
The main character of the tale is Lirandal, centaur and bard. Sadly, he can tell that his best days are already behind him. His greatest wish is to write one more ballad to dazzle his audience with. This is what he gets… not knowing the price he will pay.
Taking one deep breath, Lirandal concentrated on his ballad […], With a sudden movement, he raised his head and struck the first chord.
The low murmor of conversation died away. Lirandal noticed it with satisfaction. A little later he was completely enthralled in his ballad, being only peripherally aware of the great hall. His fingers danced across the strings, his voice was as full and strong as he had always wanted it to be.
He sang about a dare-devil princess who went out into the world to live through many great adventures. She had to pass several tests, use dozens of tricks and overcome countless enemies before winning the love of her life and returning home with him. Lirandal gathered all his might for the brilliant finale, her wedding. He took a deep breath, then he lifted his voice up into the rafters of the roof. He held the final, happy note for a long time, only gradually letting it dwindle to a whisper before finally silencing the strings of his harp.
So yesterday, I finished writing a little short story. It takes place in the Cloud Lands Saga world, and is about a side character. In fact, it’s a little adventure in his youth, which does help to understand how he became the man he is in the series.
And now the little story needs a title.
Which made me think about titles and how I go about them. And maybe you’re interested in the thought process. So these are things I tend to think of when mulling title ideas.
1. The title needs to be connected to the story
This is not quite as idiotic as it seems. I’ve seen titles that had nothing to do with the story. They were just meant to catch attention. Of course, that can really mislead readers and lead to disappointment, if not anger.
So the title needs to have a connection to the story, and it needs to express something of the story. In my case, it gets the main character’s name.
2. The title must not give away the solution
My little story is about a rescue. But if I put that word into the title, it totally gives away the solution. In fact, making the rescue possible is the whole challenge for the main character. If I put “rescue” into the title, I take away the challenge, at least for the reader.
The story would become boring. And that’s why the story won’t be called “Dragon Rescue”.
3. The title should create interest or curiousity
Now, in this story, I assume that my readers have read the series and are aware of one of the biggest longings of the main character, and how far it is out of his reach. Just to make sure, it is expressed in the story, as well.
But in fact, the title I have in mind states something that should not be normal for that particular character. And that’s why it should generate curiosity at least for the people familiar with the world and the series, because the person’s title is “wrong” for the one they got to know in the series.
Which is also why I put the the character’s name in the title I have in mind.
4. The title needs to be short and to the point
There are exceptions. One that comes to mind is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime”. Of course, that title works especially well in combination with the main character of that novel, and it’s certainly unusual enough to draw attention to it.
The same goes for “The Martian”, on the other hand, because as far as we know, there are no Martians. And this one is definitely short, catchy and interesting.
In addition, a short and catchy title helps people remember the book and the story.
I got the name of “The Curious Incident…” wrong when tried to remember it and had to google it to give you the correct version. This is important because you want your readers to recommend your book to their friends, and if the title is too difficult to remember, that’s a problem.
5. The title should be unique
This is not easy at all. There are billions of books out there, and there is no way to check them all. But it’s a good idea to google your intended title. I did that for a German novel I wrote (“Finderlohn”), and discovered there is a book with that title out there written by Stephen King.
So my book gained a subtitle. Because while it’s nice to have your book high up in search results, the potential for confusion is just as high. And you don’t want confused or angry readers.
So what is the title of the story I wrote?
“Prince Elsen’s Ride”
And I’ll let you know how you can get it as soon as I have it formatted and all that.
You see, I thought we’d see Prince Orlen on the cover, since he is getting quite a part in the book. And because he matters so much for Dorelle.
But that wan, worn person on the cover was NOT how I had seen Orlen in my mind.
I liked the feel of the cover. Dramatic, mysterious, dangerous… it goes well with what happens in Kraken War.
But that guy…
I spent hours digging through Shutterstock, looking for my Prince. Looking for a picture that would stir my blood like Orlen does for Dorelle.
And finally, it dawned on me.
That guy on the cover is not Prince Orlen. Never was. Didn’t even try to be.
Because that man is Debesh.
Originally, I thought Debesh a little taller, but definitely thin. Or slender (much nicer word).
And then I thought about what I do to Debesh in the book. How much I hurt him. And how much I admire his tenacity, he sheer pig-headedness, his… loyalty, through everything I throw at him. He may not be imposing physically, not at first sight.
Yet Debesh is tough. Resilitent. Doing what must be done – very much like Dorelle, really. I love that guy. (That’s why he got to live, too. I just couldn’t kill him.)
Seeing him draw his sword like that while being weary and tired of fighting – that spoke to my heart.
And so I fell in love with the cover, and yes, I changed the story a little so the guy on the cover matches my description of Debesh.
Today, I want to talk a little about the new cover and the new interior design of “Dorelle’s Journey”.
You see, I liked the original cover. I wasn’t that thrilled with the interior graphics, but the whole book looked nice and cool with all of the chapter headers and break graphics. I had hired people to do that for me, and I got what I paid for.
I still don’t regret that choice. I made it from where I was then, and it was okay. It was the best I could do then.
But there were hints that maybe the cover and design weren’t as good as they could have been. That maybe they didn’t quite fit the story.
You see, I got one review on a big, influential review site where the reviewer thought my characters were young teenagers. Granted, part of that was because the site categorized my story as “children’s” since it doesn’t contain much swearing or sex.
Young teenagers. Soldiers. Commanders. Fighters. Really?
It totally shocked me. My books are fantasy adventures, the series does move on to contain some sex and mild swearing (I invented new swear words), and it certainly wasn’t intended for children. And Dorelle is in her mid-twenties, and Ferren, her Wing Commander is in his mid-thirties, at least in my imagination.
And I started to wonder why someone would have that impression (aside from reading the Hunger Games…). Seriously. Teenagers? Kid Lit? My tale?
Enter the cover and the cute, swirly interior graphics.
Stuff you find in children’s books.
And you don’t find these things in serious, epic or classic fantasy for adults. In fact, the cover was just too sweet, as well. No real drama. Nothing to draw a reader in, despite the mysterious castle and the swooping dragons. I did like the sailing ship because it does show up in the story. But there just isn’t much drama with that bland background.
Now, in the meantime, designing an ebook or the interior of a print book has become much, much easier with the advent of Jutoh and reasonable CreateSpace templates. And let me mention the integrated PDF function of LibreOffice, which makes it even easier. Yes, it embeds the fonts you’re using. Yes, CreateSpace is happy with the PDF.
When I found someone to create new covers, the decision was clear.
The entire dragon series would get a facelift.
I wrote about that about a month ago. The facelift is practically done, and I’m working hard to get the fourth and final part of the series ready for publication.
Over the course of a few days, Ashley, my cover designer, and I put together the new cover for “Dorelle’s Journey”. I scoured Shutterstock for a picture of an archer who fit my sense of Dorelle – a clear-headed, no-nonsense, dragon-loving independet fighter. Ashley offered a cute, pouty girl, a fairy-type archer, and I just couldn’t see her as Dorelle. “My” Dorelle isn’t cute. She’s tough and does what she has to do.
So I picked the archer who is now on the cover (not that there was much choice, mind you). Ashely removed the ugly orange glove she’s wearing in the original, but the bow is still a tad too modern (like I said, little choice so this is a compromise). And I think Ashley created a fantastic atmosphere of drama and tension for the cover, including that dragon winging across it. I’m still fascinated by the complex background, too.
Now, I also picked the font myself, and it will be the signature font for Hannah Steenbock (love how that name comes out in it!). Yet I’m not entirely happy with the all-caps title since the swirly capital letters don’t work that well in all-caps. For now, however, it’ll stand. And Ashley did an amazing silver effect on the letters that I utterly love.
So here I proudly present the new cover for Dorelle’s Journey:
I did all the work on the ebook and the print interior myself. And of course, with print, you want a clean, readable font and no nonsense. For an ebook, choices are even less, since most eReaders pick a font for you. Basically, with an ebook, you can choose either serif or non-serif, and that’s about it.
So the ebook is plain Times New Roman. Very simple. Nothing to take attention away from the story itself. No graphics that blow up file size…
And for the print, I used the title font for the chapter headers, and plain, old boring Times New Roman for the text. The Chapter Headers are the only fancy stuff in it. Here’s a pic:
Chapter Header of the print version
And that’s how I like it. Simple, a little elegant, and definitely Fantasy.
So that’s what I’ve been up to with my dragon books. I hope you’ll get interested enough to check them out.
Here’s a link that’ll take you to your Amazon store: “Dorelle’s Journey”. And if you have read and enjoyed the tale – let me know! Any questions, too! (Same goes for any typos, errors and mistakes, of course.)
You don’t know me – Joanna Steenen – yet, but I write erotic Romance, and I’m about to self-publish my first couple of stories. Now “erotic” means explicit, so yes, I describe clearly what’s happening in bed in those stories. And I describe the feelings during the act.
Which is often considered “dirty” or “disgusting” or even “taboo”.
Part of me wonders if that’s because it can be so wonderful? I mean, isn’t orgasm wonderful? Delightful? Pure joy?
Medically, it’s good for you, too. It brings down blood pressure, for example.
So why is it considered dirty?
I believe it is the very level of enjoyment that causes this reaction. You see, Protestants and Calvinists believed that the world is a sad place by design. A dreadful place, intended to teach us humility and obedience to God. A lifelong test of our virtue.
And anything fun, beautiful or joyful thus must come from Satan, the enemy of God. So sex, arguably one of the most enjoyable things in the world, must have come from the devil. And thus it must be dirty, sinful and avoided, because that is what Satan is.
And the only way it can ever be allowed is as a joyless duty with the single purpose of procreation.
But what if they got it completely wrong?
What if sex, if orgasm is actually a gift of God?
A gift helping us to enjoy our physical shape while we’re down here on Earth. Maybe life down here isn’t about suffering at all. Maybe it is about love, being together, creating life together, in all possible manners.
Because here’s another aspect of sex: It is most delightful when both are enjoying it. Trusting each other, opening to each other. Then you can get the kind of mindmeld and bodymeld that is only possible through sex.
This is sacred connection.
And the only sin with sex – if we take this point of view – is to be disconnected from each other. Is to ignore the other, their feelings, their desire, their needs, and just taking pleasure for yourself.
Taking this thought to the extreme, rape is the ultimate sin, taking sacred sex and turning it into an egotrip.
What would happen if we consider sex to be sacred?
Something to be shared, created on purpose and enjoyed?
Prostitution would be a sin, too, because there is no mutual commitment. Rapists would be considered immature, egoistical criminals, and punishment would be severe. It could no longer be seen as “boys will be boys” on a slightly bigger scale. It would be seen as betrayal of something sacred. (Which it should be even now!)
It might even change our society. If sex is no longer dirty and something to hide away, if gentle, caring connections with others were something to be absolutely desired – how would people change?
How would life be if we value our intimate connection to others above all?
I have no idea. I haven’t gotten that far, but I would certainly like to explore such a world.
Entstanden ist der erste Entwurf für dieses Buch im November 2006, während NaNoWriMo. Ich habe es dann ein paar Monate später fertiggestellt, überarbeitet und schließlich meiner Agentur gezeigt.
Die hielt es für nicht vermarktbar.
Dann lag es etliche Jahre in der Schublade, auch nachdem ich den Vertrag mit der Agentur aufgelöst hatte.
Den entscheidenden Impuls, jetzt doch endlich dranzugehen und den Roman zu veröffentlichen, gab mir übrigens mein Vater. Er war es, der mit mir losfuhr, um den Ort des großen Showdowns am Kyffhäuer zu inspizieren. Geschrieben hatte ich die Szenen nämlich nur anhand von Bildern aus Google Earth. (Die Seite ist eine großartige Quelle für Landschaftsszenen).
Und als wir dann im Nieselregen zurück zum Auto gingen – das übrigens genau dort geparkt war, wo auch Konrad im Roman sein Auto parkt – nahm mir mein Vater das Versprechen ab, das Buch im nächsten Jahr (2016) zu veröffentlichen. Das habe ich nicht ganz geschafft, aber immerhin, jetzt ist es als eBuch erschienen.
Like most of us, I expected the 21st century to be good. I thought a lot of the amazing things from Star Trek and other SF would come true, or be closer to becoming reality.
And we dreamed about all of it.
I thought we’d make amazing technological progress as well as getting better as a society. Equal rights. Eliminate hunger. Educate all children. And of course, all of this:
Clean, limitless energy.
A society that is inclusive and caring.
A Moon colony.
And possibly, maybe, clear steps towards peace on Earth.
And we truely do have amazing things:
Free video phone calls
Self-driving cars (they are coming)
Private space companies
And yet, 17 years into this brilliant, bright, exciting new century… the world looks dark and threatening.
This year is starting out much, much darker than I ever expected.
Authoritarianism on the rise.
Populist parties everywhere.
Democracies losing fundamental elements.
Hungaria, Turkey, Egypt, Poland.
Wars. Syria still tearing itself apart.
Russia, which never really was much of a democracy… working to destabilize the West
And now the big elephant in the room: America.
It seems the American people elected (in the way the system works) an archeype of American society: A con man. A gangster boss. A dye-in-the-wool, brutal, selfish capitalist who will recklessly plunder his own land and as much of others as he can, and pocket the dollars himself.
Suddenly, this bright, new century looks like a repetition of the ones before.
1814/15 Congress of Vienna, the attempt to resore order after the devastating Napoleonic Wars
1914-18 First World War, with horrible casualties and the first use of chemical warfare
2017… we don’t know yet, but I’m scared of an almost casual use of nuclear weapons – worst case scenario… imagine a single, strategic nuke dropped on Beijing, eliminating China’s government… someone might get away with it… blackmail the rest of the world for a while. Until we have an all-out war.
So what can an author do?
What can I do?
I know that people usually don’t want to read dark stories in dark times.
Which means I should spend my time writing fun adventures with happy endings. Stories that help my readers escape the fear of what is going on in the world right now.
But shouldn’t I do more? Isn’t there a responsibility to teach? To encourage? To motivate?
To stand up for my values and convictions, but how?
Stories always are about relationships. They can be loving, hateful, dangerous or supporting – but a story rarely works without the main character having a relationship to someone or something.
Which makes it interesting for me to observe relationships, and look at the patterns I see in them. How do people express love? Or hate? What does a certain look mean, which words are code for something? It can be quite fascinating.
Right now, one of my neighbors is quite obviously expressing frustration and hate. Screaming, slamming doors, thumping things… unfortunately, it’s a pattern I have been observing for a while now.
It might find its way into a story eventually.
But his is a tragic story, and I don’t see a happy end for him at all.
That sadness is another pattern in a relationship…
Sometimes, I aim for markt. Sometimes, I write for friends or fans.
And sometimes, I just write for fun.
This November, for NaNoWriMo, I wrote for fun.
Admittedly, I started out writing a story for fans. And got stuck in it. I know I’ll finish it eventually, the big plot lines are firmly established, and pantsing the small stuff makes the story fun to write. But I got stuck anyway, and decided to give my peeps time to reorganize themselves.
So now I’m putting words into another story that I enjoy very much. I wrote about it earlier because it’ll end up as two stories, eventually. (Recycling Story Ideas)
Being an indie author, I can do what I want, how I want it and when I want it. And I can have a dragon shifter romance with a strong female lead, I can have a war mare in it (although I still have to figure out how to take care of her in the end), and I can write that story exactly the way I want to read it.
Because I don’t have to please an editor.
Because I don’t have to please a marketing expert.
Because I don’t have to write to deadlines for a publisher.
This is total creative freedom, and I love it.
Readers, on the other hand, have the freedom to pick up exactly those books they want to read, too.
They can finally get as many Romance stories as they want to. With or without dragons.
They can look around and are no longer bound by book fashions.
They can read a series as fast or as slowly as they want to, because the second book will no longer be sold out.
They can pack their eReaders with as many books as they want, and read them wherever they want, without embarrasment.