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How does she really look?

It turns out I really enjoy book covers. I like looking at them, I like thinking about them, and I love working with professional designers to make them.

I’ve had such fun as these six covers for my re-released collection-in-progress were created, that I hate to see the cover design part come to a conclusion. Aren’t they lovely?

What I’ve enjoyed most is seeing my main characters come to life.

When I first wrote One of One (called x0 at the time) I was obsessed with giving form to my mental picture of Lola, the main character. I wished I could draw well enough to show the world how she looked. I can’t, so I scoured Shutterstock for artists images that captured what I was seeing in my mind. These were some of my favorites.

When I decided to rename the books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the characters, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what Lola really looked like, and would do it at a price I could afford. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

For each cover, DDD found Shutterstock models whose faces were “close enough” to my main characters, and then the faces were altered (if necessary) to make them more accurate. Then the head was stitched onto a body that worked well with the cover design and character. (This process, I presume, yielded the name of the company. I mean what kind of deranged doctor stitches heads onto new bodies?)

The first head DDD proposed for Lola wasn’t right.  She looked too young, but it was more than that. It just wasn’t Lola. I could tell.

The second head looked right as soon as I saw it. What I didn’t know was that the model was blonde, and a creative designer at DDD had already turned her yellow tresses just slightly darker, into a more coppery brown.

The only change I requested was to make her blue eyes brown, which the designer did with no problem.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Lola to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. Unfortunately this particular model didn’t have many options to choose from.

Third from the right had been used. I liked the second one, but it lacked all trace of superhero steel. The first one had an interesting wistful tone, but not really right either. That left #4.

The first version of the cover came back with Lola looking like this. That’s right, the model is blond but the character isn’t.

I was good with her expression, but her blonde hair and blue eyes had to go.

No problem.

Here she is with her darker hair and yes she looks more like Lola. Eyes will be brown in the final version coming on Monday.

It’s funny how she is close to what I saw in my head all along. It’s even funnier that now when I picture Lola, this unnamed model with her altered hair and eyes is the image I have. I guess this is what she really looks like.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2019 in my other novels, One of One, writing

 

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Watch what you ask for.

Do you get what you want, or do you get what you need?

I had a spirited discussion about this once with a psychologist. I was praising the wisdom of the Rolling Stones; she was sharing her professional observations. We were at a party and it was lucky no nearby cynic entered the conversation arguing people don’t get either.

It is a conundrum, though, isn’t it. You ask for something you think you want, only to discover….

So, a couple of days ago I got this cover proposal for book 5 in my 46. Ascending collection. I loved it, as did others who saw it. This is Ariel, my precog, and Cillian, the Irish prophet who sees the probable end of the human race. They aren’t romantically involved and in fact their powers make even casual touch between them painful.

I asked the designer to put some space in between them, and while she was at it could she please make the ocean behind them more obvious. I like the ocean. It plays a role in the book. I wanted more ocean.

Back came this lovely cover. They aren’t touching, which is good. There is more ocean, but it came at the expense of those gorgeous rocks and thunderclouds and blue lights off to the left. Oh no. Those were the things I liked most about the first cover. I didn’t realize I’d have to lose them to get a little more sea.

That’s the way it works, isn’t it? You can get what you want, but you probably have to give up something else and it may be something you want more. Or something you need. Back to the old expression. Watch what you ask for.

 

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2019 in my other novels, writing

 

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It worked!

Some times things do go well. Or at least, they don’t go awful. It’s so easy not to notice when that happens.

I’ve been holding my breath for months now (metaphorically) as I worked to release my first novel with a new title. I could hardly be blamed. The first title had an exponent in it. (Yes, as in the letter x raised to the power of zero.) If you’re not mathematically inclined, trust me it was clever, but no one could fault me for wanting a title that was easier to pronounce, market and search for.

However, this meant I had to get a new cover with the new title on it, and resubmit this all to Amazon, and I wasn’t sure what would happen, in spite of a helpful SFWA mentor who’d assured me this could be done. To complicate matters more, the book got a couple of edits to clean it up while the new cover was designed (why not) and much to my surprise it tells the same story in pretty much the same words and yet is about 20,000 words shorter. Amazing. No original reader would ever miss what was cut. Even I had trouble finding it.

So what happened when I republished? Here’s my process and how it went.

I had taken all versions of the book off the market in December. I went back into KDP, and gave my old kindle version the new title, cover, manuscript, and the new variation of my name I’ve decided to go with. (I’ll be publishing under S.R. Cronin instead of Sherrie Cronin. More marketing.) I gave it the new price. I hit the publish button. No sirens went off. So far so good.

Then it asked if I wanted to publish in paperback. Oh yes, I did. Back when I started this adventure, paperbacks were done through Create Space, but that’s changed. I have to say this is easier. I created my new paperback with its new ISBN number and hit publish.

My dashboard showed the two books as linked and under review. I went off and had a glass of wine.

A day or two later both were approved. Wahoo. Then I went into Amazon to find them. It took the full title of my book and my name to get there because Amazon wasn’t used to finding this. That’s okay. Under books, there was my paperback, with no kindle version and no reviews. Hmm. Under Kindle, there was my kindle version, linked to my previous x0 paperbacks being resold by who knows who and with all of my reviews. (27 of them.)

Be patient, I told myself.  It takes a while for these things to shake out.

Almost two weeks later, nothing had changed, so I did something radical. I called Amazon. (Yes, you really can call them. More accurately, you can request they call you.) I got an immediate call from someone with a heavy accent and a helpful attitude. I explained my problem. She laughed aloud at the idea of a book with an exponent in the title and assured me she could fix things. And she did.

Minutes later, One of One in kindle showed up right along with One of One in paperback. Excellent. Then I looked closer. This new combo had 17 reviews. Odd.

I went to the old paperbacks of x0 that somebody out there wants to sell. (I understand there is nothing I can do about this. Amazon will let anyone sell any book.) My old x0 paperbacks had 11 reviews. Hmmmm.

I looked closer. It appears that reviews are attached to either the kindle copy or the paperback. When the two versions are linked, all reviews appear. Once the nice lady on the phone severed my kindle version from the old paperbacks, the reviews got split. As fate would have it, my less favorable reviews were attached to the old paperbacks, including my one and only one star review which still makes me cringe. (She won a free copy! For heaven’s sake don’t read it if you don’t like it….)

So now, I not only have a beautiful new book with a new cover and a new name, I also have a 3/10’s of a star better rating (4.3 instead of 4.0). Those of you who are mathematically inclined could have noticed that 11 plus 17 is 28, not 27. You are correct. I gained a review because the new book already has a brand new review of it’s own — 5 stars from a happy reader. Wahoo again.

Like I said, somethings things go well, even when you don’t expect them too. It’s good to take a moment and appreciate the good fortune.

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2019 in One of One, writing

 

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In 15 Days

I feel like I’m building a tower of blocks. I started putting pieces in place last spring, and I’ve slowly been adding block after block to get to where I am.

Get my first novel edited one last time. Check. Come up with new book title. Done. Then done again. Get a better cover. Done right. Proofread one last time. Check. Have someone else proofread one last time. Just completed.

The pieces are in place and more or less stable. All that is left is formatting for kindle, one last eyes-on-every-page look, and then the process of going into KDP and trying to rename the book, change my name to a new pen name, and resubmit the cover and the manuscript.

It’s like placing that last block on the very top. Something in you can’t help but be afraid the whole thing is going to come toppling down. Only in this case, something in me can’t help fearing Amazon will say “you can’t do that.”

I’ve been assured I can, both in person and by other authors who’ve done something similar and shared their experience online. I can think of no good reason why I shouldn’t do this. I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t be allowed to do this. But, you know. Amazon.

Until I hit the publish button on January 17, I’m going to be holding my breath.

 

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2019 in One of One, writing

 

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x0 will die

What prompts an author to kill her own book?

On December 1, 2018 my firstborn novel will die. I admit the prospect makes me sad. This book has been part of my life for a while.

I wrote the first draft in just six months in 2011. After several rewrites, professional editing, and more feedback and corrections, x0 became available on Kindle in 2012. The paperback version followed.

I’ve never totaled up the sales, because it’s not easy to separate a sale from a give-away. I guess I’ve been paid for about four hundred copies, and gifted at least as many more. I’d hope for more sales, of course, but every time a stranger liked my book and let me know, it delighted me. No regrets.

Times change. Sales of x0 have gone from small to nearly zero.

A few months ago, I attended a conference of science fiction writers, and signed up for a mentor. It may have been one of my more useful decisions. This guy pointed out that I could still have a marketable product in this particular story, but I needed a more genre-appropriate cover, a much better title, and an updated and aggressive marketing plan.

I can change the title of my book? Apparently I can. I do need a new ISBN number (no problem). I also need to acknowledge to the new reader what has been done (just in case he or she is one of the 800 humans who already read this story.)

And …. I need to kill x0. That is, I must take it off the market completely.  No electronic versions for sale, although those who have it obviously always will. No new paperbacks printed and sold, although nothing can prevent current owners from reselling their copies on Amazon and elsewhere.

Over the years, I’ve eliminated all the hyperlinks in the book, and the text that went with them. I’ve made corrections and done minor clean-up. Why not. But I’ve refrained from doing anything major.

Because this will be a new book, I have the chance to do some serious editing. So I have. The original x0 came in at just under 119,000 words. The leaner new version is under 96,000. I’ve broken the chapters into smaller chunks. I’ve given more attention to point of view. I’ve taken the techniques I’ve learned over the past six years, at conferences, from other writers, and simply from practicing my craft for hours every week, and I’ve done my best to fold those learnings into telling my story better.

I’m pleased with the result.

So while x0 will soon cease to exist, it will give birth to a new and better novel. I’ll be blogging all about it soon.

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2018 in One of One, writing

 

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Worry about those you love and write about what you know

I’m not telepathic, but sometimes I pretend that I am.

For me, it’s more than an entertaining daydream. The main hero of the novel I am finishing is a telepath, and the more I see the world through her eyes, the better I can tell her story.

Some days, I’m ready to improve the world with my psychic skills. If I could just know what my congressman’s aide was really thinking, could I convince him to recommend supporting this legislation to his boss? And then it might pass in the House by one vote? And then, and then, the course of the entire world might change?

Other days, I sink into banal curiosity. Hmmm. That man looks interesting. I wonder what he’s thinking.

But more often than not, me-the-pretend-telepath pretty much acts like me, which is a person who tends to worry about all sorts of things. The crux of the problem is that I’ve always had a what-if sort of mind. What if the engines on your boat quit? What if the subway isn’t running? What if the wind blows that thing over? I make up scenarios the way some people flirt, or snack, or scratch themselves. It’s just what I do.

The result is that I tend to be better prepared than most, and if you’re traveling with me you might appreciate that. The downside, as you might guess, is that I can be a pain in the ass.

Every so often someone attempts to correct my personality by telling me to relax.This is an important aside to those of you who have friends or family like me. “Relax” and “calm down” are not useful instructions to give to a worrier. In fact, they are probably not useful to anyone.

Last week, someone surprised me by finding the perfect thing to say instead.

It was April and I was visiting Boston. I had ignored weather reports of possible snow because, well, for once I was trying not to be that person who brings the down parka because of a 40 per cent chance. So I had on leaky tennis shoes with soaked cotton socks, a coat with a broken zipper, and no other cold weather or rain gear. It was pelting wet sleet and the temperature was dropping  as the sun set. Yes, I had succeeded at not over-preparing for the situation.

I did tell you this was April, right? Oh, and we were about to embark on a pub crawl. We were carrying stuffed animals we had just bought at the science museum because they were on sale and now mine was getting soaked, but that was a minor problem. I was cold and wet and miserable most of all because this never happens to me. I’m the one you can count on to pull three collapsible umbrellas out of my purse to help everyone else. I have had very little practice at being the doofus who thought everything was going to be fine, and I learned that it isn’t a role I enjoy.

So I went and stood under a one foot overhang and tried not to cry. Then, someone in my party walked up and did something magic. He said –

“What one thing can I do to help you?”

“Nothing. I’m fine.”

“Okay I’ll pick one. Take either my hat or my scarf.”

“No, I can’t do that. You brought them both, you should have them.”

He ignored me and put his hat on my head. Normally that would have been annoying but, you know, the hat was really warm and dry in the inside.

“Okay, just the hat.”

The hat worked pretty well. A little comfort can sometimes make a big difference and I calmed down without anybody telling me to. Go figure. We had a great time visiting bars and drinking beer and hearing stories about Samuel Adams that may or may not have been partially true and the next day the sun came out and all was well. I’ve noticed that tends to happen.

I got two things out of the experience. One was a better sense of what to say the next time I’m with someone who needs to get a grip. “What one thing could I do to make it better?” is a brilliant question.

The other? I’m better off being me. I turns out that preparing for the scenarios I imagine doesn’t bring me down or keep me from enjoying myself. It’s my own way of flowing through life. Like any other personality trait, there is such a thing as too much. But in my case, there is also too little. I’m fine like I am.

Ditto for my ongoing concern about those I love. I don’t get to drive them crazy, but I do get to love them in my own way.

When I got home, I wrote the following scene in my book. My protagonist Lola is boarding a flight to Antarctica, fleeing all sorts of evil and mayhem. But when she gets a few minutes, she worries about the others in her family, and she uses her telepathy to check in on them. It’s what I would do if I was a telepath.

They had been warned that the flight would be long, cold and uncomfortable, and had been given ear plugs for the noise and medication that would calm their stomachs and make them drowsy. Alex and Maurice took their pills without hesitation, but Lola held off. She hadn’t had an awake minute to herself in days, and she just wanted to savor the solitude brought on by the engine noise as she checked in on the rest of the family.

She squirmed in the thick parka and uncomfortable jump seat buckle, but finally managed to settle in well enough to relax. She found her two daughters and friend Vanida sipping rum drinks on a beach in Brazil. What? Where? And wasn’t it kind of early in the day for rum drinks? Well, at least they were safe. But what were they doing there? She got that they were part of a plan to rescue Zane and Nell and Yuden. Not a plan, the plan, the one that Maurice and Alex were not telling her about and which was going to happen tonight. Tonight?

That meant she better leave this alone. She tiptoed back into her own mind and let her consciousness settle back into the rough vibrations of the ride.

What about Xuha? Was he okay? Eggs. She smelled eggs. Xuha had ordered a late room service breakfast and at this moment he was delighted with the sunny side up concoction into which he was dipping his toast. Okay. What about Zane? He was being served food as well, by a friendly older man who was, oh my, the co-pilot of the private aircraft which Zane had boarded a few hours ago which would ultimately take him to New York.

And why was he going to New York? On a private jet? He wasn’t thinking about that right now. She felt her son recline into the plush, roomy seat and sip his very hot, very tasty coffee, which he was enjoying a great deal.

Lola sighed and reach a heavily gloved hand into the knapsack her hosts had given her. She took a sip of her water and found one of the energy bars they’d provided for the trip. She tore the wrapper open and chewed the sawdust-like contents, wishing she had eggs and hot coffee. Maybe even coffee and rum. Reluctantly she took one of the airsickness tablets and swallowed it. With any luck she wouldn’t wake up for another thousand miles.

(For a companion post see Cease worrying when you can and write about what you know. For more excerpts from my new novel visit Am I sure I’m Sherrie?, Point of View, and The Amazing Things I Get to Do.)

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2017 in telepathy, writing

 

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The trouble with telepathy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the problems with telepathy. Writing about it, understanding it, using technology to develop it, and how humans would respond to it.

My recent fascination was prompted by an article in Popular Mechanics called Brain-to-Brain Communication Is Closer Than You Think. Lest you decide that Popular Mechanics has taken an unexpected new age turn, let me point out that the subtitle of the article is “Don’t call it telepathy, but call it very cool.”

The article describes a successful experiment in which a video game player wearing an electroencephalography cap (which records brain activity) decides when to shoot, and a second player in another room wearing a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil (which emits a focused electrical current) over the part of his brain that controls finger movement, does the actual shooting.

Researcher Chantel Prat at the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences and one of the designers of the experiment cautions that “This is not the X-Men version of telepathy where you hear a disembodied voice. … Whatever shape [this] takes is going to be very different than listening to someone’s thoughts in your head.”

magicYes, it may not be the classic telepathy of fiction, but we are talking about direct brain to brain communication here, aided by modern technology. The article goes on to address possible real life uses including already successful work on adapting a brain-to-machine interface to help paralyzed patients walk by using their brain signals to control prosthetic devices. This is cool, and it is really happening.

It reminded me of an article I read a while back about how neuroscientists have recreated movie clips by looking at a person’s brainwaves. It also reminded me of the waves made by Mark Zuckerberg in 2015 when he wrote “One day, I believe we’ll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology. You’ll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too.”

He was referring to an advanced form of this sort of brain-to-brain communication, using something like a VR headset to encode brain signals into bits and send them to another person for decoding and playback. You can read more about this in my post Telepathy and Technology, where I quote The Washington Post as responding with “even if Facebook isn’t leading the charge toward telepathy — a worrying concept in itself, given the site’s past indiscretions re: research consent and user privacy — the field poses tons of ethical challenges.” True. Cool things like this tend to have a ton of implications that we haven’t considered.

The second thing to set my synapses firing about mind reading was hearing about Connie Willis’s new book Crosstalk. I haven’t read it yet for a few reasons, one of which is that I’m not that big a fan of her writing based on To Say Nothing of the Dog, her one book I have read. But that was written twenty years ago and it’s time to give this science fiction great another chance.

ganzfeldThen I read an interview with her in Wired. The quote that got me was “Willis does enjoy writing about the paranormal, but as far as she’s concerned it’s pure fiction. For her new novel Crosstalk, a romantic comedy about telepathy, she did extensive research into the history of psychic claims, including the notorious Rhine experiments. ‘I found no evidence at all of actual telepathy,’ she says. ‘I don’t buy it.'”

A lot of people would agree with her. However, I was put off by her tone. How odd to write a book about an ability and yet to harbor no feel for how it could be possible, and no sense of “maybe, if ….” to help bring the magic to life. I probably will read Crosstalk eventually, but now I’m in less of a hurry to do so.

However, Ms. Willis does make an interesting observation in the interview. She says “Let’s say telepathy became the norm … the first thing that people would begin to do would be to attempt to stop that, for themselves at least. They would try to build barriers, mental barriers or physical barriers—I don’t know, tinfoil hats maybe or something—that would prevent other people from being able to read their thoughts … I don’t think most relationships could survive if you knew virtually everything that flitted through the head of your partner.” Good point, In fact, a very good point.

And this brings me to the third reason why telepathy is heavy on my mind these days. I’m finishing a book of my own, the sixth book in 46. Ascending, and it is revisiting my hero Lola and her organization of telepaths. Obviously new problems have arisen, including the discovery of non-empathic telepaths, once thought to be impossible. As my heroes and villains go to increasing lengths to keep each other out of their heads, I’m forced to confront just how difficult day-to-day life would be in a world where telepathy is common. It’s forced me to revisit my own world-building, and to better define my own fictional ideas about what telepathy is.

I’ve had to conclude that while technologically aided brain-to-brain communication is cool, is likely, and poses dangers, it is not what I am writing about. I’m also trying not to write about X-men style sentences popping unbidden into the heads of others. Rather, I’m playing with the idea of extreme empathy. I postulate emotional connections between skilled receivers that enable the exchange of ideas without words or machines, and I’m having some fun finding the charms and the limits of my particular theories.

Do I believe in them? I tell people that I’m a scientist first, and a writer of science fiction second. To me, being a scientist means believing that any thing is possible. It also means knowing that while many things are highly improbable, the universe has a way of surprising us, no matter how much we think we already know.

 

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2017 in telepathy, writing

 

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