Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Chaz Kemp

Covers for G. S. Norwood's novellas, "Deep Ellum Pawn" and "Deep Ellum Blues."

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue: An excerpt

By G. S. Norwood, abetted by Jan S. Gephardt

00-HEADER-TWO-DEEP-ELLUM-COVERS

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Deep Ellum Blues’ publication, and some of our readers want to know. Will the Deep Ellum stories continue?

To that, we’re happy to answer an emphatic yes. Ms. Eddy’s adventures aren’t nearly over yet. But when’s the next story coming? Well, that’s a little harder to say. Death in Deep Ellum, the working title for the third story, is a murder mystery. It’s required some theological thinking and some careful interweaving of the plot elements, while G. also works on several other exciting fiction projects.

Oh, yes, and her job. Concerts are starting up again, and the grant proposals never did let up. So G.’s a busy lady in her day job, too.

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue

But yes. Rest assured. The Deep Ellum stories continue! To prove it, this post includes a first look at Death in Deep Ellum’s opening. But before that, a quick look at how we got here.

In the first story, Deep Ellum Pawn, we met Ms. Eddy Weekes, proprietor of Deep Ellum Pawn. Her shop is always there when you need it, and she rocks the most epic storage room and garden-with-water feature that you may ever have encountered.

“The Golden Fiddle is back. The Hell Hounds are Ms. Eddy’s problem now.”
The e-edition of Deep Ellum Pawn in a visualization from Book Brush. Cover artwork © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

Deep Ellum Pawn Description

The Golden Fiddle is back. Can Ms. Eddy break its curse this time?

What’s a pawnshop owner to do? The cursed Golden Fiddle keeps coming back to Deep Ellum Pawn, the shop where Ms. Eddy Weekes stands guard over the historic Dallas, Texas, neighborhood of Deep Ellum. Each time the fiddle shows up, it leaves a swath of broken dreams and shattered lives, with a pack of fearsome Hell Hounds hot on its trail.

Music, magic, and legends intertwine in Deep Ellum, and things long buried have a way of coming back ‘round again. Only Ms. Eddy can end the fiddle’s curse, but first she must learn its secrets.

Will she have the tools she needs to fend off the Hell Hounds and get to the heart of the Golden Fiddle, before an ancient evil brings the darkness back to Deep Ellum forever?

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue with Deep Ellum Blues

We published Deep Ellum Pawn in November 2019, preceded by three successive blog posts with excerpts and a release-day announcement. People enjoyed it, so G. got to work on a second. You might also enjoy another post with some of the story’s background, and another one on the making of the cover.

We rolled out Deep Ellum Blues not quite a year later, again with a series of blog posts. They included an excerpt, an interview of G. by internationally-bestselling mystery novelist Deborah Crombie, and a look at the making of the cover. We also posted a Setlist with YouTube videos of Mudcat’s songs (scroll down), and a release notice. And we followed its release with a post by G. about the famous song Deep Ellum Blues.

“Mudcat Randall is flirting with disaster. Can Ms. Eddy break through, or will an old and tragic story make Deep Ellum sing a new kind of blues?”
The e-edition of Deep Ellum Blues in a visualization from Book Brush. Cover artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Deep Ellum Blues Description

Free will is a rule she doesn’t break.

As the genius loci of Deep Ellum, Ms. Eddy Weekes is a hands-off goddess who won’t micro-manage human affairs. She’d rather sit on the sidelines and enjoy the show. Her motto? “People have the right to make their own hideous, life-altering mistakes.”

But there’s something different about the young blues musician Mudcat Randall.

Maybe if her old friend Waylon hadn’t called him to her attention, she’d have let things be. Maybe if she hadn’t glimpsed something special in his music . . . But Mudcat is flirting with disaster. Eddy’s old adversary wants him to sign a tempting management contract, and there are deadly strings attached.

When a third force enters the fray, everything Mudcat has ever prayed for is suddenly on the line, and Eddy knows the game is rigged against him. Can Eddy break through to the headstrong musician? Or will an old and tragic story make Deep Ellum sing a new kind of blues?

Coming Next: Death in Deep Ellum

We promised you an excerpt. Here’s a glimpse of the current draft’s opening.

Chapter One: Prayer of the Dying

There is no prayer like the prayer of the dying.

As the genius loci of Deep Ellum, the historically Black, funky, happenin’ heart of Dallas, Texas, I hear those prayers, whether the people praying live here or just come to hang out for a while. Think of me as the neighborhood’s resident goddess. You can call me Ms. Eddy Weekes.

I heard Perkins’ prayer just after dark on a scorching summer evening. Perkins was an alcoholic, and a member in good standing of the homeless population that still drifts through Deep Ellum despite all the developers’ efforts to gentrify. I’d kept my eye on him for the past couple of years, but I hadn’t anticipated any sudden downturn in his condition.

Ms. Eddy, a detail from Chaz Kemp’s Deep Ellum Pawn cover.
Ms. Eddy, ©2019 by Chaz Kemp.

When he called, I was with him in an instant. I found him curled on his side by a back-alley dumpster off Elm Street. He’d been shot three times in the gut, and blood was everywhere.

“I’m here, Perkins. I heard you. I can fix this,” I said. The day’s heat radiated up from the crumbling asphalt as I dropped to the ground, but Perkins’ skin was already going cold, his dark skin going gray.

He rolled onto his back, his head on my knees, and I put my arms around his shoulders, trying with all my will to knit his shattered intestines back together.

“It’s my time, Miz Eddy. Don’t worry ‘bout me. It’s my time.”

His voice was a thin thread, only sustained by the force of my will. He had called out to me in need. I had to know what he wanted me to do.

“What happened?”

“I’ze jus’ here, and he come up out of nowhere. Shot me. Didn’t say a thing. Then he’s gone.” Perkins bucked a little against my legs, racked by a cough, a shiver, or some spasm of pain.

“What can I do, Perkins? How can I help?”

“I don. Wanna go. To the bad place. I bin. A drunk. But I ain’t. Bin bad.” His breath was coming in short gasps now.

“You won’t go to the bad place,” I promised. I could see his soul starting to spin out and away from his body, so I reeled it in, holding it close. “What else?”

Perkins made a supreme effort. He used his very last breath to ask one more thing of me.

“Get that son of a bitch.”

He sagged in my arms as I drew together the last tattered fragments of his soul, winding it into a tight ball. Holding it in my heart, as well as my hands, I said aloud, “Nathan Allen Perkins, I see you. I see you in your entirety. I see your heart. I see your mind. I see your soul. You are worthy. You will be missed. You will be remembered. You are safe in my hands, and free to move forward without fear.”

Then I tucked his soul into a pocket of time and space not even my old foe, Nick, could hack into. I sent the little pocket to the store room of my pawn shop, where Perkins’ soul could rest until I delivered it on up to the next level.

That done, I paused a moment to absorb the loss of a man I had liked. I’d given Perkins sandwiches from the shop down the street. He’d kept an eye out for Morsel, my wandering cat. We had shared gossip, and the news of the neighborhood. Perkins’ belief in me had fed my being just as surely as my sandwiches had fed his. I am far too old to trade in human relationships but, as far as it was possible, Perkins had been my friend. I would miss him.

So I took the moment to mourn. Something vital was now gone from Deep Ellum, and I felt the loss.

A detail from one of Chaz Kemp’s working drawings of Ms. Eddy.
Ms. Eddy, ©2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Then I pulled my phone out of my back pocket and called 9-1-1.

It would only take the cops a few minutes to get here.

In those few minutes, I took a look around the alley. I wasn’t interested in the three brass shell casings I spotted at the corner where Crowdus Street intersected with the alley that ran behind a rag-tag assortment of take-out restaurants. I didn’t much care about the view from the youth hostel that loomed above me, or the rusty, reeking dumpster that must have all but hidden Perkins unless someone was looking for him. I saw the bottle he’d been nursing, smelled the rotgut that had spilled from it.

And, faintly, under the garbage, the booze and the blood, I smelled something else entirely. As I rose from the pavement to stand guard over my friend’s body, I caught just the barest trace of brimstone. Somehow, in some way I could not yet see, Nick had had a hand in this.

I would help the police, if I could, to find the man who pulled the trigger, but Perkins had asked me for more than mere human justice. He’d asked me to “get that son of a bitch.” That meant I was going to have to track down the Devil himself.

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue

We hope you’re looking forward to Death in Deep Ellum as much as we are. And we’ll keep you posted on progress!

IMAGE CREDITS:

The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues are ©2019 and 2020, respectively, by Chaz Kemp. The character developments for Ms. Eddy are also ©2019 and 2020, respectively, by Chaz Kemp. Many thanks!

I’m so sorry to have to write this! Change of plans: I won’t go to FenCon after all.

One Schedule-Change

By Jan S. Gephardt

One schedule-change. That’s all it technically boils down to. One simple scratch-out on a calendar. I’d planned on going, but now I’m not.

Except, it’s not a simple thing at all. Not simply one schedule-change. No, it’s actually a whole end-of-summer tipped upside-down in a cascade of if-this-then-that change, after change, after change.

I’m so sorry to have to write this! Change of plans: I won’t go to FenCon after all.
This is one schedule-change I didn’t want to make. (Credits below).

Deciding not to go to FenCon, it turned out (as I knew it would), led to way more than one schedule-change.

I Love FenCon

Okay, so, what’s the big deal? Well, several things. First, I should explain that FenCon is a regional science fiction convention that’s been held in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area since 2004. It’s a friendly, fan-run convention that’s been the subject of several blog posts since Ty and I decided to try it out in 2018. We tried it, and agreed we didn’t want to miss out on any future FenCons!

It quickly become one of my favorite cons. Not that I go to any bad ones, mind you. I love going to science fiction conventions. But there are just some where the appeal is like instant chemistry, and going back each time is a small version of “coming home.” For me, FenCon is one of those special conventions.

Glimpses of past years’ parties, places, art displays, and panel events at FenCon.
Glimpses from FenCon in 2018 and 2019. (Jan S. Gephardt).

FenCon also has the added attraction of being in my sister’s neck of the woods. Each FenCon I’ve attended so far has been followed up by a “Corporate Summit” of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. That means G., Ty, and I get to hang out and eat, schmooze, and then G. and I discuss, face-to-face, our plans and ideas about where our little publishing venture goes from here.

So, there are lots of reasons why I love going to FenCon. And lots of reasons why I did not want to make that one schedule-change.

This Year was an Extra-Special FenCon

Of all the years I didn’t want to miss FenCon, this year I especially didn’t want to miss it. Above and beyond “I love FenCon.” In addition to the Corporate Summit opportunity. This year’s FenCon was going to be my first con “post-COVID.”

And this year,  Chaz Kemp is the Artist Guest of Honor. How could any con be more perfect for my big return to con-going? Chaz has become a Very Important Person for Weird Sisters Publishing. He’s the man who’s created the Deep Ellum covers. He’s the illustrator whose work will give Warren’s Windhover series a vastly improved set of covers when we release them in 2022. Chaz created G.’s official Author Portrait. So, yes. I wanted to be there to celebrate Chaz.

Covers for “Deep Ellum Pawn,” “Deep Ellum Blues,” and G. S. Norwood’s Author Portrait.
Artwork made for Weird Sisters Publishing, © 2019-2020 by Chaz Kemp.

On top of all that, this year I was going to debut A Bone to Pick at FenCon. If a book’s release is anything like a debutante’s first cotillion, FenCon was supposed to be A Bone to Pick’s “coming out party.”

It’s not as if book releases happen all the time for either me, or for Weird Sisters. This is my first book since before the pandemic lockdowns started. This is the first Weird Sisters release since last September.

I literally timed the release date to coordinate with FenCon!

So, Why this One Schedule-Change?

Of all the conventions, in all of the places, with all of the Guests of Honor—FenCon XVII was the one schedule-change I least wanted to make!

But I made it anyway. Why? Well, if you have to ask, perhaps you’ve lost your Internet connection to your hermit cave for most of the summer. (I mean, everyone fortunate enough to afford to self-isolate has been living in a hermit cave for more than a year, now. The hermit cave is kind of a given).

But just when we were all looking forward to leaving our hermit caves, people started opting out of taking the free, widely-distributed, highly-effective COVID vaccines that had been giving us grounds for hope. They tore off and burned their masks, declared premature victory, and went to Sturgis for a motorcycle rally (or to some other super-spreader-event).

A crowd at the Sturgis ND motorcycle rally.
Many came to Sturgis. Few wore masks. (CNN/Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

And they did this just as the Delta variant of the virus was getting a solid foothold throughout the United States.

The Delta Variant (and its Proponents) are Messing with Texas

Personal responsibility matters. Lack of personal responsibility kills. Regular old COVID-19 had already killed more than 600,000 of us before the vaccines were widely distributed. But those high death counts had plummeted . . . until recently. Once people stopped getting vaccinated, and once Delta took root, the numbers did a U-turn and started to skyrocket.

This is especially true in Florida and Texas. Those two large, populous states seem to have been perversely extra-cursed. They have governors who, in the face of Delta’s surge, appear hell-bent on killing or compromising the health of as many of their citizens as possible.

Outside the Texas Supreme Court building, anti-mask demonstrators hold up signs.
In Texas the anti-mask contingent has gubernatorial support. (Click2Houston).

Texas Gov. Abbott isn’t the only homicidal maniac on the loose in Texas, unfortunately. The Texas Supreme Court recently sided with him. They’re incited and cheered on by certain parents, sad to say. This hamstrings school districts, such as the Dallas Independent School District, that are trying to avoid killing the children who attend their schools.

Does my Language Offend You?

There may be readers who think I’ve used hyperbole, or judged Gov. Abbott and his friends too harshly. But how else should I describe the situation and stay on pace with the facts? There are no available pediatric ICU beds in the Dallas/Fort Worth region, and many smaller, rural hospitals have reached capacity. In the face of these facts, it’s hardly hyperbole to say children are dying. Others may try to be more polite, but I’m sick of that.

Anti-mask, anti-vaccination rhetoric and misinformation inevitably results in more people dying. Hundreds and thousands of people dying. Children are dying in ever-growing numbers. Young, healthy adults are dying. Even vaccinated people are suffering breakthrough infections, and some of them are dying.

A chart from the New York Times shows how Texas COVID cases are climbing steeply in August 2021.
Recent weeks saw a sharp spike in Texas COVID cases. (Chart from New York Times).

This is last year’s movie. We were supposed to be done with this by now. Last spring, when the organizers decided to hold FenCon and I signed up to go to it, we all thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We thought we’d soon be in the clear.

But the “light” is a headlamp on a locomotive called Delta Variant. And the train is driven by anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers. I speak for many when I say that the responsible folk who locked down, masked up, and got their vaccinations as soon as we could are furious.

Don’t anyone dare tell me I’m overstating this situation. Honey, I’m holding back how I really feel.

Ripples from That One Schedule-Change

I had been eagerly designing and ordering new S.W.A.G. for FenCon. Guess there’s less of a rush on that, now. I’d been worrying about getting print-edition copies of A Bone to Pick ready to publish in time to have physical books at FenCon. Don’t need to sweat that one, either, I suppose.

I’d been updating my wardrobe, trying to produce new artwork, starting to make checklists and signs. Guess those aren’t as urgent now, either. The party’s canceled. I’m grounded again. Gotta take my ribbons and my bookmarks and my shiny new copies of my happy new book, and go schlump on back inside my hermit cave. Dammit.

But wait! There’s still Archon!

Yes, I’m still scheduled to go to Archon 44 in Collinsville, IL on October 1-3. At least, so far I’m still scheduled to go to Archon. But it’s six weeks away. Six weeks ago, I was still planning to go to FenCon. So, we’ll see. I’m growing more dubious by the day, but I still hope that’s one schedule-change I won’t have to make.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to FenCon XVII for their logo, from the header on their website. The “Raindrop” background is from Facebook. The “COVID-Canceled” symbol is a combination of symbols from “uspenskayaa” and “bentosi,”obtained via 123rf.

All of the photos in the FenCon montage (also assembled by Jan S. Gephardt) are from Jan’s 2018 and 2019 archives.

The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues, plus G. S. Norwood’s Author Portrait were all commissioned for use by Weird Sisters Publishing and G. S. Norwood. They are © 2019-2020 by Chaz Kemp.

We appreciate CNN for the photo by Michael Ciaglo of Getty Images, taken at the 2021 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Much gratitude to Click2Houston, for the still image captured from a video of anti-mask protestors outside the Texas Supreme Court in Austin. Many thanks also to the New York Times for its chart showing the rise and fall of COVID-19 cases in Texas. This post wouldn’t be the same without you!

The cover of the “We Dare: No Man’s Land” Anthology from Chris Kennedy Publishing.

Strong Female Protagonists

By Jan S. Gephardt

What’s your first thought, when you see or read the phrase Strong Female Protagonists? What memorable characters come to mind? Do you smile at the idea of finally seeing more strong women in leading roles? Do you grind your teeth a bitt, at the fact that Strong Male Protagonists aren’t pointed out?

You can search for “Strong Female Protagonist” in several genres on Amazon. There are BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) categories for “FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Women Sleuths,” and “FICTION / Women.” But you probably won’t be astonished to learn that no parallel Categories for “FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Men Sleuths,” or “FICTION / Men,” exist. Not unless you want to count “FICTION / Animals,” which I don’t.

And seriously: “Strong Female Protagonist” is doubly redundant. If your protagonist (male or female) is a wimpy pushover all the way through to the end, why would we want to read about her/him/them?

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien, Brie Larson as Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel, and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.
Three strong female protagonists from cinema. (Credits below).

You-Hoo! Half of the Human Population, Here!

I’m reminded of the time when I asked one of my elder family members, “We have Mothers Day and Fathers Day, but when is Childrens Day?”

My relative laughed. “Every day is Childrens Day!”

My child-self found this answer less than satisfying, as you can imagine. And I feel a similar irritation with singling out female protagonists as somehow “unusual,” despite the fact that biologically female persons are only narrowly in the minority among the humans on the planet. (In 2020, there were estimated to be 101.69 male humans for every 100 females in the world. The reverse—more females than males—was the norm until about 1957).

But these categories exist because, as in so many other realms, male protagonists have been a default setting. More than that, really. There was an active mindset among the editors who chose what to publish. They selected for male (cis, white, straight) “heroes.”

This quote from Drew Gilpin Faust says, “I’m not the woman president of Harvard, I’m the president of Harvard.”
Eliminate the excess qualifier. (World Economic Forum).

Strong Female Protagonists

Very early in my writing career I was told “girls will read books with boy protagonists, but boys don’t want to read books about girls.” Therefore, write about boys if you want to sell better, was the bottom line. By that reasoning, girls didn’t have much choice, did they?

I started thinking about strong female protagonists most recently while reading We Dare: No Man’s Land: An Anthology of Strong Female Leads, edited by Jamie Ibson and Chris Kennedy. This is their third “We Dare” title. The others are An Anthology of Augmented Humanity, and An Anthology of the Apocalypse. The focus in all three is the subgenre Military Science Fiction.

On the whole, I enjoyed it. As in any anthology, some stories are stronger than others. Many had good moments. My personal favorites are Leaving Paradise, by Griffin Barber, None Left Behind, by Jonathan P. Brazee, and Ragged Old Golem, by Rachel Aukes.

And the best line I’ve read in months came from The Relentless, by Melissa Olthoff: “If you can’t have fun being a space pirate, what are you even doing with your life?”

The cover of the “We Dare: No Man’s Land” Anthology from Chris Kennedy Publishing.
This anthology inspired this blog post (Chris Kennedy Publishing).

Define “Strong”

Unfortunately, in some of the We Dare: No Man’s Land stories, the strong in “strong female protagonist” got a little twisted. Yes, I know most military science fiction leans toward the dystopic (read more about the appeal of dystopian stories). But in a few stories “strong” seemed more equated with kill ratio, ruthlessness, or “not dealing with trauma in a healthy manner” than it did with what I think of as strength.

Strong, to me, does not mean being so emotionally brittle you can’t have friends or trust anyone. It also doesn’t necessarily mean having the ability and willingness to mow one’s way through legions of enemies. Especially not when other approaches (involving less mayhem but more thinking) might also yield success.

This quote from writer C. Joybell C says, “The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have hand on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.”
Here’s one way to look at female strength (Quotemaster).

Finding the Strength

There’s a reason why less-violent and less-physical characteristics don’t always register immediately as strong, and it has its roots in sexism. If you think of “male” and “female” traits, the gentler, kinder, more peaceable and nurturing traits are all lumped on the “female” side, along with “weak,” “soft,” and “emotional.”

“Strong,” on the other hand, is assumed to be a “male” trait. With that as the subconscious and conscious bias, a strong female protagonist is starting from a disadvantage by appearing to be an oxymoron, right out of the box.

Writers and readers also may mistakenly think she must have traditionally “male” characteristics to be “strong.” As if stuffing your feelings, smashing things, and killing people are any variety of “strong.” Toxic masculinity is also toxic for men.

This quote from writer Ernest Hemingway says, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
Everyone faces challenges, regardless of gender/identity (ItsWorthQuoting on Twitter).

Resiliency as Strength

I think a better way to look for true strength is to ask for a resilient protagonist. Sure, they need to be tough in the face of life’s outrageous fortunes. But to me the most important kind of strength isn’t so much in a person’s muscles as in their mind and their character. Are they strong, as in loyal to their word? Are they strong, as in steady and trustworthy? And are they strong enough to admit they can’t always handle everything without help?

Ursula Po, Gracie Medicine Crow, and Cassius were my favorite strong female protagonists from the third We Dare anthology. Well, Gracie was already a favorite, since I’m a fan of Jonathan Brazee’s Nebula-finalist novella, Weaponized Math (starring Gracie). Also of his Navy of Humankind: Wasp Squadron series, and his character Beth Dalisay.

Book covers for “Weaponized Math,” “Navy of Humankind: Wasp Squadron Book One, Fire Ant,” “Barrayar,” and “The Flowers of Vashnoi.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).

Favorite Strong Female Protagonists

Branching out from military sf (not really my wheelhouse), my first thought is Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan (Shards of Honor, Barrayar, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen). But then I realize that pretty much any woman who is a protagonist in a Lois McMaster Bujold novel. Ista of Chalion (Paladin of Souls) and Ekaterin Vorkosigan (Komarr, A Civil Campaign, The Flowers of Vashnoi) also leap to mind.

A speculative fantasy protagonist in a “warrior woman” vein, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Maggie Hoskie, kicks butt, kills monsters, and hates to admit she has a soft spot for some of her friends and allies. Find her in Roanhorse’s Sixth World books, Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts.

Book covers for “Paladin of Souls,” “Trail of Lightning,” “Storm of Locusts,” and “My Soul to Keep.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).

Beyond “Spec-Fic”

Dystopian fiction does inescapably imply a certain level of trauma. Overcoming it and emerging on the other side is the classic story arc, especially in dystopian fiction. And the subgenre is full of strong female protagonists—including a few who don’t rack up a bunch of kills. An example who leaps to mind is Miranda Clarke, the strong female protagonist of Lynette M. Burrows’ My Soul to Keep. Miranda can defend herself, but she’s not cutting notches in her gun stock.

Leaping to yet another genre I’ve learned to love, I also should mention Margaret Mizushima’s Mattie Cobb (The Timber Creek K-9 mystery series) and Meg Jennings (along with her talented posse) in Sara Driscoll’s FBI K-9 mysteries. And just about any of Diane Kelly’s protagonists, although many of them would question that “strong” characterization at the start of the story.

I could go on and on, but I’ll offer just one more: Ms. Eddy Weekes, proprietor of Deep Ellum Pawn (and so much more) in G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Series. Perhaps in a future post G. will offer her own thoughts on Strong Female Protagonists. Who are some of yours? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section!

Book covers for “Killing Trail” (Timber Creek K-9), “Lone Wolf” (FBI K-9), “Paw Enforcement,” and “Deep Ellum Pawn.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to IndieWire for the photo of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien. We’re grateful to The Guardian for the photo of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. And we thank Marvel Cinematic Database for the photo of Brie Larson as Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel.

We deeply appreciate the World Economic Forum for the quote from Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University. Humble gratitude to Quotemaster for the C. Joybell C quote, And we thank ItsWorthQuoting on Twitter for the Ernest Hemingway quote. The We Dare: No Man’s Land cover is courtesy of Chris Kennedy Publishing.

Many thanks to Jonathan Brazee’s website for the cover images for Weaponized Math and Fire Ant. We have Barnes & Noble to thank for the Barrayar cover. We’re grateful to Amazon for the covers for The Flowers of Vashnoi, Paladin of Souls, and Paw Enforcement. Lynette M. Burrows’ website provided the cover image for My Soul to Keep.

Our thanks go out to Simon and Schuster for the covers of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts. Margaret Mizushima’s website provided the cover for Killing Trail, first in the Timber Creek K-9 series. The Lone Wolf cover (first of the FBI K-9 series) is from the website of Jen J. Danna and Sarah Driscoll. And Weird Sisters Publishing provided the cover art (© 2019 by Chaz Kemp) for Deep Ellum Pawn.

Shady and Ace

Hints and glimpses

To anyone who asks, “Can you tell me about your book?” I can only offer hints and glimpses. Of course, that’s all any of us can offer, short of a full read.

But which hints and glimpses?

It becomes marketing

It becomes marketing, whether we authors and our might-be-readers care to think of it that way or not.

The quote from Cassandra Clare reads, “I thought . . . that we could at least talk about books.”
(PictureQuotes)

We not only want to give the asker a good idea of what our story’s about—we want them to think it’s interesting. That it could be a fun and fulfilling read.

That they really need to read it (buy it) right now.

So the hints and glimpses can’t be any old snippets. We want to give our might-be-readers the good stuff. The most intriguing glimpses. The best provocative hints to pique their curiosity. We want to give clues to “What kind of story is this?” To make our ideal readers sit up and think, “Oh, that sounds promising!”

And then, crucially, to click through and make it their own.

What goes into good hints and glimpses?

Oh, man, if we could formulate that and bottle it, no ad campaign would ever fail again! The fact is, no one quite knows. Each book is different. Each reader is different. The variables go fractal real fast.

It’s not that people haven’t tried. For instance, I’ve gotten some helpful guidelines from teachers such as Bryan Cohen (full disclosure: I’ve only taken his free “Challenge” courses so far). Alex Wong has some good suggestions. And I’ve heard great things about Robert J. Ryan’s guidelines from trusted friends in the business.

But after a while no formula, if followed too closely, yields fresh results. Every blurb, every tagline, every story sentence will start to sound the same. It’s kinda like watching too many movie trailers in a row, when they’re all built on the same structure.

(Auralnauts)

Wait. Nostalgia moment! Remember movies? In, like, theaters? With surround-sound and a huge screen and sometimes even kinetic effects built into the seats? *Sigh!* Will there be any movie-theater survivors after Covid-19?

Visual + verbal cues

I’ve been thinking about this question of what makes for good hints and glimpses, a lot recently. My design work over the last couple of weeks for Weird Sisters Publishing focused on ways to create a single image that might rouse someone’s curiosity about one of our stories.

Maybe you’ve followed my “creating a cover with . . .” posts. (for Deep Ellum Pawn with Chaz Kemp, for The Other Side of Fear with Lucy A. Synk, and most recently for Deep Ellum Blues, once again with Chaz).

If so, you’ll recognize some of the elements I used: developmental images from Chaz augmented the messages of words and cover art, as in this one for Deep Ellum Pawn.

The picture shows a Hell Hound next to the cover of “Deep Ellum Pawn,” with the words: “The Golden Fiddle is back. The Hell Hounds are Ms. Eddy’s problem now.”
(Deep Ellum Pawn artwork ©2019 by Chaz Kemp)

Likewise, you may recognize Mudcat from the cover-creation post for Deep Ellum Blues.

This picture shows Mudcat playing his tobacco-burst Strat next to the cover of “Deep Ellum Blues,” with the words, “Will Ms. Eddy intervene when an old adversary threatens a young musician in Deep Ellum?”
(Deep Ellum Blues artwork ©2020 by Chaz Kemp)

Chaz Kemp creates his images purely digitally, building up the image in layers. This makes it easier to change the sizes and positions of the elements in the composition. It also makes it possible to use the developmental images for purposes such as the blog posts and ads.

New visuals for the XK9s

But both of our XK9 cover artists, Jody A. Lee for What’s Bred in the Bone, and Lucy A. Synk, for The Other Side of Fear, are painters. They might make sketches beforehand (see the cover-creation post about Lucy’s work). They also may go back into the image with Photoshop to adjust small aspects. But they don’t produce the same kind of digital images in layers.

It makes the sketching and developmental phases more crucial! I can hardly wait to tell the story of how Jody and I worked together on the cover for A Bone to Pick.

It also creates a need for a different kind of character-developmental image. Lucy and I have been working on a series of “Pack portraits.” These are individual images of each XK9 in the Orangeboro Pack. I plan to use them for a variety of things, including “Character Profile” blog posts in the future.

This is a screen-capture of the sign-up form, which features Lucy’s painting of XK9 Petunia at the top with the words, “Join the Pack!” There’s an actual sign-up form you can use at the bottom of this page if you’d like to receive my monthly newsletter.
(Artwork © 2020 by Lucy A Synk; form by ConvertKit)

But you might already have spotted XK9 Petunia Yeller-Melody on my newsletter subscription form (sign up at the bottom of this post, to get first looks at things like the cover artwork Jody just delivered for A Bone to Pick!)

Incorporating covers with characters

Here’s what I put together for What’s Bred in the Bone. It uses Jody’s cover, Lucy’s “running Rex” image, and a tagline built from successful Amazon ads.

A full-body image of Rex gallops toward the cover of “What’s Bred in the Bone.” Below, the text reads, “In his quest to share an important clue with human investigators, XK9 Rex lands himself and his Packmates in mortal danger. How can he save them?”
(What’s Bred in the Bone artwork ©2019 by Jody A. Lee and ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk)

Finally, here’s the picture for The Other Side of Fear. All the artwork here is Lucy’s. The tagline is taken from a successful Amazon ad. Since then, I’ve rewritten the book description. Read it on multiple platforms.

In this picture, XK9 Shady play-bows next to the cover of “The Other Side of Fear” and the words, “A voyage of self-discovery with an uplifted sapient police dog, “The Other Side of Fear” is a science fiction novella set just before the events in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy.”
(All artwork for The Other Side of Fear is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look “under the hood” at some of the ways we at Weird Sisters Publishing develop our pictures and messages. Please sign up for my newsletter if you’d like to receive monthly “insider scoops” and first looks at new projects and art.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to PictureQuotes for the Cassandra Clare quote, and to Auralnauts, for the “How to make a Blockbuster Movie Trailer” video. Weird Sisters Publishing and I are deeply grateful to Chaz Kemp, Jody A. Lee, and Lucy A. Synk for all the wonderful pictures they’ve blessed us with.

A montage image: scrawny young Gift at the shelter, compared to comfortable adult Gift in G’s lap today.

The Universe Gives me a Cat

Deepest thanks to G. S. Norwood and The Weird Blog for allowing me to simul-blog “The Universe Gives Me a Cat.” I promise I’ll be back soon with my own material. – Jan

By G. S. Norwood

Sometimes the Universe gives me a cat.

I write urban fantasy, so I’m fairly open to the idea of magical energies at play in our mundane world. Still, I had no intention of adopting a cat in October of 2019. When my oldest cat, Scrap, died that July, I was comfortable with the idea of being reduced to a two-cat household. “If the Universe gives me a cat, I’ll have another cat. But I’m not going to go out looking,” I told myself. It became my mantra.

G’s black cat Scrap sits on a windowsill in a 2007 photo. Next to it is Chaz Kemp’s artwork of the cat Tidbit, from “Deep Ellum Pawn.”
My senior cat Scrap, who died in July 2019, provided the inspiration for Ms. Eddy’s cat Tidbit, created for Deep Ellum Pawn. Photo of Scrap from G. S. Norwood’s private collection. Illustration of Tidbit © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

And then, one Saturday toward the end of October, I went out for a routine errand run. I needed dog food, and furnace filters, and I wanted to make a fuel stop before my car hit empty. I’d meant to leave around ten but, somehow, I didn’t get out of the house before 1 pm.

My ‘little voice’ speaks

As I headed north to get gas, I heard a little voice in the back of my head. All the women in my family hear this voice when we need to pay special attention to something.

Go to the shelter, it said.

The animal shelter is located just one exit short of my gas station, but I didn’t want to adopt another animal.

“That’s silly,” I told myself. But I kept getting the strong message: “Go to the shelter. Go now.”

So I went. I’d been there lots of times over the years through my volunteer work with a dog rescue group. I’ve resisted lots of cute kittens. I wasn’t worried.

A montage image of G’s four Border Collie dogs.
I acquired the members of “The Texas Pack” during my work with dog rescue groups. Photos from G. S. Norwood’s private collection.

The shelter opens at noon on Saturday, and it was busy when I got there. On the weekend before Halloween, they were having a Harry Potter-themed adoption event, with all adult animals available for a fee of $9.75. I cruised along, letting the more eager adopters get a better look, scanning the cute tabbies, but not really interested in any of them.

The Kitten in the Back

Then I spotted a tiny calico, with her back to everybody. In that same instant a little girl—about three—body-slammed into the glass window yelling, “Kitty!” Her parents had brought her there to adopt her very first pet. She was so excited she was literally bouncing off the walls.

My immediate, gut reaction to this adorable child’s interest in the calico was, “Get the hell away from my cat, you little twerp!”

I realized I needed to examine that reaction. Then, as the little girl’s parents peeled her off the glass and redirected her attention to the dogs, I asked the shelter worker if I could see the cat. She showed me into a private room and went to get the calico.

As soon as she returned, she started apologizing. “This kitty is kind of slow to warm up,” she warned me. “She has a little cold from when she got her spay surgery. She has a back toe that must have gotten caught in a trap or something. It’s kind of mangled . . .”

The Universe Gives Me a Cat

I said it was fine. The shelter worker put the calico on my lap.

I looked down at a pitiful bundle of orange and black fur, and met the flat, assessing gaze of a determined soul. Understanding that this whole experience had a psychic aura, I opened myself to the kitten, so she could see what I was made of. I tried to project love and comfort.

A montage image: scrawny young Gift at the shelter, compared to comfortable adult Gift in G’s lap today.
In just one year, the scrawny, snotty-nosed little calico I found in the shelter underwent a remarkable transformation. But she still likes to cuddle. Photos from G. S. Norwood’s private collection.

We held our gaze for at least five seconds. Then it was as if she decided yes, okay, I would do. She turned around, tucked herself into the crook of my elbow, and began to knead and purr.

“Is she . . . making biscuits?” the shelter volunteer asked, clearly astonished.

“Yes. And purring. You said she was slow to warm up?”

“She’s totally snubbed two different adopters already today.”

As if to make her intentions perfectly clear, the calico climbed up my arm and scrubbed her jaw against mine, scent-marking me as hers.

I’ve been Adopted

“Well, they do say that cats choose their owners,” I told the shelter worker, “She can be an early birthday present for me.”

When I said “present,” the name Gift chimed in my heart, the way names do when you know they’re right. We all know that if you name an animal, it’s yours.

“So, you’re going to take her?”

“I have to, don’t I? It looks like I’ve been adopted.”

G. with her new kitten in October 2019.
A shelter staffer took this photo of G. and Gift, to commemorate the adoption. Photo by Marcy Weiske Jordan, from G. S. Norwood’s private collection.

After that it was just filling out paperwork. Although she was tiny, Gift was old enough to have been spayed, so she qualified as an adult. She cost $9.75 to adopt. I actually had the cash, although I rarely carry cash. All the stars aligned so I could walk out of the shelter I hadn’t intended to visit with a cat I’d had no intention of adopting when I left the house. Because, clearly, the Universe wanted to give me a cat.

IMAGE CREDITS

Most of the photos in this post come from G. S. Norwood’s private collection. Illustration of Tidbit is © 2019 by Chaz Kemp. Photo of G. with Gift at the shelter taken by Marcy Weiske Jordan. Photo montages created by Jan S. Gephardt.

Deborah Crombie interviews G. S. Norwood about her new story, “Deep Ellum Blues.”

Urban Fantasy: Let’s Get to the Root

Deborah Crombie interviews G. S. Norwood

Bestselling mystery writer Deborah Crombie loves to get to the root of an intriguing puzzle. A long-time friend and critique partner of G. S. Norwood, she watched Norwood’s new novelette, Deep Ellum Blues, take shape over many weeks. Now she has some questions.

The cover for “Deep Ellum Blues”
From Weird Sisters Publishing LLC, Artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp

G.’s Writing Roots

Debs: Have you always wanted to write? Your late husband (Warren C. Norwood) was a wonderful writer. Were you drawn to him because you wanted to write, or did he inspire you to write? Or both?

Gigi: I tried to write my first story when I was about 4, although I didn’t get very far. I sent Random House my first request for guidelines when I was ten. When I was a freshman in college one of my professors told me that I wrote well enough to consider a career as a professional writer, and that’s when the serious dreaming began. All that was a good decade before I met Warren.

To be honest, the day after I met Warren, I bought his first book and read a few chapters before I met up with him again. I had to make sure he was a good enough writer that I could respect him in the morning. Turned out, of course, he was, and I learned a lot about the craft and the business from him.

Get to the Root of one important influence: G. and Warren C. Norwood were married for more than two decades before his death. This collection shows four snapshots from their life together.
Get to the Root of one important influence: G. and Warren C. Norwood were married for more than two decades before his death. This collection shows four snapshots from their life together. From the personal collection of G. S. Norwood.

Debs: Your background is in the theater and performance. How does that influence your writing?

Gigi: Although I’ve spent most of my theatre years backstage, my real interest is in directing and writing. The great thing about directing is that it teaches you how to deconstruct the play, figuring out the structure of each scene, the pacing of the overall story arc, and the motivations of each character. Knowing how to analyze the way those parts go together has given me a tremendous cheat sheet when I want to create my own characters, plot, setting, mood, and action scenes.

Debs: You write urban fantasy, women’s fiction, and mystery. What ties all these genres together in your work?

Gigi: I tell stories. Each of the genres you mention has a different set of tools I can use to tell the story I want to tell. Should it be a straight-up mystery? Do I blend suspense with romance? Can I let stuff blow up in magical ways? I use whichever set of tools seems to fit the story best, and I am certainly not above using all of them at once if I need to. But if you get to the root, it’s just the way I think about the world. I’m a very practical woman who believes there are magical energies at work in our lives every day. When I put magic into a story, I’m just writing what I know.  

Two moods of Miz Eddy for two covers, as portrayed by Chaz Kemp.
Developmental images of Miz Eddy, L-R for Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues, ©2019 and ©2020 respectively, by Chaz Kemp.

Debs: Ms. Eddy, the protagonist in Deep Ellum Pawn and now Deep Ellum Blues, is such a fabulous and unique character. What was your inspiration for her?

Gigi: When I was a kid, I read a series of children’s fantasy novels by Lloyd Alexander called The Chronicles of Prydain. The inspiration for Alexander’s fantasy world was The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh mythology and folklore that dates at least as far back as the 12th century. My fascination with those stories led me to read more deeply about folklore from many different lands and introduced me to a wide range of magical characters.

When I got the idea for Deep Ellum Pawn, I didn’t really know who or what Ms. Eddy was. I had her name, and I knew about the pawn shop, but the rest revealed itself to me, slowly, as I began to write the story. Once I had an idea of what she could do, I had to do more research to figure out what kind of magical being she might be. Once I found it, I realized, “Well of course that’s who she is!” I really enjoy introducing ancient, magical ways to understand the world into modern, urban settings.

The “Deep Ellum Pawn” cover side-by-side with the “Deep Ellum Blues” cover.
From Weird Sisters Publishing LLC, cover art for Deep Ellum Pawn © 2019 by Chaz Kemp. Cover art for Deep Ellum Blues © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Now We Get to the Root: The music

Debs: Guitars, and guitarists, are central to Deep Ellum Blues. What connected you to guitars? Who are some of your favorite guitarists?

Gigi: Guitars are the dominant instrument of popular music. Some of the most iconic American guitar players of the early 20th century performed in Deep Ellum, or recorded just down the street at 508 Park, the Warner Brothers film and recording distribution center for the Dallas area. So Mudcat Randall, one of the main characters in Deep Ellum Blues had to be a guitar player.

A pen-and-ink drawing of a Stratocaster electric guitar.
Artwork of Mudcat Randall’s tobacco burst Strat ©2020 by Jan S. Gephardt.

I’ve met a lot of guitar players over the years, particularly when I hung out regularly at Craig’s Music in Weatherford, Texas. I have a lot of respect for the working guitarists who used to fill the bars and dance halls with music, before the pandemic. People like Warren’s adopted brother, Gerald Ray, or Fort Worth blues guy, Dave Millsap, keep music alive on the local level, and teach it to the next generation of players.

Outstanding singers, songwriters, and guitar players like Guy Forsyth, down in Austin, or Kevin Welch, formerly of Nashville, feed the music industry from just below the radar. And then there are the more recognizable names among my guitar heroes, like Keb’ Mo and the always amazing Sonny Landreth. I have enough Sonny Landreth stories for a blog post all his own. If you play guitar—particularly slide guitar—and you don’t know who he is, just trust me. Go look him up and prepare to be amazed.

A pen-and-ink drawing of an acoustic resonator guitar from Gretsch.
Artwork of Mudcat Randall’s Gretsch resonator ©2020 by Jan S. Gephardt

Debs: Can you give us a playlist to listen to as we read?

Gigi: I actually put together a set list for Mudcat’s two nights at Sons of Hermann Hall in Deep Ellum, while I was writing the story. It will be published as part of the e-book, and we’ll probably post it on the Weird Sisters Publishing website. In the meantime, check out music by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keb’ Mo, and Sonny Landreth. That will get you started.

Rooted in the Crossroads

Debs: Deep Ellum is a character in itself. Tell us why this area and its history are so special?

Gigi: Crossroads and margins have always been magical places. The geographical location that is now Deep Ellum was once the shallow edge of the Western Interior Seaway. Later, before European settlers came to the area, several trails used by Native American people met and crossed there. As Dallas grew into a city, Deep Ellum was the neighborhood where people on the outskirts of White society—Black people, but also Hispanics, Germans, and Jews—built lives for themselves.

It was where people from the upper reaches of society went when they wanted to “slum it.” The streets were lined with pawn shops, private clubs, and theaters, as well as the barber shops and dry goods stores that served the people of the neighborhood. That’s prime territory for musicians and entertainers of all types.

Deep Ellum was then, and continues to be today, a place to go when you want to have a slightly edgy good time. The people who have built their businesses there always say there’s a special spirit about the place that gives Deep Ellum its unique vibe. Now we know who that is.

Get to the root of this interviewer: Deborah Crombie with the cover of her book “A Bitter Feast.”
Photo of Deborah Crombie from her website is by Steve Ullathorne. The cover photo for A Bitter Feast is from the detail page on Crombie’s website.

About our Guest Interviewer, Deborah Crombie

Internationally acclaimed author Deborah Crombie has seen her British police procedurals, featuring detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, climb into the top ten of the New York Times bestseller list. Her latest release, A Bitter Feast, is the eighteenth novel in the series.

This post is a re-blog from The Weird Blog. My sister’s story Deep Ellum Blues is set for release on September 30, 2020. I thought you might enjoy Deborah Crombie’s interview of G. S. Norwood.

Collaborative vision: Creating a cover for Deep Ellum Blues

Creating the cover for Deep Ellum Blues called for collaborative vision. G.S. Norwood’s latest novelette is set for release on Amazon September 30, 2020.

To visually represent it, we needed a cover with something old, something new, and something recognizably magical. In pursuit of that, G., cover artist Chaz Kemp, and I blended ideas from three different creative viewpoints.

The cover for “Deep Ellum Blues” depicts a pivotal moment in the story, featuring Miz Eddy, Nick, and between them Mudcat, who is playing his guitar. The novelette by G. S. Norwood should be available from Weird Sisters Publishing on Amazon, starting September 30, 2020.
From Weird Sisters Publishing LLC: Cover art for Deep Ellum Blues © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

The cover of a book has to do a lot of things all at once, and it has to do them at a very small size. Amazon sure isn’t making its thumbnails any bigger than it has to, as you may have noticed. I’ve written other “how we made this cover” posts for Deep Ellum Pawn and The Other Side of Fear.

The cover must catch a prospective reader’s eye. Telegraph the genre. Offer a glimpse of a hint of the story that makes our ideal reader curious, and ideally it makes them want to click to find out more. And when it’s part of a series, it also has share identifying characteristics that make it look like it belongs in that series.

I’ll take these out of order, but here’s how we tried to satisfy each one.

A glimpse of a hint of the story

Stories are why we read fiction. If the cover offers an effective tease about the story within, most readers will want to know more. The difficulty lies in the tease. A cover that gives the whole story away is no fun. A cover that’s merely puzzling can be a turn-off. So we have to strike a balance.

At Weird Sisters, we respect artists’ vision. Rather than hand an artist a short description of what we think should be on the cover, we prefer that the artist read the story first (we’re even willing to pay extra for the time this takes). Artists, especially those who’ve designed covers in the past, often come up with great, graphically striking ideas that we haven’t even thought of.

Even if the first idea doesn’t quite nail it—and they almost never do—it offers a place to start. It’s all part of developing a collaborative vision.

For this project, we worked again with the talented Colorado artist Chaz Kemp. He created the cover for the first story, Deep Ellum Pawn. He already knows and has developed a portrayal for Miz Eddy, the main character. And we greatly value his willingness to work with our ideas as well as his own.

Chaz’s first idea had a white background, and portrayed the character Mudcat with his guitar, while an ethereal-looking Miz Eddy looked on.
Artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Chaz’s first suggestion focused on a pivotal moment in the story. I wasn’t sure it quite expressed what we wanted it to, and G. worried that it gave away too much (should I have included a spoiler alert?). But we both agreed he’d hit on an excellent moment to dramatize.

Portraying Miz Eddy and the others

Chaz already had developed a strong character image for Miz Eddy Weekes on the first cover. She’s a strong, no-nonsense character with a blend of ethnic roots. Her strength came through clearly on the first cover, but in the scene we wanted to target she’d be facing an adversary, the recurring character we met in Deep Ellum Pawn as Nick.

The portrayal of Miz Eddy went through eight different changes before we settled on a version we liked. Sometimes a collaborative vision takes a while. Here’s a lineup of all eight.
Artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

We went through a sequence of ideas to develop a body position and facial expression that we all agreed worked best for the scene.

We followed similar procedures with the other characters. Nick and Mudcat have specific traits that a good character portrayal can communicate. In Mudcat’s case, he also had to have one special, very specific guitar, which is clearly identified in the story.

A passionate music lover wrote this story, and it shows. People of any musical understanding can enjoy it, but it’s got a lot of cool “inside stuff” for other music lovers. Especially those who love the Blues. With good reference material from G., Chaz gave us the exact-right guitar. For those who know the Sons of Hermann Hall in Deep Ellum, TX, and its history, the background offers yet more authenticity.

Eye-catching, genre-specific, and series-consistent

For the first releases of the Deep Ellum novelettes, we’re publishing in Kindle Unlimited. They’re short enough to belong in Kindle’s “90-minute Science Fiction and Fantasy” category, but a paperback turned out to be impractical for something as small as a novelette (when the fourth one’s done, we’ll publish an omnibus edition to multiple platforms, as both ebook and paperback).

But that means the cover has to be eye-catching, even in a postage-stamp size. And it needs to be understandable, even in black and white—since some ebook readers don’t do color. We started out early, testing for “readability” in black and white. The way to achieve that is by using contrast.

Artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Our primary source of contrast is also an element that conveys “magic.” So is the difference in scale between Miz Eddy, Nick, and Mudcat. This story is technically urban fantasy or occult fantasy by category. We needed to make the magic an easy-to-see element.

Finally, to make it clear this is part of a series, Chaz used the same type font, angle, and positions for the title and the author’s name on both covers. We also used the same kind of frame element around the edges.

From Weird Sisters Publishing LLC, cover art for Deep Ellum Pawn © 2019 by Chaz Kemp. Cover art for Deep Ellum Blues © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this description of how G., Chaz, and I developed our collaborative vision for the cover of Deep Ellum Blues. I’ve written other “how we made this cover” posts for Deep Ellum Pawn and The Other Side of Fear, if you’d also like to see them.

IMAGE CREDITS

All of the artwork in this post is by Chaz Kemp. The cover and working images for Deep Ellum Blues are all ©2020 by Chaz Kemp. The cover of Deep Ellum Pawn is ©2019 by Chaz Kemp. All rights reserved, but it’s fair use if these images are used as commentary, and this post, Chaz Kemp, and Weird Sisters Publishing are identified and credited. Don’t forget to add hyperlinks to the sources included.

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