The Hero of Our Own Story?

What do you do when you discover a great new book, or a fantastic author?  You tell your friends, right?  Or that’s what I’ve always done.  The number of times my friends and I have run between each others’ houses, frantically waving some amazing new literary world that we’ve discovered, wanting to share it with each other.  Because the more minds a story lives in, the richer it becomes, every new reader adding a little bit of themselves to their perception of it.  That’s the magic of stories; it’s real.

Increasingly, I find that the books that really fire my imagination simply aren’t found on the shelves of my local bookshop any more.  They’re small press titles, or they’re indie titles, or they’re published overseas.  I need to rummage on the internet to find the kinds of stories that thrill me.  And the internet is a big, wide ocean of stuff, where it’s difficult to find anything except by chance.  But still we find our little treasure troves of titles and recommendations on here, and we find stories and authors that enchant us anew.  And yes, we want to share them, don’t we?

So in between other blogs, I’ll occasionally highlight a book or author which has really bowled me over, shouting it out in the hope that others may shout their own discoveries back to me.  And for this first blog review, I want to shout out about Molly Tanzer and most especially her latest novel, The Pleasure Merchant, which is the best read I’ve had in years.

thepleasuremerchantfinal

This isn’t the first Molly Tanzer book I’ve read.  I’ve also enjoyed A Pretty MouthRumbullion and Vermilion.  These three titles (two collections of short stories and a novel respectively), whilst not precisely horror by any means, all fall into the category best described as ‘weird fiction’, and thus might be assumed to be more in line with my own weird tastes than The Pleasure Merchant, which is a more purely historical novel (albeit exceptionally weird in its own wonderful way).  However, much as I love the three earlier titles (and I do; I really do), Merchant is just such a special tale that I can’t relegate it to second place behind anything.  Hang on a second!  Am I in fact saying that this is the best book I’ve read?  EVER?!  You know what, for these past several months I do believe that’s precisely how I’ve been viewing it, though I haven’t said so much in words before.  But what is certain is that this is a book that needs to be read, and it needs to be read by YOU, right now!  This story needs to be felt across the whole world!

Okay, fanboyish exultations aside, what’s it all about?  Here’s the curious thing, it’s just such an oddity, breaking all the received rules about what a story should be, but doing so gloriously, hilariously, sexily and outrageously.

On the surface, the book is about an apprentice wig maker named Tom Dawne, who loses his job as collateral damage of a prank which causes a gentleman to lose face.  No wig maker’s business is going to last long if it goes around causing gentlemen to lose face, so although he is proven to be innocent of wrongdoing, Tom’s presence at the periphery of the event causes his master to fire him.

Tom’s fortunes take a turn for the better as he is immediately hired as a personal assistant and companion to another gentleman, swiftly rising within the household to be his new master’s confidant.  He gains social standing, money, fancy clothing, and all manner of saucy dalliances in the process, but he also forgets himself.  He forgets where he came from, he forgets the promises he made to others, he comes to think of himself as invincible and forgets that every good turn in his fortunes has been the result of pure luck, not his own judgement.

And here’s where it gets so very clever.  You see, although the book is all about Tom, he’s not actually the narrator, nor is he really the main character.  This focal individual is not properly revealed until half way through, and the titular Pleasure Merchant does not appear until slightly after that.

There’s a popular saying that we are all the hero of our own story, the story of our own lives that unfolds within our own consciousness.  This may be true, but it is the brilliant audacity of this book to reveal that Tom, whose tale it tells, is not actually the hero nor the main character of this story.  I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice to say that after winning so high through luck, the one time when he becomes arrogant enough to believe himself to be in control and to take the reins of his own destiny … well, he quickly discovers that he was but a passing character in a larger story after all.

It is a masterpiece of storytelling confidence to tell a tale like this from a perspective like this, subverting expectations (and subverting a lot more along the way too!)

Apart from everything else, it’s just so well told, so immersive, with enthralling characters and situations.  There are plenty of laughs, plenty of intrigues, plots and counter-plots, and a healthy dose of cheeky smut, set at just the right temperature to boggle the eyes and bring a blush to the cheeks.

So hey, pals, I’ve found a GREAT book!  Off you run and have a whale of time reading it.

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Keeping Yourself Covered

Back in ye olde days of indie publishing, it used to be the work of moments to tell an indie title apart from a conventionally published one simply by looking at the cover.  The indie books would be the ones with no cover art, amateurish cover art, a hilariously bad CG image, or a photograph which only had a vague relevance to the subject matter.  But it was the story that mattered, right?

But in a saturated market, that simply won’t wash any more.  You need to be noticed and it’s as simple as that.  Simply consider how you purchase books yourself if you’re browsing for something new at Amazon.  You might narrow your search down to a genre you’re interested in and then you scroll down, glancing at the titles and the thumbnail cover images.  So if a book doesn’t have a cover that leaps out and grabs you, you’re not going to buy it.  And what’s more, it’s not enough to have a good cover image; you also have to put some thought into how effective that image is going to be when it’s shrunk down as a thumbnail, because that’s how most people are going to be exposed to it.  If it’s too murky or too busy, it’ll not be effective, no matter how gorgeous it is at full size.

Fortunately, these days it’s easier and more cost effective than ever before to source a really good cover, something that wasn’t the case a few years ago.  I want to give a few samples here from cover artists I have used and the experiences I’ve had with them, giving them a shout out so you may consider your needs for your own next cover art.

Rampant Dames cover finish

Rampant Damsels was the first book I self-published back in 2009 and I knew I wanted something special for it.  I scoured the Net trying to find an artist / cartoonist with the right style for the comedy fantasy image I wanted, who was open for commissions.  I eventually found the portfolio of British cartoonist Ian Baker, who produced the above masterpiece for me, costing me some £220 at the time if I recall correctly.  But it’s a beautiful image that meant I actually sold a few books, encouraging me to continue on instead of shriveling up and dying.  The image is colourful, striking, bold, simply composed so it stands out as a thumbnail, but full of detail at full size, and leaves the viewer in no doubt that the title exudes a kind of raunchy humour.

The next three covers I want to show were all prepared for me by a great guy on Fiverr named Boris.  He is fast, sources a wide selection of images based upon your brief and offers nine or ten alternate covers for you to choose from, he’s VERY cheap and a really great guy to work with, coming up trumps every time.

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‘Vicars and Tarts’ cover by Decovski

The first job I put his way was for erotic comedy novel Vicars and Tarts.  I had a few suggestions for the cover:  if possible, I wanted the colour to be a warm orange tone to suit the holiday theme of the novel; I wanted it to feature a Bible to reference the titular vicar, and a pair of lacy panties for the tarts; I also wanted these latter to be draped over a glass of red wine, as a reference back to the previous book in the series, Water Into Whine.  The above cover contained every single element I had asked for.  There was also an alternative, which in some ways I preferred, it being a photograph of a pair of panties draped over a glass of red wine.  However, it lacked the Bible and the orange tone.  I probably would still have gone for that alternative if I was judging purely by personal preference, but here’s where you have to be canny when selecting a book cover.  The cover chosen above was a much trendier, more modern style of image, and WOW, does it ever stand out as a thumbnail!  And these were the decisive factors.  The book sold relatively well right from launch and continues to do so, so I obviously chose well.

The Waters Of Life

Boris’ next commission for me was a much more sombre one, for the horror novel The Waters of Life.  For this, I specified a stone sarcophagus in a vault, with a sinister hooded figure, and just look at the macabre black and white stock photo Boris discovered for me and adorned with suitable title fonts!  Again, he provided several alternatives, some of which were great and very tempting, but this one is just so full of eerie menace it was a no-brainer.  It also reduces down to a suitably sinister and effective thumbnail.  It did the trick, the book sold instantly and well.

EARTH MOTHER

By now, I was becoming painfully aware of the shortcomings of some of my earlier novels which had never performed well, all of them with half-arsed cover designs.  It was time to start putting my house in order and relaunching some of these old titles with properly designed covers.  I began with a horror novel titled Earth Mother, which had never sold well at all, but which attracted raving reviews from the few people who did read it, so I knew the problem wasn’t with the writing.  Boris produced the above image based upon my description of the book, using the dark green colour tones I requested together with a bright green font and matching eyes for the Elemental horror, which really stand out and make a striking thumbnail image.  The results?  This cover only cost me £15, but in the three weeks since the book was relaunched it has sold more copies than in the previous three years!  Speaks for itself, doesn’t it?  Spending just a few quid on a decent cover can make that much difference!

I had been continuing to write new titles in the Damsels series in the meantime, and a couple of the middle titles in the range definitely need new covers now too, a job I’ll be getting round to.  But when I came to write the most recent, Damsels and the Dark Arts, I decided that it really needed a decent cover, something which would do it justice.  So I decided to commission an artist once again.  Some books just need original artwork and can’t be served by stock images and that’s just the way it is.  Once again, I wanted to find an artist who could really capture the look and feel of the characters and the books’ humour.  I scoured hundreds of fantasy artists on Deviantart before commissioning Kelsey Bigelow to produce the cover, pictured below.  She used the original Rampant Damsels cover as reference for the two main characters, but updated their clothing at my request, she included other elements I requested, such as the important skeleton key, she used the Tarot card ‘The Devil’ as a template for the image as suggested and gave the whole image a range of beautiful blue tones as I had specified.  Sheer perfection, probably my very favourite book cover ever!  The cost?  About $200.  Artists (and good ones) can be got for less, of course, but I was very choosy about getting an artist with a specific style.

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Damsels and the Dark Arts, cover art by Kelsey Bigelow

Most recently, I had another old novel recovered, this time my contemporary Celtic fantasy, The Wave Sweeper.  This one was done for me by Rachel McGrath, herself an exceptionally talented author and illustrator, who really succeeded in producing the goods here, as pictured below.  This was the first time I have opted for a cover image which wraps around the whole cover, and it’s extremely effective.  The imagery, fonts and colour tones are all illustrative of the book’s blend of warm melancholy.

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These days, it’s not a struggle to find a highly capable cover artist and you don’t have to pay a fortune for it any more.  But it’s certainly not optional:  your book needs a decent cover if it’s to have any hope of selling.  My own experiences of the jump in sales after upgrading Earth Mother and The Wave Sweeper have proved just what a huge difference it makes.  Make sure it’s what you want, make sure it conveys the mood, and make sure it makes a good thumbnail!

Oo-er, Vicar!

I’ve decided to offer a naughty little promotion for my two sex comedy novels, Water Into Whine and Vicars and Tarts.  Today is the end of one financial year and the beginning of the next, and my finances could certainly benefit with a boost.  So I’m offering a little incentive if enough people purchase these two titles during the next month (ending 6 May).

The two books in question are a little on the smutty side, in fact they’re mind-bogglingly saucy and as explicit as it gets.  But it’s all in good fun, with loads of laughs along the way.  Ultimately, they’re feel-good stories.  In Water Into Whine, the Grace family move to a rural village, where the unorthodox ministry of the local vicar, James Redders, and his wife Miriam raises more than eyebrows as they’re plunged into a wild world of sex and debauchery, but always with the utmost gentility.

In Vicars and Tarts, the Graces visit James and Miriam at his new posting on a Scottish island.  Here they help him to win the favour of the reluctant locals, using their swinging antics to swing opinions as they tackle strict puritans, New Agers and a Satanist landowner.  The results are as hot as they are hilarious.

So … if I can sell just 50 copies of these two books (either title counts as one sale; it’s two sales if you get both), I will have a souvenir photograph of myself taken down beside the sea, masquerading as a naughty vicar, wearing only spectacles, vicar teeth (as in the image below), a clerical collar, a pair of clown shoes and a wholly inadequate posing pouch.  This photo will be posted on this blog for all to see and variously swoon over, drool over, vomit over or laugh at.  Think of the high value:  it should be good for blackmail purposes for years to come!

If I can sell 100 copies between these two titles, I will post half a dozen such photos on this blog in a whole range of most provocative poses.

If I can sell 150 copies you might be able to persuade me to keep my clothes on!

author photo

Just for the record, Kindle Unlimited borrows will count as a purchase, but in order to clock up the necessary number of pages read, the book(s) would need to be read between the qualifying dates (5 April – 6 May).

Also for the record, I don’t normally sell anywhere near 50 copies of my fiction titles in a single month, so if you want to see me all pouched up and pouting, you’ll really need to share the shit out of this post and scream and yell at all your friends to get their acts together and buy these two books so that you can get hot and bothered with my photo (or laugh till your jaw aches – your choice).  So shout it out near and far, on Facebook and elsewhere.  Twist arms and pinch fleshy appendages until your victims submit!

And here’s where you can get them:

Water Into Whine –

Amazon UK, Paperback & Kindle Editions 

Amazon USA, Paperback & Kindle Editions 

Lulu, Paperback Edition

Lulu, Hardback Edition

Vicars and Tarts –

Amazon UK, Paperback & Kindle Editions

Amazon USA, Paperback & Kindle Editions

Lulu, Paperback Edition

Lulu, Hardback Edition

So don’t delay, and in the meantime I’ll go and choose my posing pouch!

FED UP WITH BEING POLITICALLY CORRECT?

This looks like one for me…

lucinda E Clarke

Once upon a time in 1989, I sat down to write a book in the pre-politically correct days. It was my very first attempt to write a full length novel – this was before I gave up teaching to write for a living – so that’s how long ago it was. Ha, I bet some of you were not even born then. Now, I’m really depressed.

Of course I was going to take the literary world by storm, you know the stuff, gala performances, entertainment on mega yachts, people queuing round blocks just to get a peek at me – only the lucky first 5,000 would get the signed copies. I’m sure it must have saved so many getting nightmares after the shock of actually seeing the real me.

But guess what happened? Hollywood – yes Hollywood!

Hollywood_Sign

Not for my book you understand, but someone else’s book. How dare they!…

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