Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Bad Book Covers: Comic Exaggeration

06 August 2014

For Westercon, I made a Lousy Book Cover for comedic effect. After all, I had to have one to show at the panel, right?
So I picked a great photo. I picked a great typeface.
And deliberately made a grievous error.

Courtney Milan Talks Type

I bring this up because Courtney Milan’s got a great blog post called How to Suck at Typography. Ironically, I missed it because I was at Typecon.
First, I absolutely love the Borges font she discusses. It’s called Desire. It is truly one of the showcase pieces of what can be done with OpenType.
What she says about free fonts is largely true, but there are some good ones out there. The one I used was Great Vibes, which is the free cousin to Good Vibrations. I mention this for a reason: sometimes there’s significantly better typographic features on the paid version of a font. And sometimes it’s the bad fonts that get thrown to the free bin. (Or packaged up by the hundred for seemingly low prices.)
Personally, I’d like less space between Te so it feels more like Ju. Similarly, I’d like a tidge more space between Da so it feels more like Ju. Given that the paid font seems the same at first glance, evidently the font designer disagrees with me on that point.

There Is One Point of Violent Disagreement, However

Font effects are the opposite of tasteful covers. They are harder to read at best, and migraine-inducing at worst. The worst fug in the world comes from font effects.

I’ll half agree with the last. Granted, she’s talking from a historical romance perspective.
I’ve been working on a poster off and on for a month. I just couldn’t get the right approach to say what I wanted to, so I put it away and get back to it.
Yellow Design Studio is one of my favorite indie font foundries. I love love love love love their font family Gist, which is really Gist and Gist Upright, Gist Rough and Gist Rough Upright, and GistX.
One of the things Gist has is the line version of the font along with the regular—so you can separately style/color. Let’s say you’re making a poster, in navy, for an upcoming nautical clothing line. Put the text in white, and make the line red (or green, as that’s another combo used for nautical clothing). Perfecto.
In this case, I’ve been fussing with this poster, and, once I decided on Gist, I started randomly clicking layer styles for the line until I got this:
I love it. I love how the beveling turns the corner between the u and the s.
The catch is, it’s applied on a relatively small part of the type. It’s the mint leaf served in your chocolate dessert.

Drop Shadows and Outer Glows

There is one reason to use these two features: to separate the type from the background. I used an outer glow in my sample bad cover. It’s subtle enough that if you don’t know what to look for, you’d miss it.
As a general rule, that’s how it should be. The secret is to reduce the opacity of the effect. I often reduce it from the default 75% down to 25-35%. Also, increase the radius of the effect from a few pixels to 20 or 30.

Coming Back Around

Getting back to the original picture, there’s one aspect that Courtney doesn’t talk about: appropriateness of the type for the project. It’s not just whether it’s a good font. It’s not whether the layer style, kerning, etc., works—there’s a bigger thing going on.
Is the font, the most appropriate (within reason) font you can use? I say within reason because I love Skolar, but it’s going to be a very long time before I’ll be able to afford it.
I recently heard a cover designer say that if the book got the person to read the blurb, the cover had done its job.
I agree in part and disagree in part. When they get to the blurb, they have a mindset in place that may lead them to interpret the blurb fundamentally differently than the blurb was intended.
Your cover needs to give the reader the feel for the book. Typography’s a huge part of that. As an example, a friend wrote a historical fantasy. Someone did a cover for her, but the fonts were all super-modern, so they’d lead someone to expect a really different book. For that reason, she went with a different cover entirely. Good call.
Remember that saying I found so profound? “A one-star review means the wrong reader has found your book.”
The purpose of a cover is to find your book’s five star readers and turn away the one-star readers.
The main problem with the cover I’ve given for Terminator 2? It would find mostly one-star readers. They’d be wanting something nice and cozy with tea and biscuits, and get something else entirely.
Find your five-star readers.

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02 August 2014

So, as you all know, I’m a big fan of Canadian DJ Overwerk. He’s in the middle of his first US tour, and I just had to go.

Electronica and I, We Go Way Back

Look, the first time I went to a concert was to see Jethro Tull in 1973 on the A Passion Play tour. I’ve seen a ton of bands since then, including: Led Zeppelin (pre- and post-Stairway to Heaven), Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Queen, and, well, so many others that if I list them all, I’ll never get to the point.
What I’d not really understood was how much electronica had changed over the years. When I took an electronic music in the 70s, synthesizers were not only monophonic (meaning they could only play one note at a time). Well, okay, there were some polyphonic synthesizers, but the college could not afford them. Yet. The one thing this class really did for me? Made me realize how amazingly awesome Switched-On Bach was. What an unbelievably large amount of work. It reminds me of spectacular English marquetry in terms of hours of labor.
Somewhere in the late 80s, I had a Roland D-50 for a short while. I was determined to go the MIDI route, but it was tremendously painful. Things hadn’t progressed as far as I’d hoped.
In the 90s, I worked for Synclavier, or at least the remnants of it. I had a work email address. I didn’t work on synth-related stuff; I worked on managing royalties for use of digital audio elements. Still, I had a sense of what was possible then, vastly improved over the years.
But since then? No clue.
In 2005, I was talking with a colleague about music, and I thought I was showing that I was fairly current because of the relatively recent artists I was listening to. However, he pointed out, half correct, that most of the bands were more than 10 years old. (Some had been around that long; most were newer, but not new-new.) Who was I listening to that was new?
Ever since then, I’ve made more of an effort to listen to a wider variety of music and more newer artists, not just new albums from artists I already love or have newly discovered.

The Dance Thing

I know I used to compete in ice dancing, and that I’ve studied dancing. I first appeared on stage in a white satin duck suit. Tap dancing. As a teen and in my twenties, I had no use for non-ballroom dancing, though. I was always feeling out of my element when I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, especially when it was something physical.
So I did what I always do: I ignored it, pretended it didn’t matter.
Yet, at the same time, once we got past the main part of the disco era, dance music started to diverge more. I loved dance music, I just didn’t, you know, dance. In that sense, I was an equal opportunity hater and wound up rolling my eyes more than once when asked to pick sides. I like what I like, musically speaking.
Then my back and knee started bothering me, and so the point is now moot: I simply can’t dance for more than a couple of minutes, and most dance moves have me risking collapsing (and I mean that literally) in a heap on the floor.
So, Overwerk’s coming. What to do?

Conflicting Plans, Not Good

Overwerk was coming to both San Francisco and Santa Cruz, but they were dates I was out of town. I wrote to the Santa Cruz club anyway, as I could have made it if I changed my flight (and missed the Great Namaste), but I never heard back from them.
I also tried to contact several that would have been doable with some combination of the various miles I have hoarded.
The one club I contacted that answered me: The Monarch Theatre in Phoenix. They were really nice about assuring me there would be some place for me to sit.
I used my British Airways miles to book tickets on US Air, found a great rate at the Arizona Biltmore, which is a cool historic American property.
So I got up at 5:30 in the morning on Saturday to fly to Phoenix, then checked into the Biltmore and took a nap. My friend called; she couldn’t make it. Bummer. Had an amazing dinner at the Biltmore all by myself.
I went alone to the club, and I can’t tell you the number of times I completely wanted to chicken out. The number of times I’ve found accommodations non-existant makes anything like this completely intimidating, especially at a dance club when you aren’t able to dance.
I found the place, arriving just early enough that there were only a few people in line. However, not being able to stand, they found me a seat, which effectively put me first in line (not that that actually mattered as there were few enough people in line).
The DJs paraded in ahead, as did various people on the guest list. We were all let in, and I needed to go back and get the VIP wristband for the seating area.
The first DJ, Joey Williams, warmed everyone up.

[![Joey Williams by Jacob Tyler Dunn](/images/2014/08/10492245_258240470966227_1149176629842689935_n.jpg)](/images/2014/08/10492245_258240470966227_1149176629842689935_n.jpg)Joey Williams by Jacob Tyler Dunn

Second up was 2ToneDisco.

[![2ToneDisco by Jacob Tyler Dunn](/images/2014/08/10414072_258240867632854_8635205320862845656_n.jpg)](/images/2014/08/10414072_258240867632854_8635205320862845656_n.jpg)2ToneDisco by Jacob Tyler Dunn

James and Omni had an energetic set of Nu Disco and other fun stuff. Probably the crowd favorite was their Ghostbusters remix, which you can listen to (and download) for free:
[soundcloud url=”″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]
I don’t know who the third DJ was; he was quite popular with the crowd. He tended to play vocal songs that had very singable anthem lines. Not my cuppa, but the crowd was having fun, and that’s the important thing.
Fourth up was Overwerk, who came on at 12:30.
The crowd cheered when his signature motif, “Overwerk it,” played for the first time in his set.
The biggest crowd pleaser of his set was 12:30, which is a remix of ABBA’s “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (a Man after Midnight).” You can listen to (or download) it for free here:
[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=00aabb&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[![Overwerk by Jacob Tyler Dunn](/images/2014/08/10409549_258240500966224_1538363407301473663_n.jpg)](/images/2014/08/10409549_258240500966224_1538363407301473663_n.jpg)Overwerk by Jacob Tyler Dunn
[![Overwerk by Jacob Tyler Dunn](/images/2014/08/10487256_258240477632893_4577881855150976248_n.jpg)](/images/2014/08/10487256_258240477632893_4577881855150976248_n.jpg)Overwerk by Jacob Tyler Dunn
[![Overwerk by Jacob Tyler Dunn](/images/2014/08/10537416_258240777632863_4185577574332582253_n.jpg)](/images/2014/08/10537416_258240777632863_4185577574332582253_n.jpg)Overwerk by Jacob Tyler Dunn
[![Overwerk by Jacob Tyler Dunn](/images/2014/08/10514591_258241717632769_2933766180983845784_n.jpg)](/images/2014/08/10514591_258241717632769_2933766180983845784_n.jpg)Overwerk by Jacob Tyler Dunn

At 2 a.m., Edmond ended his set with my personal favorite, Daybreak, though the club isn’t conducive to the quieter opening this song has (and thus it started differently). I can’t embed this one, but you can listen to it here.
I loved how each DJ had a different visual style. The three large monitors gave quite the light show in addition to the ceiling lights. Not having spent a lot of time in clubs, and never for a traditional dance event (it was always some private event held at a club), this was something I’d never known about (or expected).
All in all, a great time. Many thanks to the Monarch Theatre, Overwerk, 2ToneDisco, and the other DJs, as well as Relentless Beats, the promoter.
More of Jacob Tyler Dunn’s photos here.

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Change the World, Have a Good Time

01 August 2014

Now available on Redbubble: prints, posters, t-shirts, pillows, totes, phone cases, iPad cases, and greeting cards.
I love this E.B. White quotation.

I get up every day determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time.
Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.

Design element credits

Polygon background: Justin Thanks, Justin!
Pattern overlay layers: two from 2 Lil Owls (from a Design Cuts bundle) plus 2 from Joyful Heart Designs.
Font: Brave from Nicky Laatz. Post-processed with Ian Barnard’s Inkwell.

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A Much-Delayed Review

31 July 2014

I’ve been doing some tidying around the social network space and got around to looking at reviews on This Is My Funniest 2 on Goodreads.
From a one-star review of the book….

No outright guffaws but….
Big smiles:
The Robot Who Came to Dinner by Ron Goulart
Frog Kiss by Kevin J. Anderson
A Sword Called Rhonda by C. S. Moen

Hey, up there with Ron Goulart and Kevin J. Anderson, ahead of the other 26 authors?
I’ll take it.
Overall, the anthology hasn’t done particularly well, though I was happy to be in an anthology with Larry Niven. When I had him autograph my copy, he said I should autograph his. This is why I like Larry.
When I queried Mike Resnick, he said, “If I laugh, I’ll buy the story.” He must have.
At readings, there’s usually one line that does get a LOL.

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Another Piece of Walter Breen History

25 July 2014

Note: topic is child sexual assault.
Another piece of Walter Breen/Marion Zimmer Bradley history came via snail mail today.
The events recounted weren’t given a time, but checking against the Breendoggle suggests that it’s of the same era as the Breendoggle (1964). I can’t tell if it’s before or after the Breendoggle was published, but very close in time.
I’m paraphrasing here, but the parents of one kid went to the Alameda County DA (which is the county Berkeley is in) and tried to press charges, but the specific case, penetration had not occurred, and thus the DA wasn’t able to prosecute the case. The parents of that same kid tried to get the Contra Costa DA involved, who was eager to take the case, but wanted other parents to also testify.
Because there were no rape shield laws at the time, the parents of other victims were rightly concerned that this would follow their children around in perpetuity and they thus refused to press charges.
This was 1964. I saw at least one note that Walter was arrested in 1964, perhaps this was what that was concerning.
There are also apparently earlier dox. More news when and if they become available.
I’m just very glad that rape shield laws started becoming the law in the 70s. Sadly, this was before laws protected rape victims, especially the children.

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Mockup: 307 Ale Bottles

25 July 2014

I found this beer bottle mockup last night, and thought I’d have fun with it.
Catch is, this particular product would probably be better vended in something stranger—like a Klein bottle. Oh well.
Click for full size:
It’s an homage to a Tom Smith song of the same title:

There’s many drinks you’ll drink, me lads, but this one beats them all.
One hundred fifty-three and one-half percent alcohol,
A beer brewed in a tesseract, it’ll shoot you through the roof,
And if you don’t believe me, I’ve got lots and lots of proof.

Graphic Element Credits

Font: Veneer by Yellow Design Studio I love this font, use it all the time.
Logo font: Trend Handmade by LatinoType
(Both of the above via Design Cuts, as usual.)
Beer Mockup: Original Mockups
Logo: 12 Sci-Fi Badges from VoxelFlux

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Indie Book Launch Secrets Workshop

25 July 2014

Tim Grahl of Outthink, and Michael Bunker, one of his clients, are giving a three-hour training session next month.
Tim’s had five authors on the New York Times Bestseller list simultaneously, and indie author Hugh Howey is one of his clients.
However, for this particular workshop, he’s using another, lesser-known author who still has unarguable success as an indie. Michael Bunker writes Amish science fiction, which you could argue is a limited market. It’s the kind of specificity that indie was designed for.

Michael’s latest book Pennsylvania Omnibus sold 4183 copies in 48 hours.
Michael’s latest book Pennsylvania Omnibus has sold 13,000+ copies since its launch in January 2014.

$4.49 * 70% * 13,000 = $40,859 (assuming the price has stayed constant)
Not shabby at all, especially for a single title.
If that’s not for you, Tim’s got a ton of free resources on his site for both indie and traditionally-published writers (and aspiring writers).

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Rejecting Bad Writing Advice

24 July 2014

There was a time when I was so starved for any writing advice, I’d take whatever crap would fall in. Granted, I was a Scientologist at the time, so you could say I was particularly primed for not only sources of bad advice, but also the unquestioned acceptance of same.
Over the years, I found that my brain became so constrained by all the bullshit I’d accepted that I found it impossible to write at all. I was bound by the red tape.

If You Want to Sell a Novel, Sell Short Stories First

Look, having any kind of respectable publishing credits helps. No question.
But not all novelists can write short. Even if they can write short, they may be nowhere near as good a short story writer as they are a novelist.
So here’s my revised answer to that: Write short stories because you want to. Submit them because you want to.
If they don’t speak to you, there are plenty of other, better ways to spend that time.

You’re Never Going to Make a Lot of Money as a Short Story Writer

I heard this last weekend. Verbatim.
Do I believe it’s true? No, I do not. Edward D. Hoch made a living as a short story writer.
Do I believe the odds are against you?
Sure, if you insist on thinking of it in terms of odds, which I don’t think is helpful.
Rather, I prefer to think of it this way: if you want to make a lot of money as a short story writer, you’d likely need to have a large number of relatively uncomplicated (in the sense that it’s a “short story” idea rather than a “novel” idea) ideas that you can write and polish to professional levels.
I know me: I have a smaller number of ideas but they’re more complex, and thus I’m a novella or novel kind of writer.
There’s also the issue that how much you make from short fiction depends on what venues are available for you to sell it, including film and television. Excluding self publishing at the moment, I’d argue that novella length has new life in the digital first markets.
Case in point:

We both have short stories and novellas, which frequently don’t make it into print except in collections or magazines. Those collections and magazines tend to pay token amounts if at all — contributor’s copies are common — whereas I’ve made over $8,000 from a novella published in 2011. Aleks and I co-wrote a short story that was released last year and has made each of us just under $2,000.

(Quoted from here.)
I’d say that most people would think $8,000 was “a lot of money.” Somewhat fewer would consider $4,000 ($2,000 x 2 writers) “a lot of money.”
But $10,000? For two pieces of short fiction? That’s a lot of money.
Ahh, but she writes male/male romance, you say.
I say that’s not the point. The point is that this construction, “You’re never going to make a lot of money as a short story writer,” assumes things one cannot possibly know about me and my future. It’s a prediction that my future will suck because someone else’s past (e.g., the speaker’s) has sucked.
Besides, Clive Barker did pretty well with this one novella. There are other examples, too.
Rather, it’s more helpful to know what kind of writer you are and whether or not that road would be easier or harder for you. If you’ve got a background writing short non-fiction, then writing short fiction may be easier for you.
Just because it’s a hard road isn’t a reason not to do it. A hard road is still a path, just a difficult one.
There are plenty of kinds of writing, if writing is what you want to do. If it’s not, there are plenty of things to do in almost any field. I really wish I’d understood this early on, because I felt roles were far more rigid when I was in high school. Maybe that was my mistake.

You Should Write in Third Person Because It’s Easier to Sell

To which I respond: my favorite novel’s in second person.

You’re four hours into your shift, decompressing from two weeks of working nights supervising clean-up after drunken fights on Lothian Road and domestics in Craiglockhart. Daylight work on the other side of the capital city comes as a big relief, bringing with it business of a different, and mostly less violent, sort. This morning you dealt with: two shoplifting call-outs, getting your team to chase up a bunch of littering offences, a couple of community liaison visits, and you’re due down the station in two hours to record your testimony for the plead-by-email hearing on a serial B&E case you’ve been working on. You’re also baby-sitting Bob—probationary constable Robert Lockhart—who is ever so slightly fresh out of police college and about as probationary as a very probationary thing indeed. So it’s not like you’re not busy or anything, but at least it’s low-stress stuff for the most part.

Second is very voicey, and it’s both a boon and a bane because of that.
Write in whatever viewpoint you feel happens to fit the story best, including second if you’re so inclined. If you’ve never tried it before, consider rewriting a scene in second person. See how it feels. Try the same scene in first and third emphasizing different viewpoint characters.
There’s no single right answer, but some genres are more frequently in one or the other.
I’ll give an example, though, of where I think first person really hurt the book.
Edward hovered over Bella at night in part because he was protecting her against rogue vampires that she didn’t know existed. Because the book was written in first person, it made Edward look more manipulative and controlling (and for worse reasons) than was actually true. because the book’s POV only showed things that Bella knew, and she didn’t know the whole story.
Read the partial of Midnight Sun (Twilight told from Edward’s POV) alongside Twilight. The two taken together, plus the movie, are a rare opportunity to learn from POV choices and mistakes.
So, if the motivations of another character are important to understanding the piece as sympathetically as possible, consider writing in third. Or, you know, some other POV that’s not a single first person POV.

That Odds Matter

I know a lot of heartbreaking stories in publishing. People having solicited manuscripts lost in piles in a publisher’s office for years. People having their novel abandoned when an editor goes on maternity leave and the replacement editor quits to go into the food business.
There are all kinds of narratives about publishing, and one of the ones I want to address is this: that there is such a thing as odds that determine whether or not you’ll sell a story or whether it’ll do well.
When I receive, say, 100 submissions for BayCon, the odds that I accept your story is not 1 in 100. I don’t roll any dice. Did you write the best story I received? Does your story mesh with my taste? Does it fit the theme better than other stories? (We don’t require that it fit the theme, but it doesn’t hurt.) That’s not a matter of odds.
More than half the time, I reject a story on the first page. I’m sure every writer did the best they could on their first page. Sometimes, it’s a matter of fit. I’ve said that the story we buy has to be family friendly, so “fuck” on the first (or any) page is a non-starter. And yes, I’ve rejected more than one story for exactly that reason.
It’s entirely random that I once, back in the Abyss & Apex days, received two short stories in a row with first sentences that had unintended flying trees. Yay misplaced modifiers. (Both of those were rejected on the first sentence.)
So you’ve survived the first page. Does your piece plunge immediately into backstory on page 2 or 3? That’s probably the single most common reason I reject stories on pages 2 or 3. And yes, this can be done right, and it so frequently isn’t. I’ve done it badly myself. Recently. (First draft, so there’s that.)
Let’s say I get to the end. More than half the time, I’ll still reject the story. Most frequently, it’s one of: the story you started isn’t the story you finished, or you didn’t nail the ending.
Another common failure is what I call the “this feels like a novel chapter” problem. I didn’t really understand this phrase until I saw it a few times as an editor. If you’ve raised more interesting questions/problems/plot points that are referred to in the narrative but don’t happen in the narrative present, it’ll feel like it’s a piece of a longer work. The only way I know of to fix one of these babies is to trim off the glittery parts that point out to other plot lines and story arcs until it feels like the story is resolved in the short form.
But selling a story? That’s not a matter of odds.
Let’s say the first page is solid and interesting, and pages 2 and 3 are strong enough to keep me going, and I finish the piece, and you have a great ending. You’ll likely wind up on the short list.
If anything in the process involves odds, then it’s what happens on the short list, because generally there are more pieces than there are slots we can publish. Since we’re picking newer writers, name isn’t a consideration. It’s just which stories the various people like the best. (I pick the short list, but that’s winnowed down by a small group.)

If I Had to Give Advice…

Three little things.

  1. Is this beginning actually the best entry point for your story for a reader? Not just where you started writing.
  2. Love your piece for what it is. Every piece has issues. Do what you can, then move on. I remember going over another author’s piece in a critique session. The author was worried about how it would be received because of a structure issue. I thought it was fabulous as it stood. It was later nominated for a major award, pretty much as I read it.
  3. Don’t overwork a piece in response to critiques. One of the death knells of an opening is often over-response to a critique like: “I wanted to know more about X in the beginning.” Then the writer edits it in, destroying the opening. Someone wants to know more about the character? Good. Read on.

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Making Your Favorite T-Shirts Last Longer

23 July 2014

I wound up having a discussion about making printed t-shirts last longer over the weekend, so I thought I’d discuss a few techniques.

  1. Wash and dry inside out. Less abrasion.
  2. On delicate cycle.
  3. Line dry your shirts. The dryer takes quite the toll on printed shirts. For those of you who aren’t savvy with the home stuff, that means hanging them up on hangars to dry and not using a dryer.
  4. If you’re hardcore, you can always hand wash and line dry.

I prefer machine drying because I have problems with dust and lint, but air drying really does make t-shirts (and underwear) last a lot longer.

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