SQ Magazine Edition 22

I was thrilled to be asked by the team of Sophie Yorkston and Gerard Huntman to provide the cover for Edition 22 of their long-running (and award-winning) SQ Mag speculative fiction ezine. Here's what I came up with:

SQ Mag, speculative fiction ezine, Edition 22, cover designed by Kura Carpenter

SQ Mag is published by IFWG Publishing Australia, it's a donationware ezine featuring short stories from Australian and New Zealand writers - I often see familiar names of SpecficNZ members.

Read Edition 22 of SQ Mag online or subscribe today and you can choose the format which suits you best. It's free to join!

Interview with Victoria Nelson author of 'Romana'

I've been very fortunate to work with Californian author Victoria Nelson on a few projects, and I was delighted when Victoria asked me to do the artwork (following her design) for the cover of her novel Romana, which I know has been a labour of love for her over the past five years.

"Romana" by author Victoria Nelson, cover artwork by Kura Carpenter

Please tell us a little bit about yourself:

By profession, I'm a freelance writing and research tutor. I never thought of myself as a creative writer since I believed my talent was for research and writing about Literature. I surprised myself, however, when I began writing my first stage play, L. is forSayers, in 1998 followed by a screenplay, Jack Marlin, PrivateEye: The Case of the Barbary Blackbird, two years later, both of which I completed and self-published. 

The funny thing is that my family always told me my imagination and temperament would make me a good novelist, but I never bought it. Then, unexpectedly one day, in came the muse—it spoke and I wrote. In terms of Literature and storytelling, however, my research background proved to be providential since one needs to conduct a fair amount of research in order to write a credible, satisfying story. It also makes the difference in being able to show rather than tell. 

Looking back, I can see that I have always been involved in writing of one type or another, but I did not presume to think of myself as a writer, not until my family began using the term. For me, writing entails a lot of responsibility since words have a major influence on shaping people's worldview and influencing their actions.

"Jack Marlin Private Eye" filmscript and "L is for Sayers" play by author Victoria Nelson, cover design by Kura Carpenter

You mentioned that you write about Literature. Can you tell us a little more about it?

I am including here the titles of the articles I have published beginning with the most recent. I believe that when a person is drawn to the study of Literature, he or she wants to explore a variety of genres. I suppose this remark leads us to ask what is Literature? The simplest definition I can think of is writing (novels, plays, poems, essays etc.) that serves what Socrates has termed "The Good." I am especially interested in foundational works. In other words, I want to study the same books that served as the inspiration for my favourite authors. 

For example, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were great fans of Rider Haggard whose work inspired the creation of Indiana Jones. I too am interested in Haggard and plan to write a piece on his dealing with subterranean themes.

  • "Dark Journey into Light: On the Road with Jack Kerouac." Saint AustinReview. (November/December 2014).
  • Burnett, Grahame, and Barrie: Neopaganist Idealism during a Golden Age.” Saint Austin Review. (March/April 2011).
  • Don Quixote: Madman or Mystic.” Saint Austin Review. (May/June 2010).
  • Teaching Ian Fleming’s James Bond Thrillers from a Catholic Perspective.” Saint Austin Review. (May/June 2008).
  • Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins: Moving beyond Paradise to the New Jerusalem.” Saint Austin Review. (May/June 2008).
  • Rosemary Sutcliff’s Arthurian Trilogy.” Saint Austin Review. (December 2002).

What genre, and what is Romana about? 
The story is about a quest and is medieval themed rather than a strict historical account. One person put it very nicely when she said my book is more about how things should have been, could have been, rather than how they were. Yet, I believe we can't just say the Middle Ages was this and not that. History unfolds on a continuum and is being made as we speak. One of my favourite passages of fiction that best describes my own values and motivation for writing is from Tolkien's Return of the King where Sam sees the light of a lone star shining down on the smoking ruins of Mordor and
The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
I believe the Middle Ages, in spite of warfare and politics, was like any other time in history—there is always a good side to people who, in spite of the times, retain their humanity and seek to defend and preserve it in others.

What type of Reader is likely to enjoy this story? 

Fortunately, I have had good success with people from all walks of life enjoying my story. I think one of the reasons for this is that I strive to make my writing accessible to everyone no matter their taste in Literature. My motto for writing is to make people feel good about themselves and the world they live in—in a word, to give them hope. I try to communicate this idea in everything I do ranging from editing students' papers to storytelling. 

Surely, people who are interested in the Middle Ages might relate more easily to the story, but I have written it with a diverse reading audience in mind. Books similar to Romana are the ones which have nurtured my own inspiration and whose authors have served as my mentors. Some of my favourite examples include C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ian Fleming.

Where did the idea for the story come from?

Apart from an ongoing fascination with everything Medieval, some of the early chapters were inspired from RP gaming and my interest in swordsmanship. In the beginning, it was not my intention to write a book, then one day I realized I had enough material for a full-length novel. The ideas just kept coming. It was as if I was taking dictation from my characters. And I discovered that the more rounded the characters, the more animated and articulate they become. 

One of the most delightful things about creating characters is to hear the way they speak to one another. One asks a question and the other answers, and sometimes it happens so fast, I have to laugh and write fast to keep up with their antics. I also learn from them. When faced with a difficult task, I sometimes ask myself how would one of my characters handle such and such a circumstance. Lewis and Tolkien both shared that they wanted to write the kind of books that they themselves would enjoy reading. I believe my story has its roots in this same sentiment.

What was your favourite and least favourite part in researching for the novel?

My favourite parts of the research had to do with learning bushcraft and outdoor living. The Internet provided me with invaluable information on everything I wanted to know about survival in the wildness. It also enriched my outlook on life and fostered a more intimate connection with nature. As part of my research, I reread Sir Gawain the Green Knight, both Tolkien's and Simon Armitage's translations, paying close attention to the descriptions of the landscape and accounts of field dressing. In terms of hunting and field dressing, it was amazing to learn how little has changed over the centuries. 

I also read Hilaire Belloc's, The Path Rome which chronicles the author's walk from France to Rome and has beautiful descriptions of the people and natural landscape throughout.

I can't really say that I had a least favourite part of the research since I enjoyed the entire venture. The book itself was my own personal quest. But to be fair, there were some parts that were more challenging than others. The two most difficult challenges involved creating a variation in food and landscape. I remember once reading about how Ian Fleming's publisher told him that James Bond could not always be eating scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee, which was one of Flemings' favourite meals. This advice led to the books' more affluent (shaken not stirred) fare later on. 

For my story, I researched medieval cookbooks and films in addition to the literature of the time after which I added some touches of my own that I believed were entirely possible, and will continue to use in the second volume. In terms of varying the landscape, the work of creating no two sunrises or sunsets the same really took me to task.

Why did you decide to venture into self-publishing?

One reason I decided to self-publish was because I had been turned down multiple times or simply ignored by publishers for other projects. Looking back however, I am grateful since venturing into self-publishing has provided me tremendous scope for controlling every aspect of my work.

What has been the hardest part with promoting your work?

I believe one of the hardest parts of promoting my work is keeping one's mind on the task at hand while waiting for the book to sell. Equally difficult is the job of encouraging people to buy the book, read it and recommend it to their friends. When I really feel down about people not buying my books, I picture Miguel de Cervantes unjustly sentenced and sitting in jail, penniless, a family to support, and the author of one of the greatest books of all time. 

Aside from your question, let me add that when I first graduated with my masters in English Literature, I was at a loss for what to do next. I had been working as a private tutor, primarily for international students, which I still find very rewarding. Yet, I was in a kind of circling and hovering pattern trying to stay a step or two ahead of the bailiff. In desperation, I immersed myself in Cervantes' novel Don Quixote and had a revelation, a kind of inner vision; I saw my life as a puzzle floating around my head in a million pieces and reading Don Quixote brought all the pieces together in a beautiful whole. 

I believe this is what convinced me of the healing, life-affirming power of Literature and of wanting to promote my work for that purpose.

What tips would you give to others considering self-publishing that you wished you knew when you started?

The first tip is to make every effort to ensure that one's punctuation and grammar is correct since revisions can be very costly and compromise one's credibility. The second tip is to be careful of having too high an expectation. We all need some type of expectation and motivation to keep us going. I think that the greatest motivator for beginning and finishing a writing project is to believe with your whole heart and soul that what you have to say has some value. But it saves a lot of heartache not to have too high of an expectation that a book will sell. Unfortunately, writing is rarely the magic bullet for paying the bills (as a rule). However, I believe if we write for the love of the craft, and to help people to feel good about themselves and the world they live in, we begin to move on the right track.

Where can we buy your books?

My books can be purchased through Amazon.com and CreateSpace Direct, also in Oakland California they're availble at BlackSwan Books 4236 Piedmont Avenue.

And there's also a Facebook page for Romana.

Thanks so much for sharing your writer's journey with us, Victoria, I wish you (and Romana) all the best :)

Interview with author Patrick G Cox

Author, Patrick G Cox, is a veteran of the indie publishing scene and I've had the pleasure of working with him a few times, most recently when custom-designing the cover for Pat Cox's latest book, Harry Heron: Midshipman’s Journey.

"Harry Heron: Midshipman's Journey" author: Partick G Cox, cover designer: Kura Carpenter

Q: What is Harry Heron: Midshipman’s Journey about?

The basic story is about two boys from very different social backgrounds growing up, but there’s quite a bit more to it than that. To start with they’re Irish, and though Harry’s family have some connections, they aren’t in possession of wealth and ‘office’. Ferghal, Harry’s companion, is the son of his father’s Head Groom and a Roman Catholic in a period and a place when being a ‘Papist’ barred you from a lot of things. 

As a ‘younger’ son, Harry knows his inheritance will be limited, so he faces the choice of Law, Army or Church for his future. He chooses the Navy, and Ferghal is determined to follow. Thus their ‘growing up’ takes them to London, where Harry must first find a patron and sponsor, then to a ship. With the Peace of Amiens, they transfer to another ship and find themselves sent to Australia and thence to India and Arabia. Adventure is lurking for them at every turn until the ship turns for home again and a resumption of war with France.The story is also an ‘introduction’ to a future world Harry and Ferghal could not have imagined. In the final chapters the reader is given a hint of that future when they meet one of Harry’s descendants, now the Captain of a Starship as he contemplates a replica of the memorial brass dedicated to the memory of Harry and Ferghal.

Q: What sort/age of readers would most enjoy it?

I would really like to think there is something here for readers of all ages, but realistically, I would guess, since it is the ‘introduction to a longer story arc that takes us (and Harry and friends) into the far future, that it will appeal most to Young Adults, those who like ‘historical’ settings and science fiction - because that is where this story is going after this book.

Q: The Napoleonic 1800s is a popular era for historical writers, what is it about this time that draws you as a writer to it?

Probably because it was an era in which men achieved massive feats with only their own muscles, ingenuity and resources to help them. It was an era in which the ‘reach’ of authority vanished at the horizon, once you were out of sight, you were own your own.
Reading the journals of Captains and officers from that time, you get a real sense of the freedom of action they enjoyed. They didn’t have some politician in constant contact trying to micro-manage world shaping events on the other side of the globe. Each Captain was, in effect, a ‘king’, the ruler of everything and everyone on his ship, and he had to be a diplomat as well, representing King and country in distant lands. 

Communications were slow, it took almost six months to send a letter to India for example, and almost the same to Australia. By the time someone in Whitehall or Westminster heard of some event on the other side of the globe, some local commander had either dealt with it, or fallen victim to it. I sometimes think things worked far more effectively than they do now as a result.
What draws me to it, and I suspect other writers, is that it is so rich in larger than life characters. Many of them not from rich and powerful families. A lot, like ‘Captain’ James Cook (his actual rank was Lieutenant), self-made men in command of small handy ships that kept the trade routes open, carried orders to and from the grand fleets and in between achieved some remarkable feats of navigation.

Q: I understand this novel was released some years ago, but has now gone through a complete rewrite and edit. What gave you the push to take on such a big task?

It started out as an attempt to get the original available to readers on Kindle and other e-formats. It was one of my first attempts at a novel and, as Janet Angelo, my editor and publisher, of IndieGo Publishing, quickly pointed out, it had a number of ‘structural’ problems. She felt, and I’m sure she was right, that the combination of the longer science fiction sections with the historic parts created a number of problems for readers. Those who like ‘historic’ settings and stories would not identify with the ‘scifi’ bits and vice versa. She also pointed out that, though there was a good story, it lacked any purpose other than to be an introduction to a future story.

So she persuaded me to write a new start to the book, going right back to Harry’s childhood. Which took me back to Ireland in the 1790s and all the unrest and upheaval of that period that culminated in the two failed French invasions and the bloody uprising that paved the way for the ‘troubles’ still plaguing that beautiful country. With that done, it was time to look hard at the ‘scifi’ element, and in the end I retained only a fraction of it, right at the end, to link this story to the books which follow it in the series. The result is, I think, and I hope readers will agree, a very good story and a good book.

Q: As someone who is a pioneer in self-publishing, what recent changes have you seen that benefit the self-publishing/indie author?

Funny should ask this, I was just reading something about the way the whole publishing industry is changing. It has certainly changed since I first published this book - under a different title I must add. Self-publishing isn’t an ‘easy’ option. For one thing you are venturing a substantial investment in your work, and secondly, selling isn’t just a question of putting the book online or even, if you’re lucky, into shops. There are a lot of sharks in the self-publishing ocean as well, and you do need to make sure you know what you’re buying into when you sign a deal with someone.
Something else to be aware of is that ‘Print on Demand’ cannot compete with traditional printing in terms of pricing. Typically a PoD book will be priced at twice that of a traditionally printed copy. That means your book is unlikely to compete on the shelves of a book store with a Best Selling author’s book from a Traditional publishing house. But, this is where e-formats help. In electronic formats every playing field is level. 

A word of caution though - if you want to sell further books, make sure the formatting, editing and presentation is first class. There are a lot of badly written, badly edited and badly formatted ‘books’ available - and they drag everyone else down.

What has improved, in my view, is there is now more awareness of the pitfalls among would be authors, and there are resources and services available to ‘independent’ authors to get their books polished, edited and hopefully ‘sold’ to a publisher. I have benefited from having an editor with a publishing background on my side. Plot problems, typos, gaps in the story are all things a good editor flags immediately, and as an author, I can address them. This is something that is lacking in many ‘packages’ sold to self published authors.

Ironically, as self-published authors are cleaning up their work, polishing it and making sure it is ‘quality’, many of the traditional publishers seem to be slipping. Maybe it is because I am now conscious of the problems in my own books, I find I’m spotting typos, grammar errors, and other problems in traditionally published work. I’ve even seen glaringly mislabelled captions, entire pages repeated and passages misadjusted in books by famous authors. I’m told this is because many publishers now don’t employ separate ‘proof readers’, but leave it all to an ‘editor’ who may be engaged in dealing with four or five books at the same time.

Q: What tips would you give to others considering self-publishing that you wished you knew when you started?

Get an editor. Listen carefully to what they say about the problems, and the improvements they suggest. 
If you’re using a historic setting, research it. There’s nothing more irritating to many readers than inaccuracy when writing about historic events. Even details of uniforms and ranks are essential, and even modern ships take weeks, not days, to cover long distances, and sailing ships a lot longer. Many years ago I was completely put off the writing of a very good author, by one simply glaring error - he had a sailing ship cover a distance of some four thousand miles round the Cape of Good Hope to reach an island in the Atlantic in a few days.

Write the story, and then edit, edit, edit. Sometimes you really do need to ‘kill’ some beloved part of the narrative you’ve created, simply because it is too long, or not relevant. Then choose your publishing package very carefully. You’ve invested a huge amount of time and effort into creating the book, invest some money into getting the best package - and then be prepared to ‘market’ it. That takes a lot of time and effort, and sometimes money. There are something like 2 million new titles published each year, getting noticed takes a lot of effort, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Q: Can you tell us in on your next writing project?

With pleasure. I have three in hand, two complete - one, also set in the 19th Century and twenty years after Waterloo is with my publisher at the moment - and two more being edited and polished. The book currently going through the pre-publication process is set against the background of the Thames, and the trading barges that carried the goods and some would say the wealth, of Britain to and from London and the crowded shipping in the Port of London. It has crime, corruption, hardship and courage. The research for it was an eye-opener in many ways. I’m hoping to follow this with another 19th Century set novel also revolving around the Thames and the East End of London.

Q: Where can we buy your books?

The books are on sale through any good bookstore, Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble and other online outlets, including of course my publisher IndieGo Publishing
 In electronic formats, it is also available from iTunes, Kobo, and Google Books. A full list with the links is available on my website harryheron.com

Happy reading!

Article on Cover Design

Today I'm sharing some advice on Cover Design Essentials (in my opinion) over on the blog of kiwi writer Darian Smith,
please check it out the article A Book By Its Cover

"Ice Escape" by B.Hale

"Ice Escape" author B Hale, cover designer: Kura Carpenter. www.kuracarpenterdesign.blogspot.co.nzI met Dunedin author Beatrice Hale last year at a talk on publishing ebooks, we had a great chat about writing in general, and I was tickled pinked as they say when she trusted me to create the cover for her first venture into writing for children.

I'm thrilled to be able to let everyone know that Beatrice's debut children's book, Ice Escape, has been released released this week via Smashwords.

Here's what Beatrice had to say about working with me,

"Kura Carpenter has an uncanny ability to read an author's mind, and design a cover which best depicts the story and bring out ideas behind the story. I enjoyed working with Kura enormously, every conversation produced a good result, and the finished product is superb. Eyecatching, riveting, and evocative! Thanks Kura. Let's get on with the next one, please. " - B.Hale, author of Ice Escape
One of the things that I'm sure kids (and their parents) will like about Ice Escape is it's actually based on a real life story. I think it would be perfect as part of a school project: read the novel and then research the real events. Sounds like an A+ waiting to happen.

Please check out Ice Escape on Smashwords , and an interview with Beatrice, HERE.

"Ice Escape" author B. Hale is based on a True Life Story

"Ice Escape" author B Hale testimonial for cover designer: Kura Carpenter. www.kuracarpenterdesign.blogspot.co.nz

Interview with Dunedin Author RL Stedman

I custom designed the ebook cover for RL Stedman's re-releasing of her award-winning novel "A Necklace of Souls" late last year, and today I'm pleased to take time and chat with her about writing.

Dunedin author RL Stedman
Kura: What genre, and what is A Necklace of Souls about?

RL: A Necklace of Souls, a fantasy, is set in a parallel world. It's about a Princess, called Dana, her friend Will, and the necklace that protects their country. Without the necklace, their land would be overrun by an evil Emperor; the necklace is their protection and its wearer the Guardian. But Guardian's do not live long; eventually, the necklace takes its wearer's heart. In A Necklace of Souls, Dana is to be the next Guardian.

What sort/age of readers would most enjoy it?

Ages 13+ . It seems to be enjoyed by two groups - fantasy buffs of any age, and teens aged 13+. If you enjoy fairy-tale retellings, dystopia, or epic fantasy, you'll probably enjoy Necklace.

Where did the idea for the story come from?

A dream. A cliche, I know, but true. I had an image of a girl fighting in a forest. I wanted to know more about her, so I wrote her story. In a sense, the whole book leads up to that one scene.

Which character do you most identify with and why?

Probably Will, the other protagonist in Necklace, is my favourite. He's had to overcome hardship, he's resilient, he's a survivor. He also has a very interesting view of the world. I enjoyed writing from Will's point of view more than Dana's.

What was your favourite and least favourite part in researching for the novel?

Favourite was researching sword fighting and martial arts. I loved watching all these amazing videos on you tube. You can access some of these videos from my pinterest board

My least favourite is still the proof reading. I hate proofing.

"A Necklace of Souls" author RL Stedman, Cover designed by Kura Carpenter A Necklace of Souls was initially published after winning a novel writing competition - the Tessa Duder Award for YA fiction - what tips/advice would you offer other writers entering the same or similar comps?

Competitions are good if a) they come with a review or a critique or b) they aren't too expensive! They also provide a good discipline - nothing like a deadline to get you writing :)

Tell us about the award A Necklace of Souls won.

The Tessa Duder Award for YA fiction is sponsored by Storylines. It carries a cash prize and offer of publication by a major publisher - in my case, HarperCollins NZ.

You have to be unpublished, resident in NZ (the criteria is on the website) and the work has to be a full-length novel suitable for a YA audience. Storylines sponsor a number of awards each year. I won in 2012 and was also shortlisted for the Tom Fitzgibbon Award (for middle grade fiction, ages 9 - 13) in the same year. Winning the Tessa Duder Award gave me a foothold into publishing and an understanding of how the process works that I would have never had otherwise. I am a huge supporter of Storylines; they are an amazing institution.

After success in mainstream publishing, why did you decide to venture into self-publishing?

I'm interested in self-publishing because I like knowing I'm writing directly for my reader.
Self-pubing allows me to present work that I think is innovative and different without having to jump the very very time consuming hurdles of slush piles and acquistions meetings. (these can take a year. I'm not kidding. Twelve months for a rejection is not at all uncommon). Personally, I think self-publishing will end up dominating the mid-list; the statistics certainly suggest that market share of self-pubbers is increasing.
It's slow to be accepted in New Zealand but it's becoming more accepted overseas.

What has been the hardest part with promoting your work?

Time. And money!

What tips would you give to others considering self-publishing that you wished you knew when you started?

Don't expect to get rich overnight. If you get any sales at all, you're doing well. it's a very crowded market. Unless you're lucky or famous, I think best to aim for breaking even at about 5 years.

Quality is absolutely paramount. Reviewers are much much harder on self-published work than on work coming through a trad house. You have to prove yourself with self-published; trad work already has a brand supporting it. So you must write the best work you possibly can.

Formatting, proofing, printing, distribution are a steep learning curve. And you need to be comfortable on a computer.

I have more tips set out on my blog, which you can access through my website: RLStedman.com

Inner Fire by Dunedin author RL StedmanWhat else have you had published, and what is coming up?

I've published two works - A Necklace of Souls and Inner Fire. Later this year (2015) I hope to bring out A Skilful Warrior, the sequel to Necklace. It's darker than Necklace, because in it my characters, Will and Dana, have left their country and have to cope in the wider world. 

If time allows, I'd also like to bring out Ghost School. Shortlisted for the Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2012, Ghost School is a crazy middle grade adventure about friendship, ghosts and technology. I'm looking foward to that one!! I'm also working on another YA, called Chasing Harsh Light, but that won't be ready for absolutely ages.

Where can we buy your books?

Inner Fire is available on order at bookstores in New Zealand and available through Amazon. 

A Necklace of Souls can be spotted in the HarperCollins version at Paperplus and can be purchased on Amazon

I will be bringing out a print version of Necklace in a few months, which will also be able to be purchased through Amazon and Book Depository, so watch this space.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s been a pleasure chatting today.

And for everyone out there you stay up-to-date by following RL Stedman on Twitter at @rlstedman and on Facebook 

A Necklace of Souls - RL Stedman

Happy New Year! I'm very pleased to be able to share the new book cover I custom-designed for A Necklace of Souls by local Dunedin author RL Stedman (whom I hope to interview during February.)

The cover design project of A Necklace of Souls was completed late last year, and the novel is available now in ebook format HERE.

More details about RL's award-winning writing can be found through her website and see the great reviews of ANoS on the Goodreads page, so go become a fan, because I know I am :)

custom book cover design "A necklace of Souls" author RL Stedman, cover artist: Kura Carpenter

"Kura did a great job of designing the book cover for A Necklace of Souls, even giving me coffee to keep me sane and being patient with my indecision. Kura understands what designs will sell; in less than 30 days, e-sales have been steadily positive." - RL Stedman, author of A Necklace of Souls