Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Art of Flower Town

I am ridiculously blessed in that I spend time with a lot of incredibly talented people. Authors, artists, actresses, magicians, musicians, apothecaries, metal- and glass-workers fill my world. I love that so much. Sometimes, I get even luckier, though, and am able to collaborate with an artist. That happened on The Art of Flower Town, which was inspired by "Charlotte and Daisy." I couldn't be more pleased with the results. The artist is Thomas Lamkin Jr., who also does incredible book covers for Line By Lion, photography and digital work for numerous special events, and has one of the keenest eyes I've seen. He's also pretty easy on the eyes, which makes working with him even more fun. You can find his work at He was kind enough to talk with me about his work on this project, and you can read the interview below.

 So, what is "The Art of Flower Town?"

The Art of Flower Town is a series of digitally created images loosely based on the novel "Charlotte & Daisy". I say "loosely" because none of the images will be found directly described in the story; these are things happening just around the corner, or down the block, or later that night. Only one image comes straight from a scene in the novel - the windmills. I just couldn't resist that one.

I like the windmill scene a lot, too. It's one of my favorites. What inspired you to do this?

  • The inspiration comes from the book itself, and the author's energy while writing it. Being able to read portions of it, in process, as well as hear her describe the world around Charlotte's adventures, really made Flower Town feel real.Of course there are echoes of Flower Town in most major cities, and Louisville is no exception.
  • Can you tell us a bit about the process? Where did you get your images? How did you "create" Flower Town? 
  • The pictures came from a blend of places. The original photography came from a photoshoot with the author in Downtown Louisville - it was supposed to just be exploration and looking for good locations and elements we could use. But then we kept finding perfect images, and the lighting was just right, and everything fell into place. Then I pulled elements from stock photography, or created details and effects digitally to complete the look and bring Flower Town into frame. I wanted each image to hint at even more going on off-screen.
  • Is there anything that you'd like to create that you haven't yet?
  • I'd like to maybe do some images of the inner circles, the places that are sterile and uncomfortable to Charlotte because they've been stripped of life and energy in the name of control. The Cybers that are too pretty and always judgemental, the doctors with their noses against clipboards instead of seeing their patients, and the bright blue of halogen bulbs in every chrome hallway. Maybe even try some larger city views, or what it looks like between the circles. Or even outside the circles!
  • What was your favorite part? 
  • My favorite part of the process was being able to collaborate with the author for each step. Her excitement about Charlotte and her world is infectious. It also has real-world applications, since this story is a wonderful way to give insight into the world of those close to us who are dealing with anxiety and depression and other forms of mental illness that are difficult to talk about. Here is a story, a work of fiction, that can open up conversations that need to be had. I like being able to help open up those lines of communication for people.
  • What else do you have planned?
  • As for other projects, I have a couple of photoshoots that I am excited to work on with a set of models in interesting locations. One set will be an attempt at recreating folklore with a dash of fantasy elements or a twist on the expected. The other set is one we're calling "Domestic Goddesses" with some lovely ladies in pinup style clothes and glamorous makeup - doing the things they deal with every day that maybe aren't so glamorous. Of course I am always at my computer painting the images in my mind and trying to recreate a cover image from an author's mind.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Charlotte and Daisy - An Introduction (Part One)

This week I got a shipment of books in the mail. My books. My newest book.  Not books for my publishing house, but books that I had actually written. It's been a very long time since I've had that feeling. Years, in fact. I was surprised to find that this one felt different from the last. It felt. . . bigger, somehow. More satisfying. I was with a dear friend when I opened the box, and after watching me for a while he said something that made a lot of sense. "You don't act like this is another book. You act like this is your first. 'Hunter' doesn't feel real to you does it?" And the answer is yes. .. and no. "Hunter the Horrible" is fantastic for what it is - an easy, commercial bit of brain candy that I wrote to prove that I could do it, and that sells very well. This, though? This is real. Velveteen rabbit real. I would like to tell you about it.

It all started about 25 years ago. (Bear with me, this will make sense.) My mom caught me reading a V.C. Andrews book. I didn't like it. I was actually pretty disturbed by it. However, I had read everything my school library had to offer, and all of my books were dogeared and worn with use and this was something that I was able to snatch from my stepmonster's bookcase and it was new and so there I was. At first she was furious, but she listened. She understood. Then she took me downstairs and pulled four books out of an old box of her things from high school. One of them, I didn't like. Three sit on my bookcase today and have affected me profoundly. Of those, one was "Flowers for Algernon." It was, and remains, one of my favorite books and is truly a modern masterpiece. I loved Charlie. I cheered for him and wept with him. My heart pounded as I pondered what it would be like to experience all that he did. That was the first piece.

Later, I joined a flash fiction writing challenge called The Iron Writer. Man, I loved that site, back in the day. The second challenge I entered required that I include a clockwork geisha, among other things. So, in that, Flower Town was born. It was a dystopian wreck of a place, a tourist town and New Japan gone to seed. A tiny little piece of a tiny piece of fiction. I didn't even win. Yet, Flower Town stuck with me. I couldn't seem to shake it. It just kept showing up, everywhere. That was the second piece.

Fast forward a year or so from then, and I was talking to a man named Brick Marlin, one of the authors I am lucky enough to represent, a great friend, and all around cool dude. He told me he was thinking of basing a character on me, one that had a brain implant that caused her to turn into a super badass when provoked. "Yeah," I said, "but knowing my luck it would glitch." We laughed and moved on to something else, but in that moment a seed was planted. And that seed grew. And it turned into kudzu in my brain. So, I abandoned the book that I was writing (Sorry, Tony Pepperoni and Hauseman Guild fans) to write what I was certain would be a short story. That short story took two years and over 70K words and culminated in the glorious piece of repurposed trees that I got in the mail this week.

Tomorrow, I will introduce you to Charlotte, and Aidian, and Basanti. And Daisy. Most of all, perhaps, Daisy. For tonight, though, tell me. .. where did you get your inspiration?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Marketing: My Achilles' heel

I like to think I'm a pretty good publisher. I'm not the biggest or the best, but for a company that has yet to celebrate its third birthday, we are doing well. I find some really good stories, or stories with good potential. I care about my authors who have entrusted me with their works; probably more than what is good for me, truth be told, but they're happy and that makes me happy, so I'm not changing that anytime soon. I have amazing, talented, loyal people who make up my core team, and while I don't credit myself AT ALL for their talent or awesomeness, I've somehow earned their loyalty and that says something. Our books are attractive, and well-done.

Do you know what I can't seem to figure out, though? Marketing. It's my Achilles heel. Don't get me wrong; in person I can sell books like crazy. I somehow get over all of my social "AAAHHHHHHHS" and find a way to make people spend their hard-earned money on book that they didn't even know existed. That's pretty cool. But at some point I want to be able to sell books without spending weeks living in a tent, or putting on make-up or standing for 14 hours at a time talking to 45 different versions of Captain America. I want the books to sell while I sleep. I want to watch those numbers climb seemingly by magic. That? That I can't seem to get. One of the problems is the timeline. You see, to get into any of the big, national book reviews you have to send bound galleys three to four months before publication. Three to four months!That means that the book has to be ready for publication four to five months before it is to be published. My contract states that I have one year from signing to publication, which means then that I have seven to eight months to have the book edited, formatted, and the cover created. Which doesn't seem much in itself. It takes about 3 months after all to do all of this. But see, there's a queue. Books are constantly being worked on but the simple fact is that we are a small press and everyone involved has at least one other job. Royalties happen four months out of the year, and there's no money left in those four to pay  the people who need to be paid. So, while we are working towards this becoming more of a possibility, the simple fact is that it isn't right now. Then there's Twitter and Facebook. There are people who understand the analytics and how to make posts turn into clicks and clicks into sales, but I am not one of them. I have hired three PR firms to do what I cannot, but I've also had three PR firms let me down. I'm kind of stumped, there. I haven't seen blog tours do much, despite their popularity. The small press/indie author blog world is pretty darn interconnected and we are all in the same boat, So, while we do our best to support one another, the big numbers just aren't there.

So, for right now I'm pounding the pavement and finding more and better venues to sell in person, because that's what I know I can do. But, I'd like to hear your thoughts. What sort of marketing tools do you use? What works for you? What would you like to see me try?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Life is Weird

Life? Life is weird.

When I started this blog, I was reasonably happy at my little hobby farm, milking goats and finding where the chickens had hidden their nests and stomping around the creek. I didn't imagine ever doing anything different. But then I opened this publishing house that started to gain a little bit of traction, and the man I was married to said that he couldn't work on our issues while he was working 70 hours a week. So this idea, this tiny insane seed of an idea took root in my mind and germinated at a speed that would probably seem insane to someone else but is about on par for me. Before I knew it we were taking our animals to auction and getting rid of our house and buying, of all things a tent.

So I became a professional gypsy. I've spent time schilling in Key West, living in the backyard of a professional hippie pirate and sharing space with his 7 foot python, Jake. Holding down my tent with both hands to keep it from blowing away. Riding to the top of the arch in St. Louis. Hanging out with a Voodoo priest in New Orleans. In my travels I have meet some of the best people I've ever known, and discovered a strength in myself that I never knew existed. And it was amazing and I was deliriously happy with most parts of it and I couldn't imagine doing anything different.

But life is weird. What started as a vague unhappiness became a soul-crushing weight. A constant heartpunch (which is kinda like a gutpunch but more unpleasant). So I looked at the man who had promised me forever. Who  once brought me more joy, more feeling of completion than I had ever thought possible. With whom I had born kids, adopted kids, buried kids. And I told him that, one way or another the pain had to stop. Had to. It didn't. So I said it again. He picked the way. And I found myself buying a house sight-unseen and finding ways to keep income incoming and sorting through all of our stuff by myself on the floor so I could pack his away until he has a place and/or need for it.

Which brings me to now. Now I am balancing gypsy life with stability, or trying to anyway. I am healing from the past, which mixes a bit too much with the present at times, and even while I grieve that I am so, so excited about the future. So grateful for the things I've learned. Like, that there are those who see me, really see me, even when everything is so convoluted that I can't see myself. That there are those who want to help, but you have to be willing to actually admit that something is wrong. And I'm able to come back to my kids and be the mom I've always wanted to be, if not in the fashion I wanted to be it, because I'm not always tired and hurt and angry anymore. My heart breaks for them, I regret the pain that I've caused, the one pain I swore I would never inflict on them and I'm so so sorry that it had to be this way, but I'm watching them grow and thrive and taking heart in the fact that this is what is best for them. A dear friend and amazing author told me that she knew that "I would never have done this unless not doing it would be worse," and I cannot agree with her more. But I'm watching them become even more amazing through all of this, and that brings me a bit of peace. Somewhere along the line I started to think that maybe I have things to say that people might like to read. So I'm back.

I'm back.  I'm finding my way back to myself and picking my way forward. I've bought this giant, old diamond-in-the-rough of a house, and I'm going to try my best to find some balance. Feed the homebody in all of us. Feed the gypsy in all of us. I imagine that you will get to hear a lot about momming, and publishing, and writing, and travelling. I imagine that I'll make jokes that only few will get or try for witty and fall short. I imagine sometimes I'll write things I probably shouldn't, give glimpses into life that maybe should stay blinded. I imagine sometimes I'll disappear for longer than I should. I imagine all of those things, and more.  But I've given up on not imagining.

Because life? Life is weird.