Monday, March 14, 2016

And Speaking of Conspiracies... Happy DST!

The other day, The Passive Voice featured an interesting interview with Barry Eisler about researching conspiracies for books. Eisler said -and I agree- that while investigating conspiracies can be a lot of fun, sometimes you find out things that are a little frightening. Things maybe you didn't expect to be true, or just hadn't ever considered. Today's subject isn't really frightening, but it certainly is irritating.

Happy Daylight Savings Time...

For those who don't know, DST is the practice here in the U.S.A. of setting the clocks back an hour in the spring and returning them to standard time in the fall. According to our brilliant elected leaders, this practice saves candle tallow... er, wait... energy, by giving us more daylight. They felt so certain about this that a few years ago they even lengthened DST by a couple months, adding several weeks in the spring and fall. DST officially began this Sunday and won't end until October... or is it November now? I'm too tired to look it up.

My family woke up this morning to a dark and chilly home. Darker than last week, thanks to DST. By the time I was up, my wife already had the heater on, and a number of lights turned on. I got up and showered, and my children got out of bed, and we proceeded to turn on pretty much every light in the house. These are lights and heat that we hadn't used in weeks. Thereby saving energy by using them for a few more weeks. Wait, what?

Meanwhile, millions of people all across this great and beautiful country did the exact same thing. They turned on lights -and maybe heaters- that hadn't been necessary for a month or so. Then, bleary-eyed with exhaustion, they headed out to work or school. Today, there will be more accidents than usual. Some of those people will crash their cars on the way to work. Some will get in accidents at work, or on their way home this evening. The number of fatal heart attacks will rise. The number of workplace injuries will rise. The number of on-the-job mistakes will rise, costing companies money. Also, a higher than usual number of people will show up late, or not bother to show up at all, all because of this helpful little practice we call Daylight Savings Time.

Everything I've stated here so far is fact. Studies have proven that accidents, injuries, and deaths all rise for at least a week proceeding the switch to DST. This costs our economy millions of dollars, and hundreds of human lives. You can read about them here, here, or here. Or Here.

Admittedly, on the face of it, DST seems pretty harmless. So we have to get up an hour earlier for half the year. What's the big deal? But then you start looking at the facts, and it makes you wonder what all those politicians were thinking. Of course, the mind instantly jumps to the usual response: Politicians are just bungling incompetents who screw up more than they fix because they're so desperate to look busy. But wait a minute. You and I know that when you drag a couple hundred million people out of bed early, in the dark, it's going to cost you in both money and injuries. That much is common sense, isn't it? How is it possible that these privileged, ivy-league educated politicians (many of them lawyers!) couldn't figure that out? We even have studies proving that fact. These leaders of ours can read a study, can't they? Of course they can!

So what is their motivation? It has been said we should never attribute to malice that which can be ascribed to incompetence. When asked why we have Daylight Savings Time and why we expanded the season, every single politician will tell you it was to save energy. This leaves us faced with the option that either these politicians are ignorant of the facts, or that they're liars. I'm not entirely willing to discount the former, but a good argument can be made for the latter. An old rule of thumb in politics: Follow the Money. So where, in this circumstance, can we find the money?

An obvious answer would be energy companies. They know better than anyone that when we switch to DST, we actually use more energy than before. This translates to profits for them. Increased revenue every spring without lifting a finger. And of course, when there's money to be made, getting a law passed in your favor isn't exactly heavy lifting. It's a well-known fact that most of our politicians in the U.S. are bought and paid for by lobbyists and big corporations. Does that jive with the facts we have so far? Check, and check.

Now, I'm not saying for a fact that we have DST because our corrupt politicians are getting kickbacks from energy companies. I certainly can't prove it, and frankly I don't have the energy or resources to launch a full-on investigation. And if I did, nobody would really care. Because nobody considers it a big deal, and when you rant about it -like I just have- they tend to give you that "Oh, another crazy conspiracy theorist" look. And they always will, until they're presented with the facts from a news source they trust, like FOX or MSNBC. Don't hold your breath for that to happen. In the meanwhile, we'll all pay a little more on the heating and electricity bills. More cars will get totaled. More people will be injured and some even killed. But hey, there will be plenty of candle tallow to go around.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Karma Covers: 2016

The focus of this post begins where the last post left off. I'm going to look at the changes I've made to Karma Crossed over the years. One of the difficulties I've had with this cover is that there were so many elements I've always wanted to integrate into it. The main character Jonah -who is sort of a superhero- seemed obvious. So did the '68 Dodge Charger, a vehicle which in my humble opinion is worthy of a thousand covers. But then there were the other elements.

This story, after all, is a supernatural urban fantasy. It involves witches and werewolves and magic; all the usual stuff you find in urban fantasy, plus a heavy dose of Christian/pagan mythology. Plus monsters, magic, beautiful women, and a little bit of a mystery. So where to start?

My first Karma cover was an obvious Photoshop job (or to be more accurate, a Gimp job) with simple fonts and images. I don't think it was a terrible place to start. In fact, if I'd been a little more experienced I can think of a few things I may have done to greatly improve this cover. Even so, I never was really happy with it.

So I moved on to some different stuff:

This time, I went all out. Crazy fonts, bright colors, fiery yin-yang symbol in the back, and a full-on 3d rendering of the main character. Unfortunately, a lot of good ideas combined into a cover where everything sort of went wrong. The worst part, in my opinion, is Jonah. The model never did look quite right, nor did the lighting. I still think the fonts are cool, but it would have been best to follow the old rule of using only one fancy/exotic font per cover. This cover is a perfect example of why that rule is so strictly adhered to.

Moving on... this variation on the previous version has a bit more to offer. I did a better job with the fonts and the beautiful witch front and center is certainly eye-catching, although far from perfect. Unfortunately, all the bright colors are eye-catching, too. The reds, oranges, and yellows are just overwhelming, and the contrast that was meant to make the cover pop in small sizes becomes blinding at full size. The result is that the fonts just sort of disappear. They're actually hard to read. The cover would have been better without Jonah and the car, also. Too much clutter.

Which brings us to my latest attempt.

This time, I toned down the colors as well as the clutter. I started with a whole new concept; something simple but subtly conflicted: an angel with black wings and a tattoo of a cross. The idea here is to raise lots of questions and entice readers to take a closer look.

The angel's posture implies a sense of deep thought, or possibly remorse or anger. The color of his wings and his tattoo both imply that he is a bad angel... or maybe a good angel who's misunderstood? Hopefully, the reader will feel compelled to delve deeper into this story and find out what the symbolism is all about. Also, you might notice that I've retained a couple very important elements from earlier versions. The cross is still there, but so is the yin-yang symbol. Trust me, it's there. Can you find it?

I like the new cover a lot, but I'm not sold on it one hundred percent. I think there might be better fonts, for example, but I just haven't been able to find them. But even as it is, I think this is going to be a lot more accessible for the average reader who's looking for a supernatural-type urban fantasy.

In keeping with the update, I've also done a minor revision to remove a lot of the profanity. I had forgotten (or maybe never really noticed) how much cursing there was. That's not unusual in this genre, so I suppose I was probably just following the lead of others who came before me. Reflecting back on it, I really don't see any reason so much profanity is necessary. Not that I get deeply offended by it, but... how can I explain it? I've written before about how swearing is really just using a crude version of another, more socially acceptable word. It's silly to be offended by one word and not another if they both have the same meaning. But some people are, and because of that, other people enjoy using profanity. They do it so they can watch the offended party squirm. And when a writer uses too much profanity, that's how it comes across. Like he just wants to offend somebody. Whether it's true or not, it doesn't matter. If it pulls readers out of the story, it's bad. One of the most important rules of writing is that the author should be invisible. Get out of the way and let the readers enjoy the story. So, to that end, I've cleaned the book up a little.

I've also redone the blurb, which I'll post below. If you already own this title you should be able to update your cover by deleting it from your device (but not your account!) and then re-downloading. If you don't own it yet, Karma Crossed is back in the Kindle lending library. You can borrow it for free if you have Amazon Prime, or you can wait for it to go on sale. I'll try to post a notice here when that happens. Or, you could just buy a copy. It's only $2.99, and that ain't bad for over 300 pages of witches, werewolves, and fallen angels. It's also available in paperback!

There are angels and demons. Then there are those caught between.

There are Angels and Demons. Then there are those caught between...

In the battle between heaven and hell, those trapped in the middle suffer the most. It's Jonah's job to help them. Jonah's mysterious past may have something to do with his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, but unfortunately, nobody's perfect. When Jonah fails to save the life of a Berkeley professor, the consequences may be cosmic.

Jonah wants to set things right, but it's hard enough when you're being attacked by angels, demons, and renegade magicians.Throw in a pack of werewolves and a beautiful but deadly sorceress, and things are bound to get nasty...

Buy it here.