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Fantasy Covers: Doin’ it Right?

My thanks to everyone who’s been contributing to the fantasy cover discussion, both here and elsewhere.

One of the things that came up in comment discussion was that in addition to talking about covers which are problematic, it’s just as important if not more so to look at covers that work.  Many of the following links and images come out of yesterday’s comments.  Thanks again to everyone who suggested them.

ETA: The fact that I picked these covers does not mean they’re Good And Right, or that everyone must approve.  My taste is my own, and I have blind spots like anyone else, so please feel free to disagree.

oldcharliebrown pointed to a gallery of old Realms covers.  While a lot of the old covers are frankly painful, there are some good ones as well. I really like the first cover below, though it doesn’t necessarily feel like fantasy. But I think it’s a great image on many levels, and very evocative. As for the second, well, you can’t go wrong with Xena, right? Realms has always had a bit of a media focus, but given some of the more feminist stories within the magazine, I think Xena was a very good choice.

Another commenter brought up Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress books, which have done a great job of … well, actually clothing our heroines for more than 25 years.  To me, a lot of these covers portray women who are strong and beautiful without the need for the helpless half-naked damsel trope.

The Chicks in Chainmail series from Esther Friesner is an interesting one.  Instead of trying to avoid the bikini warrior women, these books take the whole concept and completely invert the power and dynamics.  Of the five books in the series, these two are my favorite covers.

  

dirigibletrance pointed to this cover from Psychology Today, which earned a number of “I’d buy that magazine!” comments.

I debated posting one of my own covers, then decided the heck with it.  Personally, I really like the way Scott Fischer captured the characters.  I could have done without Talia’s cleavage, but overall, I like the aura of competence and confidence he put into this.

I liked the cover of Jade Dragon, by Jenn Reese.  No clothes at all, but it doesn’t feel exploitative to me.  It’s not that nudity per se is necessarily bad or sexist or anything like that.  This feels appropriate for the book (fantasy/romance), and I thought it was a good cover.

As a reader, which of these would make you pick up the magazine/book?  What works, what would you like to see more of, and what other examples are out there that I’ve missed?  (This was only a sampling.  I know there are a lot of other good covers.)

Sexism is Not About Your Ego

I linked yesterday to Tempest’s post about the disproportionate number of scantily-clad females on Realms of Fantasy’s covers, and the mermaid gracing the new issue of the relaunched ‘zine.  Last night, Doug Cohen posted a response.

Doug is the new art director for Realms, as well as being the long time editorial assistant for the magazine.  I’ve worked with him a few times, and he struck me as a generally nice guy, one who cared a lot about the magazine and was always willing to go the extra mile, reading and commenting on my stories even when they were getting an automatic pass up to the editor.

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s the nicest guys who fail the hardest when it comes to discussions of sexism, racism, and so on.  “I’m a nice guy!  How dare you call me sexist!”  [Insert image of face-melting fury at the injustice of such a horrific accusation here.]  We then get to hear all about how these accusations are utter nonsense, and don’t you dare judge me, and the accuser is unfair and angry and mean. More

Open Link Thread

A little brain-fried this morning.  I did another 6000+ words on the rewrite over the weekend, which left little time for coming up with brilliant blog ideas.  (On the bright side, after a year on the book and with less than a month until deadline, I’m getting closer to actually figuring out Red Riding Hood’s character…)

So today, ya get links:

The anthology Gamer Fantastic came out while I was on vacation.  This one includes my story “Mightier than the Sword,” which marks Smudge’s triumphant return to a SF convention.

My Facebook buddy Pablo Ramos has created one of the most entertaining costumes I’ve seen in a while.  He had already put together a delightful Big Boy costume.  Now he’s created something even better: the Big Boy Jedi.  (I copied the thumbnail over, but you’ll probably need a Facebook account to see the details.)

The NCADV/Mermaid’s Madness auction is up to $105, which means in addition to the Mermaid ARC, the winner will also receive another of my books.  (Winner’s choice.)

Tempest challenges a long-standing and frustrating trend at Realms of Fantasy. (Alternate title: Tempest demands more man-butt.) Add my voice to those who are tired of the boob/cleavage emphasis. Realms is a good ‘zine and deserves better.

And … um … that’s all I’ve got.  So I’ll make this an open thread.  If you’ve got a project or link you’d like to share, here’s your chance.

Diabetes Details 1

This is one of those blog posts where I have no idea if anyone else will be interested, but it’s something I felt like talking about.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been diabetic (type 1) for a little over ten years.  My father was diagnosed with the same thing back when I was born, so in a way, I’ve been living with this thing for my whole life.

What fascinated me when I was diagnosed was how much I had never noticed before.  I knew in a vague way what diabetes was and how it could affect you.  I knew about keeping insulin in the fridge and daily shots and blood sugar checks and your spouse shoving Peppermint Patties into your mouth at two in the morning because you miscalculated the dosage for lasagna.

But I didn’t notice the smaller things. 

More

Roundup & Potentially Obnoxious Publicity

1. In less than 24 hours, the Mermaid’s Madness auction for NCADV is up to $65.  Y’all are awesome.  That is all.

2. My friend Pearl North has a new YA novel out from Tor Teen called Libyrinth [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  I think I want to live in this world:

For as long as she can remember, Haly has heard the voices of the books.  Growing up in the Libyrinth, a library so large that people sometimes get lost in it and never come out, she has been surrounded by words and stories her entire life.

3. I’m not happy, but I’ve asked for and received a two-week extension on Red Hood’s Revenge.  In the larger scheme of things, this shouldn’t make much of a difference.  Sometimes it’s more than two weeks before the editor has a chance to read the manuscript anyway.  And given how lousy the writing is going this week, I think it’s better to have the cushion.  It still makes me grumpy, though.

Potentially Obnoxious Publicity Questions:Yesterday I posted a graphic for the Mermaid auction, along with the code for folks to copy and repost.  Partly I did this just because it amused me to stick purple ribbons onto my characters, but the real goal was obviously to get some links back to the auction and spread the word.  (Huge thanks to those of you who did so, by the way!)

At what point does this sort of thing become annoying to you personally?  Reading through my own friends list, I saw where several entries in a row with my own graphic.  When does “effective word of mouth” become too much and turn into “if I see this crap one more time I’m gonna drive to Michigan and crotchpunch this guy!”

It’s tricky.  Someone with a large blogroll will tend to see the same promo a lot, whereas less obsessive blog readers might only come across it once.  From my standpoint, I want to reach as many people as I can, but I don’t want to piss them off in the process.

Ideally, when Mermaid comes out, I think the ENTIRE INTERNET should be talking about it.  Realistically, I’m working on ideas that would hopefully generate some buzz and links, but would also provide unique content as opposed to simply repeating the same graphic, interview, or link 100+ times.  Even so, there’s still an oversaturation risk, and I want to be aware of that.

What do you think?  What works, what doesn’t, and where is the line?

Mermaid’s Madness Auction to Benefit NCADV

Last year, I auctioned off an autographed Advance Review Copy of The Stepsister Scheme to raise money for National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  With ARCs in hand for The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], I’m doing the same thing.  The themes of the series in general and this book in particular make NCADV a perfect recipient for this fundraiser.

Rather than using eBay again (and letting them take a portion of the funds), I’m going to try hosting the auction on my own site.  Please post your bid in the comments at http://www.jimchines.com/2009/07/mermaid-auction/ no later than midnight EST on July 23. 

The rules:

  1. Starting bid is $5.
  2. Bids need to be in at least $1 increments (though you’re welcome to go higher).  No penny ante $5.01 bidding wars, please.
  3. Make sure you include a valid e-mail address (which won’t be published).
  4. Bids must be placed at the jimchines.com address.  Bids at LJ, Facebook, Dreamwidth, or anywhere else the blog is syndicated won’t count, ’cause that gets way too confusing.
  5. I’ll mail the ARC to the winner within 2 business days of receiving payment.

I’ll mail the winner an autographed ARC of the book.  If bidding exceeds $100, I’ll throw in an autographed copy of another of my books (your choice) to go with it.

If you don’t want to bid but still feel like donating, the NCADV donations page is at http://www.ncadv.org/donate.php

Please feel free to spread the word, either by copying and pasting the code below, or simply mentioning the auction on your blog.  Thanks in advance, everyone!

Vacation Wrapup

My wife laughs at me for ripping open all of the mail the instant we get home from vacation.  Sure, some people might want to get some sleep at midnight after a seven-hour drive.  I am not those people.  I mean, come on!  After a week and a half away, the pile o’ mail included:

We also came home to find the new playset assembled in the backyard.  The deductible will sting a bit, but the insurance company covered most (not all, sigh) of the damage from the storm, including sending contractors to set the thing up.  I spent Sunday mowing the jungle while the kids explored the new playset.

Vacation itself was very nice, as you can see.  I got about 20,000 more words done on the Red Hood rewrite, as well as finishing the page proofs for Mermaid, but I also had time to relax with the family.  There were parades, swimming in Lake Superior, a few small fireworks, various kid’s day events, strawberry picking, late night cribbage, a little reading … and yes, I did squeeze a quick booksigning event in at the end.  Still, I might be starting to get the hang of this whole vacation concept.

Tune in soon for a chance to get your very own Mermaid ARC 🙂

On Turning a Blind Eye

Before I left on vacation, I was planning to do a post about the sexist aspects of Transformers 2.  I enjoyed the movie, but it has some seriously problematic aspects, from our opening shot of Megan Fox on the motorcycle to the Decepticon pantybot* to the Infinite Dorm of Gorgeous Girls.

But as I was reading other reviews and commentary, I kept coming across the same reactions.  “It’s just a summer action flick.  What did you expect from a Michael Bay movie?  Stop analyzing and just have fun!  Why do you have to suck the fun out of everything with this P.C. garbage?”

I find it interesting which stories people believe are worthy of literary analysis and critique.  The attitude seems to be that critical analysis is best left for dusty old tomes in the ivory tower.  Joyce, Melville, Shakespeare, and so on.  If we’re going to think about movies, we’re supposed to limit it to the highbrow art-house films.

Maybe I’m crazy, but that seems backwards to me.  How many people actually read Joyce these days?  Compare that to the number of people who went out to see Transformers.  So wait, we’re saying discussions of racism, sexism, and so on are fine, so long as they’re not about the stories most people are actually reading or watching.

I don’t write deep literary fiction.  My books have flaming spiders and nose-picking injuries and Sleeping Beauty & the Little Mermaid kicking the crap out of each other.  Because my stories are “bubblegum fiction,” as one reviewer described them, does this mean I should be given a free pass on issues of race, sex, and so on?  Because I find that a little insulting, to be honest.  When I screw up–and we all do sometimes–I expect to be called on it.

I understand these discussions can be uncomfortable, especially if we’ve enjoyed the story in question.  I’m still struggling with major dissonance over Transformers.  I have serious problems with the stereotypes and clichés in this thing.  I also had a lot of fun watching it.  What does it say about me if I enjoyed a movie while at the same time finding it problematic on so many levels?

Personally, I believe it’s important to examine and challenge popular culture, whether that’s movies, TV, books, music, or whatever**.  It’s important because it’s popular.  Because racism and sexism have survived and thrived in large part because we make excuses and turn a blind eye.

—–
*Decepticons can create perfect human doubles, and the best plan they can come up with is to send her to hop into bed with Sam?

**I say this as a man who wrote about Darth Vader in my Master’s thesis.

Vacation and LOLPrime

Tomorrow morning we head off on vacation.  I’ll be away from cellphone signals, wireless … not even reliable land lines to dial out and connect.

I’m sure I’ll be sneaking out with the laptop to hunt the Wild Wireless Signal of Northern Michigan from time to time, but there will be little blogging for the next week and a half, and if you e-mail me, don’t expect an instant response.

In the meantime, negative reviews or other complaints should be directed to my friend Optimus.

Bookscan

Busy day, so this is gonna be quick.

Agent Andrew Zack blogged the other day about Bookscan, a service to track and report book sales: The Lie that is Bookscan.

My own agent, Joshua Bilmes, has posted his own thoughts, disagreeing with Zack’s assessment: A Bookscanner Darkly

Personally, I tend to agree with Joshua, and not just because he sells my books.  As far as I know, most writers, publishers, and agents know perfectly well that Bookscan represents a percentage of total sales, and that percentage could be anywhere from 70-80% for one author but under 50% for another. Bookscan seems to capture a lower fraction of mine, since I do better with independents.

I don’t think Bookscan ever claimed to report ALL sales. It’s more data than anything else I’ve seen, save from the publisher itself, but it’s definitely not 100% of my sales.

A publisher using Bookscan as the sole criterion for rejecting an author (as described in Zack’s post) is troubling, but I see that as a problem with the publisher, not with Bookscan.

(I do still track and graph my Bookscan numbers every week to fulfil my neurotic validation needs, of course. They don’t tell me actual sales, but they do help me see trends.)

Jim C. Hines