That’s What Matters — Tatyana – 8/24/2016

My friend Tatyana is an admirable woman and a talented writer with things to say. Today she wrote with passion and vehemence about a topic that concerns us all, but on which she speaks with great authority.

One Year of Letters

14066342_1795769447305560_4881703012000158585_o#ThatsWhatMatters

August 24, 2016

Do you believe black lives matter?

Do you believe white lives matter?

Do you believe all lives matter?

Well, I’m here to tell you that your answers, be they affirmative or not, don’t matter. Why? Because those questions don’t matter. And since this is the case, no answer you give matters either. But why am I saying this?

I am a young black woman. Growing up in America, I have lived through thousands of mass shootings and hate crimes. Many I’ve never even heard about. Recently, however, I’ve become hyper-aware of them. It seems like every single day when I open my laptop and check my email, there’s another one in the news. Black man, armed or unarmed, shot and killed. A young black boy, shot and killed. While some focus on guns, others focus on race.

I focus on reactions.

There is emotion on both…

View original post 1,353 more words

The Problem with Male Protagonists

Leia

Recently on Writer Unboxed, Jo Eberhardt wrote about “The Problem With Female Protagonists.” She cites some research in which both men and women perceive women to “dominate” conversations in which the women speak substantially less often and for less time than men, and also relates an anecdote in which her nine-year-old son asked, “Why do we only ever read books with girl main characters?” The question caused Eberhardt to count books in the family library featuring male vs female protagonists, and she found that the majority of books on both the children’s and adults’ shelves were headlined by males. The difference between perception and reality was the “problem” Eberhardt refers to in her title. Many readers believe female protagonists dominate the bookstore shelves these days, but in fact male authors and male MCs still hold the majority and the advantage when it comes to readers’ acceptance and accolades.

A few days later, I saw the above Star Wars meme and its accompanying threads. I left my name uncovered, so you can see where I weigh in on Leia’s role in defeating the Empire (and I stake an early claim on the Kylo Ren is a mole theory), but look at the other comment I’ve highlighted: “Nobody cares about the girls.” This remark was tongue in cheek, but the lively discussion following Eberhardt’s piece (325 comments and growing) suggests quite a few people agree with it.

Eberhardt’s piece and the accompanying discussion talk a lot about the insidious nature of sexism and how it creeps into everything. I’ve prided myself on writing speculative fiction from a feminist perspective. Vic, the titular wizard of my Woern Saga series is a woman, and she is no shrinking violet. I would in fact call her the hero—not the heroine—of this series. But, after participating in several discussions related to Eberhardt’s article, I realized something:

“He insinuated himself into every part of me.”

Vic says this line in A Wizard’s Forge, referring to the villain who holds her captive and tries to brainwash her into utter devotion. Years after escaping his physical clutches, she cannot shake free from his psychological hold. Yet while Vic speaks of a specific individual here, there’s also a universal “he” that directed some of the choices I made as an author. That was quite an epiphany, because I went out of my way to create a world where gender neutrality was the norm (Knownearth’s men and women are equally likely to be soldiers, political leaders, or prostitutes), yet I have to admit A Wizard’s Forge barely passes the Bechdel Test:

  1. Does the book have at least two named female characters?
  2. Who have a conversation with each other?
  3. About something other than a man?

The answer is yes to all three questions, but

  • The majority of named characters are men, and three out of the four point of view (POV) characters are men.
  • And while Bethniel and Vic do discuss many things, including Vic’s destiny, they do talk an awful lot about Beth’s brother Ashel.

I, the proud feminist, surrounded my female protagonist with an all-male supporting cast of POV characters. I stand by the decision from a narrative perspective: each one undergoes a life-changing transformation in the novel. I also remind myself that three of the five POVs will be women’s in A Wizard’s Sacrifice (the next novel in the Woern Saga). Yet, I’m still amazed that so many men feature so prominently in my work. You might even say they dominate the conversation.

Book Review: The Ill-Kept Oath

IKOcoverSometimes you come across a novel that takes your breath away. Fellow author and friend C.C. Aune shared the manuscript for her debut novel with me a few years ago, and it blew my mind. Here’s one of my favorite bits:

Prudence cast furtive glances round the salon, taking in the splendor of more gentlemen than she’d seen in her life. The place abounded with broad shoulders, tobacco-scented jackets, and booming male laughter.

So one of the heroines of The Ill-Kept Oath enters a drawing room filled with prospective beaus, hoping for romance but finding harrowing intrigue instead. Likewise, readers who open this book will find themselves drawn into rich townhouses and grand country manors, where they might expect to find only young women aiming for marriage and hoping for love, but where a pair of old trunks filled with magical items soon drive the plot in a wholly unexpected direction. A talking ring, rampaging trolls, and a secret society of mages and warriors all conspire to lure heroines Prudence and Josephine away from the typical and into the extraordinary. While Aune revels in the fanciful, she keeps her prose and setting firmly grounded in the historical. Beautifully written in Austen-like language, the novel is filled with authentic details, from the delicate choreography of early waltzes to the gory horror of an amputation without anesthesia or antibiotics.

I rarely give out five stars, but this story outdoes another favorite novel—Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell—in its literary mix of the mannered and the magical. The Ill-Kept Oath was one of those books I truly couldn’t put down—I stayed up late and resented every intrusion by family, friends, and pets until I’d read the final word. I’m almost as excited about C.C.’s release as I am about mine (A Wizard’s Forge comes out September 19), and I cannot wait to see where her series goes next.

You can read C.C.’s marvelous story yourself when it’s released September 27, 2016. In the meantime, I encourage you to follow her on Twitter or her Facebook page, or check out her blog at One Year of Letters.

 

Cover Story

Great covers are forged, not born.

 

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINAL

Enter a caption

And it’s a collaborative process. I love the cover for A Wizard’s Forge (to be released September 19, 2016). Long ago, when I first imagined what the cover of this book would look like, I wanted the focal point to be Vic’s hair. I envisioned it flowing down her shoulders and twisting into the point of the totemic dagger that symbolizes her quest for vengeance. The novel, after all, chronicles Vic’s unlikely transformation from a bookish teenage girl to the most powerful and dangerous person on her planet. It also has some thematic roots in the Grimms’ “Rapunzel,” so the hair also has its own totemic symbolism.

The final cover is better than that, because it captures Vic’s grit, determination, and general bad-assery, as well as suggests her transformation isn’t easy. It’s hot and hard; it’s painful, and it’s going to leave scars.

In a technical brief on the design process published on Fstoppers, artist Steven Meyer-Rassow writes:

In the book, Vic is forged into life through both external and internal events, and the author and publisher were keen to use this idea of forging and bringing to life as the visual vehicle for the cover composition. We all agreed Vic should be poured into life somewhat similarly to molten metal or lava pouring out of a furnace and creating a fiery weapon.

revenge-tv-show-seriess-posterYep, that’s all true. We had several brainstorming discussions to arrive at this idea, however. First I told everyone my idea with the hair twisting into a dagger. We also talked about the world of Knownearth and my preferences for fantasy and scifi artwork. Initially, if the hair-to-dagger idea couldn’t be executed well, I wanted to go for a more abstract cover design with a single symbolic object on the front, similar to some of the Song of Ice and Fire covers. Some of the first spit-ballery images we used for brainstorming appear on one of Steve’s Pinterest pages, and we all became fixated on the poster art for the first season of ABC’s Revenge.

Because AWF is thematically structured according to the forging process (it’s divided into four parts: Ore, Smelt, Forge, and Temper), we arrived at the molten metal idea. After the first brainstorming session, Steve roughed out some sketches that involved Vic either sitting in a forge fire or being cast from molten metal. However, Patrick–my project manager at Wise Ink Creative Publishing–worried that this approach would make people think the book was about a male wizard creating women, like some sort of golem or Frankenstein’s Bride. The book is really about how Vic recasts herself–it’s her self-actualization. Then Patrick and his colleagues proposed the artwork capture the pouring into being concept as portrayed in the title sequence of Netflix’s Daredevil.

That idea inspired Steve to propose this piece of art as the inspiration for AWF‘s cover. After that, we were off to the races. As Steve describes, he sent out an online casting call, and we chose Michelle Duckett. I couldn’t have asked for a better model–Michelle perfectly captured Vic’s complexity, toughness, and vulnerability in that hunched, over-the-shoulder frown.

 

The final cover wouldn’t have come into being without this team effort. It’s so good I want hurry up and to finish AWF‘s sequel, just so I can work with this awesome team of people again, and see how the cover for A Wizard’s Sacrifice turns out.

The eBook of A Wizard’s Forge is available for pre-order on Amazon now, or if you’d like to purchase a signed copy of the physical book, please contact me through my website.

Featured Image -- 859

A Wizard’s Forge by A. M. Justice (Book Review)

Thank you Amira for this awesome review of A Wizard’s Forge! Readers, check it out…

Real Talk 4 U

*I was given an advanced reader’s copy of this book for an honest review.

cover92828-medium

A Wizard’s Forge (The Woern Saga Book 1) by A. M. Justice

Release Date: September 19, 2016

Page: 366

Price: $4.99 (Kindle Edition)

Rating: 5/5

Review: I’m just going to start this review by saying that this book was amazing!

It had a little bit of everything that I crave in a fantasy novel. There was adventure, betrayal, romance, magic, a strong female lead and we also got to witness that same leading female overcame some very tough challenges.

This book conjured up some very intense emotions because a lot of the content that’s present is very gripping and intense. A Wizard’s Forge definitely isn’t for the faint of heart and, just as a warning, violence; mental and sexual abuse; and physical torture are all present. These things are, at times, explained in detail, so…

View original post 1,110 more words

Preparing for the Breach

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” —Henry V, Shakespeare

2016-07-22 15.14.16Anyone who follows my Instagram feed can see I’ve been in Europe the past two weeks. We toured London, Paris, and Venice. The last stop rekindled my desire to return to my long-neglected historical novel, Galileo’s Doctor, part of which takes place in Venice. I abandoned family to tiptoe through silent churches, taking panoramic shots of the art and architecture. While they shopped for souvenirs, I peaked through windows in warren-like alleys and wondered how on earth Venetian women managed to walk on those rough cobbles in their 12-inch platform heels.

Sadly, Venice faces many threats, from climate change to a dwindling population (thanks to foreigners pricing Venetians out of their homes). I hope ingenuity saves this gem of a city, but I’m glad I could share it with my daughter and see it again myself, making more memories, and I hope, a great story whenever I finally finish Galileo’s Doctor.

AWFscreenshot

My new website: amjusticeauthor.com

In the meantime, I am gearing up to launch A Wizard’s Forge. Look for more regular posts here, including from other authors. Also, my new author’s website is up, and it is amazing, thanks to RockdotVoss (and be sure to check out Jennifer and Mike’s awesome and totally relatable office farce, B.S. Incorporated). And praise for AWF is starting to trickle in on NetGalley and Goodreads (thank you, reviewers!). I’m really excited for this launch, but also nervous. I’d rather write than market. But no author can succeed these days without it, so I’ll try to gain some inspiration from the Bard:

…Imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height.
The game’s afoot.

Notes on a Silent Epidemic

Fellow author Bruce Blake takes time out from promoting his latest novel to focus on depression, suicide, and having the courage to ask for help. Thanks for sharing, Bruce.

Bruce Blake

So here’s a thing: my newest release happened yesterday. Conventional wisdom says I should be pushing that, but what kind of man would I be if my first post was about not being too writing/book centered on the blog, and then my next post was nothing but pimping a new book?

Not much of a man, I think.

Instead, I have something far more important to talk about, something that affects far more people than we realize. Please return later in the week to see me whoring out 100000 words of epic fantasy.

**Trigger warning – depression, mental illness, and suicide**

About a week ago, my son posted a very brave and raw admission to Facebook. I am going to share it here–with his permission–but I wanted to touch on its subject myself first.

A number of years ago–I can’t recall exactly how many, perhaps 10 or 12–a man I knew…

View original post 1,169 more words

Somebody Is Reading My Book!

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINALI don’t know about you, but nothing turns on my OCD more than releasing a new book. A Wizard’s Forge won’t be released until September (although you can preorder it now), but my publishing partner (Wise Ink Creative Publishing)  posted an advance review copy on NetGalley, a site where book reviewers and bloggers can download free Ebooks. AWF has been posted for about a week and it seems to be doing well. The cover has garnered several dozen thumbs-up signs, and there have been roughly twice as many review copy requests. That should make me happy.

I’m a wreck.

Grace Kelly—or her modern day incarnation, Eva Green—would file this information away and let the chips fall over the next several weeks and months. Neither would betray the slightest concern at that

Oh my God somebody in the world is reading my book!

GraceBag

Grace Kelly reveals the contents of her valise to Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. He’s confused; I’m awed.

I adore both actresses because I aspire to their consummate cool (I also desperately wish I was as lovely—something as a feminist I’m not supposed to admit, but which I still feel). Rear Window is my favorite Hitchcock film because of Grace and her overnight bag (when those slippers pop out of all that chiffon, be still my heart!), and Eva…well, if I ever met her, I’d probably lose more than my cool, kinda like this lady meeting the late great Heath Ledger.

 

I’ve certainly lost my cool now, because

Oh my God somebody in the world is reading my book!

 

and it’s interfering with my life. I can’t help thinking, what passage is this stranger reading? Has she reached the part where Vic escapes from Lornk? Chapter 7, “Asylum,” may be my favorite in the book. What does he think of the chapter where Ashel decides to join the war effort? That chapter is such a turning point for Ashel, where he becomes a deep thinker full of conflicting emotions. Has anyone posted a progress report on Goodreads or, good heavens, a review yet? (A couple speedy readers have already posted reviews on Goodreads: 4 and 5 stars!)  I have a jam-packed week at the day job and a big trip coming up. I’m supposed to be contacting other authors and book bloggers to set up a blog tour. My new website requires attention as Jennifer and Mike at RockdotVoss finish its fine-tuning. And oh, yeah, I have a sequel to rework, which is turning out to be a bigger job than I anticipated. But I can’t stop checking on the status!

Confident authors are supposed to release their books on the world and never read reviews or, indeed, look back. I can’t do that (after all, I rewrote the damn series). The bottom line is, as much as I wish I were Grace Kelly or Eva Green, I’m really Sally Field. I write first for me, and I write what I like, but I sooo want you to like it too. My fingers are crossed that you will.

A Wizard’s Forge will be released to the general reading public September 19, 2016. You can preorder your copy now on Amazon.

Daddy’s Girl

In Memoriam, on Father’s Day

JamesSuver(Dad)

Colonel James D. Suver, DBA, USAF, Retired

The last coherent words my father said to me were, “I’ll always love you.” There were other words from his hospital bed: paranoid, deluded whispers about experiments being conducted in shadowed hallways, half audible invective about the doctors and nurses around us, but the last thing he said that made sense was, “I’ll always love you.”

 

My response was, “Why?” I didn’t say that, of course, but the thought still crossed my mind. All the normal emotions were there too, the main one being denial: why are you saying that? What does it mean that you would say this thing, which is the kind of thing people say when they’re leaving, never coming back. He was leaving. He’d fought cancer for a year, had shrunk from a robust six-foot-one with a broad belly he joked about to an elfin creature no taller than me. He was still stoic and tough and paternal on that last day. I was there because my stepmother had asked me to stay with him while she attended a conference out of town. I flew from California to Kentucky, climbed out of the taxi from the airport, walked up the brick path that arrowed through the verdant manicured lawn to ring the bell next to the heavy oak door. A frail old man opened the door and said my name. It took several seconds to recognize him as Dad.

He was stoic and tough and paternal on that last day. I could have driven him to the hospital but he called a friend to take him instead. “I need you, buddy,” he said over the phone. My father’s voice broke when he said ‘need’; a retired Air Force colonel and Harvard DBA from blue collar roots in Columbus, with parents and sisters proud of their high school diplomas, James D. Suver gave help, he didn’t ask for it. My father’s willingness to lend a hand was a point of contention between my parents—my mother always resented how readily he’d go to a neighbor’s to help build a tree house or clean out a garage. On that last day, however, his liver stabbing at him from the inside, Dad knew he wouldn’t make it to the hospital without help. I could have driven him, but he called a friend to take him, and while we waited for the friend to arrive, he imparted wisdom and dispensed love. Never work for less than what you’re worth. Find a way to be friends with your brother. I’ll always love you.

“I’ll always love you.” Twenty years later I can hear him say that, see him say it. He sat on a stool, breath labored, back against the paneled wall. His friend arrived and took him away, and I never saw my father lucid again. I waited for the babysitter to arrive and look after my half-brother, who was only four at the time. When I made it to the hospital, the friend told me my father had walked in through the ER door under his own power. “Just like Jim,” he said.

Self-reliance and denial—these are the legacies Dad left me. Until I got the call from my stepmother, asking me to come stay with her family while she traveled on business, I didn’t even know he was sick. He’d fought off cancer half a dozen years before, while I was in college, but I had no idea how sick he was then. Weekly phone calls had come, cordial exchanges on the weather and work. No conversation lasted more than five minutes—I assumed he wasn’t interested in what I had to say, and I didn’t take an interest in his life either. Nearly everything my father did came as a surprise to me. From my perspective, his marriage to my stepmother came out of the blue, and so did their adoption of my half-brother. (The day Dad called to tell me about Adam, when he said over the phone, “You’re getting a new little brother,” I thought he meant a puppy.) I always believed Dad kept his life private from me, until there was something I needed to know. Now, looking back, I think it was my indifference that led him to stay silent. I didn’t ask, so he didn’t tell.

Where did this indifference come from? I loved spending time with my father—he knew how to show a girl a good time. After my parents divorced, Dad would pick me up on Saturdays and take me to lunch at Michelle’s, my favorite ice cream parlor in downtown Colorado Springs. I ordered the same meal every time: tuna salad sandwich with the Black Bart ice cream sundae. Dad had a hearty appetite and also ate fast—a habit picked up as an enlisted man in the Air Force. He’d finish long before me, but every meal we shared together, he would trick me into looking away so he could steal a pickle or a French fry from my plate. An inventive trickster, he didn’t always deceive me on the first try, but he never failed to distract me at some point, and when I returned my attention to the table, I’d find a pickle or fry hanging from his lips. He even pulled this trick during that last visit, before he had to call his friend to take him to the hospital.

He was the fun parent, the one who took us skiing and swimming, to weekly tennis lessons and miniature golf. An athlete himself, he must have been frustrated by his klutzy, bookish daughter, who missed more tennis balls than she hit, who would snowplow to the top of a mogul and freeze there, instead of sliding easily between the icy mounds. He was surely frustrated, and he probably rolled his eyes and groaned behind my back, but where I could see he rarely showed impatience or temper. My mother claimed Dad’s eyes would turn bright green when he was angry, and there’s the family legend about the time Dad dumped a cup of milk over the head of my older brother, because he was so frustrated and outraged by Jim’s toddler eating habits. I’d grown up hearing these stories but never knowing that sort of anger. I was Daddy’s girl; he didn’t even raise his voice to me.

Dad grew up in a row house in a working class neighborhood in Columbus. His parents scraped together money to pay tuition at the local Catholic school, but they didn’t have much more to spend on my father and his two sisters. He joined the Air Force at the urging of a friend, went down to Mississippi and completed basic training, met and married an Air Force nurse in violation of the rules against fraternization. The marriage ended quickly, before my father even knew his first wife was pregnant. The first wife gave the baby up for adoption, and we all learned about my half-sister when she turned up at age 16 on a quest to find her birth parents. The Air Force sent him to Beale AFB in northern California and paid for him to study at Cal State Sacramento as part of an officer’s training program, and that’s when Dad met my mother. Their marriage lasted seventeen years, through two tours navigating bombers over Vietnam and the interleaved stints at Harvard when Dad earned his MBA and then his DBA, degrees that led to his professorship at the Air Force Academy. That experience was a springboard to a flourishing career as a professor of healthcare administration after he retired from the Air Force.

I am proud of my father’s accomplishments, but I don’t think he felt the same about mine. Throughout his life, Dad strove to leave behind his working class roots and rise into the ranks of the genteel. He realized his American dream and provided for his family so well my brother and I were deprived of nothing we wanted. (Within reason: I longed for a horse, begged for a horse, a real horse that I could ride and feed and brush—I never got one.) Dad wanted the same for us—that we should never have to deny our children—and he worried about career choices that would lead to deprivation. He steered my brother away from a passion for nuclear physics toward a degree in business administration (and eventually the younger Jim became a hospital administrator, doing what his father taught). He tried to steer me into business too, but maybe because he never scolded me, no amount of encouragement or cajoling or subtle manipulation could convince me to study something practical. I went to school determined to become an actress. Midstream I heard the siren call of physical anthropology and fancied myself digging up Lucys in Ethiopia. An English major at the time, I didn’t have the requisite classes for an anthropology degree and would need to stay an extra year to graduate. Dad drew the line there: “If you’re going to go to college more than four years and only get a bachelor’s, you’re paying for the fifth year yourself.” Used to Daddy paying for every last dime of my existence, I immediately caved and stuck with the BA in English.

That degree was bad enough, but by the time I graduated, I was determined to be a writer, and I saw the publishing profession as my entrée. Dad immediately mailed me a page ripped out of Business Week—no note, just the page. The headline read “Average Starting Salaries for College Grad Careers.” He had circled “Publishing” with its starting salary of $12,000 per year (in 1988). Undaunted, I marched through interviews at Bay Area publishing houses and landed a job in the industry at nearly twice that salary. Look, Dad, I’m making $20,000! The job was in the sales division of a textbook publisher, not quite a springboard to a career among the literati, but it paid relatively well. The next job, as a production editor for a science press—had more to do with writing but even less to do with literature. My copyediting skills honed to a fine point, I learned how to spot and fix a dangling modifier, but not how to land an agent or a publishing contract. A disappointment for me, but a success as far as Dad was concerned. Now his daughter at least held down a steady job and was off the family dole. She was learning to apply herself at work, rise through the ranks, become a supervisor and a manager, a person of note, even if her circle of influence was small. All those impractical notions of graduate degrees in anthropology, or film, or fiction writing were pushed out of the head of Daddy’s girl.

I did my writing behind his back, behind the scenes, after work, between episodes of the X Files and Star Trek, Next Generation. I never shared my fiction with him; I never thought he would see value in it. Dad loved the same kind of movies and TV shows I did, and I’m sure my love of all things geek grew out of his enthusiasm for Star Wars and Atari. But even though Dad strung an X-wing fighter next to the plastic B52 hanging from his rec room ceiling, I was too embarrassed to share the science fiction adventure I was writing with him. Certainly the subject matter was a taboo one for daughters to broach with fathers, but beyond that, I didn’t think he’d see any good in it. I can’t remember if I told him I secured an agent for my work. I think I didn’t, because it would have meant saying something deeper than a comment on the weather during our weekly 3-minute-long phone calls.

I miss my dad. I regret the brevity of those calls, the shallowness of my love, how I took my father for granted and never gave him the same attention I gave my mother. In 1989, a major earthquake hit the Bay Area, knocking out power, collapsing bridges, setting fires. I was in the local drug store when it hit, surfed the floor rippling under me, dodged away from the steel and glass cigarette case rocking on its heels. Unscathed, I walked across the street through the golden light of an October sunset, weaving past honking traffic, up the hill to my apartment where one bookcase leaned against another, the books on the floor but otherwise everything pristine. My mother I called immediately, dialing as many times as necessary until my call wedged itself through the jammed phone lines and connected. My dad called me, waking me from a dead sleep at 3 am, his voice strident, loud, raised: “Are you OK? Why didn’t you call me?” Could I tell him I simply didn’t think of it? I wasn’t that callous—I said I had called Mom and thought she or my brother would pass the news to him that I was all right. I wish I’d called him to say I was OK, that everything was fine.

While he lay dying in the hospital, mumbling delirium about experiments and invective about the staff, the nurses urged me to talk to him so he would know I was there and loved him. When my grandfather was dying when I was seven, I hid when the nurse came looking for me, but there was nowhere to hide in the hospital where my dad was dying. I was as frightened of watching him die as I had been of my grandfather’s death. And what was there to say? The man was caught in a dream world wrought by morphine. I figured he didn’t care about whatever superficial banalities I might share, and I was terrified if I did speak, it would only prompt more paranoid tall tales. The wizened old man in that bed, with a feeding tube shoved down his nose, was not my father. My dad was big, tall, with an outsized belly and charisma to match. My dad was the one who took me to see All That Jazz and Excalibur and covered my eyes during the sexy parts. My dad sheltered me, provided for me, protected me, right to the end. When he called for help, it wasn’t me he called. I wish I’d helped. I wish I had risen out of the poverty of my own selfishness and showed the generosity he always showed others. I wish I’d told him, “I’ll always love you,” because it’s true. I do.

This essay originally appeared in Four Doors Open published by JaCol Publishing.

Crafting Back Cover Copy: Don’t Try It Alone

First of all, let’s clarify some terms. The text that appears on the back cover of a printed book and on any webpage offering the book for sale is not called a blurb, it’s called back cover copy or book description. A blurb is a quote from another author or celebrity touting the book. Blurbs also go on the cover (front or back, depending on the fame of the blurb source) and are awesome marketing tools (and anyone wishing to blurb my book, please contact me!), but after the cover art, the first taste of a book most readers see and attend to is the back cover copy. Thus, getting it right is essential.

When traditional publishers release a book, they rarely allow the author to write the novel’s back cover copy; usually someone in the marketing department crafts it. Back in the last century, when I trained for a career in publishing, we were taught that the person writing the back cover copy will frequently not have read the book—you can chalk up every misleading book description you’ve ever read to that practice. Despite the risk of inaccuracies, however, there’s value in having someone else write the book description. As authors we can be blinded by our own vision, where another person can see through the forest to the particular trees that will hook readers’ interest.

I recently went through this process with the back cover copy for my upcoming novel A Wizard’s Forge. As I’ve already described here, AWF is a reboot of a previously published novel, which had this description:

BladeofAmber_final_sized for SWScorned by her teenage peers, Victoria studies the ship’s logs of her spacefaring ancestors and dreams of other lands. She regrets her wish the day slavers arrive. Sold as a concubine to a cruel sovereign, Vic escapes and finds refuge with his enemies, among whom she learns the art of war. In time, she becomes the Blade, a soldier-assassin renowned for cunning and daring, and the woman who captures the heart of the charming Prince Ashel. When the sovereign who once owned her imprisons the prince who loves her, Vic undertakes a quest to rescue Ashel and wreak her vengeance. Along the way, she meets mysterious creatures who make a strange offer: drink the Waters of the Dead and become a wizard. As Vic’s powers manifest, she realizes she has been forged into a weapon—but for what purpose?

I worked and reworked that description over months, including running it past other writer friends and working hard to find the essence of the novel. I didn’t anticipate a substantial revision to this copy for AWF, but when I sent it into Wise Ink, my publishing partners for the rebooted novel, my project manager Patrick came back with this alternative suggestion:

Scholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.

Victoria of Ourtown has been a lot of things.

On a planet far from Earth, the descendants of marooned space travelers are fighting a decades-long war. Vic is dragged from her peaceful homeland and sold to a sadistic warlord who keeps her locked in a tower and naked. After months of psychological torture, she seizes an opportunity to escape—and uses her newfound freedom to join the fight against her former captor. As new powers manifest in Vic, she realizes she has been forged into a weapon—but for what purpose?

My eyes popped and heart raced when I read this, and my first reaction was denial—I couldn’t put that on the cover! You see, even though I wrote a novel about a woman seeking revenge for sexual and psychological abuse she endured as a teen, I’m pretty discomfited by the content of my own story, and I previously hid the details of the plot’s driving force behind the relatively genteel concubine. However, once I caught my breath and my heart rate slowed down, I decided to build from Patrick’s more provocative version. He had, after all, found the trees that would likely draw readers into my forest.

Patrick and I passed the description back and forth for several more rounds, getting input from writing and publishing colleagues. Altogether, the description went through half a dozen rounds of revision. I’m thrilled with the final product:

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINALScholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.

On a planet far from Earth, descendants of marooned space travelers fight a decades-long war. Shy scholar Victoria knows nothing of this conflict until pirates kidnap and sell her to the sadistic tyrant behind it. He keeps her naked and locked in a tower, subjecting her to months of psychological torture. After seizing an opportunity to escape, Vic joins the fight against her former captor and begins walking a bloody path toward revenge.

As the Blade, Vic gains glory raiding her enemy’s forces, but the ordeal in his tower haunts her. Bitter memories keep her from returning the love of the kindhearted Prince Ashel, whose family has fended off the tyrant’s invading army for a generation. When enemy soldiers capture Ashel, Vic embarks on a quest to rescue him and, on the journey, discovers a source of spectacular power. With wizardry, Vic can rescue the prince, end the war, and wreak the vengeance she craves, but she might also destroy her only chance for peace.

A Wizard’s Forge will be released September 19, 2016. I can’t wait, and I hope you’re as excited as I am.