FREE!

Henchmen: Awaken, which covers Dreamer’s awakening in the facility beneath Albuquerque, NM, is free on Smashwords.  Go get a copy and learn the hideous truth.  I was trying to make it free on Amazon, too, but I’m not sure why it won’t let me.  Once I figure it out, I’ll post an update here.

NOTE: This story has since been pulled down.  It’s undergoing some serious revisions and will be one of the stories in The Clock Man.  To those of you who bought it (both of you) you’ve got a piece of history.

AwakenCover

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Cover and Plot for Henchmen 2

First off, the actual title is Henchmen: Arise.  It refers to the changes in the power structure in the Henchmen world.  You’ll just have to read the story to get the details.

My old graphic design teacher used to tell us if we had to explain a graphic we had failed in the design, so I’ll forgo any explanation other than the technical description and some of the inspiration for it.  Everyone can decide for themselves if the cover “works,” so to speak.

Early this year, I stumbled across a series of comics called “God is Dead.”  The premise was interesting; the gods came back to Earth.  All of them.  And when they came back they started tearing the place up and, of course, immediately fighting among themselves.  The whole series is kind of an indictment on how we envision our gods and what we expect from them.  It’s seriously a good series and Hickman, as usual, writes some good stuff.  What caught my eye about it, though, was the minimalist cover art.  Most comics have extremely dynamic covers, filled with action and promises of an exceptionally engaging story.  “God is Dead” had some of those as well – remember the days of comics having a single, titular covers are gone – but the minimalist imagery is what caught my eye.

God is Dead #1.  You can find the entire series here: http://www.comicvine.com/god-is-dead/4050-67042/
God is Dead #1. You can find the entire series here: http://www.comicvine.com/god-is-dead/4050-67042/

Now, I’ve never been a spectacular designer, but I always liked bold, clean images; they’re easier for the eye to come to grips with.  You can look at a good, clean design and be able to easily process it.  Sure, there may be subtle nuances that you only get after examining it for a while, but the baseline meaning should be immediately obvious.

Book cover design should work essentially the same way as any other type of graphic design.  Grab the eye and convey a message.  There may be more text on a book cover, but the image should stand out in some kind of meaningful way.  Remember, the first thing a reader is going to see is the cover.  If the cover is crap, you’ll never get the reader to read the blurb, which is the second layer of book promotion.

The first few iteration of the cover for Henchmen were crap.  In fact, the one I first published with was crap.  The second edit I published with was crap.  I like the third one, though.  I don’t think it’s crap.  You can check the history of the covers on my website, if you’re curious.  The final one is up there, too.  The real early designs, like first gen black and white stuff obviously looked pretty lame, but I’m still thinking of getting a Henchlife tattoo.  Just a bit of cleaning up and I think it would look pretty cool.

The minimalist design that I liked so much with “God is Dead” was first explored in the Henchmen Awaken short; a story that two or three people have read and enjoyed.  It’s stark, but it works.  I took that philosophy and expanded the color palate for the Arise cover and wound up with a couple of covers that looked like they belonged together.  Unfortunately, that left a turd in the punch bowl in the form the original story, so its cover had to be altered.  So, here’s your interesting but useless bit of trivia for the day, Henchmen was the first book, but the current cover was actually designed after all the others.

So it goes and so it goes.

The “God is Dead” series used a logo and text to establish a theme and then switched the icon and colors to reflect each new issue.  I never could figure out what kind of an icon to use for a dream, short of a dream catcher (which is kind of overplayed in my opinion), so I opted to continue using my Dreamer silhouette and switch out the background art.  It’s kind of the same thing if you don’t think about it.

All the covers were done in a couple of remarkable open-source image tools: Inkscape and GIMP.  If you ever have need of a vector illustration program, it’s hard to go wrong with Inkscape and GIMP is a great photo editing tool.  Think of them as free version of Illustrator and Photoshop respectively.

So, without further ramblings about graphic design theory, here’s the new cover.

HenchmenAriseCover

I’m still quite a fair piece away from actually publishing the book, so any input is certainly welcome.

Now, as for the plot:

It starts off six months after the events of the first book.  Congress is pretty much gone (and no one really mourned their passing), D.C. is now the nightmarish home of the God of Dreams, and the group from the first book has scattered to the winds.  In releasing the Dreamer from his cage, Eve’s little group managed to piss off the gods, who have given her a choice: kill Steven as a proof of loyalty, or kill the Dreamer.  She opts for the hard path and, with some extrahuman help (and hindrance), the team gets back together to find a way to assassinate a god who can move through dreams.

From a quiet morning in Hesperus, CO to the climactic conclusion in Dulce, NM, Arise is a non-stop thrill ride filled with minions, gods, gun fights, Nazis, and monsters.  In the end, blood will spill, a god will fall, and a hero will arise.

(obviously, I’m still working on the blurb.  I’ll let ya’ll know when it’s published)

Felix and the Antwar Saloon

If you get the above reference, congratulations!  You just won one free copy of the Internet.

Coupon redeemable anywhere Internets are sold
Coupon redeemable anywhere Internets are sold

If you didn’t get it, it’s a reference to one of my favorite books, Vampire$, by John Steakley.  The reference itself is actually Steakley’s internal reference to his other book, Armor.  Both of them are easy to find on Amazon and I regularly see them in used book stores, as well.

vampires armor

The cover art for Vampire$ dropped the dollar sign, but trust me, it was part of the original title.

I was introduced to Steakley by two friends over the space of many years.  A buddy loaned me Armor when I was in college and another buddy introduced me to Vampire$ when I got my first real job after college.  He wrote some books that were enormously fun to read and after I went through the first two I eagerly awaited the next one.

And waited.

And waited.

Turns out, John Steakley ever only wrote Armor and Vampire$, and neither caught the attention of the world like they should have.  Vampire$ got enough steam that John Carpenter turned it into a movie with James Woods (who looked nothing like Jack Crow, but handled the part well enough).  The studio pulled a whack of the budget during filming and the movie was hamstrung by that fact.  Vampires (it didn’t use the $ from the book) pretty much fell flat.

During all of this, Steakley never wrote another novel, but he apparently spent years working on a sequel to Armor.  It used to be available on the Internet, but I haven’t looked lately and it may not still be out there.  While he was working on the sequel, he opened a car dealership.  When I heard that, my head nearly exploded.  Not that there’s anything wrong with running a car dealership, but this was John Steakley I was hearing about!  He wrote two of my favorite books.  He was important!  He’s was not supposed to sell cars, he was supposed to write more awesome books.

Oh, well.  So it goes and so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say.

I can’t really blame him.  Everyone needs to eat and selling books usually isn’t the easiest way to make that happen, which is why I still have a full-time job.

Recently, I was looking around to see if he ever finished Armor 2 only to find John Steakley had died in 2010.

Go read his books, they’re really cool.  And, I think I’m going to name a main character Felix in some story in the future.

Trip the light fantastic

There’s an old-school phrase for you.  Even as of the early 1900s it was considered trite and hackneyed.  Still, I dig it.  Digging things is also considered trite and hackneyed.  Oh, well.

Took a trip this weekend to visit family and stopped at Meteor Crater outside of Winslow.  I also stood on a corner in Winslow, but did not have seven women on my mind.  Nor did I see a girl in flatbed Ford.  I think the Eagles have lied to me yet again.

The trip was something of a Herculean effort to get from Albuquerque to Prescott.  I40 was under construction about every five miles or so, the big rigs were out in very slow force, and I40 was completely shut down between Flagstaff and Winslow due to a head-on collision that claimed four lives.  We wound up heading south out of Winslow along the old roads, then back up some other old roads into Flagstaff.  Had I a map at my fingertips I would have seen I could have just kept going to Camp Verde and saved a huge chunk of time.  As it was, I wound up on a road that’s so deserted I was the only person on it for about forty miles and is so unused that it barely shows up on Google Maps.

When Google doesn’t know about something, that’s kind of scary.

Now, before you ask, yes, I have a smartphone that has GPS and maps and all the other whiz-bang necessities of modern life.  I’m not 100% certain about my GPS resolution, but I’m pretty sure I could have plotted my position on the planet to within 30 feet or so.  Problem was, I was in the ass-end of nowhere and had zero cel signal.  Zero cel signal means zero data, which means even though GPS was working, I couldn’t call up a map to tell me where my GPS position actually was.  Maybe next time I’ll find a way to cache some detailed maps before I leave.

Anyway, back to Meteor Crater.  That’s the place just off I40 where a 150 foot meteor crashed to Earth around 50000 years ago and left a damned large hole in the ground.  By damned large, I mean nearly a mile wide and about 500 feet deep.  The explosion threw debris for miles in every direction and pretty much vaporized the meteor when it hit.

Mucho grande hole in the ground
Mucho grande hole in the ground

This is why we should work on putting permanent bases on the moon.  All you need is some rocks and a gravity well and you’ve got one hell of a weapon.  Since the moon has a few rocks on it, some supervillain could have the time of his or her life chucking rocks at Earth and watching the fun from the safety of space.

Back in the day, Meteor Crater used to be called Great Meteor Crater and it was billed as “Earth’s most penetrating attraction.”  Alas, they did not have any underwear with that logo, which I think is something of a missed opportunity for them.

Your obscure martial art of the day

No martial art ever develops in a vacuum and all of them are a response to some kind of fighting that the creators have encountered.  Today, people tend to categorize arts into things like combatives, reality based fighting, military, traditional martial arts, and so on.  The problem with these kinds of categorizations is they seem completely arbitrary.  All martial arts, no kidding here, all of them, grew up have similar back stories.  Some of the traditional martial arts may have gotten watered down over time, some of the “new” arts may have rediscovered some of the old methods or the combative edge of fighting for your life, but they’re really just a reaction to a perceived lack of fundamental fighting aspects in some of the older arts.

In part, some of the watering down of the traditional arts came as a response to some of the craziness that happened in arts like Karate and Kung Fu back in the 70s and 80s.  Back in those days, macho was the key to success and it wasn’t uncommon to see school fighting each other over perceived insults or other such trivial matters.  In some ways, this was a good thing: it taught you to actually, you know, fight.  In others, it was way over the top.  I guess the whole “let’s go fight those guys because reasons” mentality came crashing down when one school showed up to fight another school and some young guy got run through with a sword.

Lawyers and lawsuits also made some deep cuts on the traditional martial arts because people would take classes that were supposed to teach them how to fight, get punched, and sue the school.

Plus, having to call your school a dojo and refer to your teacher as sensei or sifu was kind of silly.  It was almost like cosplay with where you had to take on the persona of a guy (or girl) in 18th century Japan.  Fun for a while, sure, but ultimately pointless since you really just want to learn to fight.

By the way, my Kenpo school uses gis, which may or may not be all that important, but they’re plentiful and easy to wear.  I’m actually thinking of running a class or two in street clothes just so folks can get used to the idea of fighting in what we wear in real life.  We call the school a school and my teacher is Mr. Gilbert.  I don’t think I’ve ever referred to him as sifu or sensei or anything like that.  We bow, but we don’t go over the top with it and we don’t pretend we’re in medieval China while we’re studying.

Anyway, all martial arts are a reaction to a perceived threat.  It’s always been interesting to me to learn about as many as I can just so I can start to see different reactions to similar stimuli.  Recently I came across a new one that’s slowly gaining some popularity.  Apparently it grew up in the prison system and goes by many names including Jailhouse Rock and 52 Blocks.  From what I can see, it seems like a seamless blend of wushu, boxing, and straight up fisticuffs.  Pretty cool stuff.

Video of 52 blocks.

Wiki article.