Category Archives: Self-Publishing

Penworthy Press Presents: Dragon’s Rook by Keanan Brand

The Penworthy Press collective—sounds like a cult, doesn’t it? But we’re just writers, honest!—announces the first book published under our logo:

Dragon’s Rook, book one of The Lost Sword duology by Keanan Brand.

This epic fantasy tells the story of two kingdoms at war. The kings are brothers-in-law—Morfran’s late wife was Damanthus’ sister—but the conflict has nothing to do with family and everything to do with the Territories, a long strip of forest and hills ruled by neither kingdom. The people there govern themselves, but have no standing army.

When Morfran’s soldiers invade, a young shepherd name Gaerbith journeys to the Dissonay capital and begs help of Damanthus to keep the Skardians at bay.

Disson engages Skarda in war, and pushes the invaders out of the Territories and back into the western Plains of Skarda, near the Highlands, a hallowed and feared place where the dead are said to dwell.

When Dragon’s Rook begins, the war is at an impasse. Both sides have lost heavily, and ground has been neither gained nor given in a long while. Gaerbith is now a seasoned soldier and captain of the Fourth Lachmil. His skill in battle has gained him a reputation as possessing magic, but anything special he attributes to the fact that his mother was a Keeper, one of a group of immortals charged with keeping the Great Archive, a storied trove of learning and art that many think is just a myth.

His mother, Uártha, entrusted him with a secret that can only be unlocked when he takes the oath of a Keeper: the hiding place of Azrin, the lost sword of Kel High King, who in ages past slew a Dragon and freed the people.

Yet, even if Gaerbith takes the oath and learns the secret, he can do nothing without Kel High King’s nearest descendant, the only one to whom the sword will answer.

Dragon’s Rook is the name of a cave in Kel Tor near the village of Shea, where a blacksmith lives. He possesses a dagger decorated with the same metal from which Azrin was forged, and he remembers nothing before the day the previous blacksmith found him as a child and took him in as an apprentice.

Kieran Smith and Captain Gaerbith set out on unexpected journeys—the blacksmith to learn who he really is, the soldier to do his duty to a king—and along the way they face great foes, make new allies, gain love or lose it, and must decide whether or not to do the most frightening thing of all: trust their lives to the leading of the Voice.

Dragon’s Rook is currently available as an e-book (visit Keanan’s website or his blog to select which version you prefer), and will be coming soon in paperback.

The cover art and design are by another member of the Penworthy Press collective: artist and writer, Suzan Troutt. She can be found at Gothic Tones blog, at her online jewelry shop, or at Jade’s Journal.

Advance readers have commented favorably on the cadence and detail of the writing, and on the characters, especially the female protagonists. Some readers have selected the story’s quieter moments—not the battles, not the wonders, but the human interactions—as some of their favorites.

Although there are fantasy tropes and archetypes in Dragon’s Rook, there are few mythical creatures—aside from Dragons, there are bloodthirsty giant crows called Nar’ath, invented for this story, but expect no dwarves, elves, ogres, trolls, and the like. The author freely admits to the classical influences of Tolkien, Lewis, folklore, mythology, and the Bible, and built the world of Disson and Skarda on a mix of American and European geography, but weaves a story all his own.

We at Penworthy Press are proud to present this novel to the world. May it and its successors bring joy to their readers for many years to come.

Dragon’s Rook–the Evolution of a Book Cover

My friend and fellow author Keanan Brand is nearing the publication of his new fantasy novel, Dragon’s Rook. In June, I saw this post on his Adventures In Fiction blog: “Wanted: Cover Artist.”

When Keanan asked me if I’d draw the cover art for his book, I accepted the job and felt honored to be chosen for the work.  As a child the public library was my playground of choice and I suspect that deep down it has always been my dream to be a cover artist!

But there was a problem. I was trying to break into the design world via my Bamboo tablet (a graduation gift). I’d already faced the challenge of learning to draw on a flat surface while looking at the laptop screen to see where my stylus was pointing. How I wished I had a tablet with a screen as I struggled to get my hand-eye coordination right! For an artist used to drawing on paper, it was certainly my first hurdle to overcome.

Practice improved my skills, and I felt ready to try a larger project.

The Original Vision:

Keanan’s vision for the cover of Dragon’s Rook was a detailed drawing–

“Art involving a dragon eye, a massive claw gripping a pile of rubble, one wing wrapping the side and bottom of a crumbling stone tower, and maybe shadowy shapes in the dark distance. A cover that will still look good as a thumbnail image.”

My Vision:

Though I searched online for images to inspire the work, I felt drawn to the idea of a circle in the middle of the book cover. A single dragon eye, like the picture Keanan had posted on his blog. We talked about it, and Keanan liked the idea. It almost seemed to pay homage to a hardbound book he recalled from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The Eye of Sauron. The eye of the Dragon King.

We decided that a castle tower would be reflected in the pupil.

A simple and thought-provoking image, telling a tale, inviting the reader to open the book. Or in this case to purchase it for their e-reader, since Dragon’s Rook will be published electronically first.

Evolving Images:

My initial offering was a rather menacing eye, but still not detailed enough to catch the reader’s attention as a thumbnail image. You can see this below.

dragon eye example

I also had a few hiccups along the way, including one image that looked a little bit like an olive. “Dragon’s Cook?”

dragon_eye_greengold

Finally the image began to look more like something we both felt was getting close to the vision.dragon_eye_greengold.sumo5

I wanted to add smoke and fire, but felt it would complicate the image too much. Keanan suggested creating a white for the eye rather than using the yellow background for the iris. I also wanted to add wrinkles to indicate the creature’s age.

I decided to build up the scales with the bevel effect with the Bamboo oil and dry brush tools. The scales reminded me of cobblestones. The bevel effect made them pop with an almost 3D-style!

The details faded as the viewer got further from the center of the eye. Like a tornado, the swirling scales pulled a sharper focus toward what the dragon was viewing.

The Final Image in Progress:

dragon_eye_greengold.sumo7

We felt that our vision for the cover was simple, intriguing, and menacing!

Future Plans:

We plan to use a very similar style for the  Dragon’s Bane cover. This is the next book in the series, and it will feature the eye of a different dragon character, with a sword instead of a castle tower in the iris of the eye. This image is not shown at full size, but should give a good idea of our design plans for the book.

Feedback on this design is greatly appreciated as we finalize the project!

-Suzan Troutt, artist and author, art copyright 2014-

Dragon’s Rook–the Evolution of a Book Cover

My friend and fellow author Keanan Brand is nearing the publication of his new fantasy novel, Dragon’s Rook. In June, I saw this post on his Adventures In Fiction blog: “Wanted: Cover Artist.”

When Keanan asked me if I’d draw the cover art for his book, I accepted the job and felt honored to be chosen for the work.  As a child the public library was my playground of choice and I suspect that deep down it has always been my dream to be a cover artist!

But there was a problem. I was trying to break into the design world via my Bamboo tablet (a graduation gift). I’d already faced the challenge of learning to draw on a flat surface while looking at the laptop screen to see where my stylus was pointing. How I wished I had a tablet with a screen as I struggled to get my hand-eye coordination right! For an artist used to drawing on paper, it was certainly my first hurdle to overcome.

Practice improved my skills, and I felt ready to try a larger project.

The Original Vision:

Keanan’s vision for the cover of Dragon’s Rook was a detailed drawing–

“Art involving a dragon eye, a massive claw gripping a pile of rubble, one wing wrapping the side and bottom of a crumbling stone tower, and maybe shadowy shapes in the dark distance. A cover that will still look good as a thumbnail image.”

My Vision:

Though I searched online for images to inspire the work, I felt drawn to the idea of a circle in the middle of the book cover. A single dragon eye, like the picture Keanan had posted on his blog. We talked about it, and Keanan liked the idea. It almost seemed to pay homage to a hardbound book he recalled from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The Eye of Sauron. The eye of the Dragon King.

We decided that a castle tower would be reflected in the pupil.

A simple and thought-provoking image, telling a tale, inviting the reader to open the book. Or in this case to purchase it for their e-reader, since Dragon’s Rook will be published electronically first.

Evolving Images:

My initial offering was a rather menacing eye, but still not detailed enough to catch the reader’s attention as a thumbnail image. You can see this below.

dragon eye example

I also had a few hiccups along the way, including one image that looked a little bit like an olive. “Dragon’s Cook?”

dragon_eye_greengoldFinally the image began to look more like something we both felt was getting close to the vision.dragon_eye_greengold.sumo5

I wanted to add smoke and fire, but felt it would complicate the image too much. Keanan suggested creating a white for the eye rather than using the yellow background for the iris. I also wanted to add wrinkles to indicate the creature’s age.

I decided to build up the scales with the bevel effect with the Bamboo oil and dry brush tools. The scales reminded me of cobblestones. The bevel effect made them pop with an almost 3D-style!

The details faded as the viewer got further from the center of the eye. Like a tornado, the swirling scales pulled a sharper focus toward what the dragon was viewing.

The Final Image in Progress:

dragon_eye_greengold.sumo7

We felt that our vision for the cover was simple, intriguing, and menacing!

Future Plans:

We plan to use a very similar style for the  Dragon’s Bane cover. This is the next book in the series, and it will feature the eye of a different dragon character, with a sword instead of a castle tower in the iris of the eye. This image is not shown at full size, but should give a good idea of our design plans for the book.

Feedback on this design is greatly appreciated as we finalize the project!

-Suzan Troutt, artist and author, art copyright 2014-

Wanted: Cover Artist

from Unambiguously Ambidextrous blog

Just posted this on Facebook:

Artists–

My first choice for book cover artist isn’t available after all, and I’m in need of art involving a dragon eye, a massive claw gripping a pile of rubble, one wing wrapping the side and bottom of a crumbling stone tower, and maybe shadowy shapes in the dark distance. A cover that will still look good as a thumbnail image.

No fancy streamers on this dragon, or fur or horns, but make him streamlined and muscular. Defined eye ridge. Cat-like rather than human-looking pupil. Think ginormous Komodo dragon with a large wingspan and a long neck and tail. Legs maybe a person-and-a-half tall. Gold scales, green eyes.

Full disclosure: I can’t pay much right now, but I want to be fair, and may be able to add a bonus after the book sells. I’m interested in your best work. The fantasy novel — Dragon’s Rook — will be released as an e-book first, and then in print. You will receive full credit for your work (on the copyright page and/or in the acknowledgements), and I will be happy to include your contact information, as well (website, e-mail, etc.). Thanks!

To the description should be added these necessary details: broader head or snout than a Komodo, and huge eyes. None of these beady little things that are easily dismissed, but mysterious, arresting eyes that could mesmerize anyone looking into them. If that’s not possible with a cat-like pupil/iris, then use a human-like eye shape.

If this sounds like a project you’d be interested in joining, please leave a reply to this post.

I’m interested in seeing various styles of art, and whichever is chosen for Dragon’s Rook will have the first crack at the cover for the second book, titled either Dragon’s Bane or Dragon’s Blood.

That Junior High Feeling

Below is a quote from Jenny Simmons, musician and writer, in her blog post The Christian Industrial Complex and Why I Am Doing a Kickstarter Campaignabout the obstacles facing us un-famous creative folk:

Regarding my book, The Road to Becoming, I’ve met with a handful of literary agents and Christian publishing houses. One executive told me I sent in the best book proposal he has seen in a long time. Another said my writing style was laugh-out-loud, contagiously authentic. One agent said “there is room for this story at the table” another said the book is “spiritually profound” and and another said “this book will be a close spiritual companion to many.”  But at the end of the day each publishing house or literary agent has ultimately said-

We love this book but you’re not popular enough right now for us to take a risk on you. 

One Christian publishing house even went as far as telling my manager that I don’t have enough “heat.”  When asked for a clarification the executive said, “Look, if she is a mega-church pastor, we will give her a deal. If you come back tomorrow and tell us she got picked up by a major women’s conference and has a major platform, we will give her a deal.”

It kind of feels like junior high all over again.
Popular. Platform. Heat.

I’ve known  that junior high feeling. Man times. But I’m breaking free.
For anyone who has ever encountered the same attitudes, or who’s just now trying to break into the writing biz, I recommend reading the entire article.

Cold Heart, Kindly Meant

In recent months, I’ve been approached by new writers seeking to self-publish their work, and have participated in a few discussions about and with independent authors. As a result, I’ve come to this conclusion: Regardless of literary skill or monetary remuneration, one’s self-discipline and willingness to keep learning are important to one’s success. (And one’s definition of success is important, as well.)

Some of the authors I’ve met understood their manuscripts’ need for good editing, but have wanted it at little or no expense. I understand that. I’d love to obtain excellent products at no cost to me. Free housing, free utilities, free whatever — that’d be great, huh?

But we appreciate and cherish that which we gained at great cost, that for which we sacrificed.

So, despite how cold-hearted these words may seem to new writers in search of praise and handouts, I say, “Suck it up. Work it out. Learn. Strive. Improve. Don’t whine. Grow up. Bind your wounds. Stand on your own feet. Know when to ask for help. Keep fighting. Know your worth. Be humble. And in the words of Bill and Ted, be excellent.”

Cold Spell ("I'll get you, my pretties!") c2013, EE
Cold Spell (“I’ll get you, my pretties!”)
c2013, EE

 What’s Your Style?

24 Amy's lip gloss^vertical crop
Amy (c2010, EE)

I am not a fashionista.

My style would raise eyebrows on Fifth Avenue. Eyebrows lifted in amusement or shock, who knows? I like comfort. For shoes, I prefer Birkenstocks or Crocs, or a pair of lightweight Sketcher knockoffs made of sturdy, breathable material. For pants, capris (’cause I’m a weird height, smack between petite and average) or stretchy pants (’cause along with a weird height, I’m so oddly sized that I rarely find jeans that don’t turn me into a sausage or fall down to my knees). Shirts? Skirts? Again, comfort.

Comfort with my imperfect self, comfort with my imperfect appearance, and comfort with not fitting in to the crowd. My angsty, stressed, approval-driven teenage self wouldn’t recognize me now.

Neither would Rookie Writer Me, whose voluminous, pretentious prose painted many a page purple. Deep purple. Flamboyant purple.

Embarrassed-Blush Purple.

By comparison, Veteran Writer Me is almost Earnest Hemingway. The writing is concise, direct. It feels comfortable, like a pair of baggy pajama pants.

But I don’t wear those pj pants everywhere. Such a style is not universally appropriate.

Borrowed from a book review on Keanan Brand’s blog, Adventures in Fiction:

A note about style or voice: Neither of those elements should overwhelm the story. Style or voice should never become the star of the novel, but should serve the story. Therefore, when I say that no particular passage stands out due to style, that’s not a bad thing. I’d rather have substance than pretty, pretty lights.

The same could not be said of a particular fantasy novel I read a few years ago. Touted as lyrical and mesmerizing, the writing style was often so flowery — ahem, poetic — that my brain glazed and my eyes crossed. Although there were a couple of scenes where I paid close attention and read word-for-word, most of the novel passed in page-flipping disinterest. The style overtook the story.

Good writing will always be recognized, because it is smooth, refreshing, engaging, intriguing, a good vehicle for the story — but the best writing style doesn’t draw attention to itself. It doesn’t stand in the way of the story.

I’ve edited a spate of manuscripts plagued by sentence fragments. I love sentence fragments. In moderation. When they make a point. But always? For no apparent reason? Just to be trendy and “with it”? Not so much. (See what I did there?) Sentence fragments are great for indicating surprise, irony, humor, fear, but too many in succession can quickly grow wearisome.

An awkward writing style is a form of author intrusion. Ever read a book or an article that feels forced, not because the author doesn’t know his material, but because there’s a self-conscious attempt to be cute, hip, or literary? The author doesn’t feel comfortable, as if wearing an ill-fitting garment. No matter how luxurious the fabric or how fashionable the label, it looks cheap.

Play around with clothing styles to find your fashion sense, and play with different writing styles to find your creative groove. Get down inside it, turn around a few times, take a few steps to see how it fits. And then write, write, write.

A Response to Three Common Christian Arguments Against Using Foul Language in Fiction

Today’s post is the result of a question asked of me last week when I gave an abbreviated presentation on editing. The group I addressed was composed of Christian writers, some of whom are striding into edgier territory than is comfortable to many of the traditional Christian publishers.

This question probably would not have been asked, or even considered worthwhile, had I spoken to a group of writers of no particular faith, but it did stretch me to present a cogent response, and is worth discussion, especially since it brings up the notion that every word we write must have a purpose:

In writing the conflict between good and evil—what words are acceptable? Damn, hell—how graphic can a Christian writer be?

My immediate response: as graphic as your conscience allows and the story requires.

My modified response: what is allowed depends on your publisher.

But what about a Biblical response? I’m so glad you asked.

A) What about offending a “weaker brother”?

Scripture used as basis of argument: Romans 14:1-3

“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.” (NLT

“Receive him that is weak in faith, but not for passing judgment. For one believes that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eats herbs. Let not him that eats despise him that eats not; and let not him who eats not judge him that eats: for God has received him.” (KJ2000)

Although we need to be mindful of others, don’t let the possibility of offending someone keep you from telling the truth. Don’t let weaker readers weaken a strong story.

Evil exists. Bad things happen—even to good people.

Consider the oppressed, tragic lives of many persecuted believers around the world. Try telling them a squeaky-clean, neatly-packaged, everyone-is-saved-and-happy-at-the-end kind of story.

That may be our ideal, but is it reality?

Use discernment.
Is evil glorified in the story?
Is it present in order to reveal truth?
Prove a point?
Provide a comparison between darkness and light?

There can be, and often are, redemptive elements in harsh stories. Context is everything. Consider your audience, and your reason for including the foul language, the violence, etc.

And remember: Everyone has to grow up sometime. One cannot always cater to the weaker believers, else they’ll never have a reason to “man up” and grow stronger. Disciple them. Show them how to be strong.

B) What about the admonition to avoid unclean speech?

Scripture used as basis of argument: Colossians 3:6-9

“Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.” (NLT)

“For which things’ sake the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience: In which you also once walked, when you lived in them. But now you also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy talk out of your mouth. Lie not to one another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds.” (KJ2000)

Not all unclean speech consists of four-letter words.

There’s gossip, slander, blasphemy, lies, name-calling, belittling, boasting, abusive speech, anything that’s meant to tear someone down. An insidious form of foul speech is the backhanded compliment, or the well-spoken but ill-meant piece of advice.

Again, context: It’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it. And how you mean it.

Do characters lie or gossip or use sarcasm in a story? Do children on a playground call names? Or is everyone in your story a perfect specimen of civility?

Remember: A major storytelling necessity is character arc, the term for the changes a character undergoes during the course of the story. The main character may begin as a foul-mouthed, brawling drunkard. By the end, however, he may have cleaned up his speech, overcome alcohol, and be working on his temper. That character’s arc/change is essential to the story.

As stated earlier, we don’t have to glorify the evil—in this case, the foul language—but we do need to tell the truth. It’s an unfortunate fact that we humans have difficulty controlling our tongues (James 3:8). If the characters in our stories act like saints in all things, they lose believability, and we lose credibility with our readers.

C) And, finally, ahem, what about avoiding unclean thoughts?

Scripture used as basis of argument: Philippians 4:8

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (NLT)

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (KJ2000)

You may not dwell in evil thoughts, but there are people who do, and therefore there are characters who do.

Those thoughts can range from wishing someone would die to actually planning a murder; from thinking oneself superior to actively working to keep others down; from thinking someone other than one’s spouse is attractive to lusting after that person; from harboring anger to plotting revenge; and so on.

Realism and character arc require room for characters to begin in a place of weakness, trouble, misguidedness, even outright evil, and then progress toward strength, peace, wisdom, goodness.

(Not all change is improvement, by the way. Some characters regress, or begin from a place of goodness or strength, and end in weakness or villainy.)

“Holier than thou” syndrome is a turn-off to believers and non-believers alike. If a non-believer reads the work, will they be offended at the presence of God in the story, or at the too-perfect falseness of the characters (Christian or otherwise)? If they’re offended by God, then tough luck. They’ll just have to remain offended. However, if the author hasn’t done his job as a storyteller, and created believable, flawed characters, then he needs to rewrite them.

Just as we living, breathing humans have shortcomings, so too should our storybook humans. Lives transform as they turn from darkness to light, and therein lies powerful storytelling. The light would not be so bright without the darkness in which it shines. A happy ending is not quite so powerful without all the struggle that came before it.

Something to consider: Perhaps the story doesn’t belong with a traditional Christian publishing house, or with a Christian publisher at all. Perhaps the work requires a secular publisher—and there are many Christians who do publish in secular rather than religious venues, simply because their work is not in keeping with the expectations of a Christian publisher or of a Christian audience.

Is the intended audience the Church, with readers who want their beliefs affirmed and don’t necessarily want to be confronted with certain words or ideas? Or is it the world at large, everyone who wants to be given hope or shown a different way?

Final thoughts

A friend read this on Facebook Monday afternoon; it was posted by E. Stephen Burnett (whose excellent post on spiritual villains can be read at Speculative Faith), who was quoting another writer:

From fantasy author Kat Heckenbach: “I was thinking about the continuing war among Christian writers. The whole, ‘Christian fiction needs to be this,’ vs. ‘No, Christian fiction needs to be this,’ war. Clean vs. gritty. Righteous vs. real. Hide in the light vs. plunge into the dark. What I think is being missed in this whole situation is this: When we say Christian fiction needs to be of a certain type, we are really saying Christians need to be of a certain type. […] God is able to meet all of those needs, and fortunately He is willing to stoop to our levels to meet them. He stoops.” So should stories.

Update (12/1/14): Another good article about foul language in Christian fiction can be found at Randy Streu’s blog, An Unfinished Life.

Update (1/20/15): An excellent piece discussing how one actually takes the Lord’s name in vain, and how profanity has nothing to do with it, can be read at Mike Duran’s blog, Decompose — “On Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain“.