Constructing The Puzzle Box

puzzle box

It was a bit of a bummer to me to learn a couple of years ago that book cover artists don’t actually read your book. Those folks who’ve been grailrunning with us a while know how we feel about inspiring imaginations – especially visionaries who build incredible imagery. I tried running an art campaign at the first book’s launch, hoping to draw in excited digital and traditional painters who’d put form to the concepts and key scenes from the book. I got some entries; but none related to much in the book at all. It got me thinking – just how can you draw those talented folks into your world?

When I stumbled across the dude who wound up making the cover to TEARING DOWN THE STATUES, I was fairly pumped about it. He’s easy to work with and very good. Drop me a note if you want a referral. I sent him a few juvenile pieces I’d put together in Photoshop, the text for the back cover, a bulleted list of major scenes and characters in the book I thought would be iconic for a cover, and tried to relax and let his process happen. I hoped he’d read the book, so I sent him the pdf. He did a fantastic job; and a lot of you have commented on that cover. But he didn’t read the book.

So it’s part of my process now to try and forge my own concept art when the book is taking shape. It helps with the cover artists; and it honestly helps me as well – just to see how the book might be best positioned when it hits the shelves. Maybe one day, I’ll be a Photoshop artisan whose work can just go right on the cover. You can have a free copy of the first hardback art book. I can dream, right?

Above is my first shot at a promotional teaser for the upcoming flash fiction collection. No way is that going to be the cover because I don’t know what I’m doing visually. But it’s the kind of thing that’s in my mind to try and visually narrate what the collection is going to be, based on the stories and the framework.

I know, there’s supposed to be a dark fantasy thriller…urban horror…kind of thingie coming out this summer! Why am I not writing that?!

Patience, please. Life happened, and keeps happening. I’m 60k words in and have all mysteries solved in my mind, major plot points hedged out, and know how it ends.  All the characters are popping, and the dialogue sounds real. It’s getting there, just not as close as the story collection. If you’d like to beta read a few chapters and see some of the concept art, just drop me a note or comment here. 

Have a great start to your summer!

 

 

Advertisements

Wheels Within Wheels: The Embedded Philosophy of The Salt Mystic Series

LensLook at the diagram. Let’s chat about people.

The ones who enjoy change and excitement, say they’re far along the upper arrow. The people who more appreciate stability and equilibrium, say they’re farther along the lower arrow. The ones who burn, they like different faces and different streets, to shake things up for the sake of doing so. Their counterparts farther on the lower arrow do what they have to in order to keep the waters calm – sometimes changes even make them physically ill.

The horizontal arrow describes how these two very different types of people will approach their preferences. On the right-hand side, some of us prefer to think about people and can recall names of wives and children. Those along that arrow have spent their lives filing away personal details so they can use them. Alternately, the people farther along the left-hand arrow focus their attention on tangible things like tasks and goals and machines. Emotions and relationships are among the last things those along the left-hand arrow would think of.

Okay so far? Let’s go around the diagram and see what shakes out.

FIRE/BONE – Inspiring change in their surroundings by focusing on tasks and goals. They’re bold and dominant, often misunderstood as unreasonable.

FIRE/FLESH – Inspiring change in their surroundings, by focusing on people and relationships. This is the guy who puts a smile on your face as soon as he walks in the room. If he wants you happy, you’re happy. If he wants you upset, he can do that too.

FLESH/ICE – Seeking to keep things the same, but by focusing on people and relationships. This is the lady who pats you on the back and tells you everything will be okay, that you can get through this. “This too shall pass”.

ICE/BONE – Seeking equilibrium, by focusing on tasks and goals. These folks like spreadsheets and accounting and math, things that are predictable and controllable. They like solving puzzles.

Nothing earth-shattering yet, right? Maybe you’ve even seen this before. But none of these people are on an island alone. Forces arise when you put them together. For example, the dominant FIRE/BONE person will grow quickly impatient with the ICE/BONE guy when he starts going into the details and assumptions behind his calculations. ‘Get to the point’, right?

Spend enough time thinking this through, applying the axis to circumstances, you find at least ten key types:

Capture

If you scale that up, what are the implications?  Place these character types in specific circumstances; and dynamics arise. 

I can place a Libertine in a position of high authority and prestige and make predictions about what he will do, because we’ve seen that power corrupts. Alternately, I can place a Tinker at the head of a brewing and suffering crowd and spark a revolution. I can see a Strongman blindly forging his empire but being stabbed in the corridor by the group of Whisperers he was unaware were plotting. Do you see how the patterns are the familiar?

We can in fact recognize at least two pairs of forces arising from circumstances:

Capture

That’s for each type; but if you place different types alongside each other in a set of events, the dynamics get more complicated. We can say a type is in one of three orientations to these forces:

Capture

And all of this leads to the biggest influencer of human events there is. MOMENTUM. All fortunes, good and bad, have momentum. If you start winning, you’re often going to keep up the streak. If you start losing, it seems to happen in clusters. You can see it in sports when a team gets ‘psyched out’ or ‘freezes up’. You can see it in life. And you can see it on a large scale in human events with major cultural zeitgeist shifts such as the ever-predictable shifts from EXCITEMENT and OPTIMISM to ENNUI and FATIGUE. Go ahead and examine the last 2,000 years to see the obvious pattern of EXPANSION and CONTRACTION like waves on the shore.

The first book of the Salt Mystic series is titled ‘TEARING DOWN THE STATUES‘. In it, a mystic stumbled out of the salt flats two millennia prior to events and said something like this:

“I thought of the momentum of history as a fast ship on the sea, the wake of decisions rippling through the future as inset circles fluttering on an island pond…the awesome, secret structure of coincidence tying designs from behind the hanging tapestry, and pulling back…like standing to appraise a chalk drawing, the whole of it falling into wheels within wheels…a clockwork of events the scale of mountains and yet also the fuzz of an insect stumbling drunk from the flower. And suddenly I saw the shape of history in all its wonder.”

She saw the patterns and the types, the forces and players, and wanted to steer events towards better futures than she imagined were coming. Very much unlike Hari Seldon in Isaac Asimov’s fantastic ‘Foundation’ series, the Salt Mystic knew that people and events are chaotically sensitive to initial conditions and quite unpredictable. So she provided a set of symbols and rules for simulating a given set of types and circumstances – an event reading – that will clearly show how those sorts of patterns almost always resolve given the patterns of history. Characters in the book attend an event reading to discover a major twist in the story – it’s in Chapter 5.

More importantly, the Salt Mystic engineered a safety mechanism should things veer far enough in the wrong direction throughout history. She spread carefully engineered myths and fables, precisely suited to particular patterns of types and forces, that carried enough embedded details to inspire a guardian to arise. The guardian could be anyone, even you or me. The fables were ones everyone knew; but in the right time and place and with the right person, miracles would happen.

While it took two years to finally happen, I’m happy to say people are at last asking about the philosophy behind the book. That’s why I wrote this article, in fact – thanks to a children’s book writer who sat next to me on a plane trip from Dallas to Kansas City. It’s based loosely on DISC and Meyers-Briggs personality profiling as well as Belbin types – although the expansion into circumstances and human events is original.

The bit about engineering guardians into fables, I’m working on making that real. Will keep you posted on how that’s going.