Thursday, September 24, 2015

Does a book have to be good to be successful?

Three Books

Today I will be reviewing three books that have been popular in recent years: Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, and The Maze Runner.  I haven't heard too much buzz about The Maze Runner, but I have heard quite a few scathing critiques of the other two, so I thought, "Why not blog about it?"

Bringing in a Third Party

Just to keep this from being all about my own opinion, I will be using as my standard of measurement Why Does My Book Not Sell by Rayne Hall.  In this book she mentions some "mistakes" that novice writers typically make and that could potentially drive readers away.  Chapter 20 is entitled "The Opening Scene." It lists several book openings that have apparently been overdone down through the years, especially by inexperienced authors.  Today I will be looking at three of them, but first...

My Impression of the Books

When I read Twilight, I had just completed the Harry Potter series.  Now, anyone who has read Harry Potter, whether they like it or not, has to admit that it is a very well-written series.  Just the amount of time and talent that had to have been involved in the world-building of those books is astounding, and then there are the characters and the story itself.  So when I started Twilight, I had a natural inclination to judge it against the high standard set by Harry Potter.  It did not measure up.  The story itself was decent, but the writing style grew tedious after a while.  At least once in every chapter, Bella rolls her eyes.  It got to a point where I would stop reading to ask, sometimes out loud, "I know she's a teenager, and that's something that teenagers do, but couldn't she at least try to express frustration in some other way?"

I read Fifty Shades of Grey just because so many people were talking about it, and I wanted to see what the big deal was.  Okay, first I have to admit that it is the only erotic book I have ever read, and I probably won't be visiting the genre again.  If there are people who are into that, fine, but I was a lot more interested in the story than I was in the sex.  I found it highly annoying when they would be in the middle of a conversation in which Ana was finally going to find out something about Christian's past, and then they'd stop and have sex for the next five pages.  Now, as far as writing style, I really can't comment.  Why?  Because I read the book in Spanish.  Why?  Because now that I can read Spanish without the aid of a dictionary I have decided to do most of my light reading in that language.  That way I won't lose what I have learned.  What I do know is that, just like in Twilight, there is a lot of rolling of the eyes.  Or at least I'm assuming that's what it means when it says, "poniendo mis ojos en blanco."  And it says that quite a bit.

I read The Maze Runner because I liked The Hunger Games, and it looked like a similar book.  I really don't have too many complaints about the style.  My biggest issue with the series is that after the first book the story became less interesting.  Or at least I found it less interesting.  In the first one it seems as though everything that happens has to happen for the sake of the story, but by the time I read to the end of the third book I was beginning to get the impression that the author was adding action sequences just to fill up pages.  I was ready to get to the end and find out the answers to the all of the questions that had been introduced.  It seemed to take forever to get to the end.  But that could just be my opinion.  People who like action more than mystery may have preferred the third book.

An Assessment Based on Why Does My Book Not Sell?

Okay, in the chapter entitled "The Opening Scene", the first over-used story opener that Ms. Hall mentions is what she calls "The Journey."  Basically the main character is on his/her way somewhere--presumably the location where the story will take place--and is thinking about what it's going to be like, or all of the reasons why he/she is going there, etc.  This pretty accurately describes the opening chapter of Twilight, with Bella bidding farewell to her mother and the life she loves to go and live with her father in the town of Forks.  And as she's leaving she considers all of her misgivings about the decision that she has made.

Another over-used opening scene is one that Ms. Hall calls "The Wardrobe", in which the character is trying to decide on just the right outfit for some important event that is coming up.  This is an exact description of the first chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey.  Ana is on her way to interview Christian Grey and is wondering what to wear.

Another one is what Ms. Hall calls the "Disoriented Wake-up".  A character wakes up somewhere and doesn't know where he is or how he got there.  This, of course, is the first scene of The Maze Runner.  Thomas is in the elevator on the way to the glade.  Not only does he not remember how he got there, he doesn't remember anything about his life before.

Does It Matter?

This is a difficult question.  To a certain extent the answer is "yes" because if the same story-lines are used over and over people will eventually get bored and want to read something more original.  If you are a new author trying to make your mark in the writing world, you want to stand out, not blend in with the crowd.  But at the same time, a lot of the stories that are supposedly overused are overused because they work.  And you can say it's not quality writing, you can say it's the same old thing being reused again and again, you can say it lacks imagination, but in the case of the three books I've reviewed today there's one thing you most definitely can't say.  You can't say that those books, and their authors, have not been successful.  I especially want the authors out there to think about that for a moment.  You may like these three books, or you may not.  You may have written your own critical reviews of them, tearing them apart ruthlessly, but ask yourself one question.  Wouldn't you like to have the kind of success that these books have had?  Wouldn't you like to have someone coming to you wanting to make your story into a movie?  Wouldn't you like to have readers all over the world eagerly awaiting the next installment in your book series?

What I take away from all of this is that the "rules" for good writing are suggestions.  They are good suggestions, and most writers would benefit from following them, but breaking the rules is not always a recipe for failure.  It's a big world with lots of people living in it, and every person has his/her own taste in books.  What one person hates, another might love.  Many readers hate too much backstory, but some people love getting that little glimpse of what the characters have been through before the events of the current story.  This goes hand in hand with character development.  I remember getting in many conversations with people about this when the Lord of the Rings movies were coming out.  So many people complained about the first movie because it takes so long for anything to happen.  But I love the first one because I like finding out all about the characters and their world.  My least favorite is the second one, because it spends far too much time on the battle scenes for my taste, but every male friend that I have would say that the second movie is the best because it has the most action.  In fact, when my husband watches it, he fast-forwards through the scenes with Frodo and Sam so he can get back to the "good" part.  If I were to use that method, I would skip the battles and just watch Frodo and Sam.  Oh each his own.

This is not to say that I have given myself permission in my own writing to focus on backstory and character development more than action.  In fact, I asked my husband to read the book that I am preparing to self-publish because I know he easily gets bored with books which spend chapter after chapter just describing things and in which, as he puts it, "nothing happens."  I needed him to read my book just to assure me that it didn't move too slowly.  He liked it, so I guess that's a good thing.  I suppose I will find out very soon how the rest of the world feels about it.

So basically, what makes a book successful is the number of people who like it, not the extent to which it follows the rules.  But of course the best books are the ones that follow the rules and are popular.  I don't know if my book measures up to that standard, but I'm working hard to improve my writing every day, and I hope to be that kind of writer eventually.

Remember to follow me on Twitter for updates on this blog. Also keep a lookout for my paranormal mystery, Amelia's Children, which I will be publishing in October.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How To Tint a Photo In Gimp 2.8

The Final Product

This is my new Twitter banner.  If you read last week's post you will recognize that this is a much improved version of the original picture I was using.  Also in last week's post I lamented my inability to get the even blue color that you see in the picture above.  Now that I have learned how, I'm going to share the steps here.

Step One: The Original Photo

The first thing you will do is open Gimp and go to File>Open. Open the photo that you want to color. In my case it was this one:

Step Two: Choose Your Color

Next you want to go to File>New and open a new project. It should already be set to the same dimensions as your original photo. If not, just type in the appropriate number of pixels for height and width.  Now you want to click on the Fill Bucket tool and make sure that FG Color Fill is selected. Set your foreground color to whatever color you will be using to tint your picture. In my case, blue:

Step Three: Add Your Color To Your Photo

Then click Edit>Copy.  Then select the window containing your photo and click Edit>Paste. It will look like this:

As you can see, the blue has completely hidden the original image, but that's okay.  We're going to get it back.

Step Four: Tint the Photo

Over in the layers window you will see that the blue color is in a Floating Layer. Right-click that and select To New Layer. Then go to the top of the Layers window and find where it says Mode. Click on the drop-down arrow and scroll all the way down to the bottom.  You will see the word Color.  Click on that, and this will be your result:

There are a lot of different selections in the Mode menu, and each one will give a different effect.  Feel free to play with them and see what you like.

I hope that this tutorial was helpful.  If you have any advice or insights for Gimp users please feel free to leave a comment.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter for updates on this blog and anything else I might be up to.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

My Review of Gimp Photo Editing Software

Why Gimp?

Even if you have no experience with photo editing, you have no doubt heard of Photoshop. I must be honest here and say that I have never used it.  I should also admit that when I have researched it I have been thoroughly confused by all of the different versions that are available. So as far as giving you a breakdown of the differences between Photoshop and Gimp, the truth is that I am not qualified to do that.

Here's what I do know: Photoshop costs money. Gimp does not.  So if you are familiar with Photoshop and what it costs (which varies depending on the version) then you know how much money you can save by choosing Gimp.  And that's the main reason for using it.  It's free, and so far I've found it to be pretty good.

Why do I need Photo Editing Software?

I have recently written a book that I have decided to self-publish.  Because I'm really on a shoestring budget with this project, I need to design the book cover myself.  I want it to be good, so I need software that is a good deal more sophisticated than Paint.  But again, I'm on a budget, so I don't want to purchase Photoshop. So I'm using Gimp.

What do I like about Gimp?

Before answering that, I'll show you the first project I've managed to complete on this software.

This is the photo that I have now set as the banner on my Twitter page.  It is not my finalized book cover, but it is similar to what I want the book cover to be.
Here's what I like about this picture: I was able to blend two photos together to achieve the exact look that I had in my mind when I imagined a cover for my book.  It took many tries to get the effect that you see in this image, and the Youtube tutorial that I've just linked to was very helpful in this endeavor.  I'm not completely happy with the text that you see here, but I've been watching lots of other tutorials and am confident that I can get the look I want with the text as well, as soon as I learn the process.
One Possible Problem With Gimp
Alright, I've openly admitted that I'm a newbie here, so it's possible that I'm just doing it wrong and that there is a way to accomplish the very thing I'm getting ready to complain about.  (Update: I have now figured out a way to do it.  You can read my tutorial here.)  If you have experience with Gimp and can set me straight on this, please leave a comment letting me know.
I've been playing around with color manipulation.  Basically the image above is too cheerful for what I want.  My book is a paranormal mystery, and I want the woods to have a creepy feel about them. In making my Twitter banner, I did change the coloring a little.  Here's the original photo that I was using:
As you can see, the original image was much greener.  I was able to make it look a little more eerie by bringing the overall color saturation down, and then bringing up the blue just slightly.  However, if I really want a creepy feel to the image, I think I need to go with a different photo.  Maybe this one:
In this photo I have already brought down the color saturation, but have not added any colors.  I would really like it to have a blue tint, because blue just seems to scream, "spooky!"  Here's a slightly blue version of the same picture:

Ideally I would like it to be even bluer than this, but here's what happens when I try to do that:

I do not like this at all.  The trees look like they are glowing.  What I want is a nice even blue tint to the picture that just sort of mutes all of the other colors, but I cannot find any tool in Gimp that will allow me to do that.  As I said before, I'm a newbie, so if you know of a way to get the look I'm after please let me know in the comments.  However, my first impression of the program is that color manipulation is one of its main weaknesses. (Update: As I said above, I have now solved this problem and you can read about it here.)

My Overall Impression

Again, please note that I have never used Photoshop, so I am not prepared to say how Gimp measures up.  What I will say is that I think I'm going to be happy with my result once I get finished with it.  My main concern now is learning the advanced text options so I can put my title on the cover and have it add to the creepy look that I'm going for.  I haven't fully mastered that process yet, but when I do I might post another review.  For now, I must say that I am very pleased with this program and would recommend it to anyone who needs to do photo editing on a budget.

Remember to follow me on Twitter if you would like to know more about this blog, my book, and other projects I'm working on.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Odd World of the Introverted Artist

The Art

Art, by its very nature, wants to be seen.  That's the whole reason it exists.  If something is created that serves no practical purpose, then to hide it away takes away its entire meaning.  Art is a painting that someone hangs on their wall, a song that brightens someone's day, a book that makes someone think about things differently, or a movie that helps someone realize that yes, there are people out there who understand me.  Art is a beautiful singing voice, a unique sense of humor, or an amazing talent for dancing.  All of these things can make a wonderful impact on the world, but only if they can be seen and heard.  Without an audience, art might as well not exist.

The Artist

The artist is the person who creates the art.  Artists want their work to have purpose, therefore they want their work to be seen.  Some artists may choose to hide their art away, but it is most often not out of a desire to keep it out of the world but rather out of a fear that it will not be well-received.  Many artists, however, do not suffer from this fear and bravely put their work out there for all to see. 

Quite often artists yearn for the attention that their art can bring them.  When they are told as children that they dance beautifully, or that they have a talent for poetry, that good feeling stays with them for a long time.  Many people, whether they be artists or they belong to some other profession, spend their lives looking for that kind of validation.  For many people, gaining that validation is a major motivation for everything they do in their lives.  This can lead down some very good roads or some very bad roads, depending on the decisions that are made along the way.  For the artist, the hope is that the road will lead to recognition, applause, and acclaim.  That it will lead to awards, fans, and, of course, money.  Not every artist has their sights set on being a celebrity.  That status comes with stresses that most people would not want.  But a little recognition here, a little praise there, is what drives many an artist in their quest to find their place in the world.

The Introvert

The introvert values, above anything else, privacy and personal space.  This does not mean that they are antisocial.  In fact, many introverts have friends and enjoy spending time with them.  But they don't put their entire selves on display for the world to see.  They keep some parts hidden.  In many situations, they will go to great lengths to avoid drawing attention to themselves.  Quite often they worry what other people think of them, and their natural reserve is a way of protecting themselves from judgment. 

The Introverted Artist

Okay, rather than try to speak for anyone else, I'm just going to tell my personal story here.  I very much consider myself an introverted artist.  For as long as I can remember I have been driven by a need to show off.  In school I was the annoying student who always had my hand in the air before the teacher even finished asking the question.  I did it because I knew the answer, and I needed everyone else in the room to know that I knew the answer.  When our class did plays and skits, I was disappointed if I did not get the lead role.  When I played in the school band in middle and high school, then later in college, I was upset that I didn't get as many solos as I wanted.  The truth was, I wanted all of the solos.

However, I am an intensely private person.  As a child the most dreaded question in my sheltered little world was my mom asking "What are you doing?"  I never wanted to tell her.  Not because I was doing anything I shouldn't have been doing, but because I didn't like having other people in my head.  If she knew what I was doing, she might ask why I was doing it, or if I was enjoying it, or what I liked about it, or any number of questions that I found utterly humiliating.  I still go through this today when my children catch me dancing to my favorite song, or my husband walks up behind me while I search for something on the internet.  My first instinct is to hide all of that away where no one can see it.  Not because it's bad, just because I'm embarrassed.

The artist in me needs to express myself.  I need to learn how to dance.  I need to write stories.  I need to sing.  And I need the world to know that I can do all of those things.  But telling the world about it absolutely terrifies me.  The singing and dancing bit is odd because I don't get stage fright.  If someone else puts me in front of an audience and tells me to perform, I feel right at home.  Performing makes me deliriously happy, and afterward I'm on a high that lasts for days.  But if someone puts me in a room of people and says, "Hey, Greta, why don't you sing a song for everyone," my response is going to be, "You want me to do what?" 

Here's an example.  Film-making is the newest hobby that I have developed an interest in.  Don't misunderstand me here--I'm not thinking I'm going to be the next Spielberg.  I have no delusions that the couple of little short films that I've made will ever lead me to fame and fortune.  But just the same, I want to show them off.  This led to a very awkward experience at my in-laws' house one day.  I had my first little movie saved on a flash drive, and I discreetly tucked it into my pocket on the way to their house for dinner.  Quite a few members of my husband's family were there, and I was very excited about showing them my accomplishment.  When a lull occurred in the conversation, I thought, "Okay, here's my moment."  I opened my mouth to try and say, "Hey, who wants to see this little movie I made?" but nothing came out.  My heart started racing, my palms started sweating, and I couldn't do it.  I still desperately wanted everyone to see it, so I ran to get my husband.  I whispered in his ear that I wanted to show everyone my movie, but I couldn't make the announcement myself, and I begged him to do it for me.  Which he did.   Afterward, I was left with mixed feelings.  A couple of people had complimented the movie, which made me feel good, but at the same time I felt guilty for having so blatantly called attention to myself.

This is a constant struggle for me.  There are things I want the world to know.  I want them to know that I've written a book, that I've won medals in dance competitions, that I am (almost) fluent in Spanish, and numerous other things.  But when I try to show the world those things, I often find that I can't.  I'd love to say that it is humility that holds me back, but the truth is I am not quite that virtuous.  After all, if it were true humility, I would not have this need to show off in the first place.  No, the thing that holds me back is fear.  I'm afraid that I will annoy people, or that they will think I'm strange, or that they will criticize whatever it is that I'm doing.  I am perpetually pulled in opposing directions by these two drives that are fighting inside of me.

This is my story.  I would love to hear yours.  Have you had an experience similar to mine, or do you struggle with different challenges altogether?  Whether you consider yourself an introverted artist or not, feel free to leave a comment telling me about your personal experience.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter if you would like updates on this blog or any other project I'm working on.  Remember, I'm dying to show off to you!