Would the novel work with a Covid-19 twist?

One of the joys of publishing ebooks is that they can be updated easily and quickly.

So I had a flash, maybe while I was in the shower, and wondered what would happen in What’s Left if Cassia’s father died of a coronavirus complication instead of an avalanche.

It was tempting until I started realizing that it would have to be an entirely different story. She couldn’t grow up, for one thing, not unless I wanted to project that into the future, up to 30 years from now. Right now, everything just a year from now’s looking fuzzy.

And it couldn’t work with the premise of her having to go back through photo negatives – we’ve been digital too long now. As for the hippie, Buddhist, or AIDS epidemic dimensions?

The very thought, though, has me looking at some of the daily news reports through fiction-oriented lenses. Who are the villains and who are the heroes? Where do you want to set this – the White House, an intensive-care unit, a multi-generational household? What focus would you take? Would it be romance, young adult, sci-fi, fantasy, children’s?

I don’t see myself getting to this anytime soon, but good luck to any of you who feel free to tackle a Covid-19 big tale. There are certainly plenty of angles to consider.

Does a book cover really convey a ‘promise’?

Back in April, Smashwords co-founder Jim Azevedo presented a six-hour writers conference via Zoom for ebook authors newbie and long-standing. I found it a rich experience and must applaud his stamina in sitting in front of his computer screen camera that long.

From this to …

His candid advice about rival Amazon prompted me to bite the bullet and look into reformatting my novels for Kindle Direct Publishing as one more digital retailing site for my work. I am, after all, fiercely loyal to Smashwords. Still, with Amazon, the most exciting thing is that I can now offer my work in print-on-demand paperback editions as well. I’ve come to love ebooks, but paper is, well, a special world to me.

Amazon has cleaned up many of its earlier formatting issues, and I can say my maiden foray went surprisingly smoothly. The one hiccup came with the paperback cover – my existing one was too small to run full-size. I compromised by reducing it within the glossy black background field.

I recently posted about tweaking that cover, which I did back before the online conference. Fortunately, it holds up to the new twist that’s been added to my thinking.

Azevedo spent some time covering the importance of covers, something I’ve previously blogged on. Frankly, from a design point of view, I find most book fronts to be cluttered and unfocused, combined with artwork that often strikes me as soft.

The making of a hippie

Maybe it’s all my years in journalism, but I’ve long leaned toward photographs as having more impact than paintings or drawings, and I want a strong graphic element other than type. Ebooks have an additional challenge of appearing, as Azevedo said, like postage stamps at the digital retail sites. That means any cover graphics have to pop if they’re going to catch your attention at all. You can’t be the least bit subtle.

What really struck me in Azevedo’s pitch was his insistence that a good book cover makes a promise.

What? The cover doesn’t mirror the story?

No, a promise.

As I started pondering potential new fronts for my paperback releases, his point kept kicking in. The result is a slew of new ebook covers already. Here I thought I’d be keeping what I had, but instead felt a need for improvement.

There was no escaping the necessity for a cover to have an emotional appeal, a gut-level reaction from a potential reader. Just who am I trying to entice? I’m not a famous writer, like Tolstoy or Stephen King or even Kurt Vonnegut, whose name alone could sell copies.

Still, thanks to an earlier project, I have a clearer concept of my ideal reader than I had in the past. So I’m not simply trying to stop a shopper for a moment’s reflection, as I might with a “literary” appeal. No, I’m trying to connect with her soul and spirit. Whew! So much for that calm bookish repose.

From this to …

Let’s jut say I’m aiming for real readers rather than schoolteachers or librarians.  You know, the kind of readers who just might turn into not just fans but superfans, as Azevedo touts, the ones who tell everybody they know about the hot unknown book they’re devouring.

Flash forward and look what’s happened to my Subway Visions cover. The previous one set the underground urban tone, but just what’s the promise? It looks pretty static. Waiting for a train to somewhere, but what then?

The new cover, though, gives a totally different impression. Its brightly tagged subway car goes careening into the depths. We’re not just standing around, waiting, but off into the action. The typeface and solid color provide a retro take on old-fashioned paperbacks. Whoopie! As a reader, I expect to be entertained. We’re in for a wild trip. Well, there’s the promise. Come along with me.

Finding the right image, of course, is a challenge. I lucked out on this one, even though it required a long search and then winnowing down the other options. One where the photos all ultimately lost out.

Along the tubes to nirvana

I do hope that big piece of graffiti doesn’t say something truly embarrassing.

Daffodil Uprising was a bit more wrenching.

I’m quite fond of the clean appearance of that single bloom, but as I came back to the question of promise, I didn’t see the cover suggesting anything. It just stands there, like a monument.

The new cover, though, suggests a row of daffodils blazing into full bloom. It’s colorful and happy, reflecting much of the hippie expectation, without getting caught in the time warp. Yes, the story includes Flower Power but it’s more about youth and shared discoveries rather than Sixties. I’m surprised how fresh this new cover feels.

That’s appropriate, since my extensive revisions of these works sought to move them into being more about NOW than exclusively back THEN, even when the tale is full of what has become ancient history to most of the populace.

As I hunted for the new image, I wound up sorting through thousands of MsMaya’s mesmerizing abstract flower creations before finding one that captured something resembling daffodils. But then it blooms into something much more. Once again, the photos failed to make the final cut.

I hope you agree. But there’s more.

Continue reading “Does a book cover really convey a ‘promise’?”

Psst! Care to look at the books I’ve been reading?

I was long overdue for a reading orgy — you know, an indulgence in books — and a little while ago, before the quarantine, in fact, I immersed myself in ebooks by other authors at Smashwords. Some of the volumes are even free.

If you’re curious about what I was reading, zip over to the books reviewed by me at the bottom of my Jnana Hodson page at Smashwords.com. Yes, I thought about posting the reviews here, too, but there was already a lot on the agenda.

Most of the ebooks touch in one way or another on topics in my own novels. It’s lovely finding kindred spirits. Well, it’s a lot like the ways we here at WordPress connect, too.

Now, one more new book cover

At a recent online writers’ conference, I was convinced to bite the bullet and release my novels at goliath Amazon in addition to the alternative ebook retailers where they’re already available. As I began pondering the new hurdles and strategies, I looked at Hometown News as a first offering.

A few years ago I had replaced the original cover, which sought to convey a sense of an idyllic small town where children could grow up safely, at least at the onset, with another of more urgency, reflecting the broader sense of the ultimately dystopian novel.

The new photographic image, though, was problematic.

The flames coming out of the residential window had the emotional message I wanted to convey, but they kept eating up the title and author credit, no matter which color I tried.

So I came up with this, trying to employ a trendy design element:

Returning to it now, though, I still felt an unease. The solution, in the end, was to make the artwork a bit smaller to give it more impact. Got that? It doesn’t make sense, but here’s how I’ve gone:

By the way, it’s now also available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon, as well as at Smashwords and affiliated ebook retailers.

What’s your take on the new design?

Deep in the throes of fiction

I was in the midst of revising what’s now Nearly Canaan and found myself surprised to find myself living vicariously in the minds and hearts of the villains. Well, three of them. (I won’t name them, since they all start out as darlings. Don’t want to spoil your reading.)

Yes, I was even looking for reasons to like them.

Not so, their real-life counterparts.

The villains, eh? Never expected that!

Well, there were architects

In drafting my novel, What’s Left, some of my favorite passages came about while sketching the family’s business possibilities. What would be involved in transforming their restaurant? In expanding their real estate holdings? In undertaking alternative financial models?

Well, this is a novel, and in the revisions, they story’s become much more about Cassia than her parents’ generation or their roots. Or even my passion for architecture.

Continue reading “Well, there were architects”

Building a lingering legacy

As she asks her aunt Nita for details about the hippie era, she gets an earful. Here’s a passage that was condensed before the final version of my novel, What’s Left:

You know, peace and social activism. Environmental and ecological awareness. Racial and sexual equality. Sustainable economics. The whole spiritual revolution, including yoga and meditation. Education reform. Well, I miss the music – the fact it got lost in time. Don’t forget the health and nutrition angles, either – not just natural food and vegan. Farmers markets? We’ve certainly been participants on that front.

Weren’t there some communes around our Mount Olympus?

They’re hanging on, actually. The survivors turned into cooperative housing, where the members own their own homes but share the land. An interesting concept. Land trusts, too.

Thea Nita, you know how Theos Tito rants from time to time about the Establishment’s interference with the counterculture?

You mean, beginning with the CIA’s role in moving hard drugs into the country to undermine the peace movement? And Big Money’s work to undermine radical economics? Sure.

What do you make of it?

It’s another big book waiting to be written.

So we come back to politics?

Yes, Cassia. The nation’s divided by the fact we won’t look openly and honestly at the experience. Why should we be embarrassed by our hippie identity? Our antiwar righteousness? Our desire for liberty? There’s no real public dialogue, and that’s a disgrace.


OK, open up: Do you think the hippie generation should be embarrassed?


A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

Nearly everyone in town knew Bella

If we were making a movie version of my novel, What’s Left, who would you cast as her grandmother Bella?

This would be a big juicy part, starting with her romance with Nicky in the war years. And don’t overlook her working mom action with five kids in tow. By then, nearly everyone in town knew her.


A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

Climbing the family tree

When she sets out in the task that’s become my novel, What’s Left, she doesn’t expect to be creating a family genealogy going back through her great-grandparents. But there’s no avoiding it.

As I explained in an earlier draft:

Theirs is a unique odyssey – one where the final homecoming is far from its point of origin. As a tragedy, the suffering comes at unmapped turns in the quest for the American dream. As a comedy, well, there are hot dogs, hippies, Hoosiers, and hope. Take your pick.

She gets insights on her parents’ generation:

Thea Nita notes that children in her generation grew up hearing of the woes of the Great Depression as a staple of conversation at big family dinners. In our case, that included the diner shooting.

A good genealogist doesn’t turn back when the details get disturbing:

By now I’m rather astonished at the events Thea Nita’s uncovered. Every family has things it wants to keep secret, but as a journalist, she’s driven toward disclosure. What did I tell you about listening closely to arguments? The dirt that comes up, even years later? Or even in what might transpire in mother-daughter confabs.


Does it work for the reader? I certainly hope so.

One reason, I suspect, is because Cassia is part of a family that holds many experiences in common. They live close to one another, work in the restaurant or related enterprises, play and grow up together, worship in one of two streams they’ve blended. Whatever they have flows from a shared source.


Speaking of family, Cassia’s oldest cousin, Alex, would be quite a catch. Where would you want to dine with him – romantically or just as a friend?


A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers. (Rochester, New Hampshire)