Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Friday, August 26, 2022

A Tale of Two Covers

I do my own covers. Not being an illustrator, I simply settle mostly for mood. For the last few years I’ve put painting off to one side, as I found that I had run out of new ideas on what and how to paint. However, I want to get back into painting, so I decided to paint the cover for The Girl on the Kerb on the off chance that it won’t be picked up by a major publisher. Below is my pencil sketch for the paperback cover. I should note that this cover scene was decided on while the book title was still The Road to Eura. It is a scene from early in the story. I will probably have to rethink my cover with the new title.

Sorry about the quality of these photos, but it is hard to capture a faint pencil line. Also note that this is for the paper version, so I’ve done a quick mock up of how it would work out.

After sketching it, it took me several weeks to get around to actually painting. And then, I just did the sky with the three remaining towers of London’s Solar Age in the distance. A week or so later I worked in some details in the middle ground to arrive at the painting below.

At this point I realized that I was in trouble. This piece was falling into the uncanny valley of where it looked like I was trying to paint realistically, and failing badly. This is always the great danger of impressionism. You have to make certain that your viewers realize that you’re trying to paint without regard for realism. It’s loose and sloppy on purpose. The problem for me is always the middle distance. I try to paint scenes that include only the foreground and a background, That middle distance, where things get gradually smaller and less detailed is something I am terrible at. And here we had that middle distance in the receding buildings and tram. To eliminate as much of that as possible, I planned to bring the tram into the foreground. You can see the pencil sketch over the smaller version. And I hoped that the bare trees would cover up most the middle buildings.

A week or two later, I had a rainy Saturday on my hands, so I decided to tackle the painting for real. Now, I should say that a lot of what your are seeing is just roughed in, nothing was be final. Even so, I saw that I was in way over my head. And moreover, whatever I could salvage from this, would be so far from my original vision – as vague as it was -- that it wasn't what I wanted.. It just wasn't going to work. I tossed in my brushes and called it day on that painting.  

However, since I had a much more immediate cover to paint, one for The Aerie of a Pirate Prince, I decided to tackle that cover by painting over this one. The scene I had in mind for that cover was much more in my wheelhouse. Below is the painting I came up with. This is the work of a couple of hours.

The scene is set on the rim of a large crater. The sun is setting behind us, illuminating the opposite crater rim. Mostly out of sight beyond the curve of the hill is a space port that is surrounded by warehouses. We have a rocket taking off on the right from the nearest section of the spaceport. The building in the foreground are small shops that repair containers, small ships boats, and such. Our two heroes are following a suspect who knows where the stolen goods have been taken.

Below is the final version for the paper back book after I worked on it in the photoshop style app, Gimp. I adjusted the color and contrast. added slight black outlines around brush strokes and made the rocket taking off brighter.

I will make the final version a little lighter than this one looks to be. I have to add the blurb in the box on the back cover as well. Long story short, I did end up with a useable cover, just not for the book I started to paint for. With the current title of The Girl on the Kerb, I almost have to paint the girl on the kerb for the cover... But I have time to work on that. In any event, look for the release of The Aerie of a Pirate Prince in the last half of September or early October.

Friday, August 19, 2022

The Girl on the Kerb


I thought I’d do a quick update on the novel I have out for submission and am looking for an agent to represent it. I emailed out query letters, as they’re called, on the first of July to four agents, and four more on the first of August. To date, I’ve received one rejection email from the July batch. I’ve not heard from the other three, however, not hearing from agents is a common way of signaling rejection. It is a little bit early to expect anything from the four August agents. In short, no surprises here.

What is new, is that I’ve decided to change the title of the novel, from The Road to Eura to The Girl on the Kerb. This may strike you as a big change, and in a way it is. Not that the book changes any, but the way I’m going to market it going forward changes. And perhaps in the way I’m looking at.

Right off the bat, I have to say that I know that “The Girl….” has been a big thing in publishing for years, and adopting the formula, this late it that game, can be seen as either naive, desperate, or cynical. However, I’m doing it because, a) it actually is as descriptive of a story as the old title was, and b) I am poking a little fun at the publishing business, with this copy-cat title. Not that they’ll get it, of course, but I’m telling you that I’m well aware of how unoriginal it is, so it’s our inside joke.

However, we have to keep in mind that I’m trying to sell this story. To sell a book, you have to write a story that agents and editors believe will sell. For many writers this means looking at the books that are being published now, but which were actually purchased a year or two before. Editors may be still buying those types of stories, or they may have moved on. If you have an agent, you can probably get a good idea where the market is going, but if you don’t, it a crap shot. A crap shot I didn’t bother to roll when I wrote this story. As always, I wrote the story I felt like writing, the way I felt like writing it. Which makes it an almost impossible story to sell, because I know that I don’t write stories the way they write, and sell them, today. Heck, that's why I started writing my own stories. My only hope of selling The Girl on the Kerb is to present it as one of those outliers, a unique book that could strike it big. Or not. That, anyway is my approach going forward. And the title, The Girl on the Kerb, represents this new approach to marketing the story.

While the story is set on Earth in the distant future, that is about the extent of its science fiction-ness. I often use science fiction settings merely as an excuse to write an old-time adventure story that allows me to have a free hand to create the world and the way it works, without having to fit it into our known history. Or do the necessary research to fit it into our known world. This novel is no different. The technology in use is little more than what we are using today, and society is very much pre-1950. I have described it as speculative fiction, but I might even drop that classification in the future, and consider it just a lighthearted novel.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Coming This Fall -- The Aerie of a Pirate Prince

A new Nine Star Nebula Mystery/Adventure is coming this fall! I have completed the first draft of The Aerie of a Pirate Prince earlier this week. It has been a long journey.

I started writing this story on 1 November, 2021. By 17 November I was 16,000 words into it. Nearly a 1,00 words a day – a nice steady clip. However by 29 November, I had added only a thousand more words. While I had a beginning written, and an ending in mind, I realized that I was going to need something like 25-30,000 more words to fill in between the beginning and the planed ending, which I had not thought about. At least if I wanted it to be a novel. And I did. So I needed to dream up a long middle series of adventures before continuing on. Faced with this prospect, I paused writing to dream these up. However, the was another reason as well. I really wanted to write a new long, real novel. I had spent all summer trying and failing to come up with one, but I had now the inklings of how I could combine several stories to make one. So I spent the months of December and January dreaming up The Road to Eura, and began to write it on 26 January, finishing the first draft on 27 May.

After finishing the beta version of The Road to Eura, and sent it out to a traditional publisher for consideration,  I returned to The Aerie of a Pirate Prince on 20 June. Realizing that the story I had in mind, was basically a novella, and that padding it to make it a novel was probably not a good idea I'm now content to publish it as a novella. Plus, if I'm to publish a book in 2022, this was likely it. The good thing is that you only need a beginning and ending for novellas.

As it turns out, my first draft weighs in at 38,800 words, which is just 1,200 words shy of a “novel” length story, for SF anyway. And given that I usually add words rather than trim them in my second and third drafts, it is possible that The Aerie of a Pirate Prince will end up a very short novel rather than a very long novella. Not that it really matters.

So what is The Aerie of a Pirate Prince about?

Rafe d’Mere and his feathered friend, Kee, return once again. The story is set three and a half years after the events recounted in Shadows Over an Iron Kingdom. d’Mere has been living the life he had originally set out to do – touring the planets of the Alantzia system at his leisure. When he tires of a planet, he signs onboard a ship as a limited time systems’ mate. The story opens with d’Mere aboard Captain Felle Sing’s Rendezvous Moon with his old pal, Chief Engineer Red Tew aboard. In Teire orbit they discover that one of the containers they off-loaded was off-loaded to the wrong lighter, though the lighter had supplied all the correct ID codes to collect the box. In short it had been hijacked. But due to an unexpected event, the original consignee learned of it arrival far sooner than what the hijackers had arranged. So, with only a four hour lead, Captain Sing, and the consignee’s office manager, Lasha Nin, are determined to track the stolen merchandise before it can be reloaded into another contain and sent off to the drifts. Red Tew volunteers to assist Captain Sing, and then volunteers d’Mere as well, pointing out that d’Mere’s an old hand at dealing with pirate princes. So once again, d’Mere is dragged into dealing with yet another ruthless pirate prince.

Friday, August 5, 2022

The Alloy of Law Review


The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson – C

This is the 4th book in the Mistborn fantasy series, and the first to go under the title of the Wax and Wayne books. There are currently two other books in this series, with the last one on the way. The stories in this series are set 300 years after the original Mistborn trilogy. They feature a cowboy-like gunslinger/lawman Waxillium Ladrain, and his sidekick Wayne. The setting up has a wild west lawman inherit a title and an estate. He returns to an early 20th century type city, with some things like the beginning of electric lights and motor cars. There, he gets drawn into investigating a series of mysterious robberies.

I received this copy, like the other Sanderson title, from TOR for free. This time, no doubt to promote the release of the 4th and last book in the Wax and Wayne series in November 2022.*

I did not get very far into Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, but this book was different enough for me to to finish it. It tells a less epic and more lighthearted story, which I much prefer, and features some likable characters – if you ignore the fact that Sanderson has them killing “bad guys” rather freely. Indeed, the story started out as a C+ story with potential, but lost points as it went along, for that and one related reason. That reason is that this read like a superhero comic book without the pictures. Some 30 years ago I started following some Marvel superhero comics. But that phase didn’t last all that long, as I soon grew tired of the formula: set up a conflict, stage an elaborate barroom fistfight with superpowers, leave it hanging in the balance. Resolve that cliffhanger in the next issue, set up the next reason for the next barroom fistfight with superpowers, rinse and repeat. Alloy of Law is something like those comics. It definitely is a superhero story.

Wax, Wayne, and the villain are superhero type characters in that each has different superhuman powers. Oh, Sanderson has devised an elaborate system of magic to explain these powers, but stripped of that terminology they're just like your typical collection of superheroes. The story, as I mentioned is something of a mystery, but like the comics, it usually served to set up the next superpower brawl, some of  which are so elaborate that they are spread over several chapters. Remember the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, since there are no pictures in this book, every panel of a theoretical The Alloy of Law comic book gets its thousand words. Or more. So if detailed descriptions of fights with flying people, time bubbles, and regeneration is your jam, you will likely enjoy this book. And given the popularity of Marvel movies it seems like that people do enjoy these elaborate superpower fistfights, so, if you are one of them, and can picture this type of action in your head, I dare say you will like The Alloy of Law. Even I got through the book, and while I could’ve stopped reading once I got tired of all the extended brawls, I kept on – if only because I’d have nothing to write about this week if it wasn’t The Alloy of Law.

Will I go on and read more in this series? I rather doubt it. It had an interesting world to explore, but Sanderson spent way too much time choreographing fight scenes for my taste. And heroes who shot a couple dozen people dead -- even "bad guys"  without remorse, are not really my idea of heroes.

*23 August 2022 Update; Well, TOR offered me a free ebook copy of the next one in the series -- Shadows of Self -- so I guess I'll give it a read. I wonder if they'll be giving away the third book as well? Stay turned.