Saturday, August 31, 2013

Girl Running: Writer Vulnerability and Peeling Off the Shell

I’ve made another decision regarding Portrait of a Girl Running. I have to admit that I have had mixed feelings about publishing this novel and its sequel, Portrait of a Protégé. Don’t get me wrong, I love these stories. In fact, I wrote Girl Running for my husband nearly seven years ago and it has always been my favorite. Consequently, there is a lot of me in these two stories, much more so than in Uncharted and Spilled Coffee, which are written in first person from a thirty-something male point of view. I’ve thought a lot about why I choose to deliver a story in that fashion, and I think it comes down to vulnerability. To write in a point of view so completely opposite who I am—a fifty-three-year-old woman—is sort of an emotional cloak, a way to protect my “identity.”

When I submitted these stories to my publisher, they turned them down because both stories push societal boundaries. That made me all the more squeamish about publishing them—in fact, I wasn’t sure if I would. But, in my biased, authorly opinion, they are really good stories. I didn’t want them to end up little better than a painting sitting in a portfolio, unseen and unappreciated after all the hard work that when into them. But publishing them means vulnerability—much more so than with my other novels.

So, I thought I’d try to apply a story within a story to Girl Running, as I had with my other novels. I had a really cool idea and went with it. I sent it out to a few readers and received mixed responses. Ultimately, I have come to realize that with my other stories within stories, the “shell” story was intrinsic to the overall plot and enhanced the story within. With this attempt—the shell around Girl Running—I did not succeed. The shell only dilutes Girl Running and distracts my reader from the perfectly good story that Girl Running already is as a standalone story. Indeed, I have come to realize that the shell, which I named The Step-Up Man was actually a way for me to work through my feelings about publishing Girl Running, a way of emotionally distancing myself from the stories, a buffer of sorts.

With the help of several astute and supportive reader/writers, I killed my little darling. I am now brave enough to present Portrait of a Girl Running and Portrait of a Protégé straight up, no dilution required. And I feel really good—no, eager—to publish them once and for all. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Portrait of a Girl Running: The Evolution (or Digression) of a Title

From the start, I named my soon-to-be-published novel, “Girl Running.” I had neither plan nor any notion for a sequel. When I ended up writing the sequel, I focused a lot on the protagonist Leila’s artistic bent, and I titled the story “Portrait of a Protégé.” It fits the theme of both novels perfectly—in fact, at one point, I considered combining the two stories into one tome, but it would have been so very unwieldy. Marketing-wise, two separate novels is better. For continuity, I decided upon Portrait of a Girl Running for the first story. I also had an idea for each cover, both comprising a watercolor concept—go figure, Leila is a watercolorist. One painting of a girl running and another of ‘the protégé’ as depicted in the second novel.

But then I had a big idea…

Since the story within a story works for me (that is, I really like the concept), I came up with the character James Grayson and encapsulated Leila’s story within his. Consequently, another cover-design concept struck me. And I could still make it work with the sequel by illustrating a painting in progress, by a man’s hand. Problem was, when I worked up the layout for Girl Running, the title seemed absurd and out of place—it didn’t fit with a man’s forearm and stack of papers. So, I changed the title to The Step-Up Man. It fit the story very well—in fact, there is a literary piece in the novel with the same title.

Then, it was time to work on a cover for Portrait of a Protégé (since I plan to publish both stories near-simultaneously). I knew what I wanted. I had the cheesy thrift-store prom dress, I knew the pose I needed, I knew the angle I wanted it photographed from. I wasn’t entirely sure about the lighting, but when my husband suggested, “Just let me try something,” I was game. The result was amazing—it wasn’t the bright background I had planned, and it wouldn’t fit with my original idea, but I loved the lighting effect. It’s dynamic and eye catching, just what I need for a book cover. Yeah, I knew it didn’t really go with the cover for The Step-Up Man, but I was so inspired that I got busy painting it. I’m very, very happy with the result.

When I started messing around with a promotional flyer for the two books, placing them side by side, it hit me full force how ill-paired they are. I may be a novice publisher, but I know enough to realize that a novel and its sequel should at least carry the same theme and some conceptual similarities, so even though I really liked the cover for The Step-Up Man (and the title), I decided to paint something that would look good beside Portrait of a Protégé. The same girl, of course, and the same chiaroscuro—but then The Step-Up Man would be an absurd title. So back to Girl Running…and because the covers are so similar, I tagged ‘Portrait of’ back onto it. I even thought I might paint a girl running, like I originally intended, but compositionally, that didn’t work for me. Besides, the ‘running’ is as much metaphorical as it is literal.

So, now, here is the official cover for the official title of my upcoming novel, to be published this fall.

Let me introduce you to Portrait of a Girl Running, along with its sequel, Portrait of a Protégé.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Chiaroscuro Cover for Portrait of a Protégé!

I just learned a new term, thanks to my sister who knows all sorts of great words, (like penetralia!). The word is "chiaroscuro." As an artist, I should know it, alas, my unschooled background is showing, not to mention my linguistic challenges! Try as I may, the pronunciation eludes me, but that won’t stop me from using it in my soon-to-be-published novel, Portrait of a Protégé! It fits so well because its definition perfectly describes the style of art that I’m using for the cover. Here’s the definition (from my Mac dictionary):
chiaroscuro |kēˌärəˈsk(y)o͝orō, kēˌarə-|
the treatment of light and shade in drawing and painting.
• an effect of contrasted light and shadow created by light falling unevenly or from a particular direction on something: the chiaroscuro of cobbled streets.
ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Italian, from chiaro ‘clear, bright’ (from Latin clarus) + oscuro ‘dark, obscure’ (from Latin obscurus).
So, now I must insert the word in the story, just because I can. Yes, it is a gratuitous use of a fancy foreign word, but that’s this writer’s prerogative! Besides, there's a portrait in the story with this exact lighting, though it's not the painting on Protégé's cover.

Anyhow, Protégé's cover was a lot of fun—yeah, it’s original artwork by moi. The dress was actually a cheesy Goodwill prom gown that I altered via the paintbrush, and my husband is the photographer extraordinaire. I do believe this is my favorite cover. I am still working on the cover copy, but this is what I have so far: 
James Grayson of The Step-Up Man introduces Portrait of a Protégé, written by the character Layla Sand as the sequel to her semi-autobiographical story, "Girl Running."
Four years after the close of L. M. Sand’s novel, "Girl Running," Leila is twenty-two and living on a pretty little lake in New Hampshire. A new set of circumstances throws her into a repeating cycle of grief that twists and morphs into unexpected and powerful emotions. Leila must finally confront her fears and learn to let go while navigating the field of psychology, protecting herself from the capricious winds of Southern hospitality, playing in the backyard of big-money art, and taming her unruly heart. Even her 'guardian' has a thing or two he must learn about love and letting go.
It’s a real challenge to write the cover copy since Protégé is a sequel to a story within a story and is a ‘speculative’ work, written four years into the future. Likely, most readers will have already read The Step-Up Man and so all that will make sense ... or not...