Commercial and Literary Fiction as Paintings

I’ve written at length about differences between literary and commercial fiction (including different genres and what “mainstream” fiction is), but reading Bone Gap this month while also studying Frida Kahlo has got me thinking in allusions, so I wanted to share another quick observation on the topic.

Commercial fiction is like representational art: whether it’s about something true or not, it’s clear what the subject of the painting or story is.

Images in this post may be copyrighted and are used for educational purposes only.

Above: Moroccan Man by José Tapiro y Baro, 1913; Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1847; Self-portrait at the Dressing Table by Zinaida Serebriakova, 1909; Rebecca et Eliézer by Alexandre Cabanel, 1883

Literary fiction can be more like impressionist, expressionist, surrealist, or abstract art—less accessible because the subject isn’t always clear, and the presentation isn’t always appreciated.

Symbolism holds more weight in literary fiction.

Literary fiction holds cultural literacy dear, alluding to classic literature and ancient mythology.

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Penelope by Carlo Carrà, 1917

Literary fiction is more likely to experiment with mixed media, incorporating poetry, illustrations, comics, letters, or other ephemera.

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Bed by Robert Rauschenberg, 1955

Words in literary fiction are like visible brushstrokes, sometimes drawing attention away from the story and towards the writer as artist. Word choice is important: how can you combine words in a fresh way to create new impressions on the reader? What connotations do the words carry? Literary fiction is imbued with tone created not by line or color but by diction and metaphor.

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The Cyclops by Odilon Redon, 1914

Do you have a favorite modern artist? What is your favorite work of literary fiction?

The Legacy of Dr. King

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge or controversy. -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday my goal was to listen to and share the words of the black folk I follow on social media. I was pretty scatterbrained, and my attention was not as focused as it could or should have been. Forgetting about racism or ignoring it–for even an hour or minute–means that you have racial privilege.

Dr. King has been a hero of mine since I was a little girl, for his courage and wisdom. I’ve learned so much since I first heard his dream speech or read my first picture book biography, and I will always be learning. I cannot stop listening. I cannot stop evaluating my subconscious or conscious thoughts, my actions and words and those of others, for microaggressions or racist behavior.

Don’t think that being called racist is a personal attack. I mean, it might be, but the point isn’t to get defensive. It is a calling-attention-to. It is a call to action. You don’t lash out for someone who tells you you’ve got spinach in your teeth. The racism which has bled through our nation’s history is far more serious than spinach. Say you’re sorry. Fix what you can. Do better. Read and listen and support.

Yesterday I let my mind soak in Dr. King’s words and let them sink deep down … but listening is nothing. Nothing without understanding, nothing without action.

February is Black History Month, and I challenge you to read at least one full-length novel–NOVEL–with a motif of racism written by a black human. Nonfiction is easy to filter as happening to someone else. Fiction becomes you. You become the characters. You empathize with them. You understand them and grow with them.

But sure, read nonfiction too. Not knocking it, just asking you to engage other parts of your mind.

Places to start:
THE HATE YOU GIVE by Angie Thomas. Buy this book. If you cannot buy it, put your name on a hold list at the library. Or steal your youth leader’s copy and pass it around your friends 😒😂

DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone, a novel written as letters to Martin Luther King, Jr.

CITIZEN by Claudia Rankine, a powerful book of poetry.

For audio books, Bahni Turpin is my favorite narrator. I listened to two of her performances of novels last year and cannot recommend her enough.

Historical books are good, too, but they won’t shed light on the racism happening NOW in your community’s neighborhoods, classrooms, streets, and businesses.

There are so, so many more, but I’m also so, so late to work. There are hundreds of reading lists available online.

Take a careful look at the media you and your friends consume. Are you listening to any black voices? Are you seeing black faces apart from music or sports or the news? I know; many people were taught to “not see color.” But when you are colorblind, you are blind to what you cannot see. You are blind to what is missing or silenced.

I hate that Dr. King had a martyr’s death. But he did, so let’s make him a martyr. Let’s live true to his words and see that his dreams for America come true.

#mlkday #martinlutherkingjr

Working with a Book Cover Designer

I don’t believe in judging a person by his or her appearance, but I definitely judge a book by its cover, and so do readers.Just say no to amateurish design. You want readers to take you seriously, don’t you?

If you care about your book, you need to care about your cover. As a former graphic designer, it’s easy for me to tell, based on cover alone, most indie-published books from professionally published ones. Some small presses hire amateur designers, too. Here are some tips to avoid amateur designs and get the best design for your book (or your buck).

7 Tips for Authors Working with a Book Cover Designer

7 Tips for Working with a Book Cover Designer:

  • Unless you’re a trained designer, your design ideas will likely be derivative of visual cliches you’re used to seeing.
  • Saying “do whatever you want” can often be paralyzing to a designer with a thousand ideas.
  • Therefore, give the professional designer direction but not management. Ask for a creative brief, a tool which helps the designer understand what you want. Give the designer a few ideas to get him or her going, and then let the pro do his or her job.
  • It’s often better to say what you don’t like than what you do. “Can we avoid the color orange?” is better than “My favorite color is purple. I want it purple.”
  • If you provide images or ideas, make it clear that they are to inspire, not require the designer to follow them.
  • Create a Pinterest board of your favorite book covers to understand what styles you like. It can also be a useful addition to a creative brief. (Sharing this with your designer will be especially helpful if you hire a newbie designer.)
  • Know your genre. A good book cover gives the reader an expectation of what the pages inside hold.

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If you’re working with a traditional publisher, they will have an in-house design team.

If you’re self-publishing or working with a small press that hires freelancers, here’s a round-up of cover designers.

If you are absolutely confident in your ability to DIY, here’s a tutorial to get you started. However, I strongly recommend researching typography basics before trying to make a cover yourself. Specifically learn hierarchy, legibility, and how to pair fonts. Creative Market has consistently solid typefaces. Stay away from Papyrus, Comic Sans, Impact, Copperplate, and Scriptina. If a display, handwriting, or script font is pre-installed on your computer, you can bet it’s a cliche. I also recommend learning from the good, the bad, and the ugly book covers at The Book Designer’s eBook Cover Design contests.

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