Thursday, 20 September 2012

Interview with cover designer Kura Carpenter

This post is part of SpecFicNZ's Blogging Week... find out more at!

Kura Carpenter is a New Zealand based graphic designer who specialises in photo manipulation and Book Cover creation.

Q) I really enjoy finding the perfect theme that goes with a book's subject matter. What is your favourite part about designing covers?

A) In general what I like about graphic design is the create problem solving aspect. Just like a standard print advert, a cover has to do several things at once, and I like figuring out to make the graphic and font elements work together to represent the genre, theme, and also appeal to the right audience. But my ultimate favourite part in making covers is working with the authors and knowing what I’ve done has helped them and made their day.

Q) As a publisher I read all the books I help design, but of course that can't be expected of a pure designer. What kinds of things do you ask the author to make sure you are getting the right feel?

A) Getting the feel right very important and I have series of questions and things I ask for. I start with the basics including: genre, age group. I also ask the author to give me a list of covers they love and a list they hate, that have been published recently and are of the same genre and age group as their novel.

Once I have that info I get more details to understand what sort of attitude any character needs to convey, and what’s the overall tone of the novel. Good Design is all about communication and I feel it’s very important to think beyond the physical props and capture the emotional tone of the book. Only once I understand the emotional aspect required do I actually start thinking about what images to use.

When I work with authors I advise them to be open when choosing cover models, and don’t think about looks, but rather seek the essence of their character’s attitude.

Whether the woman has curly hair or dimples isn’t as important as capturing the spirit of who she is. Is she sad? Defiant? Because that’s what cues the Reader in to the true tone of the story.

Q) At Splashdown, we benefit from having the whole team (or whoever wants to) give input on design and the final product is often a combination of many people's ideas and inspiration. Where do you get your ideas?

A) I think about the key elements the final product will need to convey, for example, an romantic comedy needs images with a positive feeling, whereas a gothic romance needs something you can look at think ‘creepy’ or ‘ghostly’ or whatever.

So with the genre and age group in mind I start looking through lots of image libraries for my base photos that I will manipulate.

The main thing I have learned is staying open to ideas and letting the material inspire me rather than looking for a fixed image. How I know something that looks like an ordinary photo to start with will work as cover graphic is where my own experience as a Photoshop ninja comes into play. As well as my ninja training I have a Fine Arts degree and an obsession with adverts so that probably helps.;)

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Authors in Arkansas

This week I've been visiting Greg Mitchell, and here's a part of the conversation that has been going on since I got here... We especially like talking about how different stories fit together into a multiverse or shared world concept.

Monday, 17 September 2012

SpecFicNZ Blogging Week: Interviewing Grant Stone

Right now is SpecFicNZ Blogging Week and I'll be hosting a couple of guests from the Kiwi Speculative scene. First up is Grant Stone...

Hi Grant! Would you please first of all introduce yourself for my readers? I live in Auckland and I write strange things. You can find my stories in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Strange Horizons and many other places.

What got you hooked on speculative fiction in the first place?One of the first books I can remember reading is Lord Foul’s Bane, by Stephen Donaldson, which I read long before I discovered Tolkien. It was a remarkably grim and complex introduction to fantasy - I suspect (I hope) the grimmest scenes went over my head. Even so, The Land became a real place to me, one I can still see if I close my eyes.

I think I’ve been looking for imaginary places to live in ever since.

In your opinion, what is it that makes a SF book a classic?Each book is different, but a story packed with scenes and characters you remember for years afterwards .

Please share some of your favourite SF titles that you consider classic.Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. The scope, from the first landings on Mars, all the way through to Mars’ secession from Earth, make this a series I find myself returning to.

Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow about an ill-fated Jesuit mission to an alien planet. It’s a heartbreaking book, but it sears itself into your mind.

I really like Dan Simmons’ Hyperion. It borrows the structure of The Canterbury Tales, with pilgrims sharing their stories of how they came to be travelling together. I’m a fan of novels with multiple narrators and multiple stories thrown into a bag and mixed up and Hyperion fits the bill perfectly.

What’s your top NZ SF read?I’m really impressed with Helen Lowe’s Wall of Night series so far. It feels fresh, yet at the same time squarely in the tradition of David Gemmell and Raymond Feist, so for The Heir of Night to win the Gemmell Morningstar award was excellent.

Tim Jones’ collection Transported is a few years old now, but it holds up very well. It’s a mix of stories that are clearly SFnal in nature, with others that sit perhaps more on the literary side of the fence. Some of my favorite stories are more literary than SF, so Transported felt like it was written just for me.


Find Grant:


@discorobot on Twitter

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Kat Heckenbach: Kalek the Rocker Elf

Today it is my very great honour to bring you an excerpt of Kat's first book, Finding Angel. I have to say, this segment is possibly my favourite of everything she's ever written; we can only give you the start of it here, so believe me when I say you MUST read the rest. Is that biased because I am her publisher? That's as maybe. But perhaps in fact I'm her publisher partly because I love this so much, eh?


Kalek held what appeared to be an ordinary electric guitar. He positioned his hand in front of the strings and spoke.
“One, two, three…”
The music took Angel’s breath away. It didn’t come directly from the instruments, and there were no microphones or speakers to direct it elsewhere. It emanated from the surrounding forest, the very trees themselves, and drifted down from the sky. Angel could feel vibration in her feet—it even rang from the grass and rocks on which she stood.
The leaves on the trees and bushes changed color before her eyes, from green to red to gold and back, sparkling in the brilliant sunshine. Butterflies swarmed out from the forest, fluttering in yellow clouds around the flowers in the clearing. The music seeped all the way into Angel’s bones, stirring her soul.
The Elven band played slow and soulful at first, and Angel involuntarily closed her eyes. The darkness behind her eyelids brightened to a soft glow, which dispersed and swirled, and then coalesced into images of a savannah that was as real to her as the forest in which she stood.
A strange, disconnected feeling overtook her, as though her spirit had been pulled out of her body and transplanted someplace else. It wasn’t frightening, only disconcerting at first, and then something surged inside her like an instinct she’d never experienced, an animal hunger that urged her to lower herself to the ground. The positioning of her limbs didn’t feel human—more like the way she imagined a cat would feel stalking a mouse.
The deep grass swayed before her, and her strong lioness muscles tensed and twitched, her belly scraping along the ground. The scent of her prey wafted into her feline nostrils as her lungs filled with the dry, pungent air. 
She pounced, and her massive paws slid across the grassy plain, her legs spreading out to her sides, becoming raven-black wings that caught the wind and lifted her from the ground.


Here are the other blogs where this week you can find more excerpts, interviews and other cool stuff from Kat! Don't forget to check out her new release, Seeking Unseen, for more adventures on Toch Island.

R. L. Copple
Ryan Grabow
Diane M. Graham
Travis Perry
Paul Baines
Caprice Hokstad
Keven Newsome
Greg Mitchell
Robynn Tolbert
Frank Creed
Fred Warren


In case you don't know, it was Kat who first gave me the name Space Kiwi, and it seems to have stuck :)

And... here's something else just for Kat, since today is sadly the day I have to leave her house. Waah!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

My battered faith meets the Bible Belt

As I continue my trek around America, I find it to be a land of friends and faith. Faith is a beautiful concept, but not always easy to process by one who's been through spiritual abuse. I blogged about that a few years ago and you can read some of the details here. If you haven't read that, please do so now. I'll wait right here.

Symptoms I’m still dealing with years later: an inability to pray sincerely or at all, including over food; a restlessness in church services, or skipping them entirely; I can't sing most songs in church because I don't mean the words or I dislike that they are not my own.

If I seem to avoid spiritual topics, prayer, etc., please understand that these areas are painful for me to this day. I am forever changed, but I am not dissatisfied.

Not that I hate God or Christians. I mean, I think I still am one, given the fairly reliable report that Jesus doesn't go away unless you tell him to. Let's remember that. What, really, does Jesus in me have to do with any visible religious behaviour? I want to BE like him, not be bound to DO the things his followers have decided are standard for the faith. Make sense?

Groping for ground zero, for a foundation on which to build, I am most comforted by friends who allow me space. Who don't ask me to pray, who don't assume I want to go to church, and if I do go, who won't look askance at me for remaining seated during the singing and scribbling wildly in a small notebook the entire time. In fact, you may have trouble getting me to stop the flow of story in order to get up and leave afterwards. To me, that is a highly spiritual experience and I know dang well where it comes from.

Don't get me wrong - I'm loving my journey here! But please, if I am going to see you soon, I would love for you to understand where I'm coming from on this. And if you forget, and ask me to pray, I'll likely decline. It's nothing personal - just where I am right now. Thank you for extending grace to me.