The Horrifyingly Compelling Sulfur Pools of Yellowstone, and Another Cover Draft

Yellowstone National Park, which straddles the borders of Idaho and Montana but is mostly in Wyoming, is famously on top of an underground “supervolcano.” The volcanism in the area leads to the phenomenon that Yellowstone might be most famous for, namely Old Faithful geyser and many smaller and less faithful geysers.

Yellowstone also boasts these surreal-looking mineral pools. The edges are white, crusty mineral deposits similar to Tolkien’s descriptions of Mordor. The colors within the water come from heat-loving bacteria. Different microbes thrive at different temperatures, and they are responsible for the range of reds, oranges, and yellows before the water becomes clear and hence blue.

These pools are dangerous. They look appealing, but the heat will quickly kill any human or dog foolish enough to jump into one. There have been tragic cases at the park. Some people have survived their burns and others haven’t. To make matters worse, the ground around the pools can be fragile although it appears solid. The park has put up boardwalks studded with signs imploring people to stay on the paths and keep control of their children. Even the bison sometimes break through.

The landscape around these pools is not particularly beautiful, but it is interesting, even alien. I happen to have at least one pleasant association with the Mammoth Hot Springs area of Yellowstone. It was there that my now-husband first blurted out that he loved me.

However, in my book The Strange Land, my characters’ encounter with these pools did not go so well.

The strange land of the title is not Yellowstone National Park. It is another volcanic region, the area now known as Kamchatka. Kamchatka also has sulfurous pools. Behold:

For my second draft for a cover of The Strange Land, I thought about featuring one of these pools, with the volcano in the background:

I’m not sure how I feel about this cover painting. For one thing, there’s a lot going on in it. I’m not sure it has enough focus. For another, it’s kind of hard to believe. The colorful pool, the colorful vegetation, the white mineral deposits: all of them are well attested, but they look kind of … made up? I’m not even sure it would be clear what the pool is, to a viewer who wasn’t already familiar with Yellowstone.

I’m thinking perhaps I need to re-do this picture with a darker sky and with slightly more muted colors in the pool. You know, tone it down from real life to make it more believable.

For reference, the previous cover draft for the same book was this:

I’m Late to This Party

Apparently, based on the YouTube comments, the following song has been out for six months. I just discovered it last week, playing the country station on my car radio while running errands, and it quickly became my theme song for the week.

It’s just so doggoned unifying.

Also, I like the phrase “one big …”, as in an earlier Andrew Klavan quote, “It was like the whole country was one big series of bad choices.”

And though this song is upbeat, there is a certain insight to calling life “one big country song,” because country as a genre can be pretty tragic. You know what they say: if you play a country song backwards, you get your wife back, you get your truck back, you get your dog back …

Anyway, enjoy!

Cover Draft for The Strange Land

One early fantasy series that I read was The Belgariad by David Eddings. Here are the covers as they looked on the series when I had it.

As you can see, the titles are all on theme by being about chess (“pawn,” “queen,” “gambit,” etc.). The covers are all similar, but each cover has a slightly different color scheme to vary your reading experience: mustard, green, rust, blue (harder to see in this image), grey. After all, you’re going to be looking at that cover for a while, as long as you are reading the book and carrying it around. It will form part of the visual landscape of your life. Also, and this isn’t obvious unless you’ve read the series, the color and general look of each cover matches the country to which the adventurers travel in that volume.

Last week, I unveiled my draft for the cover of my book The Long Guest. With the help of blog commenters, the font that we settled on for the title (at least for now) was Goblin Hand:

Now here is the draft for the second book in the series. I’ve kept the font and general title layout, but the color scheme is colder because, after all, we are going to Alaska.

Feedback please.

Cover Draft for The Long Guest

It’s Monday! Time for some art!

Today I present my mock-up for the cover of The Long Guest.

What is Normal for the Genre

TLG is in a genre of epic sci-fi/fantasy that is light on magic. Often books in this genre have an evocative landscape on the cover, to draw you into the world of the book. For example, this copy of Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness shows the icy landscape through which her characters travel …

On this cover for S.M. Stirling’s A Meeting at Corvallis, there is a lot of detail to show exactly what sort of world is contained in the covers. The broken asphalt and the ruined skyscrapers in the background show that this is a post-apocalyptic world. Meanwhile the horse and buggy, and the main character’s battle axe and chain mail, show that in this world, we use medieval technology. Finally, the man’s battle gear leads you to expect combat.

Often books in this genre will show one or more main characters, usually in only a semi-active pose. This particular one, unlike some of Stirling’s other books, shows the character face-on. I don’t prefer this as a reader, because I prefer to form my own mental picture of the character.

A good example is this copy of Jean M. Auel’s The Valley of Horses, which shows Ayla from behind. We’ve already been told that Ayla is tall and blond, so this doesn’t do too much damage to our mental picture of her. Notice the other hints at the important parts of the plot: the wild horses, the rugged mountains, and Ayla’s sling.

So I would like the cover of The Long Guest to look something like this. Nimri (sitting on the ground) and Zillah look at the unfinished, scaffolding-covered Tower. Grasses in the foreground hint at the steppes they will soon traverse. You get a general sense of what they look like (Nimri’s beard, Zillah’s bun), but are left to imagine their faces.

Obviously, my painting has less detail than the two examples above.

Here it is with a different title font …

And here, courtesy of photoshop tools, is a version with duller colors. I kind of like this one, but am concerned that it makes the book look like a horror story, which it isn’t.

The spine would look something like this.

What do you guys think? What kinds of covers do you expect on your fantasy books?

Postscript: Quick & Dirty Mock-Ups with Other Fonts

with Film Cryptic
with Goblin Hand

“Don’t Eat My Family”

Here is Ikash, who was a teenager when he was the protagonist of my novel The Strange Land. Now he is a husband and father, and he is doing what husbands and fathers do … trying to protect his family from the scary things in the world. (Of course Hyuna could help with this too, but as you can see, she recently had a baby, so she needs him to do the heavy lifting.)

This exact scene does not happen in my third book (at least not yet!), but it does illustrate his basic stance throughout that novel.

The black and white drawing did not scan great … a lot of detail was lost … but I needed something to post.

Are you perhaps feeling like this right now?

Betataki Cliff Dwelling, Nestled in Its Valley

Betataki 4
Here is the painting.

Betataki 2
Here is what it looks like on the wall. It is 12×24″.

Betataki Cliff Dwelling is located at what is now the Navajo National Monument. Rand McNally, who kindly alerted me to its presence, won’t allow me to post a copy of a page from their atlas. However, if you want to find this somewhat out-of-the-way place, head north from Phoenix on I-17. Continue north as the highway becomes 89, then get off at the turnoff for 160, signs for Tuba City. 160 cuts northeast across Navajo country. About 75 miles past Tuba City (and just before Kayenta), you’ll see signs for the Navajo National Monument. It’s on the north side of the road. Like every good national park, there is a small museum/gift shop/information center, where you can obtain maps for walking the various trails.

The trail to Betataki is a short, easy hike: about an hour round trip to and from the overlook. You cannot approach the cliff dwelling itself, but there is a viewing platform that allows you to look across the canyon. When you do, this painting is roughly what you will see.

Navajo 4 Pueblo

Here is a crude, cell-phone-picture close-up of the cliff dwelling. As you can see, it’s under the large arch on the left side of the painting.

We were there on a grey, snowy day. I didn’t plan it this way, but I love the contrast the snow and the cold grey colors of sky and vegetation make with the red-rock desert.

For those keeping track, Kachina Bridge is about one day’s drive north of Betataki. It’s in Natural Bridges National Monument in southeastern Utah.  This is simply a huge culture area.

Kachina Bridge Series

Kachina Bridge is huge natural stone bridge located in southern Utah. It has petroglyphs dibbled onto it. I was able to visit it last November, took a million pictures, fell in love. Here are some views of it from the back.

The photograph. The stripes are water/mineral staining.
First painting of it
Second painting of it, done on a smaller canvas (8×10)

The more vibrant colors in the painting are closer to how I remember it looking real life, especially the warm glow.

Now, zooming out from the arch, let’s go down the path behind it, turn, and look back:

In the upper left corner of this painting, you can see the portion of the arch that the earlier paintings are close-ups of.

Next time: Kachina Bridge from the front!

They say a city in the desert lies …

“… the vanity of an ancient king.

The city lies in broken pieces,

where the wind draws and the vultures sing.

These are the works of man, this is the sum of our ambition!

You’d make a prison of my life

if you became another’s wife …”

When I was a teen, a friend called me up and said, “You HAVE to get the new Sting album. The songs sound exactly like your writing!”

Now, I did not have much disposable income and I did not often buy albums. But I managed to get it. And darned if it didn’t. Something about the songs on it matched the tenor of my imagination. This, below, is one of my favorites.