I recently had the opportunity to be one of the judges for the New Mexico Book Association's 2017 Southwest Book Design and Production Competition. Unlike most book contests which evaluate the quality of content, this one is solely focused on the quality of design: the cover art as well as the interior layout and production materials. I'm fairly new to the New Mexico Book Association, so they don't really know me or my company. But I passed around some of the World Weaver Press books at one of their luncheon meetings, and I guess the board members thought they looked pretty well designed.
But here's my confession: I'm a graphic design school dropout. It's true—I took a year of graphic design classes many moons ago, but never finished the program. When I took over WWP and suddenly found myself with the fate of many books' covers and layouts in my hands, I dug out those old textbooks, resurrected those old skills. I discovered that Photoshop was not all that different from the QuarkXPress my classes had used, and that I'm perfectly happy sorting through a thousand different fonts and color tones to find just the right match. I haven't always gotten things quite right, but with each book it gets a little easier, a little more intuitive.
It was a whole lot of fun to hang out with other people who understand book design, and boy, did they. We had conversations like:
"The kerning is off, and it would be better if the chapters started on the recto."
"Yes, but the crimp binding is nice, and Helvetica Thin was a good typeface choice."
"Does it bother you that the lead paragraphs are indented?"
"Not as much as this heavy drop-shadow bothers me."
"It's great paper quality, though."
"True. And the gloss finish really makes those photographs stand out."
That's a dramatic re-enactment, of course, and doesn't reflect any one particular book we looked at. But the two other judges and I definitely did geek out over typography. We criticized, we praised, and we came to a unanimous decision about which book would be the winner for each category.
A couple of weeks later, the NMBA convened at a beautiful Santa Fe home to present the awards to the winners. Sometimes the author was there to accept, but more often it was the publisher or designer. As one of the judges, I helped present the awards, so I could only snap a few pictures, above.
The full list of winners is here. A few of the standouts are listed below.
Blood Rose Rebellion is the debut novel by Rosalyn Eves, and it landed on shelves March 28, 2017. The first in a new YA trilogy, Blood Rose Rebellion is historical fantasy set "in a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place."
Rosalyn Eves is another of the amazing writers I met through PitchWars, along with others such as Hayley Stone and S.D. Grimm, whom I interviewed last year. I asked Rosalyn to join me on my blog today to talk about her road to publication and the challenges of writing historical fantasy.
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for BLOOD ROSE REBELLION?
Rosalyn Eves: I started writing the book that would become Blood Rose Rebellion in the fall of 2012 (wow—so long ago!). It took me about 9 months to write, and another 9 months to revise. I started querying just before I got into Pitch Wars, so I stopped querying and hunkered down for an intense revision (I cut 27k from the book and added another 24k or so). Pitch Wars really jump started the agent hunt though—I wound up with 16 or 17 requests, plus a few agents from prior contests were waiting for the Pitch Wars revision. I got my first offer about two weeks after sending out my PW novel, and signed with Josh Adams the first part of December. (He wasn't one of the PW agents, but I'd met him at a conference that spring and he requested the full when I'd finished revising). BRR went on submission in mid January, and sold mid February.
Laid out like that, the process (once I finished writing) seems pretty speedy and smooth—but there were plenty of trunked novels before this one!
SU: What kind of things did you learn from your PitchWars mentor when you were getting your PitchWars manuscript ready to query?
RE: I learned that I can be long-winded, and sometimes I need to sacrifice historical accuracy for the sake of the story. For example, the middle was dragging because I was trying to keep the Hungarian revolution on the actual date (3/15/48), but those winter months before the revolution were taking too long to get to the point, so I had to move the rebellion forward a few months. (The opening date, around the start of the London season, was less negotiable). Though I'd been hearing this from other readers, my mentor (Virginia Boecker)'s feedback is what really motivated me to cut and rewrite the middle section.
SU: BLOOD ROSE REBELLION is historical fantasy that takes place at the height of the Austro-Hungarian empire. What was it about this place and time period that made you want to write about it?
RE: I've always been fascinated by the nineteenth-century, so I was automatically drawn to that time period. I'd lived in Hungary for about 16 months in my 20s, and fell in love with the language and culture. When I decided to set the story in Hungary, that automatically narrowed the time frame for the story, because the revolutionary era was so dynamic.
SU: How much research did you have to do to get the historical details right, and what gaps did you have to just fill in for yourself?
RE: I did a lot of research for this book—as much as possible, I tried to rely on real historical details for the world (though obviously, the magic is invented). Food, dress, social customs--I got all those from books. I read history books to get a general feel for the revolution and other historical context, but I also read lots of novels, especially English translations of Jokai Mor, a Hungarian writer who had a fantastic eye for detail, lived through the revolution (and was friends with many of its leaders) and wrote multiple novels about his contemporaries. I also read several travel narratives written by British travelers to Hungary mid-century, who helped me understand how a British transplant might see her new homeland. And of course, I have Hungarian friends who helped me with some of the translations and answered my questions. The hardest research involved Romani culture, as most nineteenth-century records were written by outsiders, not the Romanies themselves. I read as much historical research as I could, talked with experts, and extrapolated some from 20th century ethnographies and first-person narratives by Romanies.
SU: What advice do you have for writers struggling through the first draft of a new fantasy novel?
RE: Keep going. One of my favorite bits of writing advice is that first drafts just have to be finished to be perfect.
The other thing I'd suggest is to read nonfiction--history and culture and economics and anything that can help you flesh out your world. You probably won't be able to lift any details directly (doing so runs the risk of cultural appropriation), but understanding how economics affects government, etc., can help you build a more believable world.
SU: Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you?
RE: I just got done with a short book tour and some local signings, but I will be at Salt Lake Comic Con in September. Readers can always reach me on social media: @rosalyneves (Twitter and Instagram), and https://www.facebook.com/rosalyneveswriter/
Rosalyn Eves grew up in the Rocky Mountains, dividing her time between reading books and bossing her siblings into performing her dramatic scripts. As an adult, the telling and reading of stories is still one of her favorite things to do. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys spending time with her chemistry professor husband and three children, watching British period pieces, or hiking through the splendid landscape of southern Utah, where she lives. She dislikes housework on principle.
She has a PhD in English from Penn State, which means she also endeavors to inspire college students with a love for the English language. Sometimes it even works.
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