William H. Johnson

Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

The Book Cover: from concept to final

In Indie Publishing, The Dark Province on February 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm

The concept began as a brainstorm between my wife and I about the book’s mood and themes. I remember being young and quite struck by the jewel-like eyes on the cover of a book of short horror stories called “Tales from the Midnight Hour.”

THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN is in no way a horror story, but it was, in part, inspired by how shame is used as a tool in our society. I felt a  connection between a book of “devilish tales” and one wrought with themes that many find uncomfortable to discuss:  sex and religion.

Step 1: Initial concept sketch by Miya Johnson

Back in November, my wife sketched my cover idea and scanned it to a computer to give my designer something to work with. It consisted of two elements: 1) a woman’s blue eyes that had been almost completely flooded by an an orange hue.  2) The image of a man walking into the light. The former image was created to inspire intrigue and display a certain  sense of mysticism that goes hand and hand with the book’s fantasy landscape. The latter image was chosen to represent a journey from which mankind does not return.

Step 2: Professional designer creates a polished interpretation of concept sketch.

In mid January I received the first pass at the book’s cover. I thought they did a really nice job particularly with the eyes. I also appreciated the layout of the title and the use of blacks and grays as the color scheme behind the bright yellow-orange lettering. What I felt was missing was the beauty of the woman whose striking eyes sat poised to grab a prospective reader’s attention. As well, some in my inner circle expressed that the cover could be a bit genre confusing to prospective readers. As one producer/director friend stated during a facebook chat, “It’s badass, Bill, but I wonder if it’s a little thriller-ish.

In addition to the sketch, I had sent the designer a rough rendering in a word doc that featured Angelina Jolie’s eyes as an example of sensuality. The objective was to display a breath of the “Dark Province’s” seductive culture. I used this and an additional visual that included more shading around the eyes to communicate these ideas to the designer.

Step 3: Author and designer collaborate to add texture and depth to the woman behind the mist. Viola! A new book cover is born!

A thoughtful discussion between the designer and I turned out to be a success! Attention was paid to the eyes and eyelashes to restore the woman’s femininity without softening the cover’s most striking elements. The illusions that gave the woman a more flat, thriller sort of look were shaded and replaced with a more dynamic cloud-like design. This added depth to the image and texture, elements that I felt benefited the entire cover’s presentation.


Traveling Scribe Series: Chincoteague, VA

In Inspiration on February 9, 2010 at 2:03 pm

This is the second entry in my “Traveling Scribe” Series about my favorite places to go for inspiration.


This month’s spot: Chincoteague, Virginia

Most people I meet only know it from the 1947 Newberry honored novel “Misty of Chincoteague” and the wild ponies that inhabit nearby Assateauge Island, a National Park. It’s actually a small coastal island town off the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Lodging can be found in a number of small hotels, cabins or even furnished trailers that some folks will rent out.  It’s great if you’re looking for a place where you can feel completely removed from anything remotely urban and be close to an authentic natural habitat.

One of the things I love so much about Chincoteague is the drive in. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, urban density will disperse and be overtaken by open land. Chincoteague takes a little bit from rural America, adds to that a healthy portion of reverence for nature and then wraps it all up with a little maritime nostalgia. It’s the small bay you cross on the way in, the short narrow streets, the smell of the nearby Atlantic along with feel of the cool humidity on your skin that truly lift you off the mainland into the arms of this hidden gem.

Whenever I’m in a setting like this I like to stay up late at night writing. I find strength and peace in the quiet. I can feel that I’m one of the few people up and about—it’s as if the community offers the whole of its creative energy to me since virtually every other soul has left theirs unattended and available when they laid down to rest. I highly recommend Chincoteague Island for your next writer retreat. Even if you happen to live close by, plan on spending a night to take advantage the late evening’s call to creativity.

How I Auditioned a Sorceress

In The Dark Province on February 5, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Imagine the beloved characters in your epic novel crammed into a small room or hallway in North Hollywood, California. There is a half to a third full water cooler nearby only as a courtesy…your characters should have known to bring their own water bottle if they were thirsty. There’s a small clipboard with a sign in sheet attached to it, asking for their name, time-in, and agent’s information. To fill out the sign in sheet they have a choice between a pen that barely writes or one that has been chewed on. Sure, each one of them has an “appointment,” but the casting agents are running two hours behind and leaving means not having a chance to get a part…in their own story.

Pretty twisted, huh?

That’s kind of what I put my characters through when developing THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN. Before Calvin Gooding, before there was even an expanded world to dwell in, there were the women of Tiyll; about thirty or so unique female characters that were given exotic names and paired with others who might be their close confidants. That was it. In fact these names only existed on a series of post-it notes that were scattered across my workstation.

When I realized I needed a sorceress that’s when they all came running. It must have been what I put in the breakdowns.

Female, extremely powerful, natural leader, appearing 28-32, actual age unknown.

Into the audition room walked Tjetta D’jiaree (pronounced DAY-jee-are-ree). I’m not one who is particularly attracted to blonds but ,WOW, what a knockout! She had eyes like gentle waterfalls, a glistening blue that appeared softened by a dawn’s misty rain. Her golden hair, pulled back from her face, shined as smooth as marble.

But could she act?

She read a little from prepared sides. Blah Blah Blah. She did well enough. I decided to put Miss Tjetta on the spot—told her to improvise a moment with me where she described someone she adored.  Without flinching, she put the sides on the floor near her feet and took a step toward where I was sitting.

“Come,” she said, reaching out her hand. “There’s something I want you to see.”

It was pretty good. I stood and took her hand to see where she’d go with it. Continuing her work with staggering focus she gestured into the space beside us.

“She’s marvelous, isn’t she?”

“Who?” I replied. Tjetta laughed softly.

“I was referring to the city.” I was struck by her poise and commitment to a moment.

“You referred to the city as a ‘she,’” I said. “Why?”

She turned to me, leveling me with a welcoming look that seemed to shut the rest of the room out around us.

“Don’t you refer to those you adore more affectionately?”

She got the part.

Mom calls THE DARK PROVINCE my “freedom piece”

In Motivational, The Dark Province on February 2, 2010 at 3:41 pm

My mom and I have a running joke about THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN. It’s that she, being a devout Pentecostal Christian from the old school, is my greatest advocate despite the fact that it is still undetermined whether she’ll actually read the book due to its mature content.  Deep down that very content causes my own well-trained inner moralist to raise a brow.

Last Sunday, having spent the day in bed with a cold after stress and workaholism over launch plans and preparations had worn me down, I thought it a good time to reach out to my mother.  As I had done many times before, I shared with her that indeed some nervousness lingered in me as I prepared to share this work with the world.  After all, I am her son, and was raised quite strictly in her and my father’s traditions.

At this my mother paused and said, “Well—this is your freedom piece.”

Freedom piece.  I liked the sound of it.

She elaborated.  And frankly I was kind of shocked.  I grew up in a home where dancing, movies of all ratings and secular music were forbidden. Yet here my own mother, the matriarch of that very home was very casually counseling me on my creative breakthrough and how I had finally gotten to the place where I felt like I could say the things I had always struggled to express.

Hm.  Another check in the never-doubt-the-wisdom-of-moms category.

After we got off the phone I thought about what that meant: freedom piece. A declaration of freedom is a momentous occasion. It happens when a person or people proclaim their bondage ended and greet the next phase of their collective journey with exuberant arms.

Indeed, this is a breakthrough for me as a writer that will pave the way for more growth in the honest way I’ve always wanted; despite my inner conflict I chose artistic integrity over some form of moral censorship. This is the beginning of a new phase of my life, however things turn out.

I’m reminded, therefore, that I get to choose to be exuberant just as I chose artistic truth over sugar-coating. I’ve pledged my best effort and am willing to let the rest happen as it is best for all.

Damnit, that’s what I’m going to do…or “Darn it”…if you’re reading this, Mom. 😉