Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pomp and Circumstance...and Lots of Beaches

If you're wondering where I've been, my younger daughter graduated (brief pause for an indulgence in maternal pride here: Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude) from her college down in Florida last weekend and we decided to turn the expedition to celebrate her achievement (and help haul home four years' accumulation of stuff) into a brief vacation. At one point we were afraid only Steve would be able to go while I headed for high ground with the family's overpopulation of cats (I cannot drive Steve's hulking white SUV, nicknamed "Moby Dick"). But in the end the Mississippi River's threat to New Orleans receded and I was able to make the trip, too .

I know most people think graduations are boring, but I actually love them--or at least, I love the beginning of the ceremony when the graduates march in accompanied by a seemingly endless loop of Pomp and Circumstance. The auditorium or stadium (or giant tent overlooking the bay, in this case) swells with such a heartwarming surge of joy and pride that I usually find myself fighting back tears. Students graduating with honors are justly proud of their academic achievement, while those not graduating with honors are equally proud (and often enormously relieved) simply to have managed to graduate at all. It's a long, hard slog through college, four years of fun and pain, growing and decision making, sacrifice and transformation, exploration and discovery. And it all seems to come together in that one uplifting, shared moment of giddy rejoicing. I am soooo glad I didn't have to miss it.

Woven in amongst the various ceremonies were also multiple trips with my daughter to her favorite beaches and piers. She grew up on the beach in Australia, so the last four years have been bliss for her. And somewhere, strolling along some shell-strewn beach, I stumbled across the solution to a problem that's been holding up my proposal for book #8 in the Sebastian series. So I guess maybe I can call it a working vacation?


Monday, May 16, 2011

Breathing Easier

The Corps has opened the Morganza Spillway, which has actually dropped the river level at New Orleans by about half a foot and is taking potentially lethal pressure off the metropolitan area's levees. We are all breathing a lot easier today even as our hearts go out to those with homes along the Atchafalaya who are now facing increased flooding.

We went and looked at the river yesterday. Yes, it's still scarily high, especially at Audubon Park, above. But you could see that it had been higher, and the levees in Jefferson Parish (below) still had reassuring stretches of concrete and green grass showing above the water line. In the picture below, the river is normally on the left side of the batture trees. That's the bike path you see running along the top of the levee; the River Road is far below, to the right.

I snapped these pictures with my phone, which made them easy to email. But I have other shots I hope to get uploaded, including of a truly impressive mass of debris piled up against the pier in Kenner's old town.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Getting Scary


That's the second story of the cathedral you're looking at here; the street level is far, far below.

Of course, the Corps keeps assuring us that New Orleans will be safe...probably. That's after they put up this map to scare the bejesus out of us:

My house is in one of those areas colored for flooding of depths from 25 to 40 feet. Seriously? And everyone down here has soooo much faith in the Army Corps of Engineers. As for what's happening to the west of us, in Cajun's just heartbreaking.

I need drugs.

(Photo by Matthew Hinton. He describes how he took the shot here, since, believe it or not, some people are trying to dismiss it as Photoshopped.)

Blogger Issues

Blogspot has been having problems, locking us out for nearly 24 hours and deleting recent post. But they're finally open again and say the missing posts should be back up soon. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

From Russia with Sebastian

In response to my recent post about covers, a reader in Uzbekistan very kindly sent me files of my Russian covers. I'm supposed to get copies of all my foreign editions, but in practice I frequently don't, so this was my first glimpse of the images chosen by my Russian publishers. They are certainly very different. Here's What Angels Fear:

When Gods Die:

And Why Mermaids Sing.

Obviously, Russian art departments are as oblivious to historically correct dress as their American counterparts. I also find it interesting that they chose to put a woman on all three books, with no real sense of danger--despite the fact that the series is about a man and rather violent. Of the three, I think my favorite is the Angels cover. There is something quite intriguing about the way the woman is looking over her shoulder and faintly smiling--although I think I would be surprised if I picked up the book and read the cover copy (that is, if I could actually read the Russian cover copy, which of course I couldn't!)

Contrast this cover art with what the Australians did:

(Actually, these are early versions--I can't find the final version, in which Big Ben was Photoshopped out.)

Obviously, a very different approach and look.

The truth is, traditions in cover art vary enormously from one country to the next. Which is why smart authors don't complain about the covers of their foreign editions--because we don't know enough to make any kind of a valid judgement.

My thanks to Irin Belokon for the covers!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Pig Coming Down the Python

As anyone watching the news knows, the Mississippi River is flooding. Badly. Those of us sitting down here at the mouth of Old Man River can only watch as the crest of high water rolls relentlessly towards us.

The flood is expected to hit the river at New Orleans on May 21, cresting on May 22 at 17.5 feet. (Update: They are now projecting a crest of 19.5 on May 23rd.) The levees along the river are built to take a 20-foot flood. Am I uncomfortable? Uh, yes; although thanks to protective measures taken after past river rampages, I know we are in a much more secure position than many upriver or even in other parts of Louisiana. I saw yesterday that the state has started evacuating prisoners from Angola, which is at St. Francisville, just above Baton Rouge. At the same time, Baton Rouge is borrowing thousands of sandbags from St. Charles Parish, although St. Charles made them promise to give them back before hurricane season. (Cue sick laugh here.)

The ironic thing about all this? We’re in a drought. All the storms sweeping through the South have gone north of New Orleans, so that we’ve had endless high winds but no rain since early April. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I look at the devastation caused by those storms in the other states around us and my heart aches for those effected.

The last truly devastating flooding of the Mississippi at New Orleans took place way back in 1927. Since then, the huge Bonnet CarrĂ© Spillway has been constructed. The Bonnet CarrĂ© (gloriously mispronounced by locals as the "Bonnie Carrie") is basically a 1 ½ mile mechanically controlled weir that runs along the Mississippi a few miles north of my house. When the river starts getting high, the Corps opens the spillway gates and diverts some of the floodwaters into a 7,600 acre floodway that runs for six miles to Lake Pontchartrain. It’s been opened nine times so far, the first time being in 1937, the last in 2008. In 2008, they only opened 160 of the spillway’s bays, although all 350 have been opened in the past.


Word is the spillway may be opened as early as Monday. Already, water has started seeping through the bays and roads in the area are closed.


In the meantime, all we can do is wait, and watch.

Update:The state is likely to also open the Morganza Spillway north of Baton Rouge. This spillway is connected to the Old River Control Complex that keeps the Mississippi from shifting its course to the Atchafalaya (opening it will divert more water from the Big Muddy to the Atchafalya). The Morganza has only been opened once, in 1973, when it caused extensive flooding to communities down river. This move will be worse than blowing up the levees near Cairo because there are homes and businesses in the Morganza Floodway. (In fact, whether the Morganza opens or not, those communities will flood simply because increased water will flow down the Atchafalya whether anyone wants it to or not. But if the spillway is opened, they're going to be looking at 10 feet rather than 2 or 3.) At this point you're probably wondering, Why is she writing about all of this? I guess the answer is that I find the forces of nature--especially water--fascinating.There is something mesmerizing about watching this destructive wall of water roll towards us, and realizing how powerless we really are to do anything about it. We are looking at a tragedy unfolding. It's only a matter of, How bad will it be?


Monday, May 02, 2011

On Covers

A reader commented recently about how much she hates the cover of What Remains of Heaven (Not as much as I do, believe me, Elaine!). So while we're waiting for my editor to give permission for me to post the new cover of When Maidens Mourn, I thought it might be fun to review the covers of the other books in the Sebastian series.

My publisher nicely asked for my input before the cover conference for What Angels Fear, and I suggested a funerary statue of an angel, perhaps with a church in the background. I was totally wowed by what they produced. It's classy, evocative, and moody, and I particularly like the scattering of red rose petals, which adds punch and gives the effect of drops of blood. I also think putting the title in a plaque on the iron fence was a clever touch, although it is a bit hard to read from a distance. But the book didn't sell as well as NAL hoped, so the powers that be decided to change the cover look.

When they asked for my input this time, I suggested using the image of the necklace that plays such a large part in the book. Needless to say, they ignored me. The first attempt at a cover for When Gods Die was actually quite attractive and showed a caped man on a murky street looking at a carriage. But the carriage was a hansom cab. I said, "You can't do that! Hansom cabs didn't appear until 1834. My readers will think I'm an idiot." So they came up with Gods Cover #2, which was beyond hideous. Basically it looked like the aged Ghost of Christmases Past leaning on a cane in front of the Brighton Pavilion, with a very spindly font used for the writing. I shrieked and made a bunch of suggestions for improvements, very few of which they listened to, with the exception of changing the font and making the male figure at least look more Regency-ish, although they also made both the figure and the Pavilion recede far into the distance (and the figure seems to float, ghost-like). The entire effect was simply weird, and ugly, and frankly I could have cried. About the only thing I like about the final Gods cover is the blue, and that burned effect around the edges. Otherwise it makes me want to throw things every time I see it.

I love the Mermaids cover. I even have a huge blown up copy hanging on the wall over my desk (along with the Angels cover). I think it's stunning, and mysterious, and wonderfully captures the mood of the book. I said, "Great! Can we do the next one like this? You know, get a look going to brand the series?"


Yup, that's a hansom cab. Did I complain? Nope. The image is striking, and it evokes a spirit of action and danger, which is good. The orange coloring is also unusual. This is my third favorite cover.

And then came...

Eeek! Except, as bad as this is, it was even worse at first. Oh, how I wish I could show you the original version. In Heaven #1, the woman (who is this woman, anyway?) was dressed in a white petticoat and a corset that laced up the back and showed her flesh beneath. And they had this weird lighting effect, so that it looked like she was being chased by sparkling lights. I am not making this up. Basically, it looked like a paranormal gothic erotic young adult novel, or, in the memorable words of my agent, "like Sarah Jessica Parker being chased up the stairs by a ghost." I wanted them to cut Sarah off at the waist; they compromised and cut off a bit of her head. They also added sleeves, got rid of the laced open back, and made it look like she was wearing a dress by coloring it peachy-pink. (I wanted something dramatic like red, but peach was better than her underwear.) They refused to put shoes on her feet, but they did get rid of the twinkling ghostlights, and they added the skull down in the corner, although not as noticeably as I'd have liked. I still hate it, hate it, hate it. It looks silly, and is so totally wrong for this book. It's just embarrassing. I said, Please, can we have something grown up for the next book?


I like the right half of this cover, with the man coming out of the mist and the looming statues. I HATE the woman. And this is the second version. In Shadows #1, she's wearing a dress with nipped in waist and a hoop skirt, as in 1860. And this was after I sent the art department literally dozens of pictures of Regency dresses. They sort of fixed the silhouette, but they still didn't get it right (the waist on the back of the jacket should be much higher), and she still reminds me of a sorority sister dressed up as Scarlett O'Hara for a rush party; she's too modern and photorealistic. And interestingly enough, if you compare this image to the one that they used on the cover, you'll see that somewhere between this version (which is what I have on my website) and the production of the book, some clever person nipped in the waist again. Sigh. Why did they do that?

So, let me hear what you think! Which is your favorite cover? What sort of images do you think would be best for the series? And maybe, someday, I'll get permission to post the new cover. I just heard back from my editor, and she said it could be months before all the permissions have been cleared. Why? Who knows.