Life, Art, and Monkeys

Why Book Cover Design is a Nightmare

I'm in the home stretch of my book on Creativity, with just a handful of chapters left to edit and then format. The tricky thing now is that I need a book cover.

Book covers are extremely important, especially for first-time or generally not-super-famous authors. I fall into both categories, so I've been mulling over the cover to this book for quite some time. I've done thumbnails and early mockups, but so far I'm just not ready to commit to one. Unfortunately soon I'm going to have to, or this book will never get published.

The issue, I think, is I'm too nervous about doing an average cover. If you know anything about design, you're aware of the brilliant little bell curve that happens between "bad/average" and "great." The difference can be measured in pixels.

The above graph probably explains nothing. I am so, so tired right now.

Figure 1-A (above) probably explains nothing. I am so, so tired right now.

Designing for someone else is easy (well, easier) because your only horse in the race is how much you're getting paid. If you are hired for 20 bucks, the design doesn't need to be perfect. If someone gives you $20,000,000 to do a new logo (and that person is Pepsi Inc.) then you do the best job you can, but hey, if it isn't perfect at least you are all set for retirement and can forget about the project as you sip a Coke on a tropical beach somewhere.

Designing for YOURSELF, though, makes the pursuit of perfection almost mandatory. If you screw this up, there's no one else to blame. You second guess everything, and throw out ideas that are probably perfectly fine, or even good. But not good enough!

I have no idea what the book cover will look like  (it will be yellow, I'm pretty sure) but I do know one thing: It needs to be done by Monday. Yipes.

Filed under: Art, Books, Writings No Comments


Do you know Goodreads? It's a website dedicated to books. Mountains of books. More books than you could ever read in a lifetime. Every book ever written, I suppose, because if one isn't there you just add it.

I was recommended Goodreads by a book reviewer named Heather after a serendipitous meeting that is probably a blog post in itself. At any rate, I signed up mostly because I am hoping to have a book out soon and there's a spot for authors as well as readers. I quickly grew entranced, though, by the allure of cataloging books I read, want to read, and am in the process of reading.

It's fantastic. I want to read a book so I add it to my "to read" list. Then when I pick it up, from the store or library, one click puts it over onto my "Reading" shelf/category. When I'm finished with the last page I can give it a 1-5 star rating and write a review (if I'd like, which I almost always like) and the book goes into my Read category. It makes me happy. (You can also get recommendations based on what you've rated highly, but I honestly have a backlog so deep that I doubt I'll ever use this feature!)

If you enjoy reading, I would recommend checking it out. Even if you don't read all that much, it's really rather fun to go through the lists and categories and rate/add books you HAVE read at some point. Example: I added The Runaway Bunny to my list, which was a favorite of mine when I was a wee lad back in the old country. (The old country being, as always, a few blocks away from where I live now in the same new country where I have always lived.) I also remembered reading some classics in school so I added some there too.

If you're one of those authors who visit my blog here, DEFINITELY check it out. Never hurts to be part of the conversation about your own book, and meet the readers who enjoyed (or hated) it.

If you're interested- or already a member there- please don't hesitate to send me a friend request at JKRiki. I really love talking about books and writing, and it's a great community for such things!

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Writing and Pain

Firstly, I pulled a muscle while sleeping last night and today it hurts to do anything. Guess I'm going to take the day off. I don't seem to have much of a choice.

The good news is it will give me some time to catch up on reading. I currently have four books started and another waiting patiently in the wings. One of those books is Stephen King's memoir/how-to about writing.

Stephen King memoir

I've not read any of Mr. King's books, minus sneaking a copy of Cujo from my older cousin's shelf when I was nine or ten just because I wasn't allowed to read them. I didn't read the whole thing, just flipped through to see "the good parts." I don't think I was ready for any of the parts of that very adult book at that age. One scene in particular stays with me twenty years later, and I don't think I'll ever forget its haunting prose.

Anyway, his memoir on writing is fascinating, and I highly recommend it to writers and readers alike. There are some great insights in there, and he puts it on the table in a very no-nonsense, take-it-or-leave-it way. He doesn't seem to care much what anyone else thinks of his process, and that allows him to be totally frank about it. I don't agree with all of it, but the vast majority is still very informative.

At one point he includes an exercise for writing (which, of course, is the only actual way to improve at anything - practice) and I sat yesterday and wrote 1,600 words off the given prompt. It was... interesting. I've not written anything in the horror genre before, and that was a new experience. It was rather dark, and definitely adult. I don't curse in real life (just not a fan) but it came naturally to the scene on paper. To not have included it there would have been dishonest. I was simply telling the story as it played out, not engineering anything.

Well, that's not entirely true. I felt bad for the daughter, "Little Nell," and so I had her father survive even though in the true version of the story he should have died, and I knew it. I'm just too soft to go killing main characters, and it makes me mad when writers do that. I invest all this energy into the protagonist and they die at the end? Blah. No thank you, you've just wasted my time. (Side note: This has become a disturbing trend in Young Adult fiction, it seems. Not a fan.)

So I guess my books will never be perfect, or great, as I have that heart keeping me from leaving everything on the table. Oh well, life goes on. If that's the worst thing that can happen, so be it.

I thought about posting the thing here, but it's not very good (first draft only, and there won't be a second because it's just practice) and it's also pretty dark. If you have any interest in reading it, leave a comment and I will email it to you. Just know before you do that it's rough and you'd be much better off reading something else. 😉

Filed under: Books, Sick, Writings 1 Comment

Starting the Transition

I've officially begun the transition into the next stage of... whatever this thing is I do here. I hesitate to call it a career, because it seems ill suited to that word. It's also too small to describe as "life" and doesn't make the money required to be referred to as a "job."

Well, whatever it is, I've started changing it towards some future... thing.

In the coming weeks I will be switching this blog over to updates once or twice a week (regularly scheduled) and hopefully launching my new book and site to accompany it. That site will be (again, hopefully) updated once per week and the posts will revolve around topics like creativity, inspiration, and getting things DONE. My goal for that blog will be cheering on readers to set achievable goals and then working towards their dreams and callings. I've always enjoyed being a motivator to others, so I would love to do that on a regular basis and try to be a source online of encouragement to folks. The life stories and lessons that are sprinkled now and then on this blog will be going on full-time there, so I hope you'll stop by and let me know what you think! Currently there's no deadline or set day for that launch, but I would like to have it up and running by the official start of summer. We'll see how it goes.

Beyond that I will be diving back into art and working towards really focusing for a few months on nailing down anatomy. I took a class last year and it's time I went back into it all and focused like crazy until these muscles and what they do are second nature. Once that happens I'll be able to draw (and then animate) with a freedom I don't currently enjoy. At the moment it's more like I'm fighting with the paper and pencil, instead of working with these tools to create great art. A firm grasp of anatomy will make that process a whole lot easier.

That's the currently plan, as it stands today! It could, of course, all change tomorrow if a new opportunity comes along or the robot uprising begins. I'm playing it by ear one day at a time and trying to live in the present. I'll lay some foundations for the future, but I don't want to only dream about "some day" when I have today right in front of me.

You have today right in front of you as well! Make it a good one. :)


One Possible Future

Last week I asked a bit about what folks would like to see update-wise and regarding the blog here. I got some great answers, and I really want to thank Charles, Tom, and Adam for their comments. Though it doesn't fully return the favor of how much their input helped me, here are links to their spots online. Hopefully a few more people will stop by and read the compelling things they have to say!

Charles at The Animation Anomaly
Tom at Journey's of a Wandering Wordsmith
Adam at Typewriter Monkey Task Force

All great sites to visit! These fellows know writing better than I.

After taking in their thoughts along with some personal pondering and prayer, I am leaning towards a particular direction at the moment:

At some point in my acquisition of domain names, I added to my basket. I figured it wouldn't hurt to have, and since there was some "bulk purchase" deal it ended up costing under $10 I believe. At any rate, since I have a book coming (hopefully) soon and a few more in the works, I feel that having a dedicated place for those things would be useful. A lot of self-published authors I admire have a similar setup to what I'm considering.

Essentially I would have a very simple site up at that mostly contained my book on Creativity (with others to follow) and a weekly post that offers a particular insight or encouragement. I very much enjoy rambling here on this blog, but sometimes I feel that the updates are very self-centered and I'm not sure how USEFUL they are to the rest of the world. The weekly updates there would be similar in nature to other inspiring authors that I read now and then, and a place to stop by every Monday (or Wednesday, or Friday, I'm not sure which day yet) and read something that's purpose would be to encourage and cheer forward readers. They might be little stories from my personal experience, or just something I think would be useful about the creative process, or simply a post reminding you that it's worth slowly chipping away at any walls standing between you and your dream goals.

Meanwhile this blog you're reading now would be updated on a less regular basis, and mostly whenever I had something on my mind or new art. I'd probably try to post more art, and less words, and shoot for some new drawing or illustration once a week here. It might be a new Ukrainian Egg or just a doodle from warm up practice. The deeper stuff in text form would be regulated to

The biggest reason for this is that it would allow me to focus a lot more on my writing outside of the blog, which could potentially be compiled one day into actual books that people could hold and add to their own personal library. A blog is nice for writing, but it feels less and less "tangible" the more I do it. I've written things over the years that I certainly don't remember anymore, because I don't put that much thought into it all. And I certainly don't edit (in case you couldn't tell from the common spelling errors)! I would love to be able to dig a little deeper and focus on writing with purpose, instead of just rambling as I currently do.

This is all very preliminary, so you know! It is merely the direction I'm leaning at the moment. I'm certainly open to more ideas, suggestions, and thoughts, so if you have any please share them! I want to be useful to this world, and part of that comes from knowing what would be useful to you who sticks around and reads this stuff here.


Donald Miller

My friend Kyle recommended a book called "Searching for God Knows What" to me. He has used examples from it many times in our conversations, but I finally got around to reading it. It was fantastic.

I then went and bought Blue Like Jazz, by the same author, Donald Miller. I know a few readers know his work (Tom mentions Don in his book, Struggle Central) so I'm preaching to the choir there, but if you've never heard of him or read any of his books, I can't recommend them enough. It's been on my mind lately, so I thought I would take a few minutes to talk about it here.

Firstly, Donald Miller makes me want to go write. I get so much out of his writing that I desperately want to rush off and write things so maybe I could have such a profound impact on other people, and keep the cycle going. Unfortunately the next thought that springs to mind is often "But I can't write as brilliantly as this." The blend of poetry, honesty, and simplicity that Donald Miller writes with is astounding. There are passages that I wish I could "copy and paste" and send to most everyone I know. This morning I read a passage in Blue Like Jazz about writing. (It was actually in a chapter about money, but this part was about writing.)

Writers don't make any money at all. We make about a dollar. It is terrible. But then again we don't work either. We sit around in our underwear until noon then go downstairs and make coffee, fry some eggs, read the paper, read part of a book, smell the book, wonder if perhaps we ourselves should work on our book, smell the book again, throw the book across the room because we are quite jealous that any other person wrote a book, feel terribly guilty about throwing the schmuck's book across the room because we secretly wonder if God in heaven noticed our evil jealousy, or worse, our laziness. We then lie across the couch facedown and mumble to God to forgive us because we envied another man's stupid words. And for this, as I said before, we are paid a dollar. We are worth so much more.

Wow. Dang. That is a paragraph right there! As I typed it out, I saw where I would have written it differently. For starters I would have added a LOT more commas, but I think that's part of the charm. It is honest because he DOESN'T pause. I also kept adding "and" in places, accidentally. Then I had to go back and remove them. When I saw the little red squiggly line under "facedown" I wanted so badly to go fix it because Firefox says it is wrong. It was actually an interesting experiment to copy that passage, because I could get a taste of what writing that way might feel like. Maybe.

At any rate, I recommend you go pick up one of his books from the library or bookshop(/site). Personally I've enjoyed "Searching for God Knows What" more so far, but I didn't finish Blue Like Jazz yet. After that I'll be off to whatever the next one is, thankful that he's written a bunch of books. Then I will lay facedown on my bed and mumble about how I should go write stuff of my own, jealous of his stupid words.


Tune in tomorrow, if you'd like, for a big announcement of sorts. Or maybe it's more of the musings of a potential announcement, if I'm honest.

Filed under: Books, Writings 3 Comments

Creativity Book Talk

On Easter we had some people from church join us for dinner (lunch, really, in spite of the family referring to it as "dinner") and I was discussing creativity with one of them. She mentioned that she wishes she could be creative, but believes it's something that some people just naturally have. She asked me if I thought it could be learned. Since my upcoming book is on that very subject, my answer seemed rather obvious, but thinking about it for a moment first I said this instead:

"Actually I think you're right. It is something that people have naturally. The thing is, I think EVERYONE has it naturally, and it is removed from us over years of formal education and social interactions. Most people don't want you to be 'different.' They want everyone to be the same, and predictable. That's why school systems allow only for one 'right' answer, and if you give a different answer you are wrong."

I was extra inspired to get back to work on finishing the book editing, because she is due to head back to Korea next month, and I would love to be able to give her a copy before she goes.

It saddens me how many people I talk to want to be creative, but believe it is impossible because they are older and must have missed some mystical boat. I think that's a direct product of society, not any missing natural talent or skill. I've yet to meet a child who is not in some way creative. To think that some people can't be creative because of a natural lack doesn't fit well into my own experience and world view. I have yet to meet someone who cannot think creatively when guided through the process, and then act creatively with a little encouragement!

What do you think? Is creativity something some people just "have" and others are out of luck?

Filed under: Books 2 Comments

Review: The Dark Canyon

Continuing in my quest to read prolific author's works, today we take a look at a book from Louis L'Amour. This is one of his 100 novels over a 37 year career.

The more I read genres I don't often read (in this case, Westerns) the more I'm noticing how limited my reading habits tend to be. I don't branch out much, it seems, and this whole prolific author exercise has been very good for me I think.

For starters, Dark Canyon is just about as opposite of The Pebble in the Sky as you might find. My biggest complaint of the Asimov book was that it had too many words and added fruitless fluff to pad the pages. Dark Canyon almost needs MORE words. It works, but by golly it doesn't beat around the bush. It tells the story, and in 130-odd pages there are about three descriptions of anything, and usually it's about how pretty a canyon is and then that's the end of it. The book is "raw" in a way, and it was fascinating to read.

From the first few pages, L'Amour hooks you with characters (the mark of any great story). You know almost nothing about them, but they seem so alive that you want to keep reading. It isn't contrived in the way many modern books are, but as if the man himself happened to be part of the story and just left his character out of the final writing. No one feels fake or forced, though at times everything is a little cliche. (That doesn't seem to be uncommon in Genre Writing though. People know what to expect, and they like that aspect.)

The whole book has a sense of excitement and often dread running through it, so that you're always on edge even in the "quiet" moments. There is romance involved, but it is handled so succinctly that it almost comes off as strange. There is no poetry describing falling in love, merely "He liked her" one sentence and a proposal shortly afterward. In this instance, I almost wanted a little more "fluff" because love kind of requires fluff. It is not logical or hard, and needs handled with a bit more tenderness I think.

All in all, I'm really glad I read this book and enjoyed it quite a bit. I'd like to read another by Mr. L'Amour if only to see the similarities between this book and his others. One thing that can happen in Westerns is repetitive plot lines, so I'm curious if he falls victim to that. For a single book, though, Dark Canyon was a wild and exciting ride.

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How Often?

Now that the egg show is done for the year, I'm slowly re-engaging with this "life" thing I put on hold while I was doing the egg show stuff. (Mostly, anyway. I am still doing eggs in spite of the show being over. The nice thing is now I can slow down and just do them for the love of it all.) One of the big items on my returned-to-list is to publish the book I wrote earlier this year. One of them, anyway, because I wrote two.

At any rate, coupled into that process is the upcoming need to put that published book up someplace to sell. Since it's on Creativity I was planning to just host it via Animator Island. However I've been enjoying writing so much that I'd like to continue publishing things after this first book, and subsequent fictional novels don't really fit on AI. So I'm thinking of possibly tossing together a small site for myself personally (apart from Fred, Studio Riki, and Animator Island) just to host whatever I'm personally publishing and such.

Included in all that thinking and planning and working is this blog. I have been enjoying writing for it, but also I'd like to split my writing time a little more so I can work on proper books. I realized the other day that if you put together all my blog posts from the last nearly-a-decade it would fill SEVERAL books. Bad books, of course, as I didn't have any intention of publishing this stuff past "a blog" but the word count would be there at least. So I want to use some of the writing time to work on books and not just blogging.

The other thing I was considering recently was just how personal the blog here is. I mostly just ramble, and I wonder how useful such a thing is. It's nice for me, but is it helpful in some way to the world? I imagine some of the posts are, but probably only the ones I actually put a lot of thought into. Rambling because I like hearing (in my head, since this is typed) my own voice is a bit of a fruitless endeavor. Meanwhile books like this one and the one I'm reading now are almost like complete-blogs in book form, and they've done a great deal for me as a person as I've read them.

ANYWAY, long story short, I would like some feedback from you folks reading this. Any thoughts are welcome, and specifically I would like to know if you have a preference for how often I update the blog. Is daily helpful to you in any way? Would you care if I made it a point to post one actually-deep-and-edited piece of writing once per week instead? I ask because I've been reading several new blogs this year, and they have different update schedules. Adam's blog at TMTF is Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which makes me wish there was something new the other two weekdays, but also leaves me wanting more. Amy's blog appears to be updated "whenever" even though I thought by the title it would be every Monday. Maia's blog seems to update when there's something to be said, and never otherwise (which is frustrating at times because of the lack of schedule, but I certainly understand this method's benefits!).

So what are you thoughts on the future of this blog? If you don't care, post that too! I'm looking for any and all feedback, and I really appreciate you giving me yours as I'm deciding what to do in the coming months. :)

Filed under: Books, Writings 6 Comments

Review: Pebble in the Sky

Today I write a short review (more "my thoughts" than an official REVIEW, I suppose) of one of the books by the prolific authors I mentioned previously. My first experience with writer Isaac Asimov, who penned 506 books in just 32 years.

Pebble in the Sky could be the poster child for "science fiction novel." From what I understand about Mr. Asimov, the same holds true for most of his books. The term "The Master of Science Fiction" seen on the cover above is not for publicity. Many people consider him just that, beyond simple publisher PR.

The story is complicated, but rings very true. I found myself compelled to read on, even in slower moments (which occurred very little, but here and there) and for the most part the "truth" behind the words captivated me. In spite of the majority of the book taking place hundreds of thousands of years in the future (which was slightly unbelievable to me, personally, because I think humans will die out LONG before such time) the characters are dealing with human feelings and problems that have transcended human history from the first record to today. It is because of this true-ness that the book is fantastic, and comes highly recommended. I will read more by Mr. Asimov, and would leap at the chance to do so if not for one thing: Prose.


I don't know if Mr. Asimov had word counts to meet. I imagine it's likely, as publishers are very concerned about things like word count. It would not surprise me the tiniest bit, though, if he completed his manuscript, sent it to his editor, and received a phone call saying "It's good, but it needs to be twice as long." Not wanting to alter the terrific story, he might then have proceeded to inject flowery descriptors and overly poetic fluff into nearly every sentence. I am not kidding when I say I could probably edit this book down by half if I just removed the useless prose, and it would be the exact same story. (Arguably better, but I don't wish to argue.)

I stumbled my way through this book just because of the over-use of language. Sentences that could be over in 10 words went on for 20 or more. Not to mention the SCIENCE.

I am aware to have science fiction you must have science, but there's a very good reason I don't read science fiction often, and that is because it is too technical. There were paragraphs of this novel that I glossed over just because it was so science-y. Is this a positive for some readers? I'm sure. Not for me, though. For me, you could have cut that in half as well and I'd still be along for the ride. I'd be along because the characters were so compelling, not for any explanation of radiation in cells.

The absolutely most fabulous aspect of this book was the ending. I don't want to spoil it, but I will say that it surprised me as a writer, which is hard to do. I reached the point where the story "ended" and I knew "what happened" only to have him break into a sly grin and give me a wink, providing an alternate ending AFTER the ending that was perfectly timed. It is very hard to "time" things in a novel, but this was masterfully done. It was an extra twist I never saw coming, and for that I offer a standing ovation. Bravo, indeed.

I have iRobot on my desk, waiting to be read as well. I originally picked it up to see where it was different than the film (I hear it's very different) but now I'm anxious to read it for no reason other than "I like Asimov's stories." Sure, I only have one so far to judge my opinion by, but Pebble in the Sky was GREAT, and I can't wait to see what's next.

Final verdict:

Too much excess prose could not destroy completely a wonderful and very human story alongside characters easy to connect with and cheer for. Recommended, but allow extra reading time for all the poetic descriptions and science.

Filed under: Books 2 Comments