Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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Location, Location, Location

by Beth McCabe

“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” — Carl Sagan

1970’s Torii exterior rendering courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center

Last month I started writing about planning a realistic space colony as a setting for a story. I still find myself obsessed with this inquiry instead of getting down to making the story. Procrastinate much? Moi?

In that post I mentioned that Mars and Earth’s moon are generally considered to be the front-runners for planetary colonies, although the moons of other planets in our system and the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter orbits have their share of both cheerleaders and fictional depictions.

Tossed in space

Some space aficionados don’t want to put a colony on a planetary body at all. They prefer the idea of a free-standing space habitat – in crude terms, a giant version of the International Space Station. For example, the LaGrange Points, five equilibrium points in the Earth-Moon and Sun-Earth orbits, have been researched as possible space habitat locations.

1970’s Torii interior rendering courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center

A surprising number of people and institutions have already designed torii, cylinders, and other forms for such a habitat.

The advantages of this approach include Earth proximity and lack of a gravity well to enhance trade and travel; potential for resource utilization from other bodies such as Mars and the asteroids; and access to abundant solar energy.

The solution shares many of the challenges of creating a colony on a planetary body, such as protection from radiation, the need for an artificial atmosphere, and the creation of a sustainable food system. However, like all options, the habitat has its own downsides.

For example, a body like Mars would supply some gravity, while a free-standing colony would need to create all its own. Is there a benefit to having zero-g conditions available, such as for sports? It’s hard to see why that would beat the low-g conditions of small planetary bodies. But it’s another fun thought for writing a story.

I’ve also been musing about whether or not having a solid body beneath one’s feet would be comforting, no matter how alien that body might be.

Water, water anywhere?

One of the prime practical considerations for colony building is water. It would be helpful to have some naturally occurring H2O accessible, even if our colonists have a sophisticated recycling system. Astronauts on the ISS extract every possible drop from human breath, sweat and urine, and re-use shower water. 

So of course, scientists get excited about indications of potential water ice on other bodies (as opposed to other kinds of ice, e.g. the frozen methane dunes of Pluto). Water ice could theoretically be extracted and melted, not only as drinking water for explorers and colonists, but also as a component in the manufacture of rocket fuel.

Recent re-analyses of hydrogen signatures on Mars has indicated the possible existence of equatorial water ice deposits. While this is not the first time water has been detected on Mars, these new analyses give scientists hope that water might be present at much lower latitudes than was previously thought.

Image of moon’s polar region courtesy of Sky & Telescope

And just this past summer, a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claimed a clear confirmation of the presence of water ice in the moon’s polar regions.

There appears to be widespread acceptance of this proof; however, I recently read about a top expert in the field who disagrees. At some point in the future, perhaps a lunar mission will acquire first-hand data. Until then, we get to enjoy a little poetic license about water in space.

Sometimes it seems insensitive to be wondering about water on distant celestial bodies when an adequate amount of drinking water is still out of reach for many on our own planet.

Why travel?

Of course, being obsessed with the where of this story doesn’t mean I can avoid those other pesky W’s — who, what, when, and why.

In a novel, the author can slowly develop a rich scenario for the why. In a short story, it has to be quick and immediately relevant.

The obvious answer is that we are well on our way to using up the planet we have. I’ve also read some great stories that feature a push out there catalyzed by political conflict. Also not hard to imagine. It might even be that indomitable human spirit, seeking knowledge.

For this story, I’m feeling a pull toward less Buck Rogers, more every-day life; after all, that’s why I’m looking for near-Earth locations rather than some fantastic orb in Alpha Centauri. (My inspiration is probably an old fascination with the dark, rather grubby ship Nostromo in the 1979 classic Alien. So much more engaging, for me, than gleaming silver.)

So I think my colonists will come from an Earth where someone has simply figured out how to make a lot of money in space. Cynical? Moi?


Weekly Wrap-Up: Week of October 8, 2018

by Anna O’Brien

Hello, dearest readers! Welcome to another wrap-up of the posts on our blog this week. Feel free to peruse the links below and don’t forget to enjoy our Issue 035 of the Quarterly as well! So. Much. Good. Stuff. :)

  • On Monday, Jacqui Lipton explored the legal questions that often plague writers regarding copywrite and trademarks in her monthly column “On the Books”;
  • On Tuesday, Wendy Van Camp reviewed the classic sci-fi/fantasy novel “Crystal Singer” by Anne McCaffrey;
  • On Wednesday, it was time for another Issue 035 author interview. We talked to Wendy Nikel about her short story “Rain Like Diamonds“;
  • On Thursday, Erin K. Wagner celebrated the work of Margaret Cavendish in her monthly column “A Woman Was Here”;
  • On Friday, we ended the week with another Issue 035 author interview with Izzy Varju where she talked about her short story “Dragon Fruit.”

Issue 035 Author Interview: Izzy Varju and “Dragon Fruit”

by Jen Gheller

Today, meet our Issue 035 author Izzy Varju as she discusses her short story “Dragon Fruit.”

LSQ: Let’s talk about the star of the story, the adorable but deadly Mutsu. How did you come up with him?
Izzy: A few years ago I saw a series of digital paintings with fruit-inspired dragons by Alexandra Khitrova ( and absolutely loved the designs for them. A while later, I got bored during a long class and started thinking about what kinds of things tiny dragons could do; cyanide poisoning and having an apple dragon to go with it was what came to mind. The story went through a few iterations, but the main element was always Mutsu and his part to play in the fight. Mutsu’s also named after a type of Japanese apple that inspired his pale green scales in the story.
LSQ: This story hints at a rich background. Have you written about Luisella and Knitty’s past adventures? If not, do you plan to?
Izzy: This was the first time I wrote about Luisella and Knitty; starting their narrative when they’re already in a relationship was half the fun since it let me get to their dynamic without having to worry about how they got there. But I would like to write about the circumstances of how they first met and how they decided that they would put their pirating lives before their love in the beginning. I suppose that’s a common theme in the things I end up writing–the middle comes first and then I get curious about how it all starts and ends from there.
LSQ: Alternatively, do you have plans to continue their story? Will we be meeting the dastardly Zara again?
Izzy: I haven’t thought about continuing the story yet, maybe after their past is more fleshed out it would be possible to see what comes next. One thing’s for sure–Zara would come back and cause a hell of a lot of trouble for Luisella and Knitty, who will also have a few more tricks up their ruffled sleeves.
LSQ: What is your favorite thing about pirates?
Izzy: My favorite thing about pirates is that they’re essentially thieves on water. It’s a combination of all the daring escapes and sneaky schemes with the fun of sailing; I mostly just love thieves in any setting.

“To Be Men’s Tyrants”: Margaret Cavendish

by Erin K. Wagner

On a busy day in 1667, Samuel Pepys (the famous diarist of seventeenth-century England) catches a glimpse of the Duchess of Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, as she passes in her coach. He recalls what he has heard of her: “for all the town-talk is now-a-days of her extravagancies [sic], with her velvetcap, her hair about her ears; many black patches, because of pimples about her mouth; naked-necked, without any thing about it, and a black just-au-corps.”

Nowadays, the talk of Cavendish is that she is one of the very first science-fiction writers, and female to boot. (See the inevitable Buzzfeed list here.)

In Pepys’s account, Cavendish is wearing the just-au-corps, a masculine coat, and in other accounts she is noted to wear a vest and affect the masculine bow over the curtsy. We can attribute these sartorial choices to a number of factors: a mother who navigated the male-dominated world of property and inheritance, her own concern to secure her husband’s fortune, her interests in science and philosophy, and her preoccupation with the role of women in society (see the bio linked above for more details). And for all these reasons, Cavendish was also a prolific writer, penning prose, poetry, and plays. We know her best today for her utopia, The Description of a New World, called the Blazing-World (see, for example, how the text pops up in the 2018 novel by Jeannette Ng).

Utopia, as a genre, generally seeks to right the wrongs of the author’s world in a fantastical setting. In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature, the philosophical conversations and implications of said utopia often overwhelm the narrative detail. Cavendish’s Blazing World is no different, but that does not mean there aren’t fascinating visual details as well. And, more importantly, the utopia is one that centralizes power in women’s control.

The narrative of The Description of a New World is as follows. A merchant falls in love with an unnamed lady and takes her by force. In traveling by boat, however, he passes into another world. The merchant and his men shortly die from the extreme weathers they encounter, and the lady is introduced to the emperor of this new world. Besotted, he makes her his empress (and even tries to worship her—to which she objects). In her role as empress, the lady seeks to answer a huge array of scientific, philosophical, and rhetorical questions about how the world functions. The inhabitants of the world, called upon to answer these questions, are a diverse array of men: Bear-men, Worm-men, Fish-men, Bird-men, Fly-men, Ant-men, Geese-men, etc. Eventually, the empress finds herself in need of a scribe and asks incorporeal spirits to fetch Margaret Cavendish (wink wink, nudge nudge), “a plain and rational Writer,” from her own world to that of the empress’s. The narrative ends with the empress’s successful military defense of her home country.

In her quest for knowledge, we see that the empress is a woman of Cavendish’s time—for good and bad. She asserts the supremacy of the monarchical form of government. (Cavendish was a loyalist to Charles I and went into exile with his queen after the English Civil War. When the royal line was restored, Cavendish was clearly eager to assert its rectitude, and she often mourned her husband’s damaged fortunes due to the war.) She also engages in anti-Semitism via exoticization of members of the Jewish faith and their cabbala (linked to the word cabal, generally a misperception of Jewish interpretative approaches to scripture as magical or fantastical), which the empress wishes to replicate.

However, in the course of her studies, the empress uncovers that women are not allowed to participate in religious services (for fear they will be a distraction). And this she successfully changes, making her own “Congregation of Women,” who have “quick wits, subtile [sic] conceptions, clear understandings, and solid judgments.” In dealing with the empress, the character Cavendish finds herself inspired. She asks to be an empress of her own world and, after being informed that there is no world currently suffering from a power vacuum, she makes (writes) a “World of her own Invention.” The narrative move is a nod to the author Cavendish’s own preoccupations, and, in her epilogue she makes this clear: “By this Poetical Description, you may perceive, that my ambition is not onely [sic] to be Empress, but Authoress of a whole World.”

This attitude is one of a piece with the rest of Cavendish’s life and work. Despite the disparagement of Pepys upon finally meeting her in person (“her dress so antick [sic], and her deportment so ordinary, that I do not like her at all, nor did I hear her say any thing that was worth hearing”), Cavendish was welcomed in learned institutions like the Royal Society and was conversant with the scientific and rhetorical community. She wrote poems on atoms (“Small Atomes of themselves a World may make”) and speculated about “ships that could swim under water.” And her concern with the mobility of women in these scientific and educated spaces was not a passing one. In her collection of Orations, a handbook of speeches for various occasions, she pits different female perspectives against each other in dueling poems. One calls for women to “Unite in / Prudent Counsels, to make our Selves as Free, / Happy, and Famous as Men.” Another agrees, labeling men tyrants. A third objects, describing men as women’s admirers and lovers. And yet another argues that this admiration can be turned to women’s advantage: “also we are their Saints, / whom they Adore and Worship, and what can / we Desire more, than to be Men’s Tyrants, / Destinies, and Goddesses?”

The latter perspective does not sound unlike that of the empress, whose husband tries to worship her, and who uses her influence to obtain religious and military control in her world. For Cavendish, then, the science-fiction genre is first and foremost a tool to promote a marginalized and diverse perspective (however imperfect). So, if we are to name her a mother of the genre, we must also acknowledge the diversity of the field and the place of women in it at its very conception.

Issue 035 Author Interview: Wendy Nikel and “Rain Like Diamonds”

by Anna O’Brien

It’s that time again — we’re excited to share an interview with our Issue 035 author Wendy Nikel about her short story “Rain Like Diamonds.” Go check out the story, then come back and enjoy what she has to say.

LSQ: A wise queen sits center stage in this story. Some might be inclined to note that it’s typically a king. Can you comment on the protagonist’s gender?
Wendy: Often in fairy tales, when a woman is in a position of power, she’s a ruthless, heartless ruler, usually with some sort of jealousy issues tacked on for good measure. So in this story, I purposely strove to subvert that “evil queen” trope. I wanted this queen to be someone who was wise and strong, who ultimately wanted to do what was best for the people in her kingdom.
LSQ: Poor dragons, always getting blamed for everything. Can you comment on the dragon’s role in this story and the son’s refreshingly empathetic response?
Wendy: I purposely left the dragon’s role in the famine somewhat vague, not going into detail about the day that it scorched the fields. The men of the kingdom claim that that was the beginning of all the trouble and that it hasn’t rained since, but they never acknowledge why the dragon came out of its cave and went on attack. Was it provoked? Was it starving? Was it some sort of misunderstanding? We don’t know, because the point of view is tied to the queen and the villagers — not the dragon — and they’re simply placing blame without taking the time to think those questions through. The queen’s son holds a different view; of all the people, he’s the only one who sees the harm in killing the creature and acknowledges the real repercussions for their mindset.
LSQ: What was the most challenging part about this story to write? What was the most enjoyable? Why?
Wendy: I think the most challenging aspect of writing this story was the third person omniscient point of view that I used, since it isn’t a viewpoint I use very often in my writing. While a lot of fairy tales are written in this style, more modern stories tend to favor closer perspectives that really focus in on one character so the reader can get to know them more personally. While the queen is the main character, there were enough insights into other characters and their emotions and motives that I wanted to explore in this story, too, so that I opted to go for the less-familiar perspective.
My favorite part of writing this story, as with most stories, is working in all the little details that really make the setting and the characters come alive and finding just the right words to paint those pictures in the reader’s mind.
LSQ: Can you name a few fantasy writers you admire and tell us why?
Wendy: I’m a huge fan of historical fantasy, which combines magical elements with real-world settings from the past. I love history and learning about the past, and exploring how people in various eras would have interacted with speculative elements adds a whole new dimension to the stories. Some of my favorite novels in this sub-genre have been written by authors such as Mary Robinette Kowal, Cherie Priest, Rae Carson, and Naomi Novik. I love how these writers engage the readers both with the vivid, real-world details of the historical era they’re writing about and with fresh, creative magical elements.
LSQ: Are you working on any other projects lately? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?
Wendy: My biggest project in the works right now is a series of time travel novellas published by World Weaver Press. The first book, The Continuum, was released in January, with a second book following in July. I also have several new short stories slated for publication, which readers can keep up on by subscribing to my monthly newsletter:

Book Review: Crystal Singer

by Wendy Van Camp

Book Title: Crystal Singer
Author: Anne McCaffrey
First Published: 1982

Anne McCaffrey was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The only daughter of three siblings and the middle child, she grew up on the east coast of the United States. Eventually, she graduated cum laude from college where she earned a degree in Slavonic Languages and Literature. In 1950 she married Horace Johnson and they had three children: Alec, Todd, and Gigi. The family lived in Wilmington, Delaware for around a decade and then moved to Sea Cliff on Long Island in 1965 where they remained until 1970. During this time, Anne McCaffrey began to work full time as a writer and served a term as the secretary-treasurer of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Her duties not only included the publishing of two monthly newsletters for the guild but also handcrafting the Nebula Award trophies.

In 1970, McCaffrey divorced her husband and took her children to live in Ireland. During the 1970s, Ireland allowed artists to live exempted from income taxes and Anne McCaffrey, being of Irish descent, emigrated to Ireland to take advantage of this opportunity. Anne’s mother soon joined the family where they lived in Dublin. McCaffrey’s books about the dragons that lived in a symbiotic relationship with the human settlers of the planet Pern became bestsellers and classics of science fiction. They paid for her cottage in Ireland that she called “Dragonhold” in honor of the dragons that supported herself and her children. She lived there until her death at the age of 85.

The roots of the Crystal Singer series began while Anne McCaffery was a student studying voice. She performed as a singer, directed a play, and was employed by the record label, Liberty Music Shop. Despite these successes, it was during her later years of study that she learned about a flaw in her voice that would limit her achievements in the field of music. McCaffery was devastated by this experience and used it in the Crystal Singer series to shape her main character Killashandra Ree.

The book first began as a series of shorts that were published in Continuum Magazine:

“Prelude to a Crystal Song,” Continuum 1 (Apr 1974)
“Killashandra – Crystal Singer,” Continuum 2 (Aug 1974)
“Milekey Mountain,” Continuum 3 (Dec 1974)
“Killashandra – Coda and Finale,” Continuum 4 (Aug 1975)

In the short stories, Killashandra Ree dies, but when McCaffery decided to combine all the short stories into a single novel, she revised all the shorts heavily to not only blend them into a single story, but changed the main character’s ultimate fate. The name of the crystal singer was inspired by a small town in north central Ireland called Killeshandra.

“There’s nothing wrong in doubting. It sometimes leads to greater faith.”
― Anne McCaffrey

Crystal Singer begins when a young vocal student named Killashandra Ree is finishing ten years of study in order to become a vocal soloist of a futuristic civilization known as the Federated Sentient Planets. She anticipates becoming a “rock star” of interstellar proportions. During her final exams, it is discovered that she has a fatal flaw in her voice that will forever prevent her from singing lead roles, despite her perfect pitch and performing talents. Killashandra is heartbroken and plans to leave both the school and her home world in private disgrace.

At the spaceport she meets an older man who uses his musical skills to identify an arriving space shuttle that is about to explode, averting the disaster. The two hit it off and he treats her to a whirlwind romance on her home world while he is on vacation. She grows curious about her new lover and his profession of “crystal singer.” It is an occupation of people with perfect musical pitch that use their voices to control devices to mine a very rare crystalline mineral on the planet of Ballybran. These crystals are used in most of the complex systems that power interstellar communications and power much of the machinery of her civilization. It is a dangerous profession, but one that earns high credits and has a select and small membership. Although she is warned away repeatedly, Killashandra is drawn to the mysterious Heptite Guild and becomes determined to become a crystal singer herself.

Travel to Ballybran is forbidden to all but its residents. On the moon of Ballybran, Killashandra learns the reason why. Anyone that ventures onto the planet is infected by a symbiotic life form that invades the human body and causes genetic mutations. Many people simply die. Others only gain a partial adaptation that allows them to live, but with reduced hearing or eyesight. They are forever confined to the planet, unable to leave because if they do the symbiont dies and they along with it. Those few that get a full adaptation to the symbiont become the crystal singers who gain increased vision and hearing, rapid healing, and a long life. It makes them sterile and in the end they suffer memory loss, paranoia, and dementia, but only after hundreds of years of life. They also can depart Ballybran for short periods of time without their symbiont dying.

Headstrong and stubborn, Killashandra journeys to Ballybran along with thirty other inductees. The novel follows her and her classmates during their education while they wait for the invading infection. One by one, they fall to the symbiont until all have been converted. During this time she gains the attention of the head of the guild, a man named Lanzecki. He offers her a job that she can’t refuse, one that not only allows her to use her new skills as a crystal singer, but one that might allow her to present a public performance that would put her back in the spotlight for which she trained all those years.

I have always loved the Crystal Singer series by Anne McCaffery. I first read the book when it was released in the early 80s and felt a strong identification with the main character, Killashandra Ree. She is a complex character, a combination of confidence that borders on arrogance and yet inside she is shy and vulnerable. Many artists have this sort of personality and I liked that she was a strong woman who was willing to take control of her own life in the face of failure. She felt like a real and likable woman to me.

The Federated Sentient Planets that Killashandra lives in is powered not by manufactured technology, such as ours is, but by natural forming crystals that can be sung into service. I love the concept of human art meeting function in this way. It is quite unique and the world of Ballybran and the Heptite Guild society is an interesting concept. The visual of the crystal singer serenading a mountain side and it singing back to her is powerful and one that you will not soon forget. Of all the series set in the universe, I feel that this one is the most clerical in nature. You need a card for everything and the machines monitor all the details. It reminds me of our current way of life.

There are some outdated qualities to the book. During the late 70s and early 80s, sexual freedom was thought to be women sleeping around much as single men of the time period did. Killashandra has several lovers in this fashion. The sex is free and easy, completely consensual, but without long-term attachments. There are no steamy sex scenes in the book, but in my view, the easy going relationships don’t quite mesh with what we might think of feminism now.

The men in the book were also somewhat paternalistic toward the female main character. Again, this was a common attitude during this decade and it has carried over into the culture of this interstellar society. It is not as bad as in some books and for the most part, I felt that Killashandra was treated as an equal by peers, even when they could not stand her for her “perfection.”

While Crystal Singer is not a Nebula or Hugo award winner, it does have staying power and I believe that it would most appeal to high school or college aged readers. It can be a little difficult to find at the local library due to its age, but you should be able to find it on the online outlet of your choice. Go and find the books. If you love classic science fiction and enjoy reading females authors in this genre, Crystal Singer is a great choice.

Crystal Singer Series

Crystal Singer 1982
Killashandra 1986
Crystal Line 1992

How Much Will It Cost Me to . . .

by Jacqui Lipton

. . . register my copyright or trademark?

. . . hire a lawyer to help me?

As a legal issues columnist for authors, I’m often talking about what the law says and what it means, but I was reminded recently while speaking at a conference on these issues, that sometimes the most pressing questions are even more pragmatic.

I was asked how much it would cost to register a copyright or trademark and whether it’s necessary to incur the additional expenses of securing an attorney to do it for you.

So here’s the lowdown on paying to register your author IP (intellectual property).

  1. In the United States, you can own your copyright or trademark regardless of whether you register it. Registration is a separate step in both cases that is usually a good idea and gives you certain benefits like presumptions of ownership and validity of your rights. However, you technically own copyright in your manuscript as soon as you reduce it to writing (digitally or otherwise) and you own a trademark in your logo or slogan when you use it in commerce to distinguish your products and services from those of others.
  2. Authors should be alert to registering/protecting their copyrights; your intellectual property rights are in the words you write that you can enforce against others who copy your work without permission. Trademarks are less of a problem because authors rarely use trademarks in their day to day work. I’ve written on trademarks previously (here and here). In the book publishing context, it’s usually book series titles and franchises that are trademarked, not individual book titles or authors’ names. (Sometimes characters are trademarked – like Mickey Mouse for Disney – but that’s also a relatively unusual case.)
  3. Registering copyrights is easy and cheap and something you can do yourself without an attorney by following the steps set out on the U.S. Copyright Office’s website. The fee to register a single work by a single author (other than a work for hire) is currently $35. There is plenty of helpful information on the Copyright Office website for how to register either online or through the mail. If you hire a lawyer to help you, the fees will likely run into the hundreds of dollars if not higher, depending on the law firm. So you may want to see how comfortable you are doing it yourself before you resort to a lawyer.
  4. Registering trademarks is more difficult than registering a copyright, costs a lot more, and you’ll probably need an attorney to help you. Trademarks are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and a basic trademark registration costs between $225 and $400 depending on the circumstances, and that’s not including a lawyer’s fee. That said, there are very few circumstances in which an author needs to register a trademark. You generally can’t trademark a single book title or your name as an author and can only trademark characters in relatively rare circumstances. It’s usually large media corporations or successful franchises that trademark characters when the characters start to operate effectively as logos for the franchise holder: again, like Mickey Mouse for Disney.

The basic lesson is that it’s probably worth authors knowing a little something about copyright registration and worth figuring out how to register your copyright work yourself. It’s relatively straightforward and affordable and you don’t need a lawyer in most cases. However, if you find yourself in trademark territory, you may want to seek legal advice before attempting to navigate the USPTO system.

And please note: This column isn’t intended as legal advice, but simply as a guide to copyright and trademark registration systems. I’ve written about what copyright and trademark law entails elsewhere and have included links to useful sources above. Also, this column only pertains to American registration systems. Most other countries don’t have copyright registration systems at all and typically their trademark registration systems operate differently to the American version. If you want more information on any of these issues, feel free to drop me a line or post a comment below.

Weekly Wrap-Up: Week of October 1, 2018

by Anna O’Brien

Welcome to the wonderful world of weekly wrap-ups! Read on for a re-cap of all the fantastic topics covered on our blog over the past week.

  • On Monday, we started the week with a double-header: first, an LSQ News Flash to get you up to speed on what’s going on with the publication lately and second, a post from Tracy Townsend examining women characters, their strength, and their mental health in SFF;
  • On Tuesday, blog editor Jen Gheller celebrated October and all things witchy in the world of YA;
  • On Wednesday, Cathrin Hagey examined the role food plays in fairy tales;
  • On Thursday, we interviewed Issue 035 author J. S. Veter about her short story “Checkmate“;
  • On Friday, LSQ ed-in-chief Jennifer Lyn Parsons gave some tips and tricks to getting a self-published book to look its best.

Damn, that’s a nice looking book

by Jennifer Lyn Parsons

After finishing the layout on Luna Station Press’s latest forthcoming novel (hint: it’s mine!), I realized that I have a lot of knowledge I could pass on that will help those who are self-publishing and want to make their books look like they came from a big publisher. It would be wonderful if every author could enlist a designer to lay their book out for them, but that’s not the reality.

Today I’m going to pass on a few tips and tools that will hopefully get you a more satisfying (and exciting) final book in your hands. This won’t be an exhaustive resource, but I’ve noted a few patterns in self-published books that make the difference and keep books from having that polished appearance. For now, I’m going to focus on print layouts, partly because once you do the print design, the ebook becomes a lot easier to put together.

Let’s get started!

Layout Tools

First things first, you need a piece of software to layout the interior of your book. There are a couple roads you can go down for this. Microsoft Word is perfectly acceptable if you want to keep it basic and already use it, or you can choose to go all in and get a copy of Adobe InDesign and learn the ins and outs of that powerful piece of software. There are a lot of other options in between as well. This article lists the pros and cons of making various choices.

Depending on how you’re printing your copies, many services will provide a template for you to use as well, which saves lots of work getting things generally set up. I have a thought or two on this option that I’ll get to in a moment.

In general, the most important thing about using whatever tool you choose is that you take your time and have patience with yourself and the software. It might take a bit of effort and involve reading some instructions and tutorials, but the result will be worth it.

Interior Design

Earlier I mentioned printer-provided templates, and here by “printer” I’ll include Createspace/KDP and other print-on-demand services. These are a great foundation for putting your book together, but here’s the thing about them: they’re set up for marking the limits for the content you can fit on the page. This means that if you don’t make adjustments to the margins then you’ll be filling the entire printable area of the page. The text won’t breathe and will be much harder on your readers’ eyes.

My biggest tip for creating a pleasurable experience for your readers is to go look at your favorite books. Take measurements of how big the margins are, including the inner margin that touches the spine. Check out different styles of books and see how they’re arranged. When in doubt, always give it a little more space than you think it needs.

Using books from the big publishers as a guide goes for more than the margins, too. Take a look at chapter headings, page numbers, title pages, etc. Definitely pay close attention to how big the font or text size is in these books. Copy anything you like and incorporate it into your own layout.

If you want to dig a bit deeper, I can highly recommend “The Non-Designers Design Book” by Robin Williams (not that one). For a quick overview, I found a couple of videos that give you a few basics and terms.

Notes on Cover Design

The cover is going to be the face of your book–the thing everyone is going to see first–so of course you want to make a good impression. Covers are tricky business. This is one of those times where I will suggest getting a professional to do the job if you can afford it. If you can’t, I have a few tips that will help keep your book off those “worst covers ever” lists.

Tools for Designing Your Cover

If your choice of printer offers a cover creation tool, go ahead and use that. The templates they provide will be solid, if simple, and produce a consistent result. Without that kind of tool, dealing with spine size, bleeds, and other technical aspects of creating a cover can be tricky. It’s all learnable, but may take a bit of trial and error to get things working properly.

If you decide to go full DIY, my tool of choice is Affinity Photo, which is a much less expensive tool than Photoshop, but does many of the same things. This has a learning curve to contend with, so it may take a while to get your cover put together.

If you’re just looking to design a nice front cover and can use your printer’s creation tool for the rest (spine, back cover, etc.) then Canva seems to be a good option. This would also be great if you’re doing an ebook and only need a front cover.

Design Inspiration and Art

Yes, go look at your favorite book covers for inspiration. Think about what your book is about and what kind of cover would fit it best. This page is filled with cover templates you can use as inspiration for creating your own. Pay attention to the fonts and layouts they use.

As for art, there are plenty of places to find stock imagery. Shutterstock is one of the biggest and most popular, but Pixabay is a great choice for free art.

If you’re looking for a painting or illustration for your cover, I would suggest looking at DeviantArt, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter’s #visiblewomen tag, and other places where artists show off their work. Many artists are willing to license existing works for a royalty fee that will be more affordable than commissioning custom art.

Cover Tips

You have your tools and your art; now you need a few more tips to get your cover put together. This article is a great starting point for ideas and guidelines. I’ll also include this article as a solid resource for getting started.

My own two cents is to keep things simple, tidy, with a large, easy to read title font on the cover. Make sure there is enough contrast between the text and the cover to keep it legible. Also, it’s better to go with no art at all than bad art.

Final Thoughts

Once you have your interior and exterior all ready to go, the final important step is to get a proof copy of your book. You need to see what it looks like in real life and make changes before you send it out into the world.

You’ve worked hard getting the story itself just right, so take your time and get the cover right, too. Show the proof to someone you trust to give you helpful feedback. This is where that designer acquaintance or the friend with great taste comes in handy. When you ask for their opinion, don’t prompt them. Let them tell you what they like and don’t like and then consider if those are changes that would improve the presentation of your book.

Putting your own book together is not something that should be rushed. Take your time with it, have patience if you’ve never done this before, and get feedback before you hit that publish button.

Good luck and happy publishing!

Issue 035 Author Interview: J. S. Veter and “Checkmate”

by Anna O’Brien

We’re back with another interview, this time with Issue 035 author J.S. Veter. Go read her story “Checkmate,” then come back for some dazzling insight from our fine author.

LSQ: There is a dark humor about your piece which is essentially about the unintended end of the universe. Can you tell us where this idea came from and what made you decide to employ this tone?

J. S.: I don’t really understand half the things my mind spits out at me, but dark humour has always appealed. I love being able to laugh when things are looking very bleak, and humour has gotten me through some very difficult times. As for “Checkmate,” I’d just finished reading an article about upping the stakes for your characters. I figured that the end of the entire universe was pretty big stakes, but I tend to write characters who are just plain, regular people. What can a regular guy do about the end of the universe? And when it occurred to me that he was actually responsible?  Well… that was just too good to resist, so I didn’t.
LSQ: This piece seems enormously fun to write. Was that the case? Were there elements that were difficult to write? What was the easiest part?
J. S.: It was enormously fun to write. I giggled my way through most of it because it was so deliciously absurd. I struggled most with the ending, which is unusual for me because I usually know how a story is going to end before I know how it’s going to begin. I had two different endings for a while, actually, and went back and forth between the two. It was literally the difference between two sentences (but each sentence changed the overall theme significantly!). I agonised over them for ages. The easiest part was Umam Preth’s reflections about his wife; I knew exactly what their relationship was like before the robot crashed through the kitchen window.
LSQ: Chess plays a central role to the main character. Do you have a personal interest in this game? Do you feel that sort of logic game lends itself to almost any alien culture?
J. S.: I’m horrid at chess, but have always been in awe of people who can play it (I used to play with my son, until he realised how bad I was). I have no idea if a logic game like chess would appeal to a real alien culture (I kind of hope they like games like Twister, or Go Fish, you know, something I’m good at). Choosing chess was more of an homage to the sci-fi genre in general—is it just me, or is every imagined future peopled with people who are brilliant chess players? Does being a bad chess player exclude me from the future?
Umam Preth seemed so much more likely to play Chess than play Twister. He probably has a bad hip.
LSQ: Regarding the ending and the importance of winning to the main character, who is portrayed as a male—is this a comment on that gender’s proclivities or does this truly just speak to the protagonist’s character flaws?
J. S.: I’m quite sure I’m not qualified to speak to any gender’s proclivities! I do, however, think that most of us want to go out on a positive note, but that how we define that note is very individual. And while I like Umam Preth as a character, as a person, I don’t think he’s very likeable at all. Winning matters to him overly much. I suppose the ending of the story is exactly the ending he deserves!
LSQ: Can you name a few authors you admire and why?
J. S.: Honestly, writing is such hard work that I admire every author I come across. I’m particularly enamoured of N.K. Jemisin, at the moment, for making it look so easy when I know it’s not. I’m devouring James S. A. Corey’s novels, too. I haven’t fallen so in love with a group of characters since Harry Potter! But, if I had to chose one writer’s books to take to a deserted island, I’d take C. J. Cherryh. I can read her stuff over and over again. Her world building is astonishing.
LSQ: Are you working on other writing projects at the moment? If so, can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on?

J. S.: I’m writing a HiLo Sci Fi (high interest, low vocabulary) series at the moment. My youngest is dyslexic, and really struggles to find books at a reading level he can access, but with a story that engages him. I’m aiming for a grade 1-2 reading level, but a grade 6-8 interest level. I was innocent enough to think that it would be easy writing. Hah! I’ve never sweated over writing something as much as I’m sweating over this. I’m also writing an adult fantasy novel which I’d love to finish by the end of the year, and I continue to write short stories, of course!