How Voice Separates Children of Blood and Bone from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Picture a world where certain people are gifted with mastery of the elements. It is a land that lived in relative harmony until an ambitious king seized power by launching an unexpected attack. Our protagonist is a young adult, one of the last of her kind – a people being driven to extinction in these turbulent times. She teams up with her brother and a third friend to try and restore balance – but she must do so before the solstice. Also, she is being hunted by the son of said evil king, but said prince is emotionally conflicted.

Sound familiar? Let me give you a hint:

Except not quite. A similar idea breathes new life in Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood of Bone.

Continue reading How Voice Separates Children of Blood and Bone from Avatar: The Last Airbender

The Dreamcatchers: A Journey in Cover Design

The Dreamcatchers is out and available now, so it is easy to miss all the work that went into bringing the final product into your hands. Since I’ve already written about my writing style and inspiration sources for The Dreamcatchers, I thought today that we might focus on the exterior. You know what they say: “You can’t judge a book by its cover!”

While they may be right – You can’t – it doesn’t mean that many people don’t. Creating a compelling book cover is important. It is nothing less than the reader’s first impression of your work. Some writers may be good illustrators (or at the very least graphic designers) but, for most of us, creating a good cover means stepping outside our comfort zone.

It is one of the first times we bring our work to someone else – Ask them to judge it – and then, even more disarmingly – Ask them to create something new from it. Lightning doesn’t always strike the first time either.

Let me take you through the book cover creation process for The Dreamcatchers:

Capturing the Right Tone

I’ve always loved reading fantasy. It is hands down my favorite genre to dive into. When I think of what intrigues me about this writing, it is the promise of impossible adventure. I am about to enter a world that isn’t my own, no matter how real it feels. But how do I pick which fantasy to read?

…I usually go by the cover. To me, the most intriguing books have cover designs that look like windows into the imagination. I always loved The Lord of the Rings‘ cover art. It provided an immediate visualization of Middle Earth:


So, when it came time for The Dreamcathers, naturally I wanted to do the same thing. This proved a challenge. Setting a story in dreams lends itself to some surreal imagery. Just choosing one dream felt too limited. I also didn’t want to use the world of the dreamcatchers, since I felt that, out of context, they would look too alien and sci-fi.

My publisher was also concerned about the audience. The Dreamcatchers contains frightening chapters and its core audience is in their teens. Perhaps something as family-friendly as Tolkien or J.K. Rowling wasn’t the best idea.

I was convinced to go more abstract – and I think it was the right decision. But, for any out there curious, I had a friend do a rough mock-up of my original Dreamcatchers cover design, and here it is:

The Dreamcatchers original cover
Those who have read the book can hopefully recognize certain elements of the story. The base outline for Vakarian was actually lifted from a The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies poster.

The Essence of Story

Being abstract posed its own challenges. While The Dreamcatchers is a fantasy, it is not the traditional one. There is no magic, no castles – instead, it is set primarily in a space-like realm filled with humanoid characters. Seeing the issue? Doesn’t that sound a little science-fiction-y? The early cover art definitely tended toward an outer space feel:


While this rough outline has some potential, I felt it was just too jarring. The colors evoked Mars more than anything ethereal and the hooded figure was too sinister (had we decided to work from this mock-up, the face would have been a difficult change). The planet and stars in the background are also out-of-place.

Overall, I was worried that someone looking at this cover would get the impression that The Dreamcatchers was a sci-fi horror story. Going a little more abstract didn’t help:


It became clear that my messaging was getting garbled. I wanted to show readers a new world – this was true. But it wasn’t a place they could reach in a space ship.

When you’re working with your illustrator, you must be clear. They’re busy people and likely yours isn’t the only project on their plate. This disconnect was being caused by a breakdown in communication. My illustrator, the Happy Writing Co., only understood half of what I wanted, so the illustrations fit this mold.

As author, I had to articulate the essence of The Dreamcatchers in a way that made sense. The right cover had to entice in a way that conveyed mystery, otherworldly experience and, above all, the surreal. At the same time, the reader needed an entry point. Vakarian, being a nefiri dreamcatcher, wasn’t the best person for the job.

So, it turned to Tony.

The Writer’s Gift of Communication

Writers may not always believe it, but we have a gift of communication. I’m not saying we’re all amazing speakers, but we possess the ability to put words to paper – and that’s pretty great. We also know our stories, inside and out. Remember that when dealing with your own publisher: No one knows your story better than you.

I didn’t want to focus on any one dream of Tony’s, but I wanted the idea of him dreaming to be conveyed on the cover. I also wanted the reader to know that where he was going wasn’t safe. At first, I think I went too heavy handed with my image suggestion. Together with Happy Writing Co., we settled on an initial idea:


As you can see, we hadn’t even bought the full image yet. We were still in testing with the mock-ups. Despite looking a bit alien-y, I knew we had a winner. It just needed some dressing. There needed to be something more:


And you know the rest. There are other designs that I didn’t show but hey, never reveal all the secrets, right?

The final result was incredible – a cover that entices and feels like something new, without going too far on the science fiction. I could not be more happy with how The Dreamcatchers‘ cover turned out. The Happy Writing Co. – who was unbelievably patient – did an amazing job and deserves the credit. They hit it out of the ballpark.

I hope this look inside The Dreamcatchers‘ cover selection process has been enlightening and given you some advice for when you pursue your own publication. Remember, illustrators are people and should be treated as such – you’re a team so try not to butt heads. Great things can be accomplished when you’re aligned and working toward a common goal.

Now, before you go, enjoy one more mock-up:


Oh, and if you’re intrigued, you can pick up your own copy of The Dreamcatchers right here!

The many origins and inspirations of The Dreamcatchers

This is the third post on the creation of The Dreamcatchers. I already wrote on the initial origins (where the idea came from, how the dreamcatchers’ appearance was based off Marvel villain, Dr. Doom) and how the book took on a new identity as it evolved, but today I wanted to do a deep dive. Let’s talk more about everything Dreamcatchers, answering so many questions. My goal is to provide you with an inside look at my writing process and even my inner mental workings.

So, without further ado – let’s talk about The Dreamcatchers!

Character names

Every author will tell you that a character’s name matters. It becomes part of their larger personality and an easy mental association as you write. Having the name nailed down can call to mind a fully formed image of the character in your mind.

“Oh, I’m writing about so-and-so! That’s easy! They look like this and they act like this because of what happened years ago, plus this person they met…” You get the idea – the name becomes a mental bookmark in your brain. It marks the start for a chapter detailing your entire character.

So choosing the right name matters. When I began writing Dreamcatchers, I wanted to convey that most of the main characters weren’t human right away. So, I chose names that, for the most part, sounded very alien to me. What better place to start than one of my favorite video games of all time, Mass Effect.

Vakarian Dreamcatchers
“I’m Garrus Vakarian and I was an inspiration for The Dreamcatchers!”

To better humanize Dreamcatcher – give him a life outside of his job – I decided to name him after long-time wing man and BFF Garrus Vakarian. This name grab served another purpose besides honoring a game series. I wanted Vakarian to be balanced. Garrus is always a constant in the Mass Effect series – a character who can be depended on time and time again. That was also my vision for Vakarian. At his best, he is in control and there for his fellow squad mates – just like Garrus.

When it came to the other nefiri, most came to me as I wrote, without one single source of inspiration. There were three exceptions. Fidel, a.k.a. Duckie, was named after a close friend of mine – using her last name instead of her first. Romaniuk has similar origins.

Then there was Zarel – specifically his codename, The Midnight Phantom. When I was younger, I used to attend a camp in Maine called Birch Rock Camp. This place had local legends – stories the campers and counselors told to entertain ourselves. One of my favorites was the Midnight Phantom, a prankster who would move stuff around during the night. You could always tell he’d been there because he would leave his initials – MP.

Since Zarel was intended as a comic relief, I felt that the Midnight Phantom was a natural fit for his codename. In regards to his appearance – I went a different route: ‘

Gorefiend Zarel Dreamcatchers
It’s tough to get captures from old games but Gorefiend’s picture is in the upper left.

Warcraft II was my favorite video game growing up, in large part due to its incredible art style. One NPC – Teron Gorefiend – had what looked like a disfigured face, hidden largely by a scarf and his hood. This image has stuck with me throughout the years and, when the time came, I felt it was a terrific basis for Zarel’s facial structure.

Quick side note: Gorefiend’s yellow hood also inspired the choice of female dreamcatcher garb.

The technology

Part of what I loved most when writing The Dreamcatchers was their technology. On the one hand, it’s very traditional fantasy. A big part of this is the lack of traditional firearms, which made sense to me since there is no gunpowder in their world. To compensate, many dreamcatchers still use bows, namely crossbows. But this does not mean they’re outdated.

At every other turn, I wanted the nefiri to come off as a technically advanced race. Part of it is there world structure. It isn’t easy to navigate the Nether, and Inspiration is even more hazardous. To get around, the nefiri had to be hardy and capable of building impressive machines.

Some of this notion came from Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series. I’ve always loved how he blended the fantastical with the technological, so I sought to strike a similar balance. If Colfer’s faeries could adapt to a challenging world, then so could my nefiri.

Dreamcatchers damsel pod
The damsel pods were based off of damselflies and have similar designs.

The villain

Incubus was a lot of fun to write as well, in part because he was one of the rare points when I got to project beyond the The Dreamcatchers. To all of you who have trouble understanding what exactly he’s talking about, all I can say is – just wait. After you read The Night Terrors, go back and check his dialogue. You won’t be disappointed.

I knew early on that I wanted him to be a shapeshifter. This comes from my own experience as a lucid dreamer. When I was fighting back against my nightmares, I noticed the more persistent ones had the ability to change forms, adapting to whatever would scare me the most. How nice of my subconscious to put in that extra effort.

In regards to Incubus’ appearance in the Inspiration, I used two primary sources. The first was Hayao Miyazaki and his demons from Princess Mononoke. The second once again came from Marvel. Anyone watching recent movie trailers might have seen this one:

Venom and Carnage are my two favorite Spider-Man villains. I love how their bodies change to fit the situation (like arms turning into weapons). When I was thinking of how Incubus’ skin should look outside of the dream, the texture of the symbiote was in my head.

The music I wrote to

A lot of authors listen to music when we write. I’ve always found that it helps shut out the world and allows me to focus more on the story in front of me. My goal with musical choice is to have it enhance the scene I’m writing. For starters, when Tony and Vakarian fly, I wanted to use something inspirational. The initial teaser music for How to Train Your Dragon 2 was a perfect fit:

Vakarian’s final showdown with Incubus was another moment very charged with musical influence. The initial fight in Inspiration had multiple parts. The showdown with the omen was inspired by part of the Transformers: Dark of the Moon soundtrack. Vakarian’s fight with Incubus came from a sampling from V for Vendetta.

As for the fight in the Dream itself? Well, that actually came from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. I loved all the imagery surrounding Bard and Smaug. The idea of this single lone warrior against an overwhelming force really summed up what I wanted the final fight to feel like. As much, the music from this scene also factored into The Dreamcatchers finale:

Lastly, we need to talk about Tony and Fidel’s victory moment. Since the book has just come out, I don’t want to go too much into spoilers. For this particular point, I reached back to one of my favorite scenes as a kid and used the corresponding music:

So there you have it! There’s more – so much more to say – but I hope this has satisfied at least some of your curiosity when it comes to the novel writing process. Writers are like sponges. We absorb the art around us and transform it into something new (or at least try to).

Writing a novel is a process, equal parts inspiration from without as well as within. Not all ideas fit together well, and that’s part of the trick. I don’t think I ever would have used anything from Dragonball Z in a “serious” story but for a fantastical adventure like The Dreamcatchers, it made perfect sense.

As a storyteller, feel out ideas by tone and try to group them accordingly. You’ll find it may help!

That’s all for now. If you’ve bought a copy of The Dreamcatchers –  thank you so much for reading it! I hope you found it as entertaining to read as I did to write. I’ll leave you now with one teaser. A look ahead to The Night Terrors. As with Dreamcatchers, I’m using music to help write certain scenes. Here is one of the tracks I’ve been listening to a lot:

As always, if you’d like to get your own copy of The Dreamcatchers, it is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Ta ta for now!