Friday, October 14, 2011

Get to know SM Reine

This week's interview is with SM Reine. She's a great writer, a wonderful cover artist, and, now, a publisher. Her new book, Death's Hand, comes out next week. She has a great blog with great tips. Take a couple of minutes and get to know SM Reine.

Give us the elevator pitch, not for your book, but on you. Give us the down and dirty on SM Reine.

By day, I'm immersed in information systems (mainframe and server operations, to be exact), general office work, and motherhood. By night, I'm sleeping. I cram writing and publishing somewhere in between all of that.

Now, how about your books. What do we need to know about Six Moon Summer, All Hallows Moon, and The 19 Dragons?
Six Moon Summer and All Hallows' Moon are in the same series. They're a refreshing take on werewolf mythology following a character named Rylie Gresham, who's this teenage vegetarian that ends up turning into a flesh-hungry monster. She's her own worst enemy. The 19 Dragons is a steampunk novella with a surrealistic fantasy bent... if I can get away with crossing that many genres.

You're a fantasy writer. I assume that means you're a fantasy reader. Have you always been and what is it about the fantasy genre that draws you in as both a reader and a writer?
I'm actually into speculative fiction at large. As a kid, I sharpened my teeth on writers like Tamora Pierce, KA Applegate, Christopher Pike, you name it. Of course, I also had a hearty dose of the classics-- HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle... Choking down realistic fiction is like trying to swallow rocks for me. I have no interest in it, although I couldn't tell you why. Maybe I'm too much of an airhead.

How about steampunk? You describe The 19 Dragons as a steampunk novella. Steampunk is a sub-genre that fascinates me. How did you get interested in it? And what's it like once you start writing a steampunk story?

Steampunk is something I discovered through movies and TV shows rather than literature. It's been one of my creative influences for years. For instance, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a great example of early steampunk. I should have known I was in trouble when I found myself lusting for the goggles and gloves worn by Caractacus Potts as a kid! 

But I found writing steampunk to be a harrowing experience. The subculture is huge. People will put so much money and time into adapting their appliances, fashion, and even their entire house to this elaborate Victorian aesthetic, and since I took a lot of artistic license with the genre, I was afraid of disappointing the fanatics. I really second- and third-guessed myself over The 19 Dragons for the weeks leading into its release. It turns out the fans are forgiving. The warm reception was pleasantly surprising.

I love your book covers. You do those yourself, at least as far as I know. What's your background in graphic design and, as far as covers go, what's your creative process like?
Thank you! Yes, I do all my covers, and I also offer inexpensive cover design for some of my indie friends. I've made covers for Kindle-bestselling writers like Heather Hildenbrand and John O'Brien. That said, I have no background in graphic design whatsoever. In the industry, I'm what's called a "self-taught Photoshop hack." Years of fiddling with personal photos turned into fiddling with stock imagery to create photomontages, and then it somehow became an important (and fun!) part of my career.

When I'm about to embark on a project, I spend time researching similar books and how their covers were designed. I focus primarily on recent and upcoming releases, although I also like to dig into the history a bit because what's fashionable in design is cyclical. Then I pick out hundreds of stock photos I think might fit the project and start whittling down concepts. I usually make at least 3-5 covers for any one book. It's horribly inefficient! My process is growing more streamlined as I mature.

What's the biggest problem you see with most book covers from indie authors and how can it be fixed?
The biggest issue I've seen is distorting photographs. A lot of sins are forgivable in the indie world, but when you have an image stretched to a different ratio, it looks horrible and it screams "unprofessional." Good typography also determines if your cover is effective or not.

OK, on to Red Iris Books. How did that come about and what's the plan for it?
I've been sitting on this business plan for a small, web-based publishing company for years. I actually went to college for business (which, as anyone can tell you, might be one of the less useful degrees you can obtain) and I developed this idea as I trudged through classes on accounting and marketing. Since then, I've been sitting around tweaking it as I see changes in the market, and dreaming of the day I would get the time and capital to make it happen. There will always be excuses to put off big decisions. It sounds cheesy, but becoming a mother made me realize how fleeting time is, and I decided I was done waiting.

I am currently building a platform as one of the best sources of dark fantasy for teen and adult audiences. In the next year, Red Iris Books will slowly open its doors to adding new authors, although it's going to remain extremely selective. I want to help foster careers. The idea is to provide quality control without requiring the authors to sacrifice creative control.

I was at a sci fi convention recently and I listened to a panel of small press publishers talking. Most everyone in the crowd wanted to know what the publishers were looking for. Specifics on lengths, rights purchased, services provided to the authors. If Red Iris were on that panel what would have the answers been?

I am currently acquiring projects by invitation only. As such, the answers to these questions vary widely depending on the needs of the individual author. In the future, I will open submissions to novel-length dark fantasy, and provide editing, formatting, cover design, and promotional services to the authors. Since we will be adding authors to the Red Iris family selectively, we will be able to give each project a lot of individual attention to ensure it reaches its full potential.

What's been the most surprising thing you've learned since starting Red Iris?
Publishing, as with all small businesses, is much more than a full time job. You don't take vacations. You don't get breaks. You can only get out of it as much as you put into it. Yet while it's definitely a tough industry -- and this economy makes it tough to get into selling a product -- everyone involved shares a passion for books, so I make quite a few friends and have a lot of fun while exhausting myself with work. Readers, reviewers, authors, and publishers-- they're all fantastic people. I couldn't do any of it without my support network.

A scenario: A benevolent tyrant comes to you and tells you he's going to ship you off to a small, unpopulated island. He hands you a bag that will hold just three books and tells you to fill it. Which books do you put in there and why?
Firstly, Peter Pan. That book is very special to me. I loved the adventure and fantasy of it as a child, but as I've matured, the book becomes a deep meditation on childhood, aging, and death. They say in the book that Peter takes children who have died partway to the afterlife so they aren't afraid on the journey. It's touching and frightening.

The second book I would take is the Lord of the Rings omnibus edition. Can I get away with that? I could hardly be much of a fantasy fan if I didn't adore the original work of fantasy by the master of world-building.

Finally, I would have to take the unabridged edition of The Stand by Stephen King. It's not my favorite of his books, but it's a heck of a read. If I'm going to be on some boring island (I hate beaches!) I need something long to distract me. Of course, every time I read it, I get a horrible cold and become convinced I'm going to die, but I'll consider that part of the excitement of being abandoned.

Give us a recommended reading list. What are a few underappreciated books you love that others need to know about?
Benighted by Kit Whitfield is the first book to come to mind.

Wrap this all up by telling us what's up next for you and what's next for Red Iris Books.
My next release is Death's Hand, which I'm using to launch Red Iris Books along with Angela Kulig's Skeleton Lake. It's the first in an urban fantasy series about an exorcist and her warlock partner who have gone into retirement, and what happens when old enemies catch up with them. After that, I have some very exciting things planned for the Seasons of the Moon series, but I don't want to talk about it too much yet. I'll be announcing a new author or two for Red Iris by summer 2012, and we'll be opening for submissions by the end of next year. These next few months are going to be very busy!

Thanks so much for having me!

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