Category Archives: Engen Books

International Covers the Engen Way

Ignorance is Bliss, 2010 edition, Matthew LeDrew, Engen BooksEver since last October with the release of Ignorance is Bliss and Infinity, Engen Books has been an international small press publisher. That term seems oxymoronic. Oh well.

Since then we’ve released four titles: the two listed above as well as Becoming and More Sci-Fi from the Rock. Two more are coming out at this year’s Hal Con: one new one (Inner Child) and one re-release (Compendium).

The move to the international stage meant a lot of changes for us. It put pressure on us to refine our editing process now that the whole world was watching. It made us more willing to expand our stable of authors so that we could produce more material on a regular basis.

It also meant we had to change our covers.

Our new printers / distributors do not print covers at the size our books were at before (pocket paperback). The smallest size they will go to is 5×8. We experimented with just keeping the cover design the same and enlarging it, but I’d been feeling insecure about the covers to the Black Womb series for some time, and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to rectify the situation. So, we hired an amazing young artist named Zach Aboulazm to paint the Infinity cover, and I set about designing the new standard for the Black Womb series. This is a very long introduction to a very short concept, but basically I’d like to share the way I design my covers, because I think it’s cool. Maybe you will, too.

Julie Peterson, stage one
Julie Peterson, stage one

So this is the first stage. This is just a sketch. We’re going to be looking at the cover of Ignorance is Bliss, which features Julie Peterson. I suppose from a marketing standpoint I should be doing Inner Child, but I like Julie. She’s one of my favorite fictional people. I like this sketch of her, she looks great. Very rarely do I feel I’m able to capture with a pencil what I create with words, but this is an example where I was pleased. Anyway, this is the original scan.

Julie Peterson, stage two
Julie Peterson, stage two

Next we clean up. Yah clean up! Let’s do the ten second tidy! Lol. I use two main programs for image exiting: Nero Photo Viewer (in edit mode) and Adobe Fireworks. For this stage I open the original scan initially in Fireworks and get rid of any grit or pencil lines along the edges, then I save and open in Nero and use the brightness/contrast to darken the lines and improve the quality of the image. It also brings out shadows that were there in the original sketch, but for some reason are lost in the scan.

(Edit: I should point out that in reality, there would be more than two images at this point. I re-save as a new file for every change I make, so that if I mess up I can easily go back.)

Okay, here’s the weird part. At least, I think it’s weird. It might be a normal method for image design, I don’t know, but I was never taught it. As far as I’m concerned I made it up myself.

Julie Peterson, stage three
Julie Peterson, stage three

First you need to decide what colors are going to be in the final image (in this case flesh tone, red, white, blue and brown). You open the second image in Nero and, using the duo-tone tool, create a version of the image for each color where the only colors are black and it. That’s a confusing sentence. There’s an example to the left. I’m only uploading the flesh tone version because to upload them all would simply be overkill.

Julie Peterson, stage four
Julie Peterson, stage four

So now you open up Fireworks and you create a new file with each of these colored images as a different layer. Then starting with the top layer you peel away any unnecessary image. For example, on the red layer I deleted everything except her lips. When done, you should have a flat image with all the colors where they should be, like this.

What’s the point of doing this? Well now I can remove each layer at will, creating artsy versions of the cover easily. I especially like a version where it’s just her hair and mouth, it looks great.

Julie Peterson, stage five
Julie Peterson, stage five

But from a more practical standpoint, I can now edit each color without affecting the other. I can shade each until I’m happy with it without harming the other factors. So here’s where I shade it and try to make the image come alive.

Julie Peterson, stage six
Julie Peterson, stage six

After this, it’s all practical. I love the image as is, but we’ve made a stylistic choice to keep some black and white element in from the old covers. I feel it harkens back to the old days of horror, those good old Twilight Zone episodes. So, we open the newly-shaded image file in Nero and convert to gray-scale.

Julie Peterson, stage seven
Julie Peterson, stage seven

Now we just open it up in Fireworks again and, using the blur tool, get rid of those obvious lines around her head. I feel this also gives it a painted look.

Julie Peterson on the final, finished cover of
Julie Peterson on the final, finished cover of “Ignorance is Bliss,” 2010, Engen Books

From here it’s simple. Once we’d decided on the new cover format (different color each time with a vertical window instead of the old horizontal ones), we just created a standard template for that and add it into it. The result is, in my opinion, a fairly cool cover to our first international title.

Let me know what you think, or if this method has a name.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew


My Writing Process 6: Multiple Leads

Okay, so there’s only so much I can write “in order” as I’ve been doing. So far these Writing Process blogs have followed the basic process I go writing a manuscript. But once you get to the point that the first draft is done, what else is there? Well, lots. But we’ll get into that some other time.

What I’d like to do is go over the different methods I use to write. I’m going to go through them one at a time to avoid major confusion. Unlike what I’ve been doing up to this point (which I consider the most effective way to do things) these are the frills of writing… The extra stuff you can do if you feel like it to improve the way you write.

The first of these writing methods I call “Multiple Leads.” I imagine I didn’t invent it, and other people may call it something else. Feel free to add the real name in the comments below, if you’re smarter than me. All I know is, it’s a method of storytelling that I’ve found suits me well.

What it is, or what my definition of it is, is to literally have multiple leads in a story. To basically have three stories going on at one time, at all times. So this is a trick not for the faint of heart, or perhaps not for beginners. But I suspect that’s not the case. I think anyone would be able to do this, if they’d only give it a shot.

So let’s do an example. I do crime fiction, but you could do it for any genre I think. But for my benefit, we’ll use crime fiction as our example. Let’s say we have three characters: a rookie cop who has just been promoted to homicide, a district attorney in the middle of a messy divorce, and a normal Joe who stumbles upon a grisly murder and is unsure of if they should come forward or not, and his girlfriend thinks he doesn’t. So already we’ve got lots going on. Any of these plots could make up a whole novel… But we’re going to use them all at once.

What we’re going to do here is switch back and forth between the three. So Rookie-Lawyer-Bystander. Then repeat. Just start a scene, write it about the Rookie. Write the scene to it’s natural conclusion, doesn’t matter how short or long it is. Then write the lawyer, same deal. Then the bystander. Then repeat. Then keep repeating.

I know that seems trite, but honestly it works very well on multiple levels. If you’re the type who gets bored easily then switching between storylines will help you remain engaged in the story. If you’re the type who gets writer’s block easily, then switching to a new storyarc will give you a chance to get the problematic one straight in your head.

And I know what you’re thinking: how can three separate stories told from three different points of view make a novel?

Well the answer is that these stories are going to converge. Eventually the bystander is going to go to the cops with his story, and only the rookie will believe him. Or maybe he doesn’t come forward, and the genius rookie finds him. Either way, once their stories meet… Keep the pattern, except now both characters are in those scenes. So now it’s:

Rookie/bystander-lawyer-bystander/rookie: repeat.

This will give the reader the illusion that the story is picking up pace.

So eventually these two might branch off into separate scenes again, but usually once two characters / plots mesh up like this they tend to want to stick together. And I mean that. The plots will almost demand that you keep the characters in scenes together. Eventually, as any Law & Order fan knows, they’ll have to get the lawyer involved. Now we’re into the climax and it’s all one big scene, and you just go crazy. Combining the three plots into a dovetail in this way is exciting to read, and gives the impression we planned it all along… Even though we may not have. Sometimes we did and sometimes we didn’t, but having say the Lawyer there all along rather than just dropping her in in the third act makes you seem the better writer.

I know it seems formulaic, but I find it works. Not only that, but remember it’s a first draft you’re penning. When you go through it for a second draft you’re going to feel that there should be another bystander scene added that won’t fit the pattern. And you’ll find one of the Rookie scenes useless and delete it. So by the time the novel gets into the reader’s hands, the pattern won’t be noticeable. Trust me.

And remember, this can work with anything. Romance, Scifi, doesn’t matter.

So that’s Multiple Leads. I hope that if you try it it works well for you, as it has on occasion for me.

Let me know how it goes!
Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

Compendium Goes International

This post first appeared on on October 3, 2011. 

Engen Books continues it’s winning streak with it’s international titles by re-releasing it’s most international collection,Compendium.

First released in 2009 at the first West Coast Con, Ellen Curtis’ breakout titleCompendium broke Engen sales records for both Chapters and in-person sales in it’s first week, records that remained in place until the release of Ellen’s debut novel, Infinity.

Compendium features three stories by Curtis: The Tourniquet Revival, At Midnight the Dawn and Falling into Fire, and features Engen’s most international cast, with characters from Europe, America, and beyond.

The usage of descriptions [in Compendium] really pulled me into the settings. I think atmospheric would be an appropriate adjective. All well written stories trigger the senses, but sometimes it takes a few pages or even chapters before the brain is able to create a world based around the information provided… In Compendium I found after a few paragraphs I had been whisked away to [other] worlds.” – Jay Paulin

Reedited and redesigned, Compendium is ready for it’s upcoming re-release. It will be available on Amazon in early November, but entertains it’s official launch at Hal Con 2, November 13 and 14, 2011.

2012 Anthology series information leaks

2012 Anthology series information leaks
(09/04/2011, official Engen Books Webpage)
Engen Books plans the next leg of it’s in-Universe publishing schedule to be released this April, with the publication of an as-yet unnamed anthology collection with stories taking place within the Engen Universe of stories containing the Black Womb series,Infintiy, and Compendium.

The anthology will feature many stories taking place throughout the Engen Universe, both with established characters and new ones.

Engen author Matthew LeDrew commented on his blog on September 2nd that he will be writing at least three stories for the collection, and that writing the shorts has opened up some new doors for him.

” Sometimes when I’m writing a short it’s less about story and more about atmosphere, which isn’t the way I normally approach things,” said LeDrew. “I’m usually of the mind that character, above all else, comes first; then plot, and then wherever the chips may fall. But as I write more and more short fiction I’m learning that these rules are often very different between the two.”

In addition to LeDrew, fellow Engen author Ellen Curtis is said to be contributing a tale of her own, as well as Ink’d Well Comics creator Jay Paulin. Other authors are pending, with both newcomers and established authors being rumored to be attached to the project.

“Until the ink is dry, I’m not saying anything,” said LeDrew. “But I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The next Engen-Universe release is Inner Child, the eighth book in the Black Womb series, to be released this November at the second-annual Hal-Con.



Locked out

Ellen Curtis
Ellen Curtis

So, I’ve been stressing lately.

Yesterday was jam packed with school, with cleaning, with filming new Engen Bytes. Today I got up early for a doctors appointment to get some things checked out. A clean bill of health (minus having “mediocre” iron levels and waiting on some routine tests) and I was good to go. Even my blood pressure, which was super high a few weeks ago (153/98 with a pulse of 111), is now down to an awesome 128/80. So, that still has to be monitored, but I seem to be in the clear. I even got in another box of un-packing and an episode of Glee before school. And wouldn’t you know it, but by the time all that was done, and I’d fed Matt, it was time to go. Like, really time to go.

I have this thing, about time. I can be super OCD about it. I call it being punctual, Matt calls it compulsive. To each there own. Anyway, I usually leave a half hour early for anything, just so I have time if I need it. Today, I found myself only heading out the door 20 minutes before class. And that just made me go yipes.

So, in a mad dash, I’m prodding Matt in the butt to get him to drive me and scrambling around for what I’ll need. A glance toward my book bag, gotta fill it with my laptop. A glance toward my purse, I should be saving money, so today I’ll do without a coffee. Left behind.

And here’s where it gets fun, because of all things to leave behind, my purse contains almost everything I need in my day to day. It has my make-up, my laptop charger, deodorant, wallet, ID, and oh ya, my keys.

And I didn’t realize until I was on the way home. Still on campus, but Matt is already headed to class, and for some reason he won’t answer his texts. Lovely, right? So now I’m stuck in the UC, smells of delicious food wafting my way, no money on me to get anything, no where else I can really go, no way of knowing where Matt is, and no way of getting my butt back in the house. And that pretty well sucks, because I have my day job at 6, and Matt won’t be out of class until 5. And we have already discussed how much I hate being rushed. Not to mention St. John’s rush hour traffic. You may as well just bring me out to pasture and shoot me now, because apparently I’m barely legal, but very useless.

Ps. Waisting my time watching Glee was pretty worth it, all things aside. Brittany is adorable. What a doll.

My Writing Process 5: After Drafting

Okay, so we’re running on the assumption that you’ve finished your first draft at this point. Who knows, maybe you’ve stockpiled eight first drafts or so, sometimes that’s how it works. Either way, the question now is: what now?

Well, if it’s anything like my first few manuscripts, your first draft is a bloody mess that you love more than life itself, so you’ve got a big problem. You’ve got something in dire need of editing but that you’re too enamored with to look at objectively, and that’s good for nobody. So I think the first goal should be to put it in a drawer for 1-2 months and forget it exists. Start a new project. It’ll wait. So will we.

See? Now it’s two months later. Seemed like nothing, right? Right. So now it’s real simple: read the damn thing.

That’s it, just read it. Nothing fancy. You can do it on your computer or on a physical copy. I prefer to have a physical copy, a red Bic pen, and a cup of coffee (decaffeinated nowadays… People bug me.) But that’s me. Basically just take your manuscript to your reading space and read it. If you see errors, mark them with your little pen. But we’re not looking for them yet. What we’re looking for is things that MAKE NO SENSE.

They’re there. I don’t care how smart you are. You could be JK Rowling herself, I really don’t care. There are things in there that make no sense. I’ll give you a few tiny examples:

– In the first printing of Stephen King’s “The Green Mile,” there is a character bound with a straight jacket that wipes the sweat from his brow. That’s clearly impossible, and makes no sense. Now to me that’s small enough to leave, but the publisher actually recalled and reprinted the books over that little gaff.

– A personal one: in Black Womb, the characters spend the first chapter of the novel talking about a big party that will be at Julian Grendel’s house on Saturday. Problem is: the party is on Friday. That’s embarrassing, and will be fixed for the next release. But here’s the thing: that book has been out for 4+ years, and it was only last July that someone noticed. That’s frightening.

So there are errors. And I don’t even mean editing slips, I mean stuff that makes no sense. In the original draft of Infinity, Abby Fisher yawns and goes to bed right after seeing Hunter murder someone. Yes, seeing a grisly murder always makes my eyelids hang. So that’s an easy fix.

The big problem are the logic gaffs. You’ll notice them. There are points when you’ll be reading and just go: what the fuck?

The issue is that most people are so in love with their first draft and want to protect the integrity of it that they convince themselves it’s okay. They shrug and move on. It’s not okay. If you’re reading and you come across a whole section that doesn’t feel right, circle it with your red pen and write FIX THIS, YOU IDIOT across the top. Then when the whole thing has been read, look up those marked pages on your file and get to rewriting.

20110918-090139.jpg And I know your gut reaction. The book is like your baby, and you don’t want to mess with it. You’re worried that by screwing with it you’ll make it less than it was before. I can assure you that’s not true, but just to quiet your mind, create a folder on your computer called “first drafts”. Put a copy in there and never touch it. Now, edit the real copy to death.

I didn’t have someone to tell me this with Black Womb or Transformations in Pain, and I feel both books suffered for it. While people tell me that Black Womb is great, there’s a part of me that’s still nervous about seeing someone read it.

By Smoke and Mirrors I’d gotten over it. The first draft of that is NOTHING like the printed version. How different? I literally rewrote it scene for scene. I was that unhappy with the first draft. All the events are the same, not one sentence is.

So yeah, get going. Read it. Re-Read it. Read it until it makes sense to you, because if it doesn’t make sense to you it REALLY won’t make sense to readers.

But whatever you do, never throw it aside. No matter how much you get frustrated with your abilities while reading your manuscript, never give up. The fact that you can see your errors means you have the skill and intelligence to fix them, just keep plugging.

It’s the people that can’t see them I worry about.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

My Writing Process 4: Writer’s Block

20110918-090527.jpg You still haven’t written anything yet? Dear Lord!… Don’t worry, I get that way too. It’s hard to talk about the writing process past the start of it… I mean, to an extent, if you plot: write till the plot is done. If you don’t plot: write till you feel you’re done. It sounds obvious, right? Yet the MOST ASKED thing at these panels is: how do you do it? I talk to hundreds of writers who start book after book and then abandon them 10,000 words in. One guy I told to publish them in an anthology called “unfinished tales”. He didn’t find it amusing.

But it’s a real question: how do we deal with writer’s block?

I think the first hurdle is to admit something. I’ve talked this over with many authors, and they all agree: there is no such thing as writer’s block. Writer’s Block is an imaginary illness made up by writers to make themselves feel okay about the fact that they aren’t producing jack shit. What the term should be is writer’s laze.

That’s right, writer’s laze. I get it, so do you. We’re lazy. Writers love being entertained. That’s why we do what we do. We entertain ourselves with our stories and are our own biggest fans. But sometimes it’s easier to be entertained than to be the source of it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been like: “It’s time to write… But wait! There’s a Criminal Minds marathon on!”

It happens to us all.

So when friends tell me they can’t write, I say bullshit. When they say they don’t have the dedication, I nod knowingly. If you’re writing, be prepared for the most time consuming job on the planet. It will absorb your every thought and spare moment.

To control this madness, I set myself at 2,000 words a day. If you’re just starting you can do 1,000, but 2,000 is a good number to be at. It keeps you engaged in the story each day but not so bad that you get burnt out.

And if you find you think you’re writing crap? Power through. Just keep producing that 2,000 words until your first draft novel is done. Fixing crappy scenes is what editing is for. And like with poker: you don’t count your money while sitting at the table, and you don’t edit while you write. Don’t even read while you’re writing.

Stick to this regimen, and you’ll be done before you know it.

And never look back.
Matthew LeDrew