Monday, May 28, 2018

Crimes against graphics

     Authors often invest nearly superhuman effort—thousands of laborious hours over many months or even years—in creating fine books worthy of publication and significant readership.

     But in all too many cases those efforts are sadly thwarted by hasty, half-hearted, or just plain incompetent graphic cover artists, who in most cases I suspect have not even read the first paragraphs of the books they’re tasked to work on for a mere few hours.

     There are many ways a fine book can be cloaked in graphics rags that are sure to relegate it to obscurity.  I’ve served as an awards judge for two excellent writers’ organizations and have studied book covers in stores for years, and I think I’ve seen them all.  Dark red lettering on a black background is a frequent way to render cover copy unreadable.  A background photo that was never interesting to begin with and has no relevance to the subject matter or setting of the book is another unsubtle way to turn off readers as they scan the shelves; a novel set in the dead-flat country of eastern NC featured a dull cover shot of mountains, for one bad example.

      Whimsical graphic experiments that look like something created during a workshop/vaping session at a convention of abstractionists can also doom books quickly; a recent cover had the one-word title broken up into syllables and scattered, so it required some study to figure out, and the author’s name, in dark gray over slightly darker gray, was utterly lost at any distance over two feet away.  Selecting tiny font sizes on covers and for the inside text is a just-plain-mean way of convincing readers to shun a book.  Murky low-contrast nonsensical collages that turn to mud when reduced to the thumbnail sizes often used to advertise books in magazine ads and online is a clever way to test the vision, and the patience, of book browsers.  Why publishers allow, or even seem to embrace, such criminal graphics is a mystery.

     There are fads and trends in cover design that come and go, some good and some not so good.  There’s one current industry-wide trend I like.  Almost every hardcover dust jacket is done with an overall finish of matte varnish, which provides a good grip and a nice rich feel for the reader.  Using spot high-gloss varnish on these covers, such as for the title and author name and a selected graphic element, provides pleasing, attention-grabbing contrast. 

     And of course there are the superb covers that complement and even augment their books’ contents and make these relatively few volumes stand out amid all the intense competition in any bookstore.  Those graphics wizards are to be commended.  The covers and interior layouts are indeed works of art done by thoughtful, caring people with real talent.  The authors lucky enough to benefit are deeply grateful, I’m sure.  Invariably, such covers adorn books that the rest of us writers would do well to emulate.  Just as these covers themselves ought to be studied and emulated by some of the lesser graphics practitioners out there.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Fourteen aviation aphorisms (that also apply to driving):

An aircraft check ride (or a DMV license test) ought to be like a skirt, short enough to be interesting but still long enough to cover everything.

Always remember you fly an airplane (or drive a vehicle) with your head, not your hands. Never let an airplane (or a vehicle) take you somewhere your brain didn't get to earlier.

Don't drop the aircraft (or the vehicle) to fly the microphone (or to send a text or make a call). Dead pilots (and drivers) are found in the wreckage with their hand around a microphone (or a cell phone).

Those who hoot with the owls by night should not fly with the eagles by day. (Self-explanatory.)

Things which do you no good: Runways (or road space) behind you. Fuel in the airport truck (or in the last gas station). Two seconds ago.

If God meant man to fly (or drive a Ferrari), He'd have given him more money.

What's the difference between God and fighter pilots (or freeway drivers)? God doesn't think He's a fighter pilot (or a NASCAR hero).

Flying (or driving) is not dangerous; crashing is dangerous.

Trust your captain (or driver) but keep your seat belt securely fastened.

The nicer an airplane (or a vehicle) looks, the better it flies (or drives).

It's best to keep the pointed end of your aircraft going forward (or the dirty side of your vehicle down) as much as possible.

Any attempt to stretch fuel is guaranteed to increase headwind (or distance to the next exit with a station).

A fool and his money are soon flying more airplane (or driving more vehicle) than he or she can handle (or pay for).

You cannot propel yourself forward by patting yourself on the back. (In either an aircraft or a vehicle.)


Monday, May 14, 2018

Illusions all around us

     I’ve long been fascinated by the many illusions we live with, those phenomena that trick us into seeing things not at all as they really are.

     Nowhere is the phantom lake illusion more evident than on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, one of the most otherworldly places I’ve ever been.  Driving out on the white featureless dead-flat expanse you’d swear there was a beautiful lake awaiting just a mile or two away, but as you get closer the ghost lake shimmers and vanishes.  We can sometimes see the same illusion far ahead on a long flat highway, especially in summer heat.

     Stare at a rotating Christmas tree decoration and it can suddenly seem to be turning in the other direction although it’s not.

     I live on a shore of a wide river.  When it’s a hazy day, the far shore seems farther away, but on those rare brassy days when the atmosphere is severe clear, that same shore seems much closer.  That illusion is much like what I experienced from a Chile mountaintop deep in the Atacama Desert, where the night atmosphere was so dry and clear the abundant diamond-bright stars seemed almost touchable.

     Call up a few crisp shots of our moon on your computer.  Why do the craters sometimes appear to be like swollen blisters?  Often, you can simply turn the photo upside down so the light strikes the moon’s surface from a different perspective and the impact craters will then show as the depressions they really are.  It’s magical.  The moon and sun appear to be much larger when near the horizon, but it’s only an illusion; their proximity to familiar horizon features only makes them seem larger.  To prove this, cup your hands closely around the moon when it’s just above the horizon and watch it instantly seem to shrink.

     Then there are those illusions we all constantly see but are mind-numbing to think about.  There is no color on earth or throughout the universe, for example.  Everything is drab and colorless.  Light is only a narrow band in the same broad electromagnetic spectrum that’s shared by invisible microwaves, radio waves, X-rays, gamma rays, infrared, and ultraviolet.  All that differentiates these various waves is wavelength (or frequency).  Our brains interpret various wavelengths within the narrow visible range as different hues.  So the astonishing beauty of rainbows and birds and flowers and rich evergreens against a cobalt-blue sky happens not at all in nature but rather only within our own minds.  Hard to believe but true.

     We fiction writers are perhaps the master intentional illusionists.  Using only black words on white paper, we paint vividly colorful scenes and bring to life nonexistent characters that move and speak and suffer and triumph only within the imaginations of our readers.


Friday, May 4, 2018

These messages are said to have appeared in church bulletins or were announced at church services:

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.
The sermon this morning: ‘Jesus Walks on the Water.’
 The sermon tonight: ‘Searching for Jesus.’

Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husband.

Miss Charlene Mason sang ‘I will not pass this way again,’ giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church.  So ends a friendship that began in their school years.

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What Is Hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.
Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.

The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next
Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.