Sunday 25 February 2024

No Fish in the gutter!

The realisation that publishers were probably not interested in my book forced me to reconsider several aspects of producing The Book in spite of that, which is one of the reasons I haven't written a post in some time. Another one is that I now also devote part of my creative time to a completely different type of art (I draw city views in the 'ligne claire' / 'klare lijn' style).  

The things I need to reconsider are those that an author would normally leave to publishing professionals: content and language editing, typesetting, lay-out, public relations and perhaps more.

I started with the language aspect. Even though the book is about images the text still counts some  45,000 words, so it pays to get that part right. I asked Biblaridion, who produces a very thorough YouTube series on designing an alien biospheres, whether my English would be good enough for a UK context. He was kind enough to have a look at the Furaha Book Sample (thank you!) and had only a few remarks, which was encouraging. Thinking matters through, I still decided to ask for professional writing advice. As most readers of this blog come from the USA, I will switch to US English, or I might produce more than one version. Next on the list is improving the layout; I have now looked at various self-published books on Amazon, and many of them looked wrong in one or more respects. The problems could have to do with character spacing, titles that did not seem to be on the right spot, columns with too many characters, wrong use of white space, or a too narrow page gutter. The more worrying ones were where I could not put my finger on a specific problem, which indicates I am not proficient enough to pinpoint what is wrong. There may be matters that I do not even spot as wrong but that a professional would identify immediately.           

I also realised that using two-page illustrations may not be wise: while they can look gorgeous, there is a chance that the most interesting part of the painting will disappear in the gutter, which is where the two pages meet. I used several such paintings and made the mistake of putting the centre of attention on the centre of the painting. That has to be corrected, and this post is about one such spread. 

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

The image above shows how the spread introducing the 'Fishes-IV' group looked a few years ago. I know the text on the image says 'Fishes V', not 'IV', but that is due to a cladistic revision). As two-page illustrations go, it was not too bad, because there was nothing of great interest in the gutter. But this painting predated the 'Great Hexapod Revolution', meaning their head anatomy changed completely. 

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

This was the succeeding stage. The animals, now 'Fishes-IV', have evolved and have an updated head anatomy, with proximal and distal necks and complete separation of the neurocranium and the gnathocranium.  The background animal now is a filter feeder, using much modified lateral jaws as sieves. The 'cheek opening' allows water to leave the mouth when the mouth cavity is put under pressure by closing of the upper and low jaws. I must revisit that design one day, but I am not satisfied with it. And there is the gutter matter...   

I will need a new spread page to introduce the Fishes-IV clade. Above are four results of playing with the design, done in ZBrush. They generally look like plesiosaurs, don't they? Well, if you have a swimming animal propelled by flippers and teeth at the end of a long neck, evolution is going to smooth streamline it, so it will end up looking like a plesiosaur. Can't be helped...

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

Variant A is fairly general. Note I did not work on the jaws; these 3D designs are merely aids to help painting, not goals in themselves. The three pairs of flippers are arranged in 'ascending staircase' fashion, with the first pair place lower and the last pair higher than the middle pair. In this species, the middle pair provides most thrust.       

Variant B is a fast swimmer with much-elongated necke. The lateral jaws are elongated but flattened and help to catch or cage prey, then chopped into coarse pieces by the short upper and lower jaws.

Variant C has an unusual body shape with lengthwise 'shoulders' supporting the fins. The shoulders do not make the frontal cross section much larger than the general rounded shape, and should not offer much more drag, but I must check that before I commit the design. The fins are arranged in 'descending staircase' fashion.

Variant D is a big blob sitting on the sea floor. It eats armoured shelled prey and has heavy upper and lower jaws to crunch the shells. It has no need for speed at all and is itself armoured.

As you can see, work on The Book continues. While distracted by layout matters, I can't help thinking about new and interesting creature designs. How about marine wadudu, that could grow much larger than terrestrial ones; with a mesoskeleton they could in fact compete with all those 'Fishes'. I have also been thinking about plants that would thrive in shallow seas, making empty beaches on Furaha rarer than they are on Earth. Or plants that actually form nets, not just branching structures.

But before I start dreaming about The Book Volume II, I had better finish 'The Book' itself.