Design your own book cover

Book cover art designing has always been a challenge for many authors. There are reputed book cover design companies like  that can get the job done at an affordable price. However, if you would like to DIY here are some recommendations.

A few designs I personally like:


Just like you can publish your own book, you can also design the cover of your book all by yourself, all to save you precious time and money. The internet is flooded with information on how to design the cover of your book in the most professional manner.

From size and layout to color, font and creative art, you will find information plenty at hand, thanks to the free online library. If you already have an artist friend or people who are already into book cover designing, then you can make a wiser use of their suggestions, tips and advice on how to design the cover of your own book.

If you are willing to spend a little, there are already several online book cover designing companies which will design your book for small fee. On the other hand, there are websites which allow you to design your own book cover, using their handy tools. CreateSpace and BookCoverPro are some such popular names in the category. You can access their graphics pages, border styles, frames, font styles and cover size formats to create a well designed book cover for your book.

Book cover designing using the tools in such DIY sites are extremely useful and time saving. For example, often you will just have to state the size of your book cover and the number of pages it contains. Once you have put in these figures, the book cover sizes in the back, front and spine is automatically calculated and presented before you and you are given a blank template to design your book’s cover.

If you wish to go that simple and easy, you can simply stretch to fit a good quality, suitable image on that template and fit in the book title text accordingly in a catchy but matching font style, size, layout and color. While these images are often there in the site, you can also browse through copyright free images or purchase royalty images at cheaper rates at use them on your book cover. Furthermore, you can photograph suitable images for your book, edit them in photoshop or similar editing software to add dramatic effects if you wish and then use it for your book cover.

With all that said and done, it will now be a good idea to run down certain aspects of book designing that will come handy in creating a book that will have better chances of selling by the first look itself. One of the most important aspects here is the contract of the image used on your book cover. For example, a deep pink against black and white text creates quite a contrast. The font size on the cover also is important. The text should be easy to read no matter what font style, color or size you use. But it would be sensible not to use Papyrus or Comic Sans. To play safe, use the standard font. Once you have designed a cover, preview it always before printing and if need be, get the opinion of as many friends possible to ensure that you have done your best job.

Outdoor canopies and furniture business

FirstUpCanopy helps you solve all of your needs when it come to outdoor canopies and other furniture for your patio and porch.

FirstUpCanopy provides outdoor covers including canopies, RV covers and other recreational covers and canopy products. We feature high quality covers sturdy construction. Inside the site, you will find attractive products that serve as cover, shade and shelter for your patio, greenhouse, party flea market, parking space, nursery, plant, flowers, camping area, garden area, pet, storage, deck, pool, barbeque, dog kennel, outdoor event or construction area.

How Flannery O’Connor’s Early Cartoons Influenced Her Later Writing

The forgotten visual output of the master of Southern Gothic fiction—and one of the country’s greatest writers of short stories—is being collected for the first time in a new volume from Fantagraphics, Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons, edited by Kelly Gerald. As Gerald told us, O’Connor’s cartoons—which were mostly made using linoleum cuts—reveal much about her developing satirical sense and conception of storytelling, tools that were later put to vivid use in her writing. The cartoons themselves retain a remarkable edge, especially for such youthful, playful work. Gerald is a Mississippi native who dedicated her doctoral work at Auburn University to O’Connor’s cartoons.
Gerald answered our questions about this early and unsung portion of Flannery O’Connor’s creative life via e-mail.

PWCW: When did Flannery O’Connor produce these cartoons? Where were they published?

Kelly Gerald: In the fall of 1940, O’Connor’s first cartoon was published in The Peabody Palladium, the student newspaper for Peabody High School in Milledgeville, Georgia. The school was located on the campus of Georgia State College for Women and operated by the education department as a laboratory school, so the high school and the college where all part of the same entity. When she graduated from Peabody in 1942, she started taking classes at GSCW that summer.
When the faculty advisor for the paper, George Haslam, asked the fifteen-year-old O’Connor if she would like to contribute something to the Palladium, she supposedly replied that she didn’t know how to write, but she could draw. And so she did. After that, her cartoons and illustrations appeared in nearly every student publication for the high school and college between 1940 and 1945, when she graduated from GSCW.
PWCW: How long did it take you to develop this book project and what was involved?
KG: I’d been researching and working on the cartoons for a while, but I can’t take any credit for getting this project off the ground. Gary Groth and Fantagraphics approached O’Connor’s agent about doing a book and worked out an agreement for an exclusive contract in late 2009, which was when I was contacted. Some years ago, I gave a presentation on the cartoons at an O’Connor conference in Milledgeville where some representatives of the O’Connor estate were present. They liked what they saw and remembered me when the Fantagraphics contract was developed. I’m very grateful to them.
PWCW: Were there any particular challenges in sourcing the cartoons reproduced in the book? Did you uncover any previously unpublished cartoons or drawings, in addition to the linoleum cuts?
KG: All the cartoons are from the school’s archive at Georgia College, formerly GSCW. It’s a small liberal arts college about 100 miles south east of Atlanta. The surviving copies of The Peabody Palladium as well as the college publications—The ColonnadeThe CorinthianThe Alumae Journal, and Spectrum—are all there.
There are a few previously unpublished drawings in the collection there, childhood drawings and illustrated cards sent to friends, a few marginal doodles from letters written long after she graduated. The pencil drawing of a turkey, for instance, [she drew as a child]  is incredible. It’s the earliest example of a cartoon with a complete joke, something she was capable of constructing even before she learned to write. That is absolutely amazing to me. And her drawing of a nun’s head from a letter to her friend Maryat Lee is not to be missed. It looks like a caricature of “The Flying Nun” before Sally Field made it funny.
PWCW: How do you see these cartoons in the context of Flannery O’Connor’s better-known literary output? Do they reveal something we might not have known about her, or do they emphasize a particular aspect of her artistic personality?
KG: They reveal a lot about the development of her satirical style of comedy and about her experience as a student at GSCW. The cartoons are a fabulous documentary experience in that way. Most of the cartoons were made during WWII, and we get to see something of what life was like then for the young women at GSCW. There was a huge training school for WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service] on the campus during the war, important enough for Bob Hope to make an appearance to entertain the troops. The cartoons help us to get to know the sort of person a young “Mary Flannery” was in this context.
Her cartoons also show us the type of conceptual and generative work she was doing, the tastes and creative habits she was developing. There are clear impressions in her cartoons of other artists who inspired her—Laurel and Hardy, James Thurber, Picasso, Cezanne. She wasn’t starting from zero when she decided in the first year of her graduate work at the University of Iowa that she wanted to write fiction. She had five years of experience as a cartoonist to build on. She learned how to make what she already knew how to do, and do well, work for her in fiction.

‘Leaping Tall Buildings’: The History of the Comics Industry in Words and Photos

A new book about the comics industry is nearly as epic as the field’s history itself. Featuring over 50 cartoonists captured in interviews and photos, Christopher Irving and Seth Kushner’s Leaping Tall Buildings The Origin of American Comics, from PowerHouse Books, weaves a narrative about working in the comics field through the eyes of a diverse array of creators, among them cartoonists Al Jaffee, Chris Ware, Jim Shooter, Dan Didio, Jessica Abel, and many more.

The project began when photographer Kushner met cartoonist Dean Haspiel while working on his photography book, The Brooklynites. During a photo shoot, Haspiel asked if Kushner had ever thought about doing a book on the comics world. Kushner, a life-long comics fan, was definitely interested, and they arranged to talk about the idea after Kushner finished work on his book.
Together they conceived the idea for a simple photography book about the New York City comics scene, and Kushner began work on that with Haspiel as the inaugural subject. “I wanted to have a new approach from photos I had done in other books and other editorial projects,” Kushner said. “I wanted it to be about not so much the cartoonist and their work space and more about an environmental portrait of the creator in a place that recalled their work in some way. I did Dean’s almost like a beta test to see how it looks, do one, and take it from there.”
By coincidence, Haspiel also met writer Irving when he was working on a book about Haspiel. At that time, he was working a full time job in Richmond, Va., and taking a self-imposed break from writing about comics, when he saw Kushner’s photos on Haspiel’s blog and immediately emailed to inquire about the project.
Irving and Kushner were soon working together. Kushner credits Irving with making the book something more complex. “Originally it was much less ambitious, it would literally be a photograph and maybe a blurb,” Kushner said. “It was more of a photo book than the big narrative it became. Frankly, the original idea, in retrospect, wasn’t that fascinating, so I’m glad it became something more and more important.”
“One thing I was very against was having it just be a book of pictures with minimal biographical info,” Irving said. “I felt like something that really gives a sense of that individual, which was exactly what Seth was capturing in his photography. I wanted the writing to match.”
As the work progressed, so did the conception of the book. No longer focusing just on New York City, the team had widened their scope of subject matter. They had also begun presenting some of their work-in-progress regularly as the blog called Graphic NYC.
“One of the best bits of advice we had was to just put it online, because that will help us build an audience, which will help us sell the book,” Irving said. “We started this in January 2008, check the Dash Shaw piece because he’s the first one we put up. We started thinking, oh, this is going to take us a year, we’ll do one profile a week, and it just kind of blew up on us. We decided to make Graphic NYC more of a regular site.”
“We’ll post updates in regards to Leaping Tall Buildings, because we do have that audience and do want to let them know that we are still thinking about them. They’re the reason we were able to do the book. Honestly, that audience has really helped keep us going and motivated.”
For Kushner, the work meant doing exactly what a comic book does — expressing ideas visually. With masters of the comic book form as his subjects, the portraits could turn into collaborations. An uneventful meeting with Art Spiegelman became a dynamic partnership of the moment once Spiegelman began helping to craft the portrait on the roof of his studio.
“I wasn’t getting the ultimate Art Spiegelman portrait that I required,” said Kushner. “And I said that maybe we could try something else and he said, ‘I have an idea,’ and he picked up a piece of chalk that was laying on the roof and he drew the Maus version of himself. It was awesome. He just sat there, and he was smoking, and I knew this is the ultimate Art Spiegelman photo for me.”
In photographing Kim Deitch, Kushner made use of the complexity of the creator’s face with a bit of personal lore included. “He’s really a fascinating guy and a fascinating looking guy,” Kushner said. “On the left side of his face, there’s his character Waldo. He has a collection of these black stuffed cats from way back when and that one next to him is the actual black cat who inspired the original Waldo character.”
The book also gave Kushner the chance to meet some of his heroes, like Brian Michael Bendis, whose personality dove heartily into Kushner’s visual concept of a Marvel Universe New York City.
“I put him in the spot that felt like the most Marvel Universe to me without using the Empire State Building,” said Kushner. “The Flat Iron Building is a stand in for the Daily Bugle building in the Spider Man movies and so I had him meet me there. He immediately got the reasoning for that. Most of the photos are pretty serious in the book. His is not, his is playful. He just started mugging and doing these things. It was great. I have frame by frame of him doing different poses. I like the larger than life aspect of this photo. I was down low and it’s almost like Godzilla attacking New York.”
To promote the book, the team plans on readings and appearances — Irving hopes to be at Heroes Con, with more announcements to come. He’s also worked on a series of video interviews of the book subjects. The best publicity they could get, though, probably comes from their work following the book.
The work on the website and book also gave each of them a chance to broaden their own enthusiasm and expertise into further ventures. For Irving, this has meant the launch of theDrawn Word, a digital magazine that expands his footprint in the world of comics journalism.
“I learned a lot about myself as a writer. I learned a lot about putting something online on a regular basis, in doing Graphic NYC,” said Irving. “I learned a lot about collaboration. It did prove to me that there is an audience beyond the established comics fan for this type of material, and it did prove that there is a desire for this type of approach when it comes to treatment of comic book figures, creators, artists, writers. I took a little bit of what I knew with a little bit of what I’d proven to myself with Graphic NYC.”
For Kushner, the experience has invited opportunities to create work in a format that he’s always loved, but never quite had the appropriate output. He started doing work for Haspiel’s Trip City website, including a non-fiction photo comic called CulturePop Photo Comix and script work on the web comic Schmuck.
“I always felt like comics were some other thing that would never happen and could never end up being a thing,” he said. “Some of my friends who were cartoonists encouraged me to find my voice and make photos. I can’t draw well, but I can tell stories and I can take pictures and so I ended up doing profiles of interesting people but in comic form, using their quotes as narrative facts. It’s one of my loves, so it’s really great just to do it, just to see something that I’ve written or that I’ve photographed in a comic.”

Super Folk: Marvel’s Same-Sex Wedding, DC Rumors, Digital News, National Cartoonist and Eagle Awards

This week in Super Folk, Publishers Weekly‘s superhero news roundup, Astonishing X-Men’s gay wedding and its effects, DC own gay speculation plus what’s to come, new series from Boom Studios, Marv Wolfman, Doug TenNapel, digital updates from around the industry, the National Cartoonist Society and Eagle Awards, and more.

Astonishing X-Men #51 variant by Marko Djurdjevic

Marvel’s Same-Sex Wedding

Following a “Save the Date” teaser for Astonishing X-Men#51 released a few weeks ago, Marvel Comics said that the upcoming wedding would be a first in superhero comics, which fans surmised meant it would be a same-sex marriage. In the weeks and days prior, Marvel has been drumming up interest  for the reveal (made on The View last Tuesday), that Astonishing X-Men characters Northstar and his boyfriend, Kyle, are getting married. The news has quickly become the most-talked about topic in the comic book media, eliciting widespread praise as well as the inevitable backlash, specifically in the form of One Million Moms, who are mounting a campaign against Marvel and DC over the recent prominence of gay characters in their books. The actual wedding will occur next month in issue #51 (#50 ended with Northstar proposing), and Marvel is celebrating with special wedding parties in participating retailers, as well as a “Create Your Own Wedding Variant” cover allowing readers to add their own image to the scrapbook variant by Phil Noto.
In lesser Marvel news, the publisher is offering a $5 coupon with the digital purchase of any Spider-Man comics, presumably to coincide with the release of Spider-Men #1 in two weeks. Marvel previously offered the same coupon in March to readers who ordered Avengers Vs. X-Men #1.
DC Still Mum on Gay Character
While Marvel was celebrating the marriage of Northstar and Kyle, DC Comics revealed that one of their straight characters would be introduced into the New 52 with a new sexual orientation. While the publisher has yet to reveal the character, instead only confirming that it is an “iconic” male character, many fans and critics have been speculating on who it will be. Currently, rumors purport it to be Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern and founder of the Justice Society of America. Scott, who has only briefly appeared in Earth 2 #1, does seem to fit the profile, although DC has yet to reveal the character’s identity or even hint at when it will be known.
Fall DC News
According to comic book news site Bleeding Cool, creator changes are coming to Legion of Superheroes in the fall, specifically to the 13th issue, arriving in October assuming the rumor of the September #0 issues is true. So far only the writer, Paul Levitz (former publisher of DC Comics) is set to remain on the title.

Ame-Comi Girls art by Amanda Conner

Last week DC also provided a preview for the upcomingSuperman: Earth One Volume 2, the sequel to 2010’s bestseller. Out in October, the book will continue telling the story of a young Superman, before he became the “World’s Greatest Super Hero.” Writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Shane Davis are taking a decidedly darker tone for the second volume, putting the Man of Steel through some particularly trying situations including the debut of a new version of the classic villain Parasite.

Ame-Comi Girls is a Go
First announced at C2E2, DC’s digital-first title Ame-Comi Girls, based on the popular line of manga-inspired statue of DC heroines, begins its weekly publication this Monday, kicking off with a three-part Wonder Woman story written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Just Gray and illustrated by Amanda Conner. In an exclusive interview with Comic Vine, Palmiotti and Gray discussed the excitement and freedom of writing outside of the main DC continuity, their version of Wonder Woman who they described as “brave” and “plucky,” and the series’ being able to tackle both “epic” and “personal” scale stories based on some of the greatest female superheroes.
New from Boom, Wolfman, TenNapel and More
A handful of new series emerged last week from the like of Boom Studios and creators such as Marv Wolfman, Doug TenNapel and Cameron Stewart & Karl Kerchl. Coming from Boom Studios in August is Michael Midas Champion, a new six-issue miniseries written by Jordan B. Gorfinkel (Birds of Prey) and illustrated by Scott Benefiel (The Incredible Hulk). The new series is a “classic fairy tale in superhero clothing” that tells the story of a young bullied boy who grows up to be a superhero only to find out that his bully has become a super villain.
ShiftyLook (publishing arm of Namoco Bandai) revealed a new comic based on Time Crisis, the popular co-op arcade shooter. The new series will be written by Marv Wolfman (Teen Titans,Crisis on Infinite Earths) and illustrated by J.J Kirby (The Authority: The Lost Year).
Writer/artist Doug TenNapel (Earthworm Jim, Ratfist) is beginning a new weekly webcomic, much in the same vein as Ratfist, this time called Nnewts. According to TenNapel, Nnewts, about a race of diminutive explorer/adventurers called Nnewts, has been a sort of pet project for the author and in the works for fifteen years.

Michael Midas Champion art by Scott Benefiel

To lead up to the October release ofAssassin’s Creed III, video game company Ubisoft is publishingAssassin’s Creed: The Chain, a new three-issue comic book by Karl Kerschl and Cameron Stewart, the team behind 2010’s Assassin’s Creed: The Fall. Beginning late this summer, the new series picks up where The Fall left off and ties into the upcoming video game.

At London’s Kapow Comic Convention, Peter Serafinowicz, creator of British comedy series “Spaced,” announced his foray into first comic books, Nelson, an upcoming superhero story with artist Jock (Detective Comics, The Losers). The series, originally conceived as a pilot for HBO and FX, follows Nelson, a superhumanly strong police chief with zero tolerance for crime. Serafinowicz described him as the “Credible Hulk” who patrols a “Gotham City version of London,” and said that the book will be humorous but not without a dark side. Nelson is set to come out late 2012/ early 2013.
Digital News: Godzilla, Thrillbent, Crusaders App
To celebrate the release of the new Godzilla series (written by Duane Swierczynski and illustrated by Simon Gane) last week, publisher IDW digitally released its entire library of Godzilla titles for iOS, Nook and Android. Fans who buy the new series digitally, out the same day as print, will also get special variant covers not available in print.
In a bold move, Mark Waid (Daredevil), creator and moderator of digital comics hub Thrillbent, has made all the chapters of his web comic Insufferable to be downloaded and available to file-sharing and torrent sites. Waid has been a proponent of file-sharing, often decried as the comic’s industry’s biggest threat, not seeing downloaded comics as a financial loss but instead free advertising. So far all the chapters Waid has offered have appeared on file-sharing sites, and Waid hopes the new exposure will generate increased traffic for the site.
Archie Comics has launched a new app for its revival of the Red Circle Comics, headlined by theNew Crusaders (by Ian Flynn and Ben Bates). The new app uses a subscription service for 99 cents per week, and offers the entire library of comics as opposed to purchasing individual issues. Currently the only new title available is New Crusaders, broken up into six-page segments released weekly, however the app also gives subscribers access to many of the classic Red Circle comics from as far back as the 1940s including Pep Comics and The Shield.

2012 Orange Prize Goes to ‘The Song of Achilles’

Madeline Miller, the 8-1 outsider last night won the 2012 – and last – Orange Prize for Fiction with her debut novel The Song of Achilles (Bloomsbury), becoming the fourth American in a row to take home the £30,000 cheque and the bronze “Bessie” figurine, both anonymously endowed.
Joanna Trollope, Chair of Judges, described it as “more than worthy winner – original, passionate, inventive and uplifting.  Homer would be proud of her.” The newly celebrated author seemed genuinely surprised and slightly over-wrought. “I’m shaking,” she admitted, as she stepped to the microphone looking for a moment as if she might cry, before revealing that she was wearing a dress loaned to her by Ann Patchett. “I’m humbled and overwhelmed, truly.”
The young Boston-born, Brown-educated classicist has spent the last decade teaching Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students while working on her novel, published in the U.S. by Ecco, which has 30,000 copies in print. Julie Barer, the Manhattan-based boutique agent who plucked the novel from her slush pile and worked on it with the author for six months, has now sold it in 10 countries, with many more now assured.  Bloomsbury put through a 25,000 reprint on the result – though one or two fellow publishers thought that a cautious figure. “We were going to do 50,000 had we won,” Andrew Franklin of Profile told BookBrunch, speaking of Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues, published by Serpent’s Tail.
As has lately become the tradition, the ceremony took place in the Clore Ballroom at London’s Southbank Centre which was packed with gently perspiring glitterati partaking of the sponsor’s lavish hospitality. For the last time, guests processed in across the orange carpet, a shade that really doesn’t flatter the skin tone (as Caroline Michel worried during LBF’s brief relocation to Docklands), many of them dressed to the nines and wearing the sort of heels that would once not have been associated with “women’s fiction”.
Trollope said that she and her fellow judges – Lisa Appignanesi, Victoria Derbyshire, Natalie Haynes, Natasha Kaplinsky – had read 143 submissions and shared a clear vision of what was required of their long- and shortlists. The three-hour discussion the previous evening had not been “robust” – there had been no row – but neither was there total unanimity, though in the end discussion focused on two books, with “graceful surrenders” along the way. In a less strong year, any of the six could have won, Trollope continued, praising an award that champions excellence without snobbery, highlighting books that can be enjoyed “by both genders and readers at every age and stage of life the world over.”
Earlier this month, Orange, the telecommunications company that sponsors of the award,decided to stop sponsoring the award. However, Kate Mosse, the novelist who (then a publisher with Random House) was a co-founder of the Women’s Prize for Fiction and who is now its Honorary Director said there are around 10 “serious contenders”, all of them attending this year’s ceremony.

Yen Press Plans Graphic Novels Based on Monster Galaxy Videogame

Yen Press, the Hachette Book Group’s manga and graphic novel imprint, has reached an agreement with social gaming publisher Gaia Interactive to create a series of graphic novels based on GI’s popular Monster Galaxy videogame franchise. Monster Galaxy has more than 25 million players around the world and a live action movie adaptation is in development.
The partnership will develop a series of graphic novels that will feature a new stories and new monsters as well as the game’s popular characters. Yen Press publishing director Kurt Hassler called the online game, “addictive,” and said, “I can hardly pry our editorial staff away from it since we began discussions of an adaptation! We look forward working with Gaia to introduce both existing fans and new readers to new stories in an entirely new medium, set within this marvelously engaging world.”
Monster Galaxy is available to be played on Facebook and can also be downloaded from iTunes. More details about the new Monster Galaxy graphic novel series will be released at this year’s San Diego Comic-con International in July.
Christopher Castagnetto, senior marketing product manager at Gaia Interactive, said, “expanding the world of Monster Galaxy through graphic novels gives readers the unique opportunity to experience new and exciting adventures including new characters, worlds and monsters while still incorporating classic iconic moments from the games.”

When Fiction Beats Fact: Antony Beevor on Imagining WWII

Antony Beevor’s newest book, The Second World War, compresses the entirety of the century’s most important event into a single volume. In this essay for Tip Sheet, Beevor tackles the perils of “faction.”

In the last few years we have seen an unprecedented number of novels and films constructed around historical events. A blend of fact and fiction has been used in various forms since the dawn of creative writing – starting with sagas and epic poems. Yet faction seems to have suddenly increased its attraction to writers and readers in a dramatic way. Is this due to a poverty of imagination, as some critics argue? Is it a marketing-driven phenomenon, perhaps catering to the modern desire in a fast-moving world to learn and to be entertained at the same time? Is it influenced by a desperate need for authenticity, even in works of fiction? Is there a prurient compulsion to fill in those gaps in our knowledge about the private lives of great figures, which history has failed to cover? Movies and television now revel in the speculative biopic.

The simmering debate about about the uses and abuses of faction has been bubbling merrily in Britain. Niall Ferguson argued that historical fiction “contaminates historical understanding.” I feel that that is too sweeping. There are novels which can raise interesting historical questions, because they are able to go where historians should never dare to tread.

Some novelists want to give people in history a voice, because they have been denied it in the past by their lowly position. Andrea Levy, whose novel ‘The Long Song’ was set in Jamaica in the 1830s, said that the almost complete absence of accounts of the period by enslaved people allowed fiction to come ‘into its own in this type of story,’ with the novelist’s imagination filling in the blanks of history.

A problem only comes, I think, with faction, when real historical characters are introduced with words put into their mouths. Helen Dunmore, who has written two novels set in the Soviet Union, said that writers stray into “dangerous territory” when they fictionalise real people. She said that she was “very wary” of putting words into the mouths of characters from history.
Once could argue that historical fiction set further in the past poses less of a dilemma, if only because of the lack of verbatim accounts. Hilary Mantel, the author of Wolf Hall and now Bring out the Bodiesabout Thomas Cromwell, wrote: “For a novelist, this absence of intimate material is both a problem and an opportunity. . . Unlike the historian, the novelist doesn’t operate through hindsight. She lives inside the consciousness of her characters for whom the future is blank.” In fact the historian should do both – first see the world as it appears to protoganists at the time, and then analyse with hindsight. But the key point surely is that when a novelist uses a major historical character, the reader has no idea what the writer has taken from recorded fact and what has been invented.
Restorers of paintings and pottery follow a code of conduct in their work to distinguish the genuine and original material from what they are adding later. If writers are going to take a piece of history and then fill in the blanks, should they not do the same? But if novelists do not want to make this distinction (say by the use of italics or bold to distinguish true parts from invention) then why not change the names slightly, as in a roman-à-clef, to emphasise that their version is at least one step away from reality? The novelist Linda Grant argues that this also gives the writer much greater freedom of invention. She pointed out that Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel American Wife, which is obviously based on Laura Bush, benefitted greatly from changing the name. Sittenfeld was able to go where it would have been unthinkable to go otherwise. Keeping real names shackles the imaginative writer perhaps more than they realise. In Tolstoy’sWar and Peace, the most convincing and interesting characters are those he made up, not the historical characters he introduces. The most memorable characters of world fiction have always come from a great writer’s imagination.
The frontier of fact and fiction is a zone of huge commercial potential and thus also of huge potential corruption in historical terms. As well as the increase in historical novels, we have also seen ‘faction-creep’ both in documentary and feature films. One of the reasons for this is that we have moved into a post-literate world, where the moving image is king. Most people lack the knowledge now to distinguish fact from fiction. And the needs of the movie and television industry remain fundamentally incompatible with historical truth.

The Best New Books for the Week of June 4, 2012

This week: Gillian Flynn’s highly anticipated Gone Girl, a legless girl causes a bizarre military impasse, and an exploration of morality. Plus, both James Joyce and World War II each get comprehensive accounts.

The Second World War by Antony Beevor (Little, Brown) - Somehow distilling the 20th century’s most important event into a single, 863-page volume,The Second World War tells its story through a series of individual experiences, from heads of state to front-line riflemen, and from field marshals to teenaged girls. Beevor  makes this comprehensive capstone a page-turner. See Beevor’s essay on “faction” for Tip Sheet.


Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur) - The follow-up to 2011’s Now You See MeDead Scared begins with Det. Constable Lacey Flint going undercover as a psychology undergraduate at Cambridge’s St. John’s, staying in the same room as a student who lit herself on fire—one incident in a string of suicides and suicide attempts. This is the jumping-off point for Bolton’s tightly coiled plot that never eases up. See our interview with Bolton. 

James Joyce: A New Biography by Gordon Bowker (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) - This new biography of James Joyce can never supplant the achievement of Richard Ellmann’s classic of 1959, but Bowker does add to it, taking advantage of new resources. Bowker visits anew the fascinating connections between the facts of Joyce’s life and the details worked into his magnificent four major works. Check out an excerpt, detailing Joyce’s sexual awakening.

The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy by William J. Dobson (Doubleday) - Using Russia, China, and Venezuela as examples, this deft book examines how rulers “have gone to great lengths to turn disinterest in political life into a public virtue” by promoting economic prosperity and relying on widespread political apathy. Dobson explores methods used by dictators to hang on to power, and the pervasive paranoia that comes along with an authoritarian regime.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown) – A tale of marriage gone toxically wrong. Amy and Nick, the two unreliable narrators at the center of Flynn’s creepily unforgettable book, eventually uncover their layers of deceit for the reader. A must read for any fan of bad girls and good writing. See our Q&A with Flynn.

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen (Crown) - This haunting narrative nonfiction book details America’s willfully blinkered relationship to the nuclear weapons industry, specifically in relation to Bridledale, Colo., the site of America’s single worst industrial accident—a plutonium fire in 1969 that was largely covered up. Following the disaster, residents became sick and animals grew sterile. A powerful work full of suspense and masterful control.

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne (Feiwel & Friends) - What could’ve been just another postapocalyptic  YA novel is instead a tense, claustrophobic thriller. Fourteen Colorado students take refuge in a superstore during a massive environmental cataclysm, cut off from the previously ubiquitous Network. The varied cast of characters becomes clear and memorable by book’s end.

The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death by Jill Lepore (Knopf) - New Yorker writer Lepore explores the stages of life, beginning before birth and ending after death, to show how cultural responses to the questions of life and death have evolved over time. Topics covered include cryogenics as a form of resurrection and the ethics of breast pumps. An inspired commentary on our shared social history, The Mansion of Happinessoffers a fresh approach to our changing views of life and death. See our Q&A with Lepore.

The Good Life: The Moral Individual in an Antimoral World by Cheryl Mendelson (Bloomsbury) - Mendelson, a philosophy professor at Barnard, corrects the oversimplification of the term “morality,” distinguishing permoral, antimoral, and immoral, as well as discussing torture and abortion under the “pseudomoral” categorization. The book cites Shakespeare, the Brontës, Nietzsche, Dickens, and Hume, among many others. Mendelson’s sharp, clear style makes this powerful book go down easy.

The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya (Hogarth) – The arrival of a legless Pashtun girl, requesting to bury her slain brother in Kandahar, sets off a bizarre, poignant two-day impasse between the girl and the U.S. military, during which the Americans begin to doubt their purpose in Afghanistan. The book resonates with the echoes of Joseph Heller, Tim O’Brien, and Robert Stone.