Chapter Fourteen of The Gold in the Dark and a Writing Update!

Illustration courtesy of Ally Grosvenor, as always.

The fourteenth chapter of The Gold in the Dark is out! New chapters, complete with brilliant chapter illustrations courtesy of Ally Grosvenor, release every other Sunday at 11 AM EST.

For this week in writing updates I’ve been drafting Beauty and the Beast and Aliens, which has been quite fun. It’s definitely on the softer side of sci-fi, maybe even veering towards science-fantasy territory, a genre that I love and would love to see more of! It’s been really interesting conceptualizing the aliens in terms of their “human-ness,” since there’s going to be a strong romance element—how alien can you make a love interest before things get too weird? I want to push the boundaries as far as I can, but don’t want to get into gross-out territory—tentacles, etc.

Also, if you’re looking to pick up a copy of Specter this is a good day to do it! (If this is the first you’re hearing of Specter, I’ve thrown the cover and blurb down below. Pitch: Stranger Things with a ghostly twist!) It’s on free promotion over at Kobo, and today is the very last day before the price goes up, so go grab a copy! Also, can I just take a second to say thanks to all the nice people at Kobo? It’s such a supportive company to indie authors—they have a podcast, respond very helpfully to emails, and offer authors all these ways to easily promote their books at low cost. Thanks, Kobo. 🙂

All right, that’s it for writing updates. Have a good rest of your weekend and enjoy Chapter Fourteen. ❤


Blurb

Horror aficionado Lanie Adams should be thrilled when two eighties-era ghosts materialize in her bedroom. Yet after a fainting incident unbecoming of a horror nerd, she would rather her haunting just go away—the ghosts’ distorted, waterlogged voices and ice-cold auras are more terrifying than any movie. Enlisting the help of Ryan, an entirely-too-cute stoner, she makes it her mission to put the spirits stalking her to rest.

Some sleuthing reveals that their sleepy Connecticut town is host to a shadowy, decades-old conspiracy. If Lanie wants to say a final goodbye to her ghosts, she’ll need to keep digging. But it’s important to tread carefully. The culprit is still in town—and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

Specter is available for purchase at any book retailer or from Hidden Bower Press. Even independent bookstores should be able to preorder Specter—and you can even request your local library order a physical or ebook copy! I love libraries, so making the book available everywhere was important to me in my publishing decisions. So please consider picking up a copy or adding it to your Goodreads TBR!

Short Tuesday returns! #19: “In a Cavern, in a Canyon” by Laird Barron

And we’re back! It was nice to take a couple weeks vacation from Short Tuesday, but I’m excited to return and dive into more weird short stories. First up is “In a Cavern, in a Canyon” by Laird Barron, courtesy of the excellent Nightmare Magazine. You can read the short story for free here…

Let’s first set the mood. The title of this story is actually the opening verse of the classic song “Oh My Darling Clementine”—one of those earworm childhood songs where you know the chorus intimately but have only a vague sense that there are other verses as well. Oh, how I love horror that draws on old tunes to set an eerie tone! You think I’m joking, but I’m dead serious—this is one of Stephen King’s oldest tricks in the book (har har), and it’s the reason why “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” features heavily in one chapter in Specter.

This is not a mood piece masquerading as a short story, but an actual full-fledged work, hallelujah. The story follows a middle-aged woman who has an obsession with search-and-rescue hunts and proceeds to track the eerie events in her childhood that led to her developing that interest. The Alaskan, working-class setting works perfectly for the story; everything feels very grounded in reality until the point when the weird shows up to say boo. So many of the short stories I read have this floaty, mood-driven tone where you know things are going to happen and nothing will really be explained. And sometimes that kind of works, but more often it drives me a little bananas; I crave a bit of grounded realism as a story base, and that is what the author delivers here.

I’m going to leave it at that, since this is the kind of short story you should really let unfold for you, with no spoilers. I loved it and am excited to read more from this author. If you are at all a fan of creepypasta and Lovecraftian elements, then this is a short story not to miss.

Lover of the Weird: A Totally Non-Subjective List of the Best Weird and Horror Media ;)

It’s no secret to my friends and family that I love weird stuff. Serial killers, horror, conspiracy theories, cults—all these things fascinate me in equal amounts. I was the kid who devoured the Goosebumps series at a too-tender age, then graduated straight on to Stephen King. You know how Mr. Ollivander says to Harry that “the wand chooses the wizard”? That’s kind of how I feel about horror and the weird—just like how some people are natural thrill seekers, I think there are some people with a predilection for this stuff. The weird chooses you.

So I thought I’d throw together a post about my favorite weird and horror bits and bobs. My personal taste tends toward a slow build narrative, occasional hyper-violence, surrealism, and some narrative ambiguity. I’m no expert, but out of the thousands of hours I’ve spent consuming this stuff, I’ll go on record saying that everything listed below is really deserving of praise.

Books

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Yeah, yeah, the show on Netflix is pretty cool, but the book is better. This is an atmospheric and psychological masterpiece about a haunted house. Definitely pick up a copy—it’s not a lengthy book, so technically it won’t take you long, but you might find yourself wanting to take frequent breaks to escape the chilling atmosphere of the house.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Another piece of literature about a house. How spooky can a house that is a bit bigger inside than outside be, you might ask? Well. WELL. This is a book you need to read in hard copy—the book’s bizarre formatting is simply incompatible with ebooks. At least do a quick flip-through in the book store to see what I’m talking about—you won’t be disappointed.

Anything by Haruki Murakami

I’m a big Murakami fan, to say the least. I haven’t read everything by him, but I’ll get there eventually. There’s something about Murakami’s matter-of-fact tone that really connects with me. His most acclaimed book is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, for good reason, but really anything by him is great—as far as I’m concerned, he is the undisputed master of magical realism.

The Interface Series by _9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9

So this isn’t a book yet. The author is an anonymous Reddit user, who posted the entire work in non sequitur comments. There was some talk that this was a major inspiration for Stranger Things—I don’t believe this theory myself due to the lengthy production timeline needed for producing a show like Stranger Things, but I think it’s worth noting that the two are similar… though the Interface Series is weirder. Want to know more about flesh interfaces? You can get started reading for free here.

The Downside Trilogy by S. L. Grey

The South African duo S. L. Grey has gained a bit more notoriety for their recent novel The Apartment, but I remain a steadfast fan of the Downside Trilogy, in particular the first book The Mall. It has a lot to do with my abiding love for Silent Hill 3, which also prominently features a mall… But these books stand on their own, and the worldbuilding is excellent.

Movies

Creep 1 and 2

I’d seen Creep floating around on Netflix for a while before I buckled down to watch it. Somehow I didn’t expect much. Oh, how wrong I was. This is the franchise for anyone who’s ever gotten leery about meeting people off the Internet. Mark Duplass’s acting in both the first and second film are phenomenal—here’s hoping for a third movie. I just can’t get enough of the MC.

Alien

Yeah, yeah, a lot of people like to claim that the sequel, Aliens, is better, but for me it veers off too much into action territory. I much prefer the more atmospheric and slower-paced Alien; it creeps along until all hell breaks loose. I also have to appreciate that this is the movie that inspired Blake Snyder’s “save the cat” writing philosophy—just a fun little tidbit.

Rosemary’s Baby

This is a tough movie for me to recommend, since I struggle a bit with Roman Polanski being the director. Nevertheless, I’ve watched Rosemary’s Baby numerous times and love it for the pacing, the characters, the pregnancy theme, and the atmosphere. Riley Sager’s new novel Lock Every Door draws heavily from Rosemary’s Baby, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Silent Hill

I don’t care what people say about the film version of the Silent Hill franchise; this movie is fantastic. It preserves the Silent Hill atmosphere, keeps in the baddies we all love like Pyramid Head and the nurses, and has a comprehensive plot with a satisfying ending. Not even The Babadook could achieve that last bit. (Fighting words, I know.)

The Ring

I have vivid memories of taking a community college Japanese class, where for the last two classes the teacher abandoned any sort of curriculum and instead put on The Ring. On VHS tape. In a dark room with no windows. On one of those old, flickering CRT TVs. Yeah, it was terrifying, and it took me a couple years after that singular viewing experience before I could watch The Ring again. This was basically the seminal horror film of my generation, and it will remain one of the top three horror films of all time for me.

Psycho

Hitchcock produced a lot of masterpieces, but this is my favorite of the bunch by far, enough so that it even made a brief appearance in Specter. Pyscho’s music and shower scene are classic, and the whole movie is beautifully shot; the black and white adds so much atmospherically.

Funny Games
(original Austrian version)

This is a polarizing movie for its infamous breaking of the fourth wall; a loooooooot of people hate this movie. But for me, as someone who really enjoys dissecting the horror genre, the director’s commentary on the audience’s twisted relationship with horror films is fantastic. If you like home invasion flicks and philosophical subtext, definitely give this a watch.

Games

Silent Hill 1-3

These are the only games on the list that I have not played myself, but have only watched being streamed. If I’d had access to these games growing up I would definitely have played them, but we were a PC family, not a console family, so I never got the chance. (Mom definitely would have balked at all that blood and gore, too. 😉 ) Anyway, something about the Silent Hill atmosphere really connects with me—all that fog and the twisted mutants.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

This game made a name for itself with the game design decision that the MC is not able to fight back against the monsters hunting him in a sprawling, creepy castle. Additionally, you have to stay on top of the MC’s sanity meter, meaning that the more scared your character is, the more you’ll suffer manifestations of that fear, including teeth grinding, visual and auditory hallucinations, etc. It’s a deliciously terrifying game, and though the plot could leave something to be desired, the concept, execution, and level design of the game more than carries it to greatness.

Outlast 1 and Whistleblower DLC

Outlast took the helpless MC concept from Amnesia and ran with it in a modern-day setting. The premise is that the MC is a journalist investigating a psychiatric facility; some levels are so dark that they can only be navigated with a night vision camera, and your battery runs out fast. I unfortunately can’t get on board with the second in the series, which struck me as more of a jump scare running simulator, but Outlast and the Whistleblower DLC were horror game perfection. A warning: these games above all others here are not suitable for anybody squeamish. There are some parts of Whistleblower that are beyond gross.

Doki Doki Literature Club

I don’t really want to give anything away about this game, since one spoiler can ruin the experience… but just know that this game is not the adorable anime dating sim that it appears to be! 😉 I also love all the analysis videos about this game online; here’s hoping some of them are correct and Team Salvato will be releasing some sort of connected material for this game.

TV

Twin Peaks

Ah, Twin Peaks… there is something so charming and relaxing about David Lynch’s surreal creation. The soap opera characters are what make the show, though I also love the tinge of magical realism. I literally remember watching this the first time feeling like I was high; that is how off-kilter this show is, but in the best way possible. In what other show could you have an accidental llama steal the scene?

Alan Resnick

I’m pretty sure it was the fantastic Night Mind who introduced me to Alan Resnick’s work. I’m including Resnick in this section because he does work for Adult Swim, producing those late night segments that you remember the next day as something akin to a fever dream. Some people may recognize Resnick from way back in the day as the creator of the web series alantutorial. Anyway, his work is markedly surreal and unsettling. Watch Unedited Footage of a Bear, then if you’re feeling up for it, dive into the convoluted puzzle that is This House Has People in It.


And… that’s… it! I’m sure I’ve left out some of my favorite weird/horror stuff, but this is a pretty good sampling of what I’ll vouch for as good. Are you a horror fan? Do you enjoy surreal or “weird” media? Leave your recommendations down below!

Chapter Thirteen of The Gold in the Dark and a Writing Update

Illustration courtesy of Ally Grosvenor, as always.

The thirteenth chapter of The Gold in the Dark is out! New chapters, complete with brilliant chapter illustrations courtesy of Ally Grosvenor, release every other Sunday at 11 AM EST.

This week in writing updates has been the book launch for Specter, combined with new beginnings as I picked up my new WIP (the Beauty and the Beast and aliens book) once more. It feels great to be drafting again, and I’m trying to push myself to work on the manuscript every day. My goal is to have this next book out a year from Specter‘s launch, which would be July 7th of next year. The even loftier goal is to have it out sooner… but I don’t want to jinx things. I’ve set a timetable for myself like this:

Drafting: 7 months
Editing: 3 months
Publishing: 2 months

We’ll see if I can pull it off. 😉 Anyway, that’s all for writing updates this week. I’m leaving the blurb for Specter down below, so if this is the first you’re hearing about it, please check it out! And have a good rest of your weekend and enjoy Chapter Thirteen. ❤


Blurb

Horror aficionado Lanie Adams should be thrilled when two eighties-era ghosts materialize in her bedroom. Yet after a fainting incident unbecoming of a horror nerd, she would rather her haunting just go away—the ghosts’ distorted, waterlogged voices and ice-cold auras are more terrifying than any movie. Enlisting the help of Ryan, an entirely-too-cute stoner, she makes it her mission to put the spirits stalking her to rest.

Some sleuthing reveals that their sleepy Connecticut town is host to a shadowy, decades-old conspiracy. If Lanie wants to say a final goodbye to her ghosts, she’ll need to keep digging. But it’s important to tread carefully. The culprit is still in town—and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

Specter is available for purchase at any book retailer or from Hidden Bower Press. Even independent bookstores should be able to preorder Specter—and you can even request your local library order a physical or ebook copy! I love libraries, so making the book available everywhere was important to me in my publishing decisions. So please consider picking up a copy or adding it to your Goodreads TBR!

ARC: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Escape Room debuts July 30th.

Escape rooms—barely a thing five years ago, it turns out that friends and families really like to feel like they’re participating in a warm, friendly, Saw-like experience. (I kid—escape rooms are pretty awesome.) So it makes sense that having swept like wildfire across the globe, escape rooms have also infiltrated the subscription box business, graced the silver screen, and, at last, crawled their way into publishing.

The premise of the book is great—a bunch of investment bankers are lured to an elevator escape room, only to find out that the corporate team-building exercise they were promised is not what it appears to be. Yet great premises don’t necessarily make great books. A skillful writer could do a lot here, but the writing got in the way of the story at every turn. Each page was filled with wooden language and plodding narration. This is a real “I did X. Then I did Y. Then I did Z” experience, to the extent that there are actually a surprisingly small amount of detailed scenes in the book, given how zoomed-out our literary camera lens is. And when we do get some details, they always seem like the wrong thing. I don’t know how many descriptions of expensive investment banker wardrobes there were in this book, but it had to be… ten? Twenty? Fifty? Meanwhile, all you want is more cool escape room details, but it felt like there were only five clues to the whole room. For the vast majority of their time in the escape room the bankers just sit there, waiting to be let out.

I will say that I appreciated the back-and-forth POV chapter switches from first to third. The third person sections follow the entrapped bankers, while the first person sections track a rookie investment banker’s experience a few years prior. This variety of POV switching is a bold narrative choice, and with a more honed and experienced voice this could have worked beautifully—but because of the distant point of view, stiff language, constant head-hopping, and lack of escape room intrigue, I found myself dreading the third-person sections.

So I appreciate what this book wanted to be, and I’ll eagerly read a different thriller with an escape room premise. But Goldin’s take on escape rooms unfortunately missed the mark, so I have a difficult time recommending it.

Specter Debuts Today!

I can hardly believe I just typed that title—”Specter debuts today.” It’s been a surreal journey from the start of this book to the end, and I mean that word—journey—in the most real way. At the start of it all, Specter was a concept that had been rattling around in my head for a while, but it took a flash of inspiration from some helpful muse for me to understand that the ghosts in the story weren’t supposed to be from the Victorian era, but rather from the 1980s. That realization, coupled with the knowledge that the book would be comparable to Stranger Things, pushed me to abandon a different manuscript at thirty thousand words. I didn’t want to miss the cultural moment caused by the juggernaut that is Netflix’s lovable TV show, and so I set myself a goal: have the book out by the time the next season debuted.

A lot happened along the way. I made a career switch. My husband and I moved house. I became entirely disenchanted with traditional publishing and decided to go the indie route. A family member suffered a major injury.

But I’m on the other side of everything, everyone is happy and healthy, and Specter, beautiful and glowing, is ready for the world. 🙂

I’m going to skip the marketing spiel right now—I already covered all that in Friday’s post. If you’re wanting to check out the blurb, take a look at some five-star reviews, or read the first chapter, then head on over there. But what I will say is that Specter is a story with a whole lot of heart. I’m a slow writer as a general rule, but this story, Lanie’s story, demanded to be told, and it poured out of me. I’m extremely proud of this book, and I hope everyone who reads it enjoys it.

So please consider buying a copy—especially if you’re the type of person who’s ever gone back up the basement stairs a little too quickly, imagining someone is about to grab for your ankles. Or if you’re the type who loves a realistic heroine who takes matters into her own hands and becomes a badass along the way. Or if you’ve ever looked out into the woods and wondered exactly what kind of secrets might be hidden out there.

That’s who Specter is for. I hope you enjoy it. ❤ ❤ ❤


Specter is available for purchase now at all major retailers and at Hidden Bower Press.

Specter—Chapter One Teaser!

You guys, Specter debuts in just two days, and I’m beyond excited. Specter is a YA paranormal thriller perfect for any Stranger Things fan. If you like fast-paced thrillers with twists and turns that will seriously keep you guessing and strong female characters, then this is a book not to miss.

Want to preview the book? Chapter One is down below. ❤

Book Trailer

About the Book

Author: Katie Jane Gallagher
Print Length: 370 pages
Publisher: Hidden Bower Press
ISBN: 978-0578508184
Available in paperback and ebook format
Retailers: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | all other major retailers | Hidden Bower Press
Available on Overdrive! Speak with your local library staff to learn more.

Blurb

A long-buried secret lies within the woods…

Horror aficionado Lanie Adams should be thrilled when two eighties-era ghosts materialize in her bedroom. Yet after a fainting incident unbecoming of a horror nerd, she would rather her haunting just go away—the ghosts’ distorted, waterlogged voices and ice-cold auras are more terrifying than any movie. Enlisting the help of Ryan, an entirely-too-cute stoner, she makes it her mission to put the spirits stalking her to rest.

Some sleuthing reveals that their sleepy Connecticut town is host to a shadowy, decades-old conspiracy. If Lanie wants to say a final goodbye to her ghosts, she’ll need to keep digging. But it’s important to tread carefully. The culprit is still in town—and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

Advanced Reviews

“Fans of Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles, Meg Cabot’s The Mediator (throw-back!), and Netflix’s Stranger Things will binge this book from cover to cover… Her abounding wit, humor, and determination make Lanie so much more than a fictional character; she is the girl we’d all want at our lunch table, or hiking through a Connecticut woods with us on the most magical night of the year. Lanie is a girl we can root for, one many of us can relate to and one we certainly need to see more of.” Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

Omg I devoured this book, can’t remember the last time I read a book so fast! I can totally see why it’s being pitched as similar to Stranger Things, since it’s very suspenseful with ghosts, demons, and an 80’s element (even though it’s not set in the 80’s).” Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

“I love a good book about ghosts and specter doesn’t disappoint. I’m glad that I was able to relate to the main character since I’m introverted and I love horror movies. The books is fast paced and I didn’t really want to put the book down!Entertainingly Nerdy, 5 stars


Want a sneak peek at Chapter One? Just keep reading. ❤


It turned out all the books and movies had gotten ghosts dead wrong. Still, I knew what I was dealing with from that very first glimpse. Just like you can tell a cat from a dog, some instinct thrummed through me, real deep and low in my gut, and I knew. The dead aren’t the living, and it was the dead I saw that day.

Day, not night—see? Granted it was October, but the way early bit of October, too early for even me to be getting excited about America’s best holiday. Plus it was sunny, plus it was a Tuesday. If the days of the week were people, Tuesday would be bumbling, adorable, and absolutely average—perhaps the younger cousin of trendy and aloof Thursday. Nothing notable is supposed to happen on Tuesdays, let alone anything supernatural.

I was in bed, wrapped up burrito-style in my blankets, shivering from a fever and halfway to miserable—only halfway because it was just about the time Mrs. Morrie would be handing out the math test I was supposed to be taking. It’s funny how things work out; the night before I’d considered faking sick to dodge the test, and now here I was, sick for real.

I was just sinking into a nap when the door creaked open, followed by the light pad of footsteps. I snaked an arm out from under the warmth of my comforter, my hand meeting soft fur.

“Hey, Mustard,” I croaked. The virus hadn’t spared my throat. I patted the bed, and my golden retriever jumped up and began snuffling my face, all whiskers and dog breath.

“Gross!” And as I pushed him away, I saw a flash of blue-tinged skin in the corner of the room.

That was the next thing that wasn’t right. It—she—had none of the silvery translucence from the stories. In fact, she wasn’t see-through at all, her figure cast in slow-moving blue shadows, like the sun making mottled patterns on the seafloor.

There was a ghost in my room—a ghost my age, her hair a big mess of feathery curls straight out of an eighties movie, her clinging black leotard and jeans vintage to match. And she was looking right at me.

I jerked back, yelping as my head collided with the headboard. The ghost’s eyes widened. In my peripheral vision, Mustard was making circles at the end of the bed, preparing for his thrice-daily nap. Didn’t he notice? Weren’t dogs supposed to have a sixth sense for the paranormal? They could predict earthquakes and sniff out cancer, after all. In the movies, dogs always gave early warnings about evil spirits…

And that’s why all the smarter ghosts in those same movies always found some sinister way to get rid of the dog. I scrambled forward and gathered Mustard up into an unhappy, squirming ball, then tried to leap out of bed, only to get caught in the blanket. I tumbled to the ground, and Mustard wriggled free from my arms. Shooting me a wounded look, he trotted from the room.

The bed skirt was blocking my view of the ghost. I sucked in a steadying breath and willed myself to get up. Surely she’d be gone when I stood up again, going for the jump-scare-then-leave kind of haunting. What a great story this would make, narrated by upturned flashlight around a clichéd campfire. I was lying sick in bed, then…

I pushed up from the floor with a groan.

“Fuck!” There she was, blue and muted, though she stood directly in the sunlight beaming through the window. A vague, familiar feeling quivered at the back of my mind…

The ghost was tracking me with her eyes. After a long, silent moment, her lips twitched up into some horrid semblance of a smile. She took a step forward.

“M-Mom?!” But my call was useless reflex only; she’d deemed my fever just low enough to go into work for a few hours, rather than shuttling me to the doctor. I was alone in the house—well, no one else alive was in the house.

You’re hallucinating. Call Mom so she can take you to the hospital. For that must be it—my fever had climbed too high. Yet the ghost looked so real, and I couldn’t help but scan my room for something, anything, to use to fight back. I didn’t keep my room stocked with weaponry, so I settled for the bedside table lamp, yanking the cord from the wall and clutching it baseball bat-style.

Time for the first and likely final showdown between Lanie Adams and Ghost Girl.

But she took another step forward—her sneakers were also some retro style, I noticed—and icy fear rooted me in place. Just a hallucination—a hallucination of a ghost who shops at Goodwill. I drew together my fleeing scraps of courage and poked the lamp toward Ghost Girl’s stomach.

It passed straight through, without even a ripple at the edges. I lurched back, gripping the lamp to my chest like a safety blanket. “Not real,” I whispered, and the ghost frowned at me, as if to say, I beg to differ.

“What do you want?” I managed. My voice was a trembling wreck. Didn’t ghosts usually have some sort of purpose, some wrong to be righted or atrocity to be avenged? She opened her mouth to answer…

The words erupted as a garbled stream of syllables.

Fine, she could have the room; I was willing to vacate. I threw down the lamp and vaulted over the bed, hurtling towards the door—

—Where I leaped straight through another bluish ghost, this one a teenage boy standing right on the threshold.

That was when my hopes that this was all just a hallucination evaporated away. Have you ever taken a bath in a ghost? Suffice it to say that the experience is not pleasant—an aching kind of cold that seeps to the bone in the space of a heartbeat, banishing all memories of warmth. But I didn’t have to endure it for long. White sparks clouded my vision, then the world wavered and contracted to a pinhole.


Want to keep reading? Specter debuts July 7th (this Sunday!) at all major retailers, Hidden Bower Press, and is available to rent for free through Overdrive with your library card!

Specter is a book not to miss. With strong characters who are easy to root for, this captivating, multilayered debut will keep you holding your breath till the very last page.

Interview with a Cover Designer!

Who hasn’t bought a book based solely on the cover design? Go into a bookstore and it’s almost like entering an art gallery. Covers entice us into the book, acting as alluring seductresses, promising us adventure or scares, inviting us to new worlds. The YA sphere especially, in my opinion, has really stepped up the cover game in recent years—which meant that the cover for Specter had to be good. Really, really good.

I knew that Specter needed a particular kind of cover—one that fit in with the YA aesthetic, was reminiscent of Stranger Things, and wasn’t too hokey or corny. After a lengthy search for the right cover designer and a couple serious bouts of frustration, I chanced upon Liana Moisescu and fell in love with her work instantly.

What really drew me to Liana’s designs was her versatility. Every project Liana works on is unique; she takes the unique qualities of each book into consideration, rather than trying to force each book into a specific design aesthetic. I was absolutely thrilled when I received the final design back from her. It’s gorgeous, it’s mysterious, and, most importantly, it encapsulates the feel of Specter perfectly.

So I wanted to sit down with Liana and pick her brain a bit about covers to get a peek of the magic taking place behind the curtain. Enjoy the interview!

What is your artistic background, and how did you get into cover design specifically?

I’ve always been interested in art and all things beautiful but also in science, so I pursued the latter by attending a Biotechnology college. My path took me towards my artistic nature, and I found myself creating and designing ads for a fashion company. From there things escalated quite quickly, and I really started loving all things graphic design, I also started dabbling in photography, painting, and drawing.

I’m a passionate reader, always have been, so I naturally pursued book cover design as it’s such a fascinating niche. Book covers can have so much variety with genres and design styles.

Are you a reader yourself? Any favorite covers?

YES! I love reading fiction mainly, more specifically sci-fi, legal thrillers, fantasy, and crime/mystery books, but I also read the occasional nonfiction self-help or science genres. I have tons of favorite covers, to name a few Blood & Water by Alana Newman, The Maker of Swans by Paraic O’Donnell, Parasite by Mira Grant, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride, The Great Reset by Richard Florida, The Night Ocean by Paul Lafarge and many more!

If you could design a cover for any existing book, which one would you pick?

There have been a ton of redesigns for the Harry Potter series by professionals and fans alike, and I love the more recent, modern ones. One that stands out for me is by Olly Moss, with modern, fun artwork. It would be a dream to have a chance to illustrate a new edition of the covers. I grew up with the Harry Potter world and already have tons of ideas for the style and design elements.

What makes a good cover, in your opinion?

There is no exact formula that makes a cover good as it’s such a subjective matter, and as a designer you learn to accept and appreciate so many styles. However, for me, it has to have an element that stands out, whether it is the font style or layout, or a clever graphic. A bold color will appeal most of the time, but it’s not necessary for a cover to be eye-catching. I also love a design that is minimal and not cluttered and that also has a surprising element, something original and fun (or pertinent to the genre). Quite a tall order, I know!

Are there any little details you consider when making a cover that most people wouldn’t expect?

There are a lot of interesting little details, like maybe lining up the top of the back cover elements with the spine and front cover so everything looks clean and neat (not in every case of course). Or maybe calculating the dimensions and creating a template, or spending hours finding that perfect image or font that would tie everything together. There are tons of small aspects like these that come into the process of designing a book, and they’re all part of the fun.

Any pet peeves when it comes to popular cover design that drive you bananas? Recent design trends, etc?

I’ve learned to love and appreciate trends and different styles as they’re just indicators of what people are attracted to in a design at that point in time. Of course, I do have my own preferences, and I have seen collage design gaining a lot of popularity. When done right and when it has meaning it can be gorgeous, but sometimes it’s done just for the sake of the trend without any true significance. I suppose that does tick me off just a little, however, design and art are always open to interpretation and subjective to the eyes of the viewer so maybe I’m just missing the point entirely, who knows? That got deep!

You have tons of experience working with authors to craft the perfect cover. Do you have any advice for new authors who are going to be working with a designer for the first time? From a designer’s perspective, what should authors do to help make that working relationship successful?

The designer-client relationship can be easy to navigate if both parties are willing to communicate. From my experience, that is the key. As a designer I always give my client a little “brief” of my own, asking them what styles, fonts, colors they prefer and what covers they love, what cover they dislike, etc and their willingness to share as many details as possible will give the designer a clear understanding of the concept they envision. Of course, sometimes the client doesn’t have a clear vision for the design, and again communication comes in. Brainstorming and sharing ideas back and forth is a great way to figure out which direction to take.

Do you prefer getting a lot of specific details from your clients about their vision for a project or would you rather have more freedom to craft the project?

Great question, that depends a lot on the client and how clearly they visualize their book cover artwork. If they have a specific concept in mind, this is what I’ll create and maybe suggest different ideas or changes if something doesn’t feel right. As an appendix to the previous question, another piece of advice for an author is being flexible and trusting their designer. Many times, an idea can sound good but on paper it can have some flaws that only an experienced designer can point out and fix. So good communication, flexibility and trusting your designer.

Creative freedom is also a wonderful direction, I wholeheartedly enjoy both ways of collaborating with a client.

Thank you so much for giving us your insight about cover design! Where can we find you online?

You can invite me to work on 99designs, and here’s a small sample of my work, as well as my Twitter.


What are your favorite covers as of late? Comment down below!

And a small aside—if you haven’t seen the book trailer for Specter yet, check it out! Specter debuts THIS SUNDAY, July 7th, and the paperback and ebook are available for preorder at all major retailers and from Hidden Bower Press.

Short Tuesday #18: “Strange Scenes from an Unfinished Film” by Gary McMahon

This week for Short Tuesday I took a look at Gary McMahon’s “Strange Scenes from an Unfinished Film,” courtesy of Nightmare Magazine. You can read the short story for free here…

I came into this story hopeful that it would be similar to The Ring, one of my most beloved horror films. Yet this story was overall clunky to me, in the writing style, characterization, and story. Coming in just over 3000 words, it rockets along to a very predictable conclusion; the pacing combined with the MC’s lack of disbelief at what is happening to him really had me wanting the author to stretch things out a bit and allow the action of the piece a bit more time to unfold at a gentler pace.

There’s also a matter-of-fact, tell don’t show quality about the piece that almost reminded me of work in translation. (I’ve done no formal research to back this up, but my experience with translated work is that English-speaking authors place much more emphasis on sensory, non-telling details. Different strokes for different folks?) There were a good amount of times when we slid into infodumping that could have been expanded into actual scenes.

He was a strange and often dangerous man, but for some reason our relationship had lasted a number of years.

Like, why is he dangerous? Can we get an example here? The author is more forthcoming later, but there’s no reason to keep us hanging.

So unfortunately this was a rushed, jumbled mess to me, with a plot that begged for refining and more subtlety.


A small aside—if you haven’t seen the book trailer for Specter yet, check it out! Specter debuts July 7th (less than ONE WEEK OMG!) and the paperback and ebook are available for preorder at all major retailers and from Hidden Bower Press.