Deborah Koren talks about her passion for opera

I’m delighted to have writer Deborah Koren guest posting here today. She’ll be talking about her passion for opera–an art form that I have little familiarity with. Deb blogs over at Sidewalk Crossings, a fantastic blog where she shares her love for old movies. Welcome, Deb!

Rabia asked me to write a bit regarding my passion for opera.  It is a deep and long-seated passion.  I’ve been listening to opera since I was a baby, as both my parents are opera lovers.  Well, my dad was (as was his dad), and, after he married my Beatles-loving mother, she quickly became as big a fan of opera as he was!  So, I do have a lifelong history with opera.  My parents would play records growing up, we’d listen to the Met matinee broadcasts every Saturday (still ongoing, and still a part of my Saturday routine), and we would go to see live operas whenever we could.  I met Luciano Pavarotti backstage when I was in single-digits.  I remember my arms were not big enough to go around him when he gave me a hug!

Opera is one of those things in life I never get enough of.  Why?  Part of it, of course, is that I was raised on it.  But beyond that, my dad taught us to value and appreciate beauty, and the music in opera can be so beautiful that it gives me chills and goosebumps just thinking about it.  It is also music that thrills me and revs me up.  It is music that makes me cry.  Or laugh.  Or simply sing or hum along.

Everyone looks at music differently, depending on what type of music you enjoy, and most importantly:  depending on why you listen to music.  For me, music is an emotional, passionate thing, and nothing evokes emotions quite like an opera.

Opera is like taking a movie and magnifying all the passions of it a hundred fold.  Take a tragic romance story (ie:  Puccini’s La Boheme).  Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl is dying of Tuberculosis, boy loses girl.  Very sad, but rather straightforward…  but when you add in Puccini’s musical component, it is no longer ordinary.  It becomes something amazing.  You’re not just watching the story unfold, you’re hearing it too, with music that is so beautiful, so emotional, that it grabs your heart and squeezes.  And when those last few measures of the opera hit, when the music swells, and Rodolfo cries out Mimi’s name, it is utterly devastating.  I admit, I cry at a lot of movies, but I don’t know a single sad movie that touches the sheer emotional power of an opera like La Boheme.

Opera is like a movie on steroids.  And given how much I love movies… yeah, of course I love opera.

Opera also combines many other art forms into one.  You need a writer, a composer, singer/actors, set designers, costumers and all those needed to create a staged performance, dancers (many operas include ballet), an orchestra.  And there are all kinds of operas.  Some of the best music ever written is opera.  Some of the worst music ever written is opera.  Even the best opera can be ruined by bad singers.  I personally love Italian and French opera.  The lyrical, beautiful stuff.  Wagner, Strauss, Berg, Britten, modern stuff… I can’t deal with that.  Wagner has some of the coolest stories ever, particularly with his Ring Cycle, but I cannot sit through his kind of music.  It’s like torture to me.  On the other hand, I used to work for a lady back in college whose primary opera love was Wagner.  She didn’t like Italian opera.  We were pretty much polar opposites in the opera world.  Which just goes to show you, there’s something for everyone!

The good thing is, nowadays, opera productions have evolved.  In the older days, there was a lot of “park and bark.”  You can guess what that means.  Lots of standing around on stage singing, not much movement.  Oh sure, there were some good actors out there, but there are even more nowadays.  Now you have singers who are great actors.  They don’t stand around and sing, they become their characters and engage the audience throughout the performance.  There is also a whole crop of young, fit, good-looking opera singers these days.  There’s even a blog dedicated to the good-looking opera baritones and basses of today, called barihunks!

opera guys
Pavol Breslik, Simon Keenlyside, and Mariusz Kwiecien

What makes a good opera?  For me, it’s watching/listening to singers I love, singing music I love, with a story and characters I love.  Just like I’ll watch movies solely to see my favorite actors, there are certain singers I adore, and I’ll watch and listen to nearly anything they’re in.  From the older generation that is now mostly retired:  Sherill Milnes, Mirella Freni, Placido Domingo (who is not remotely retired and he still sounds amazing) are my favorites.  From the singers active today:  Simon Keenlyside, Matthew Polenzani, Pavol Breslik, Mariusz Kwiecien, Marcelo Alvarez, Carmela Remigio.  My top five favorite operas are Tosca, Don Giovanni, Rigoletto, The Elixir of Love, Turandot.  I love both the music and the stories/characters of those.

If you’re interested in experiencing opera, I’ve introduced quite a few friends to opera via filmed movie versions.  There you get exciting visuals to go with the music, in a more familiar format.  It’s hard to go wrong with Puccini, and I would recommend Madame Butterfly.  La Traviata is another opera with a brilliant movie version.  Those are both tragedies, but there are also plenty of lighter operas (Barber of Seville, Elixir of Love, Daughter of the Regiment) where no one dies and there’s a happy ending.  The Metropolitan Opera also currently runs HD broadcasts throughout their season at movie theaters across the country.  I’ve gone to a few of these and have really enjoyed the experience of seeing an opera up close-and-personal on the big screen.  I’ll be attending several HD performances in the upcoming season.

However, there is nothing quite like experiencing a live opera, nothing like the sheer power of a live orchestra and live singers in an opera house.  There are almost always supertitles projected so you get the translations of the language they’re singing in.

Two samples:

From my favorite opera, Tosca, by Puccini, the first 1:30 of this is one of my favorite tenor arias of all time.  It’s very short.  The tenor is reassuring his jealous girlfriend that there is no one else in the world for him, just her (singers: Jose Carreras/Montserrat Caballe).

“Ô vin, dissipe la tristesse,” from Hamlet, a lesser known opera by Ambroise Thomas.  Yep, based on Shakespeare.  There’s quite a lot of Shakespeare in opera!  Not a bad thing… In this version from the Met, Hamlet is sung by baritone Simon Keenlyside.

Quartz serial is coming soon!

As in, next Tuesday, April 2nd.


We’ve set up a separate page and mailing list for it, which you can find here.

Aaaand, here’s the revised blurb (I can NOT stop tinkering with it, apparently!)

In order to save their world, the mages of long ago plunged it into eternal night.

Now rare veins of quartz provide light, heat, and food to a dying world. And Rafael Grenfeld has just learned that the biggest quartz pillar of them all, the legendary Tower of Light, exists. Unfortunately, his informer died before revealing its location and he’s stuck in the hostile totalitarian state of Blackstone.

Desperate to find the Tower of Light for his people, Rafe forms an uneasy alliance with the mysterious and maddening Isabella. They’re not the only ones interested in the quartz. The Shadow, chief of the Blackstone secret police, is also hunting for it. As darkness-loving demons devour souls and dangerous magical artifacts resurface, Rafe must tap into the lost powers of the mages in order to find and secure the quartz—before his world is destroyed by famine and war.

If you’re interested in receiving Quartz episodes in your Inbox, sign up here. (If you’re reading this in your feed reader or Inbox, visit the site to sign up).


Also, Sean over at Adventures of a Bookonaut interviewed on his podcast. So if you want to hear me talk about my year of trying new things, the books that influenced me, self-publishing and slow build, click on the link!


Tia Nevitt on writing novellas

Tia Nevitt is the author of Accidental Enchantments, a series of novella-length fairy tale retellings. Her latest release, the Snow White-inspired The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf, features an unusual protagonist in one of the seven dwarves–a young woman looking for her own happy ending. Today, Tia is here to share her biggest novella-writing tip.

Welcome, Tia!

Novellas are hot in eBooks right now. Now that bookbinding is no longer an issue, it is no longer cost-prohibitive to produce novellas outside of a serial publication. ePublishers love them.

A novella is considered a story that is between 15,000 and 50,000 words. Here’s a rough guideline on manuscript length classifications:

  • Up to 1000 words – Flash Fiction
  • 1000 to 8000 words – Short Story
  • 8000 to 15000 words – Novelette
  • 15000-50000 words – Novella
  • 50000 to 100000 words – Novel
  • 100000 and higher – Epic

Shorter works are often harder to write than longer works. Plenty of authors love writing novels but wince at the thought of writing short stories. They might say something like, “I meant to write a short story but it kept wanting to turn into a novel.”

Here is my number one tip on writing novella-length works.

Limit the Number of Characters

When I was writing The Sevenfold Spell, I learned that each new secondary character brought with it at least a thousand words. At the time, I was expanding it from short story to novella, so I cut a bunch of really minor characters and added two major secondary characters–Talia’s best friend (Widow Harla) and the third man in her life (Prince Andrew). Each came with a story and a purpose. The Sevenfold Spell is a tight little story, and so it ended up with a very small cast of characters.

With The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf, I faced a new problem. I wanted to write a novella from the start, but I knew right away I would have to have seven dwarfs. Hmm. Seven dwarfs plus the prince, the princess and the evil queen. And I had better not make any of those dwarfs stereotypical. No one like Sneezy or Grumpy in any way.

So I ended up with ten characters, but an eleventh one wrestled his way in—the minstrel.

My characters ended up fitting the following classifications:

Protagonists – Gretchen and Prince Richard. I knew I would have parallel love stories, so I made one person from each love story the principal POV. Otherwise, I felt the story would be overwhelmed in POV changes.

Love interests – Lars and Princess Angelika – They have fewer POV scenes, but each plays a principal part.

Principal Secondary – Marta,  Johann and Rudolph – Marta is Gretchen’s mentor and matron of the dwarf farm. Johann is the minstrel and has key interactions with both Gretchen and Richard. Rudolph is a minor villain, a bully who inadvertently helps bring Gretchen and Lars together.

Minor Secondary – Gunther, Klaus, and Dieter – Gunther is the supervisor of the farm; Klaus is the youngest of the dwarfs and is often bullied by Rudolph, and Dieter is the confrontation-adverse owner of the dwarf farm.

How much of the story did each take up? Here’s a pie chart.

The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf

Character Prevelance Chart

Tia's Pie Chart

Of course, there’s a lot of overlap. All of the green and purple slices include at least one protagonist or love interest.

Since this was just a guess, I tested it. So considering that the story is about 44,000 words, I generated approximate totals for each group. It looks about right, with the possible exception of the Minor Secondary characters having a smaller portion of the pie.

Another tip I might have is to limit the number of plot twists, but I think if you concentrate on limiting the number characters, that will help more than anything else. This will give you the room that you need to develop the characters and grow it into a fulfilling story without making your readers feel short-changed.

Not even a stint in the military as an aircraft mechanic could erase Tia Nevitt’s love of fairy tales. To this day, she loves to read (and write) books that take her to another place, or another time, or both. She also dabbles in calligraphy, violin, piano and songwriting. Tia has worked on an assembly line, as a computer programmer, a technical writer and a business analyst. She lives in the southeast with her husband and daughter.

Tia’s novella, The Sevenfold Spell, won the 2012 EPIC ebook award for Fantasy.


 Check out The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf at the following retailers:

Carina PressAmazonBarnes and NobleGoogle PlayOmni Lit

Audiobook Version


Prince Richard is cursed. He is enslaved to the magic mirror, and must truthfully answer the evil Queen when she uses the mirror to call on  him. To keep from betraying innocents, Richard wanders the countryside and avoids people.

Gretchen has been teased all her life for being small. When she hears a tale of a hidden farm full of little people like her, she sets out to find it – and is welcomed by the mostly male inhabitants. One in particular, Lars, woos her with his gentle kindness and quiet strength.

But danger looms when Gretchen meets a runaway Princess and offers her shelter at the Little Farm. Wandering nearby, Richard instantly falls in love with the young beauty, and is compelled to tell the queen that she is NOT the fairest of  them all. Enraged, the queen vows to find the Farm and destroy it.

If either Gretchen or Richard are to have any hope of a happy ending, they must team up to break the mirror’s spell before the Queen kills them all…

cover artist: Ravven

Today I’m thrilled to have Ravven, the cover artist behind Rainbird and Mourning Cloak, on my blog, answering questions about her work and process. I first saw her art on DeviantArt, and fell in love with its gorgeous colors, details, and textures:










Welcome, Ravven!

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic journey? How did you get into book cover design?

I’ve always drawn and painted, but never expected to make a career out of it. In the spirit of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face I resisted art classes, as I wanted to be a writer and not the artist that everyone assumed I would be. As a consequence my drawing skills are quite subpar, which is a shame. Learn the basics of your craft, kids – then you can do the fun stuff!

In terms of technical knowledge, my years as a web designer helped me greatly. I also worked in the art department of a large Los Angeles portrait studio where I was allowed to shoot on weekends – since my work is mainly digital paint with a Wacom tablet on top of photos, being able to light and shoot my own stock was wonderful. Since we moved to England I’m lacking a studio to shoot in, but it’s on my list. Working in digital marketing and web design teaches simplicity of concept, and how to lead the eye for greatest impact. Since I came from a largely untrained traditional art background, that was invaluable to me as a designer.

2. What are some of the influences on your art?

Hmm, that’s a tough one. There are artists that I love, such as Dave McKean and John Jude Palencar, but they’re so far beyond my art that it’s like looking up at the stars. :) I keep files of covers that I really like, which I have here. I like lush covers with good use of shadow and light, very dramatic.

Angel of Fire

3. People do judge a book by its cover. What are some common cover design mistakes you see?

I always pick books by their covers. There is a fantasy writer whom I absolutely love (no names) who recently came out with a new book that had a horrible, cheap-looking cover. I normally buy all of his books in hardcover and I just… can’t… buy this one.

My number one cover design mistakes would have to be not having a professional cover done. I know that sounds really self-serving, but it makes me cry when people are trying so hard to publicise their book and the cover is horrible – everything is stacked against them from the start. Other mistakes would be not having the text pop and be clear even at small sizes, and having a cliché cover. Styles in cover art go in and out, and if you’ve seen something too often (pretty girls in big dresses, drowning girls, Big Face covers) it becomes boring.

4. What’s the best part about your job? The worst?

The best part is the collaboration between myself as artist and the author in bringing their vision to life on a cover – it’s such an exciting experience and I feel as proud as a parent when I see my covers out in the world. I love it! Collaboration can actually be the best AND the worst, depending on how much freedom is involved. The best covers come from an open collaboration, trading ideas, throwing out what doesn’t work and having the freedom to experiment with wild-ass ideas. The flip side to that is when the author has an
extremely literal idea of what the cover needs to look like, especially when they wish to exactly re-create a scene from the book. Literal covers quite often end up being so constrained that the end result is lifeless and muddy. I think a cover image should reflect the theme of a book, and how it feels, while still being true to the characters and world.


5. When I first worked with you on the cover for Rainbird, I had a hard time picking stock images because I didn’t know what’s easy to do and what’s not when it comes to photomanipulation. Can you talk about the limitations of photomanipulation?

There is an amazing amount that can actually be done with photomanipulation on covers as long as you can paint – that is the most important thing. On Rainbird, for example, the original model was wearing a short denim jacket and denim cutoffs. Pants were added, which thank goodness were mostly in shadow, and then two versions were created, one with bare arms and one with a duster. Both were painted (the duster used some of the detail from the original jacket). You can change or replace hair entirely, change the color of hair and eyes and skin, and add clothing – but generally it all has to be painted to blend it and fit cloth to bent arms, etc.

6. What’s the most challenging cover you’ve worked on?

One of the most challenging covers was a science fiction cover for Kala Wade Media – since I don’t do 3D work or paint things from scratch, coming up with the open space ship bay behind the characters was tough. Another challenging cover was one of the Westerns I worked on, simply because it was impossible to find the right stock. Just try doing a search for “handsome cowboy” or “young ranch hand” or whatever and see what you get…lots and lots of musclebound guys wearing cowboy hats and not much else. :)

Born in Flames

7. What are three of your favorite covers (not your own)? What makes them stand out?

Seed by Rob Ziegler, for it’s use of stunning image-as-typography. I can’t do this kind of work, but I admire those who can.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano – a “pretty girl in a dress” cover that transcends all the others. One of my all-time favourites.

The Drowning City by Amanda Downum. Deep shadows, bright highlights, extreme drama in the way that the character is almost silhouetted. Lovely.

8. Is there a genre or sub-genre that you haven’t done a cover in and wish that you could?

I’d like to do more horror and suspense. I love those scary, even gory, covers and haven’t had the chance to do many of these.

Reaper's Novice

Thanks for stopping by, Ravven!

Check out Ravven’s website, or her Pinterest board for more of her lovely covers.