Witty and Sacrastic Bookclub has been a constant supporter of my work. More recently, that expanded to include my wife, Natasha, in a Q&A we did, featuring the evolution of her expression as a graphic artist.
This post features Natasha once again in a cover reveal of my fourth book, a standalone time travel story, Mirror in Time. So, to quote a line she sang in that Q&A, “I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it.” As always, many thanks, Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub, for allowing us to share our thoughts!
As night falls, a lone atmospheric vehicle has come under attack on its final approach to a high-altitude research facility known as the “Jomo Langma Mountain Observatory”. Stars that should fill the sky have been obscured by a random patchwork of contrails that have come to be known as “ribbons in the sky”.
Ribbons in the Sky | Natasha Evelyn Overttun
However, Prefect Godvina, AV Sundog’s lone passenger, is now recovering in the Observatory’s medical facilities, a result of stress caused by the evasive maneuvers of the episode. Director Jo’el, head of the Observatory, has been keeping vigil at her bedside. His concern for her is personal. Was this the reason for her visit?
We learn the attack was the anticipated result of a plan to draw out dissident elements. Prefect Tarsus, architect of the plan, is pleased on two fronts. About the mission was to be expected. However, as to Godvina’s condition has come as somewhat of a surprise to Agent Thalia, Sundog’s pilot, and Agents Mica’el and Gabri’el, two of her escorts. It spoke to rumors of a prior relationship between the head of Security and the head of the Cosmological Data Collection and Compilation Center. These rumors are seemingly confirmed when an angry Godvina bursts into a secure room to confront Tarsus, and Thalia is later tasked with covert surveillance of the fiery Prefect to determine the exact nature of her visit to the Observatory.
Jo’el’s tenure as Director of the Observatory had been a direct result of the ribbons in the sky and their seeming adverse causal affect on seismic activity and climate of the planet. His research had led him to conclude the ribbons were an extinction event. He has found a solution, a portal to another universe. However, there was no way to access it. If only there was more time…
His plan: Go back in time before access to the portal becomes compromised.
He will not be going alone. His two lifelong friends, Chief Psychology Officer Auberon and Chief Physician Kyros, will accompany him on this one-way journey. However, temporal mechanics was not his main area of study. That is why he has asked Godvina to come to Jomo. He needed a sounding board, someone to check his logic and his calculations. There was no one better than the prefect of CD3C.
He had originally intended a purely academic discussion.
However, Thalia’s scrutiny has thrown a spanner in the works. She had been unable to
eavesdrop on their meeting, a result of one of Auberon’s very unique abilities. It would only be a matter of time until it would draw unwanted attention to Jo’el’s plan. Now, he had no choice but to flee Jomo with his two friends and a recently recruited CD3C Prefect. Their objective: Exit a facility under military jurisdiction, make their way through some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet and head to the very people who attacked AV Sundog.
Do they get off the mountain and travel back through time? Of course! Without it, there is no story, but how do they get there, what do they find, and do they make good on Jo’el’s plan?
Mirror in Time will take you on a journey beyond the galaxy then to the ancient world of Ziem as a band of intrepid time travelers struggle to save existence.
* * * * *
Now, about the cover… My wife, Natasha (@neoverttun), does all my covers and visuals for my guest posts. I am so lucky to have her support. At this point, I would also like to clarify she sources all the artwork she uses from Pixabay and similar sites. She then combines and manipulates them in Photoscape, GIMP and word. Is the result original? I think so because it’s all about proportion and balance. Take sulfur, carbon and potassium nitrate. They are distinctive and unique in and of themselves. But mix them in the proper proportions, and you get gunpowder. So, to quote one of my favorite chef’s, “BAM!” Let’s take it to the next level.
Shades of gray dominate the cover. That palette combined with a hooded woman gives it a gloomy, gothic feel. It could imply our MCs are going back to a period in time like that. On the other hand, it might be a reference to time itself. The past is shrouded in mystery. Tomorrow is dark. Tomorrow unknown.
The woman stares back at us, a cryptic Mona Lisa smile on her lips. I have seen that look before. She knows something, something we don’t know. What could it be? One interpretation is the story itself. She knows what’s in the pages that follow, and the reader doesn’t. So, this is an invitation to journey past the cover and delve into the story.
Her smile could also be a bright spot in an otherwise dreary color scheme. Again, it is a hint of what is to follow. Our MCs will be faced with impossible odds, but there is always hope.
On another level, it could be like looking in a mirror, and this is our own reflection. This asks the reader a question: What are you thinking?
The bottom half of the cover is also a reflection. Natasha blurred it slightly to make a distinction to the top half. For me, the fact it’s upside down makes it clear enough, but I think it’s a nice touch. We have two more. One is the inverted “r” in the title and the title itself. Natasha wanted to do something similar to my name, but I said, “Enough with the reflections already. I think they get the point.” We had a little “discussion” after that. To summarize, she “said”, “This is an artist’s prerogative.” I “said”, “Less is more.” She finally agreed. I include the episode here, not to gloat but as a record I am right on occasion.
The accent color is green. It appears in the globe of light and around the lettering. No interpretation is required to know the tendrils represent plasma. Because it’s there, it has to have something to do with the story. It does. Although, in the story, it’s a mist. Natasha could have feathered and blurred it to make it consistent, but she felt it would lose it’s immediate and unmistakable connection to power. (This is an artist’s prerogative.) It’s in front of the woman, implying you have to go through it to get to the end of the story, which you do.
Hi, everyone! I have a treat today: you don’t have to read my ramblings. Instead, I’ve got an exerpt from Mirror in Time, D. Ellis Overttun’s upcoming book. Enjoy!
It’s been a while since I’ve done a guest post excerpt. The world has changed, and I guess I have been caught up in it. It’s hard not to be deeply affected by a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, climate change and rising geopolitical tensions.
I’ve also just finished rereading A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. Its basic premise is that progress itself leads to the fall of societies. For me, the most vivid example was the decimation of Easter Island. It used to be a paradise until the veneration of ancestors led to the felling of trees to move large stone blocks that were used to build the iconic moai that immediately identify this now‑barren location. I am paraphrasing Wright when he wrote that it must have occurred to the people cutting down the last tree that hey, there are no more trees. But they did it any way. Sound familiar?
Combine this with what’s going on in the world right now, and it should be the perfect environment for an author, like myself, to draw upon and ferment ideas, a primordial dystopian soup if you will. And it did. I have another series that I have been mulling over tentatively titled Reality AV that describes the challenges faced by a federation of planets. It will draw extensively on current world events, Wright’s ideas and an argument once presented by Abraham Lincoln that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Oh, right, the guest post…
Book 3 in the Terra Nova series, Prophecy: Eve of Darkness, came out earlier this year. I should have moved on to the final book in the series (working title, Exodus: Flight from Arkos) but another inspiration pushed it aside, and I knew I would have to address it before I could move on. Enter Mirror in Time. From the title, you can see it is about time travel. It is a stand‑alone that moves, not Dan Brown fast but fast enough. I have also curbed my indulgence for detail and have restrained my technical writing tendencies to make the science as accessible as possible.
Until the beginning of June, I was bopping along like I normally do. It takes me about a week to write the first draft for each paperback chapter (5 to 6 ebook chapters). I was about halfway through when a once‑in‑a‑lifetime opportunity presented itself. How many of those come along? (Answer: By definition, only one.) Unfortunately, this detour was an every‑waking hour kind of endeavor that will span the next year or so at least. Unfortunately, I had no choice but to set Mirror aside. Even worse, I have also had to pull my wife, Natasha, away from social media promotion to help me on this project. Currently, I have only been able to squeeze dabs of writing here and there when I can find the time. Sadly, during the past 4 months, I’ve only managed to get to the three-quarter mark even though I have the plotline to the end.
Do you remember the Big Bang episode “The Closure Alternative”? Well, I have some obsessiveness in me just like Sheldon. It really bugs me that I haven’t finished Mirror.I thought, if I put something out there, it would “encourage” me to finish to avoid that haunting question that strikes fear into the hearts of all authors with unfinished works: “So, how is your novel coming along?”
@WS_BOOKCLUB to the rescue! I approached her with my problem, and she has graciously agreed to let me do a guest post of the ARC of the prologue. Many thanks!
“Track AVs. Priority link to Jomo Langma Mountain Observatory. Display time to contact.”
“Tracking. Linked,” the computer replied as a digital countdown displayed to the upper‑left.
“Jomo, this is AV Sundog. Requesting assistance. Six AVs just appeared on sensors. Threat assessment hostile. Estimated time to contact five minutes.”
“Sundog, this is Jomo. We see the same thing. Dispatching interceptors.”
“Understood. Activating distress beacon, frequency gamma. Sundog out,” the pilot replied nervously. She then tapped on the intercom icon on her control panel. “Ma’am, please engage seat restraints. I am expecting some…turbulence.” A yellow light just to her left confirmed that her passenger had complied. “Computer, combat mode,” she said on a separate channel.
“Engaging combat mode, shields at maximum.”
A harness engaged to secure her shoulders and waist, and a holographic sphere appeared around her, giving her a 360‑degree view of the outside of the craft. The AV seemed to have disappeared. From her point of view, she was now a transparent orb in flight.
“Access topography. Indicate any areas suitable for landing,” she said as she made a rapid descent to a valley below.
Sundog made its way to a ledge and set down.
“Activate holographic camouflage.”
While combat‑ready, the pilot was hoping to remain hidden until the arrival of the interceptors. And so, she waited in tense silence.
“Why have we landed?”
“Please maintain communication silence.”
“You dare order me about?!”
“I reiterate. Please maintain communication silence,” the pilot said firmly. “I will not ask again.”
At length, she felt a dull pressure on the top of her head. She swiveled her seat until its back was positioned horizontally. Above her, she could see six red dots. They had inexplicably altered course and were headed straight toward her location.
While it was inconceivable that she could be tracked, she was trained to never take anything for granted. “Magnify.”
The dots transformed into a squadron of combat AVs.
“They are closing fast,” she thought. “Computer, identify markings and transponder signals.”
“There are no markings. Transponder signals have been masked.”
“They are spoiling for a fight. Computer, designate hostiles one through six.”
A number superimposed on each AV.
“Activate targeting. Lock on to hostile three. Weapons hot.”
“Targeting activated. Locked. Weapons hot,” the computer replied as the images faded and were replaced by six red numbers.
“Estimated time to contact?”
Her seat slowly moved as it tracked the lead AV of the approaching squadron. Then, six smaller red dots appeared followed by another six and another six.
“Shit!” She quickly tapped a number of icons on her console, and the AV abruptly jetted skyward. “Launch chaff!”
Six small missiles shot out from the rear of Sundog. All but one of the incoming projectiles spread out then quickly slowed to a stop as the remaining one accelerated toward the defensive swarm. Then, there was an explosion, and the attacking missiles resumed course, quickly closing the distance.
The sensors indicated another six small red dots had emerged from the squadron as a cloud of chaff formed a bowl‑shaped shield protecting Sundog’s six.
“Guess I am not the only one who dislikes Godvina. Well, at least now, I have an excuse,” she said to herself with a smile. She started executing a series of aviation maneuvers.
“Is this…your idea…of turbulence!” Godvina screamed as her words were punctuated with the sounds of retching and vomiting.
“Sorry, Ma’am, please remain calm.”
Behind them, small explosions erupted as individual components of the protective shield disengaged to neutralize an incoming missile. Suddenly, four green dots appeared in close proximity to the attacking squadron. Then, four red dots disappeared from sensors indicating downed AVs.
“Sundog, this is Escort 1. Bogeys are bugging out!”
“Is that you, Avenger?!”
“Who else, Wind Goddess?!”
“And I suppose Golden Boy is with you?!”
“Escort 2 at your service!”
“We are life‑takers…” Avenger exclaimed.
“…and Gendu breakers!” Golden Boy chimed in.
“WAHOO!” they shouted.
“We are closing in on your position,” Avenger said.
On her screen, two green dots broke away from the dogfight.
“We would love to,” Golden Boy replied, “but we have our orders. We are supposed to protect…”
“Affirm!” the escorts replied.
“Take your time. I got this one. I need some target practice.”
“Are you sure? What about your passenger?”
“Not a problem. I already told her to expect ‘turbulence’,” Wind Goddess said as roars of laughter erupted in response.
“Ok, we will sit back and watch,” Golden Boy replied.
Wind Goddess turned to face the rear. “Computer, I count…nine incoming. Confirm.”
“Execute full reverse.”
Over the next several minutes, each small red dot disappeared from sensors. A short time later, the interceptors arrived and escorted AV Sundog to its terminus.
The summit of Jomo Langma Mountain was a series of closely packed mesas that were ideal locations for structures. “Jomo” as it was commonly referred to was perched atop its namesake. There were two observatories located at either end of a long I-shaped building that acted as a connecting corridor between two telescopes. Rooms off the corridors housed administrative offices, an infirmary, main dining hall, pantries and food storage, a digital library, simgrid and maintenance facility. Staff quarters and a small recreation area were located in a second building on a lower mesa. In addition to high altitude, it was located north of the Northern Polar Circle giving it at least 100 days of total darkness and 100 days of total daylight. It was the premier place on the planet to study stellar as well as solar phenomena.
“Jomo, this is AV Sundog. Requesting clearance to land. Transmitting authorization.”
“AV Sundog, this is Jomo. Authorization received and confirmed. You are cleared to land. Details have been transmitted.”
“Jomo, receipt of landing instructions confirmed. AV Sundog out.”
The Observatory had been exempted from the standard security required for all military and civilian aeronautical installations. But recent events required a strict interpretation of the regulation. Each mesa was now surrounded by an energy dome, an ionized field that extended above a perimeter fence. The control tower identified all approaching craft by their transponder signal. However, in addition, an authorization code was required. Once confirmed, an opening was created in the dome and instructions sent from the control tower to the incoming craft’s onboard computer specifying the approach vector and velocity required to land.
AV Sundog approached and hovered above and a short distance from a landing pad before slowly descending to the tarmac.
“Ma’am, we have arrived at the Jomo Langma Mountain Observatory. You may disengage seat restraints and debark. Please make sure you take all your personal belongings. It was a pleasure to have you on board today. I hope your sojourn here is a pleasant one.” She disengaged her own seat restraints then made her way to the rear to exit the AV. Upon opening the door from the flight deck, she was hit with an unmistakable, acidic, pungent odor. It was something that she had not experienced for a long time, not personally but from comrades who had had too much to drink.
Godvina lay unconscious in her seat restraints. Her clothing and various parts of the cabin were daubed with this disgusting concoction.
“What have you done to my ship?!”
* * * * *
There is no better way to give a story pace than a dogfight. Remember Top Gun? But more than that, the descriptions are designed to give you an idea of the technology that is the backdrop to the story. Yes, this is sci‑fi. What happens as night falls hints at some sort of calamity. Dystopian right? Or at the very least an Armageddon‑like event.
Godvina’s journey to the Observatory suggests she is a scientist, one of sufficient import to warrant a military escort. Although, what kind of scientist needs that kind of protection? Is she in weapons development? The attack on her alludes to a time of conflict or impending conflict with the Gendu. (By the way, “gendu” is an ancient Eurasian word that means “male”.) Who are they, and who were the defenders in this opening volley?
Many thanks to Natasha for the gif to help you visualize the opening scene, a place called “Jomo Langma Mountain”. The name is a variant of the Tibetan name for Mount Everest. What better name for a high‑altitude location. However, the mountain she used was not Everest because she needed plateaus in the landscape to accommodate a research facility (not seen in this visual). She used the Checkerboard Mesa in Mount Zion Park, Utah.
As for my description of the Observatory, I based its design on the Lick Observatory on the summit of Mount Hamilton in California.
Lately I’ve been thinking about judging books by their covers. We all do it a little bit. A good cover catches the eye and makes us curious about the book. I thought it might be time to feature some great book artists, starting with the excellent Natasha Overttun. You can find her work on the covers of the Terra Nova books by D. Ellis Overttun. If you’d like to contact either of them for interviews, you can find them on Twitter @neoverttun. In a fun twist, author D. Ellis Overttun interviews Natasha Overttun (a husband-wife duo: how cool is that!). The author’s questions are in bold.
@WS_BOOKCLUB, a while back, you floated the idea of doing a Q&A with Natasha. What a great concept! We thought an interesting twist might be if I did the Q. This Q&A will focus on the evolution of Natasha’s work and skills. It was a lot of fun. Thank you for giving us this opportunity.
First of all, could you please give us some opening comments?
(singing) I’m so exited! And I just can’t hide it! I’m about to lose control…
Something that’s not a shower song…
I’m so exited. And I just can’t hide it. I’m about to lose control…
Something that’s not a Pointer Sisters’ song…
Apart from being thrilled, I’m so proud that a blogger like Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub would want to hear what I have to say. At first, I was a little surprised and scared…`
As I recall, I had to talk you into it.
Yes, I’m not used to being out there. But, as time passed, I got more comfortable with it. You know its just like Bob Wiley says: “Baby steps, baby steps.”
I think it was Dr. Leo Marvin.
No, I’m sure it was Bob.
We’ll Wiki after the Q&A. Anyway, how did you first get involved with visual arts?
When I was a little girl, I loved coloring books…
Let’s skip a head a bit…
Oh…well, more than a little while ago, I took an introductory art course at the local community college. One of the projects we did involved collages. Each of us brought in a magazine and were told to cut out pictures or shapes we found interesting. We put them all together on some of the desks in the front row. The exercise was to assemble a cut and paste collage.
I had absolutely no idea what to do. So, I hung back and watched the feeding frenzy. Everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were going to do. My first attempt was a fireplace surrounded by flames, lights and candles suspended in the air. I was so proud of myself! The teacher came by. She gave it a look that was more than just a glance. So, I thought, “Yesss! She likes it!” But it was really one of those howcanIputit looks. “It’s hanging,” she said. “That’s right,” I replied. Then, I realized she meant that something was missing. A few people had gathered around for her critique. “Where is a rock to crawl under when you need one?” I thought.
That was the best idea I had, and I now looked through the cutouts on the front desks that had been picked clean. This is what I came up with…
I was a little more than embarrassed when it came to present at the front of the class. What I put together didn’t look like anything. Oh, where’s that rock?
To my surprise, it drew rave reviews. Who knew?
That course gave me an appreciation for things like balance, composition and perspective. More than that though, my fellow classmates encouraged my small successes. That gave me confidence.
How did you become involved with the Terra Nova series?
You finished the first version of Universe: Awakening in May 2017. I remember you were on the kdp site rushing to publish. Then, it asked you for a cover. I’ll never forget the look on your face. It was: I need a cover? AHHH! Neither of us had any idea what to do. An anxious read of the help notes said we could use a jpeg. Great! But a jpeg of what?
Then, you came up with the idea that we would take a picture of something. So, I got my iPhone, and we frantically scoured our suite for something suitable. You finally decided on one of the patterns from a pot. A few clicks and a couple of emails later, and it was uploaded. It was too small. At the time, we had no idea how to resize an image. My niece is a graphic artist. So, she did it. Uploaded! Publish? No, we had to deal with text: Which font? What size? What color? I gained a real appreciation for your wordsmithing that day. Your string of invectives was colorful and creative. But not “Like wiping your ass with silk” to quote the Merovingian. That said, you finally slapped something together.
Lorna from On the Shelf Reviews (@ljwrites85) gave you some very constructive feedback. It went something like (and I paraphrase) “…perhaps, you could do something with the cover”. You have many faults but not being able to take a hint is not one of them.
Yes, I remember. So, I casually hinted…
Asked if you had any suggestions.
Yes, and the result was the second cover.
Before (You) After (Me)
How have you gone from collages to covers?
It’s been an evolution. To promote the book, you started a blogsite called “Author’s Cut” where you would write posts about Universe. I read somewhere that it’s good to break up text with visuals, to prevent reader fatigue. When I made the suggestion, I got the job.
I had no idea how to go about actually creating visuals. I was lucky to bump into a site called “Pixabay”. It’s a very popular site that has millions of images available without running into copywrite issues. I started out with find, cut, paste. It was primitive, but it was something. Then, I found some freeware called “Photoscape”, and I was able to do things like add text, crop, superimpose, stuff like that. When it came time for the Universe cover makeover, I was ready.
What’s happened since then?
You found that maintaining a social media presence, writing and publishing were too timeconsuming. So, you vacated SM, and I took over. I started on Twitter last year.
How has that gone?
Very well. I think it has increased SM awareness for your writing in a way you never could. If I say, “Hey! My hubby’s great. Read his stuff”, people say, “What a supportive wife.” If you echo the same sentiment, you’re a braggart.
True, very true. How did you start doing visuals on Twitter?
It started with the header, and it took me to another level. I found that, while Photoscape is great, you can’t edit after you’ve saved and exited the program. I found that Word gave that to me. People trained in graphic arts would probably snub their noses at it, but it was a quick fix that was easy to learn. My first headers were the covers of your first two books plus some Pixabay jpegs.
That looks like the first version of the Genesis cover.
That’s right. When I did it, I thought that it was ok, but something was missing. It kept bugging me, so, finally, I did a makeover. Tada!
Yes, it has a certain pop to it.
After that, I noticed that a lot of people have a pinned tweet. I suggested to approach bloggers to do guest posts that I could then pin. I had found that there is a heavy emphasis on visuals on Twitter, so I suggested that I do something to accompany the post that I could attach to the tweet to catch people’s attention. As each post came online, I swapped the pic for the one from Pixabay in my header. Here’s what it eventually looked like.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Yes, but it’s mostly due to the blogging community who has been very receptive and supportive of our creative efforts.
Have there been any recent developments in your bag of tricks?
Yes, I recently came across a program called GIMP. It’s a real graphic arts program. I’ve only been using it selectively for certain effects because it’s quite involved. For example, in the visual below…
The breaking apart of the sphere and the beam of light were done in GIMP.
I also started using the gif feature in Photoscape. Most notably, in the recent Prophecy cover reveal. Thank you from the both of us, once again, to Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub for giving it a spot on your blog.
Well, I think we have gone on long enough, any final comments?
More of a question really. I know that one of the characters in the series is named after me. However, she is a blonde with a bob cut. I am not a blonde and have never worn my hair that way. Where did she come from?
Uh…this is your interview, not mine. We should discuss this later.