Back in May 2011, I decided to teach the unit on electricity and magnetism in a different way. Rather than the usual recitation and labs, I wrote a short story, called A Shocking Journey. Then, while students were working on a project in class, they read one chapter per night in the short story, with each chapter unfolding aspects of electricity through the use of analogy. When the project was over, we then discussed the story and converted the images into a more official set of notes the students could study from.
I try to make real life connections all the time while I teach. It doesn’t always work and not every topic lends itself well to those connections. For instance, with my honors classes, I show them how to set up electron configurations. (These are seventh graders, mind you!) Well, I suppose I do use an analogy for that too. The atom is the classroom. Each energy shell, or ring, is a bookcase. The sublevels are shelves on the bookcase. Orbitals are compartments on the shelf. And electrons are the books within a compartment. (If we talk about quarks, they’re the pages in the book.) Yet when it comes to laying out the order of sublevels and placing the electrons, the analogy goes out the window so we can just focus on the material.
With all the work I’ve been doing with my fantasy series, I decided to put A Shocking Journey through the paces too. I sent the story to my editor, Rochelle Deans, who was up for the challenge. Whoa, did she challenge me to make changes! It wasn’t easy, but I could see that she was right. I had a grammar lesson in chapter one to teach kids whether to use your or you’re in a sentence. I find too many people don’t know (or perhaps don’t care) and I wanted to have a way for my students to learn about it as part of getting to know the characters. And though, as an editor, Rochelle appreciated having the lesson in there, she pointed out that it takes away from the rest of the story. When I went back through to face my pet peeve, I was able to rewrite the lesson and still introduce the characters. In doing so, I cut out about five pages of grammar lesson and still made the same point. That’s editing for you!
A Shocking Journey takes place over seven chapters (plus an epilogue). Each chapter has a different setting and focuses on a different aspect of electricity. For example, the dinosaurs in the desert of chapter two represent the protons and neutrons of an atom, but Nathan and his classmates discover this comparison by living through each setting as active participants. How, you ask? Well, that’s why there’s an epilogue. It has the teacher, Dr. Lupino, explaining a bit about how the brain works and so on.
In order to put the book up in a more professional manner — as opposed to running them through the copiers at school — I needed a cover. I decided this time to try using Fiverr.com. I thought I would save some out of pocket expenses and get a cover that could work. The trouble was that $30 wasn’t going to cut it when trying to represent a book that has seven different settings. And I wanted all those settings represented somehow. The artist, Nizam, captured some of the essence I was looking for and the art style was definitely on par with what I was wanted. But on the whole, it just wasn’t feeling right for what I was envisioning. I debated whether I wanted to give this artist more time (aka more money) to continue working, or go back to Upwork.com where I’ve felt more at home working with freelancers before. I opted for my comfort zone and so I had to let go of this version of the cover.
I definitely wanted a more cartoon, middle school style for this book. So even though I absolutely love the work Fyodor Ananiev has done for Red Jade, I needed a different artist for this work. I posted a job on Upwork, hoping beyond all hope that I could find someone willing to keep the costs down and still create the cover I was looking for. I quickly received over sixteen applicants to the job I posted. I took my time checking out each and every portfolio and it was clear that some hadn’t read my (lengthy) description and we’re just applying randomly to the job. Ok, that’s fine, so I moved on from those. Other artists had beautiful portfolios with amazing artwork for things they’ve done, but I just couldn’t see how the style would work for A Shocking Journey.
I narrowed it down to a few potential candidates and then, as I did with Red Jade, I messaged those candidates to ensure they knew what I was looking for and to ask them how they were planning to incorporate, in this case, all the different settings. From the responses I received, Matt Caulkins had a real vision in mind, not only of the specific art style, which he was able to direct me to samples of, but also the key element of including the seven settings: portals! I hadn’t even thought of that and I was excited by the idea.
Before offering the job, I did ask Matt if it was possible to see a sketch of what he was thinking. Other artists have been offended by that request, but I’m about to hand over a fair chunk of money and I want to ensure we’re on the same page. Matt didn’t balk at all and he cranked one out in three hours and shared it with me. Just as Fyodor did the same for Red Jade, this won Matt the job. He showed me through his sketch he was serious about it and he showed his vision. So of the other artists who think it’s an insult, I disagree. I think it’s important to be willing to fight for your job in a saturated market and prove that you’ve got the drive and the skill and the vision. Even if the sketch had been only of a certain area, it would give the idea of where the artist was going. I understand the fear of them creating a scene and having it stolen and shopped around elsewhere, but that’s a risk doing business over the Internet, and also a fear as a writer finding beta-readers, editors, agents, publishers, etc. However, in my case, it was the sketch that secured the jobs of the artists I was looking for each time.
Because of the amount of detail work needed on a unique art piece, there was no way the $75 budget was going to make it. For a hand drawn image with very specific elements, I can’t say I was entirely surprised that this project cost four times my budget. That’s an appropriate price for a hand drawn book cover anyway. I had just hoped to stay closer to my budget. Between cover art and editing, this cost was about $500 but having a proper book format and feel makes the cost worth it to me.
Writing the text for the back cover wasn’t easy either. It’s always amazing how writers can craft worlds but can’t write a simple blurb for the back of the book. (‘Blurb’ isn’t even the appropriate industry term for it!) I wanted to make sure readers would know this is an educational text but it’s an interesting story on its own, if I do say so myself. My partner, Kevin, was a huge help there and he put together something that I was able to use.
Back to the cover art itself… Matt worked hard through the week and took care of the details I needed, like the ability to remove the text and so on. And though I loved the original dinosaur scene on a lush green plain, the scene in the story takes place in a barren desert, and that’s actually important for the atom analogy. He popped out an updated version in ten minutes flat. It was awesome.
So if you’d like to learn about electricity and magnetism through an analogy-laden short story, I hope you’ll check out A Shocking Journey and post a review on Amazon. If you’re a student in my class, we’ll all be reading it after the middle of May.