Friday, September 27, 2013

A Writer's Untapped Paradise: People-Watching

 "I'm just people-watchin', watchin' people watchin' me..."
-Jack Johnson "People-Watching"
I like to shake things up a bit in my class and give the gals writing assignments that aren't your run-of-the-mill short stories. Since I am working from my own resources and not following any set of curriculum I get to choose each week's topic; having taught them the versatility of Action Beats Vs. Dialog Tags, I thought it'd be a fun assignment to go out to lunch and have them people-watch in order to add originality to their action beats. We piled into the van at lunchtime and headed off to Panera where I assigned them each a position in different corners of the restaurant to eat their own lunch quietly and observe everyone else eating theirs. (On the ride over I instructed them minutely on how to people-watch without detection so the poor customers don't feel like butterflies on pins. "No Customers Were Harmed In the Making of This Post" and all that.)
"He ain't a 'tec, he's a bloomin' busy-body!"
(did anyone get that reference?)
Even I, a dedicated people-watcher was surprised at the variety of descriptions we came up with as we scribbled madly and tried not to let our soup go cold in between. There was a woman who had grown up in Japan and been abducted for half an hour because of her white-blonde hair. The same women's parents live in Ireland now, and the rest of her family in Tuscany or Tuscon. (This pupil wasn't quite sure which) Another has a step-daughter who married a man who earned $75-80,000 a month and spent oodles at posh clothing stores.  Other scraps we got down were just bits of description of peoples''s amazing the stories you can unearth just by sitting there and not-quite minding your own business...
And because we came up with such random gems, I thought I'd show you the notes I managed to get down in the hour we were people-watching; it's like a different sort of Snippets post because I wrote them all in third-person...heehee.

She leaned on her fist and ignored her meal, focused instead on the screen of her iPhone.

The woman tore pieces of bread from her roll and dipped them into her soup one by one.

"Feel free to open that." She shoved a packaged cookie toward her friends.

The woman seemed to be at odds with her ponytail, always flicking it over and tossing it behind her shoulder. Babies and long hair do not, apparently, mix.

He left his plate and soup bowl at the table while he got a refill as if, she thought, there were no hungry beggars in the world who might descend upon it like buzzards while he was gone.

The expression on her face as she crossed her arms was meant to pronounce definitive judgement on the thing of which she disapproved. 

She wiped each of her fingers between bites in what seemed a strikingly fastidious manner, considering she had been eating bread.

"Him? Oh he's not married."
"Did I hear he beat you?"

The woman folded her receipt after she had been seated and took an age filing it in her purse where it probably now lay cheek-to-jowl with a coupon for 50 Cents Off Tomato Soup and a pamphlet from her granddaughter's ballet recital.

"What did you have to eat for your birthday?"
"Uhhhhh-huh....her usual."
"Well they were good...OH! I forgot to tell them to put that stuff over it!" (what stuff, we wonder?)

When she laughed, her head jerked down and her shoulders forward like an eager, strutting pigeon taking halting jerks across the pavement.

The manager refilled the baskets of cookies and squeezed out from behind the counter with a fawning smile for a passing female customer. His grey hair was pulled back in a slick, respectable ponytail and when he walked it was with a certain feline grace that she knew, somehow, was part of his act.

The boy had an uncomfortable manner of fastening his eyes upon you as you talked and chewing rapidly like a concentrated and famished hare. Also, one of his eyes stared slightly in an alternate direction which only heightened his rabbity-ness.

"He put up his great big paws and WOOFWOOFWOOFWOOF he was out the door and I was chasing him and I realized I was naked. I hid myself but next time I was outside cooking fish, my neighbor said, 'That was some show.'" (now I am scarred for life.)

He used a form of God's name instead of adjective which somewhat marred the impression of an educated man.

He crossed his arms across his large belly so his elbows looked like hams and stared like a large and somewhat disgruntled genie. 

One half of her mouth appeared to be permanently hitched up in a snip of a smile showing a few white teeth in the left corner of her mouth.

She held her drink while she talked and it was fascinating--if you were bored enough to notice--to watch the slosh of liquid in the cup as she punctuated her conversation.

"She gets herself in more predicaments."

The old man possessed a humped back so that his head appeared to be glued to the front of his neck instead of the top.

"My wife's daughter spends spends spends all his money."

"He used to earn $75-80,000 monthly."

"They used to go to a place on Taylor Rd--it's closed now, thank God--but it was called Madamoiselle's and it was the kind of place you'd buy three outfits and it would cost $2,500. I told her, 'You do not take your mother to Madamoiselle's any more.' So she called her mother one day and said, 'Come on and meet me in front of Madameoiselle's--Steve put me on a budget and I have to stay within the budget.' " 

A pretty good catch for a single lunch-hour I think.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cottleston Pie Resurrected!

You probably all know by now that I wrote Cottleston Pie (what of it I wrote) for my youngest sister, Grace. Gracie is the craziest kid I know: personality-wise she's a mixture of The King and Simpian Grenadine, so it's always fun for me to click open the Cottleston Pie document and write out the next dose of nonsense. I hadn't done this for months now--probably since January or February. To write nonsense, you must be in a very particular frame of mind where nonsensical things roll off your brain at a rapid rate. "Holy-Moly, m'boy. It takes brain-power!" So I don't push to write nonsense in any time-frame. Since Cottleston Pie is more episodic anyway, I work on it whenever the mood strikes me. :)

Last night while the younger ones were folding laundry, they asked for a story. I, in my ever-thoughtful imagination, told them a story about a Dingle-Hopper bird that had spoons for feet, knives for a beak, wings made out of waxed paper and a body made out of sugar. He stole all the fresh produce every night from the poor chef's garden, and finally one night the chef trapped him under a basket by way of a blueberry pie. It rained that night and the next morning the Dingle-Hopper had dissolved, leaving nothing but spoons, knives, and waxed-paper wings behind.

They all got tears in their eyes.

What on earth makes them throw their loyalties to the villain of the story? Eh. Anyway, to cheer them up from that tragedy, I read to them Cottleston Pie and this morning I tapped out another chapter at which I thought you might like to have a peep. You will need to know that the King thinks cows are "Skellingtons" (and is mortally afraid of them), and Simpian and the King just sent a message to The Friendly Ones (the friendly whats?) by way of a reluctant, nasty old crow and await the reply. Enjoy this chapter--it's especially inspired by Gracie who has a dread of getting rickets but isn't quite sure what they are. :)

-Cottleston Pie-

Chapter 4: A Plague of Rickets

Simpian and the King lived for some days in a paste of Anxiety and Despair while waiting to see if the crow had taken their message like a proper carrier-pigeon to the Friendly Ones. There were just so many things that could go wrong with a mission like this; the crow could have untied the string with his bill—though since the King had threatened to cook him, Simpian wasn't certain he would have tried that—or perhaps the scroll of paper had dropped off his leg while flying and was now speared on some thornbush in the Middle of Nowhere and would never get to the Friendly Ones ever in their life; what a sad prospect.

So it was that the mood at Cottleston Pie was a bit less “Happy Birthday” these days and a bit more like “Time for a Bath”. Simpian tried not to be cross with the King for all the silly things he did, like tying Simpian's shoes to the door of the tree-house for a knocker, “carving” things with his pencil on the floor, or eating the ginnerbread Simpian was saving for the Friendly Ones whenever they came.
Simpian had just awakened from not-sleeping when he saw the the King running his red pointer-finger round and round the inside of a rather empty tin. “Your Majeshty!”
The King jumped and turned the color of Tottles's head-rag. “I'm washing the dishes so you don't have to,” he hurried to say, and popped the last of the crumbs into his post-box mouth. “The ginnerbread's all right.”
“There wouldn't be dishes to wash if there was still ginnerbread in that box. Did you eat it all?”
The King turned the tin upside-down over his head and shrugged. “I can't imagine where it went. Holy Moly, boy, but it's fast! It just took one look at me and said, 'Catch me if you can' and off it went toward the Rickety Pines.”
Simpian stood, brushed the grass from his pants, and took the tin from the King. It really was tragically empty. “You're lying to me. You ate it.”
“I'm not lying. I'm sitting up. Look at me: the model of Perfect Poshter.” The King sat up straight as a tree and even made an effort to fix his crown. Simpian looked at him closely. As far as he knew, liars grew enormously long noses—the King's nose was enormous, but it wasn't what you'd call long.
Simpian tucked the tin under his arm and drummed on it with his fingertips. “Did you maybe just taste the ginnerbread?”
The crown slipped over the King's nose and he righted it again with a sorry smile. “I did. As a reward for my Perfect Poshter.”
“How many times did you taste it?”
The King grinned and shook Simpian's hand. “And a very good 'aha' to you.”
Simpian scratched his head and wished the King hadn't eaten all the gingerbread...he didn't know if Tottles would let him have anymore and they must have a treat for the Friendly Ones. “Didja take that many tastes because you had such good Poshter?”
“Holy-Moly, boy. Did you ever see such a straight spine and fine legs? I had rickets as a child but lookit me now! I'm big as a genie in a bottle who's got out of his bottle.”
Simpian now sat on the tin, curious. “What's Rickets?”
“Rickets is a disease. A terrible sickness that'd kill you soon as look at you.”
Rickets. Simpian liked the sound of sounded a little like crickets and a little dangerous. “Where do you get it from?”
“From dancing.” The King said. “Or...” and Simpian noticed his face looked a little pale, “Or from being too handsome. Or sometimes just because the Ricket jumps on you--not in a polite way such as 'Can I make you ill?' but more of the sort that catches you by surprise in the middle of the Night, or the middle of the day. Or at the tea-table.”
Rickets. Villains, that's what. “What happens to you when you've got a Ricket?”
“Your back hurts and your nose stuffs and then you start to walk like a hunchback.”
Simpian felt a shiver-fish slide over his body at the mention of a Hunchback. “What then?”
“Then your legs go like noodles and Holy-Moly, boy, that's not the worst part.”
“What is the worst part?”
The King's face was serious and quiet like he had a pain somewhere. “The worst part is that you can never ever ever get better again.”
“But how did you get better?”
“I didn't say I couldn't get better, did I? You're the one that would never get better. That is, if you were lucky enough to be stricken by Rickets. It's choosy about who it Strikes. You can't be too careful if you're a disease, striking people who don't deserve it.”
Simpian wished the King would stop talking about sicknesses and...and Hunchbacks. He remembered hearing about another king in a history book sometime. This king had a hunchback and he really wasn't very nice to the two little boys he kept locked up in a Tower. “I don't want Rickets,” he said, and plopped on the ground Indian-style.
“Well,” the King sniffed. “That doesn't much matter to them. What matters is, does Rickets want you?”
“I hope not.” 'Specially because the King had said he'd never get better, and though Simpian liked being coddled well enough, and getting things like pudding and cambric tea, he didn't much like the thought of having to be Only Allister forever an' ever. He always had to be Allister when he was sick, because things like Rickets don't bother Pirates named Simpian Grenadine. Which, Simpian thought, was probably just as well because Pirates don't have doctors either and there'd be no one to give him medicine.
“Ohhhhhhh!” The King groaned so loudly that he jostled Simpian out of his thoughts and made him jump like when someone says “Boo!” in a dark room.
“What's wrong?”
“The Rickets have got me!” The King rolled over onto his side, clutching his stomach and blubbering to himself.
“What do I do?”
“There's nothing to do. Holy-Moly, boy! This is the end! Say goodbye to the dear old Cottleston Pie Tree for me.”
“It's right behind you.”
The King squinted open one eye and felt the tree with a groping hand. “So it is, my boy. So it is.” He wrapped his arm as far around the tree-trunk as he could. “Ohhhhh ow ow ow. Farewell, or as the French say, Ar-Ree-var! You have been a good home to me and how often I have spent a pleasant afternoon eating peppermint sticks under your leaves. Goodbye, stars! Goodbye moon! Goodbye Rickety Pines. Skellingtons and Crows can trouble me no more. Goodbye world.”
He kissed the bark of the tree and then returned to rolling around on the ground with his hands on his big stomach, moaning.
Simpian thought it a little curious that the King had said Rickets attacked your legs and back, but here he was holding his stomach. “Are you sure this is Rickets?”
But the King would do nothing but moan. Probably ate too much ginnerbread. Simpian watched the King for some time, and then he began to feel odd himself. It started as a tingling feeling in his legs. Rickets. And the tingle spread to his knees. Simpian tried to thing about something else—how a Pirate might kill a Ricket if one tried to attack him—but that was hard to do when your head started aching and your stomach flip-flopped like a drying tadpole. Was it really Rickets? Would he be sick for the rest of his life, or would it kill him quickly?
“Ohhhhhh, ow ow ow! The Rickets has a knife! It's killing me!”
Simpian dragged himself over to the King's side and grabbed his hand. “The Ricket has got me too. If we have to die we can do it together.”
“As friends?” The king asked.
“As best friends.”
“Bravo. You're a noble Pirate, Simpian Grenadine but--Ow--you might try getting us some Medicine!”
Did Pirates faint, and it they did, would now be a good time? Simpian wasn't feeling well at all, he imagined. “What sort of medicine?”
“Lemon-grass,” the king panted. His round face was pale in some spots and red in others. Simpian wondered if he looked as terrible as the poor King.
“Lemon-grass grows in India.” Simpian laid his head on his arms and watched a passing ant with one eye, deciding he felt miserable. So this was Rickets.
The King fished around the base of the Cottleston Pie tree and brought forward a handful of clover-like leaves and pretty purple blossoms. “This is lemon-grass.”
“That's wood-sorrel.”
“Don't argue with a dying Majeshty.” The King curled up in a ball again. “Owwwwww. Quick boy, make a poultice.”
“A what?” Simpian got to his knees, forgetting to feel sick for a moment.
“A poultice. You chew up the leaves and smack them on my wound.”
“You don't have a wound.”
The King fixed him with one glassy eye. “Holy-Moly, boy. Don't argue with a dying—ooooooh.”
He sounded in terrible pain this time. Simpian took the handful of flowers and leaves and stuffed them in his mouth. They did taste like lemon, actually. Simpian swallowed because he was hungry, come to think of it, and picked some more to chew up for the poultice. When the leaves and flowers had been reduced to a paste in his mouth, he spat the mixture into his hand. It glistened green and sticky in the morning sunlight. “What now, Your Majeshty?”
“Put it on my wound.”
“Here.” The King tapped his forehead and Simpian made a face.
“On your head?”
“Owww. Do as I say.”
Well well. So this was how to make a poultice and cure Rickets? Being a doctor was easy. Simpian patted the lemon-grass into a neat green stripe on the King's head. He didn't have to bind it up because it stuck together on its own. “Now what?”
“Leave me in peace.”
“Will it help your Rickets?”
“Nothing helps Rickets.”
“But you said--”
“It helps me think,” the King moaned.
Simpian laid beside the King, starting to feel ill again. If only the Friendly Ones would answer their message and come looking for them. The Friendly One might be a doctor or an Indian-Brave who would know how to cure Rickets. But there was no one. They were all alone, the King and Simpian Grenadine; all alone at Cottleston Pie. They'd die quietly together, best friends and companions, and maybe someone would build a cross over-top of them and wonder who they once were.
Simpian thought all these things as the laid in the bright sunlight, and the day grew hotter and more impatient around them. It wasn't nice at all being sick. It felt just like being grumpy, only his stomach and head were involved. It felt a little like being hungry too, except for the grumpiness and the headache. In the background, the King whimpered.
“Do you think the Friendly Ones will come?” Simpian slipped his hand back into the King's and squeezed it a little.
“I...ow...don't know.”
“We could sing for them.”
You could.”
I could sing for them.”
“Do that.”
So Simpian made up a song about the carrier-pigeons and Cottleston Pie, and the Friendly Ones and Rickets and he watched the land all round their hill:

Rickets aren't crickets
They're ouch-er and meaner
And crickets aren't Rickets
They're nicer and cleaner.
And carrier-pigeons deliver
the mail
So we hope that our carrier-crow
will not fail.
We'd be willing to pay a good doctor a dollar
For splints or a bandage or something to swoller...”
(this last bit didn't quite rhyme and Simpian made a face while he sang it, but something had to go there and “swoller” would just have to do.)
But nobody's coming, and waiting's no fun,
And if you don't come soon we'll get cooked by the sun.

No one came. The sun grew even hotter and Simpian's head began to throb. He'd been keeping a watch through the whole song and could see very well the Dark Woods on one side of the hill and on the other, the Field leading up to Waterloo and the Rickety Pines. No one. Not a single speck that could maybe be someone by-and-by.
And just when Simpian was wishing the Rickets would hurry up and kill them—or better yet: go away--he felt a very small earthquake beneath him. Rolling over, Simpian saw the earth crack open in a furrow. Something very like a cigar-butt peered out at him with a grin and two bright black eyes beneath a paper soldier-hat.

“Are you a Friendly One?” Simpian asked, liking the look of this fellow. “Or better yet, can you cure Rickets?”

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Tap Can Now Be Turned Off

Monday dawns chill and perfectly autumnal. I head out to work with Sarah, Leah, and Dad and I don't fret about not having time to write today.


Because last night at 9:37 I finished the first round of edits for The Windy Side of Care. My family has been patient with me as I've holed up in The Lair in that zone of desperation where I scream like Sherlock, "YOU CAN'T JUST TURN IT ON AND OFF LIKE A TAP!" I always enter this zone in the home-stretch of my stories and beware your head if you dare interrupt me for something as menial as dirty dishes. Sorry guys; you're the top and I hope I didn't snarl too much.

At 11:00, right before tumbling into bed, I sent TWSOC to a list of beta-readers who were then quite prompt in getting on it and reading. (Two have already finished) I was blessed while writing this story with a strangely productive time-period; most days I managed almost 3,000 words which meant that the story built up quickly, leaving more time to edit. The problem was that I thought I had 25,000 words in which to spin my story. In reality, we are given 20,000 words which meant that in the end I had to find ways to cut over 4,000 out of the story. Painful right there. I managed to do it, though, and it is now in review with an army of readers. I am hopeful. Having to cut so many words caused me to have to tighten dialog and description which actually made the whole much stronger. Funny to read a scene pre-editing and post-editing...the change is enormous. I'll probably return to this topic by and by with a post of examples and some advice from one of my favorite writer-instructors.

In other news, the critique group I was a part of several years is beginning again just as I was telling a friend about how hard and yet rewarding it was to take the critique given. I am planning to join, though I will have to decide if The Baby can qualify as a YA novel; I think it serves the purpose well enough to fit and I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into the give and take of serious critique partners again. This group is tough-nails.

So I'm off to work and reading Two Years Before The Mast and I will leave those of you who aren't beta-reading The Windy Side of Care with this teaser:
Fifteen minutes more and I would spread the blood on the white stones of the outer balcony; a half hour and the murder would be announced.
-Part Six

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I do a judge a book by its cover

In my not-so spare hours of the day not devoted to writing The Windy Side of Care (I only have 6k words left which means that in two or so days I should be done.) I have decided to browse cover-design ideas for my books. Whether I end up self-published or go the traditional route, there is one thing I will have: an awesome cover. I believe that the author ought to have some idea of what they want the cover of their book to look like or--at the least--to know the difference between a bad and good design. Hence, my diatribe...

There is nothing that brushes my fur the wrong way like a poorly designed, obviously amateur cover. I mean honestly. Sometimes I look at a book and think, "Oh, darlin'. I might read that if it wasn't so ugly." Because even though everyone knows the old adage about "You can't judge a book by its cover", we all do. The cover of your book is how you're selling yourself because if you can't lure a reader over by the appearance of your book, you'll never get them to become captivated by your characters and story. And though the inside of the book (like the inside of a person) is the most important part, you're doing yourself no favors putting forth a dowdy or childish presentation. I was on Pinterest, pinning eye-catching covers, and I decided to search Self-Published book designs. I have seen cheesy professional covers, but if we are to be honest, the ugliest covers are found in the annals of self-published novels. I found this hypothetical cover...

...making a fun (and heart-wrenchingly ugly) poke at what The Hunger Games might have looked like if it was self-published. {Note to self: never use papyrus or bleeding cowboys fonts if you want to be taken seriously. }With this example, I set off to put together a post of covers that work and most definitely do not work, and to discuss the differences with you. Please note that I have read very few (if any) of these books and cannot tell you if they're any good or not. Also, my thoughts on the cover-design are not intended to slam the authors' taste, but to point out where it works and doesn't work for my own taste. Not every one of these books is self-published, so I am aware that they range in quality. Please don't get ruffled and shout things like, "WELL THEY COULD AFFORD A PROFESSIONAL!" I am interested in discussing composition.

 What works: I like the guy and the way his palm is outstretched with the ring in the center. And I love how you can't see his face. I don't like being fed an image that never matches with my mental picture of characters. (especially Christian fluff that end up looking like those wretched Harlequine Romances you find by the drove in a thrift-store)
What doesn't work: The font. Everything is one font, one color, and aligned left. There was little to no imagination in the set-up of the text, and this immediately screams "SELF-PUBBER" to me.
How to fix it: Imagine this could be a pretty cool cover with a bit of tweaking as regards filters. This is pretty one-dimensional. Also, if the text was just cramped and blah, you could do something pretty cool with writing the title on the guy's palm instead of a ring. I think that would be a good use of your somewhat limited space, and a bit more interesting.

What works: For me, pretty much everything. I don't know anything about this book but I can tell it will probably involve Spies, Nazis (brilliant touch with the swastika), and a woman who appears to be trapped by her own loyalties. If I could get a cover design like this for Fly Away Home, I'd be forever happy. Note the use of three different kinds and sizes of fonts for interest, and the way the two photos (above and below the center stripes) use the same filter. This is what I meant with the cover above when I said it needed a filter. Something to tone the light and shade down so it isn't so glaring and raw, and to blend all the elements together.
What doesn't work: Really, there isn't anything sticking out that makes me think, "ew". I could do with less face because like I said, I don't like the cheesiness of face shots (full-body shots are far worse) but since her eyes are dropped, it works. And I love the veil
How to fix it: Run with this cover far, far away from everyone else who will want it for their own. (Ahem. Meeee? Ahem.)

What works: I like the filter used here, and the background image is pretty good, though there ought to be a bigger difference between the shades of sea and sky.
What doesn't work: Again, the font is horrifically monotonous. Not only is it all the same size and style, but the subtitle is rendered almost unreadable (it says "a tale of the Titanic) by the mirage-effect put on it. I am getting a headache from squinting at it right now.
How to fix it: When a book has nothing but a landscape-image on the front, I subconsciously assume its characters were too boring to make the cover. Or the personalities were too flat to occasion thought when the author went to make a cover. I know these authors were probably trying to go for the midnight desolation of a sinking-ship tragedy, but I'd request at least a teeny little row-boat bobbing along in a swath of moonlight to intensify the mood.

What works: I love this cover too. I love the ship in the background and the way we are seeing from behind the girl. I love the mood, and I most especially love the pop of crimson in her skirt to add life to an otherwise foggy cover. Also, I love the design along the bottom.
What doesn't work: It'd be nice to see a little more text. Maybe a subtitle or a quote from the book on the front because there's a bit of empty space up toward the top. Maybe that's purposeful, in which case leave it. All in all, I love this cover.
How to fix it: Add a bit of "what people are saying" or something at the top, or leave it as is. I like this cover.

What works: Fantasy is one of the hardest genres to create a good cover for, because one step in the wrong direction and you're sunk. This is a pretty cool cover. I like the illustration--that's how dragons are supposed to look, Mr. Man-Who-Made-The-Dawn-Treader-Movie. I mean honestly. The colors are great, it looks interesting, and bravo to the creativity with text-arrangement!
What doesn't work: It's a bit duo-chromatic, being entirely green and brown respectively.
How to fix it: More color would be nice, (some purple or navy shadows in the lake?) but I'm liking the author's choice to keep it simple and effective. Well done.

 What works: I admit, I'm a sucker for covers with awesome graphic-art. The black and red design is just gorgeous, and I love the unexpected blue smack in the center.
What doesn't work: doesn't really give you an idea of what the book is about, which leads me to believe it's a literary novel which, in its turn, reminds me of stuffy people on an airplane who only pick up a book when their iPhone battery dies. I like literary novels, but most people who read them are dull. This is probably a book about a girl in India who was abused or something and has a secret orchard where she keeps jars with all her bitterness toward these people written on scraps of papyrus, and this helps her learn forgiveness.
How to fix it: Well if it is a literary-novel then they've made their point and personally I like this cover a lot. If not, then the author/publisher needs to adjust their cover design to better portray the story.

What works: I like the actual picture. It's interesting, it isn't too revealing as to exactly who this person is, and the lantern is a nice touch. The font is actually pretty and I like the accent-bar up at the top.

What doesn't work: There is too much dead-space in this cover. And since there's light being thrown back onto the girl from her lantern, I think there ought to be a faint glow on the rest of the cover. Also, a sure sign of being self-published is using your first and middle name only. (Bethany Faith) People in real life have last names, so real authors have last names unless you're Avi, in which case we can forgive you, or if you've otherwise stylized yourself for a specific reason. If you are one of those people who shy from revealing their identity, then by all means make up a pen-name. But give your alter-ego a last name because it just looks more professional.
How to fix it: Add a lantern-glow on the blackness. I get that the point is to make the book look dark (hence the name?) but a little glow never hurt anyone. I think the glow would fill up the blankness of the right side of the the cover. Also, get a last name. Truly, though, this is a pretty schnazzy self-pubbed cover and I actually think the book looks interesting and promising.

 What works: If I can't have Where Treasure Hides for Fly Away Home's cover, I'd like something like this. The girl is halfway-hidden, I love the glimpse of a town behind, and the filter used in the photos tells me its vintage if everything else fails. Also, notice the variation of scripts and sizes. Lovely.
What doesn't work: Unlike the example above of Bethany Faith (thanks for your patience, Miss Faith. I'm sure you are a fine author and I tip my hat that you've actually got books in print), Michael E. Glasscock III has surrendered himself to forever being identified in my mind with P.G. Wodehouse characters.
How to fix it: Either he's aristocracy and thinks himself entitled to drawling on and on in the credits, or he ought to have chosen either a middle initial or the III. Having both seems pompous. Some people might also find the introduction of the purple tab up-top to be annoying. I rather like it, as it adds interest and lets you know that this is Book 2 of a series. But if it bothers your sensibilities, take it off.

Your thoughts? Do you agree with my observations of this sampling of covers? And how important is cover-design to you? Leave all your thoughts, mind-wanderings, and what-not in a comment below and I shall reply with promptness. I'd love to hear what you think are the most important (and/or bothersome) elements in the composition of a cover-design.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Let's Choose Ignorance, M'kay?

This year, I have read more books than I have in the past three years (individually). I sit here trying to think what the difference is. My schedule has been far crazier than in previous years (I have been out of town for a collective 7 weeks), I am juggling several blogs, working more with Dad, I launched The Warren, and I'm teaching two different classes. So if my schedule hasn't changed for the easier, how is it that I'm racking up book after book on my Have Read list?

Quite simple: I shifted priorities.

People who say they "do not have time to read" don't mean that. We all have time to read. We all have time to do lots of things. There isn't a single man on earth who has more than 24 hours allotted to him. So when you say "I don't have time" what you really mean is, "I'm not making it a priority." Don't argue on this. Maybe you feel that you don't have time because you aren't the one in charge of your priorities. (i.e. your parents have you taking dance, theatre, and soccer twice a week, or you're in college and your professors have claimed every ounce of brain-matter in your body) But in these cases, we ought to say what we mean: "There are other things higher on the priorities list."

I used to say that about reading. There were other things higher on the priorities list: things like blogging so that I could keep connecting with readers and other writers; things like writing so I could legitimately keep up a writing blog. But after last year when I only remedied a scary, paltry book list by cramming in the last two or three months, I realized that the quality of my writing is directly related to the quantity of my reading. To state the case in perfect frankness: when I'm not reading, my writing suffers. It's that old problem of wearing out your brain in one channel; overusing your mind so that the activity wears a sore furrow in one place. Soon you'll find you're left with no inspiration, little wit, and small willingness or interest in moving along.

And I'm not talking about books that are related to writing or have something to do with the subject you are writing about. I'm talking about reading for reading's sake. I went to the library and picked up The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir, which is a deep look at Richard III's (alleged) murder of his nephews and how they figure it is probably true. I'm not writing (or planning to write) a book about the Wars of the Roses; it was simply an interesting book that I wanted to read. And I enjoyed it in its fullness and returned it on time to the library. (*smirk*) I remember Jenny saying something a long while ago about making time to read, even if it was one chapter before bed; I agree entirely. Bring a book into the kitchen while you make dinner. Bring one in the car on the way to your dance lessons or theatre practice. Read instead of planning another blog post or checking Facebook once more, or scouring Pinterest for that perfect face for one of your characters. None of you want to surrender yourselves to self-chosen ignorance. Imagine 'fessing up to that one: "I'd rather play Wii than read because my mind needs a break." Okay, so maybe you could use to be "brisked round and brisked about" but reading is a break for your mind because it uses a different part of your brain than writing does. Most often when we complain that our brains are tired, what we mean in actuality is that we've worn a sore furrow in that one corridor and it's complaining loudly.

Click out of your Word document. Close down the Facebook app or the Pinterest page. Shut the laptop completely (and who the heck wants a Kindle?) and take up one of your castaways. Crack the spine and crunch up a receipt for a bookmark, and remember the good old days when you "had time". Believe me, it's worth it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

All right, you can have a peep.

Don Pedro: "In faith, lady, you have a merry heart."
Beatrice: "Yea, my lord. I thank it, poor fool. It keeps on the windy side of care."
-Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing
The reason I have kept mum about The Baby in the last few posts is because I have not been working on The Baby. Logical enough. I have been working instead at The Windy Side of Care (currently titled thus), which is my novella for Anne Elisabeth Stengl's Five Glass Slippers contest. The reason for this is that my fall is filling up with several things that will be cutting out a total of at least three weeks' writing time and the final draft of my entry must be in by December. I want to finish the 25,000 words, get feedback, and edit all before that time and since any deadline on The Baby is self-imposed, I figured it could wait. I don't want to give too much of The Windy Side of Care away because if it doesn't make it as a winner in this particular contest, I might just Do Something With It, like publish it so you can have something of mine to read while I wait for all these others things to get properly published. (garump-guddy-rump) I did, however, think you might like a pitch and some snippets so you can see in which realm my brain has been working:
Lady Alis has never accepted the tale that her widowed father died and left her in the care of her step-mother, Laureldina; nowhere in the records can she find a man matching her alleged father's name, and her resemblance to the King of Ashby is too remarkable to ignore. Convinced that she was swapped at birth with the current Prince Auguste, Alis must stake her claim to the throne of Ashby before the prince's twenty-fourth birthday when he will be confirmed as the heir-proper. With the help of an errand-boy, an old woman, and a far-from-fairy godfather, Alis plots to take the throne. For all this careful planing, Alis never thought to fall in love, nor to murder the royal. But sometimes life--and love--is a bit risky on the windy side of care.

"If Auguste Blenheim the Pig had not stolen my birthright, dear Lord, would I be half as patient as I am?"
   The door to Laureldina's bedchamber was blocked by Charlotte Russe; it was a modern marvel how that great fat beast managed to get from one place to the other faster than I, a slender maiden, could. I suspected secret passages or teleportation, but that was unconfirmed.
   She took a bite of  toast with a dreamy sigh and rested the point of her chin in her hand. "J'adore mi amour."
   "Don't speak French, Vivienne." Clarisse rolled out of bed and pulled a yellow silk wrapper from the chair onto her curvaceous frame. "It's so inelegant."
   "But Clarisse, last month you told me it was the height of fashion."
Clarisse pushed me out of the way and hugged Vivienne's neck. "Of course I did dear. But that was before you started using it."
   "Well met, little shrew." William ran a hand over his smooth chin and shook his head, smiling at me. "You are the sort of harpie they write epics about, woman! The tongue on you is enough to cut a man at the knees and leave him begging for more."
   I kissed the letter to Lord Humphries with a prayer and handed it to Stockton. "He has agreed to help in any way he can and since I found that not a single Carlisle Bickersnath has ever lived or died in the kingdom..."
   "Never one? Gawwww." Stockton stuffed the last cookie in his mouth and slid off the stool. "Tha's just buildin' they army, ain't tha? First me and Ellen, now 'umphries...gawww."
   I pushed away from the wall, pressing my fingers against my temples to still the dizziness. "Well. I am safe...for now."
   "Safe from what?"
   William's sudden, sliding  voice sent a lightning-rod jolt up my spine and I wished for one moment that I was the kind of girl who fainted.
    "Ohhhh..blast it--do you know what I want to do? No, you would not guess; you're much too refined." With a quick step, Auguste grabbed Belkin by the jacket and shoved him toward the window, pressing the man's nose against the pane. "I want to go out there and find myself a plump village lass and kiss her--hard. Y'understand? I want to dig my hands in a dirty furrow and bring up a handful of potatoes and...and cook them myself. I want to ride Feather-Fellow at a full gallop and risk breaking my neck if I take a fancy for it, and I want to miss every Cabinet meeting from here till kingdom come!"
    It had been a mistake to come that close to him. William wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me close, resting his chin on my head. "Alis, Alis. What's a man to do?"
   Struggle was useless. I folded my wings like a stubborn bird and made my head as much like a stone as possible so he'd not find it comfortable to rest there. "Do about what? Ask Laureldina for the extra two weeks and we'll go up to Weircannon and all will be well; Vivienne and Clarisse know lots of people--I'm sure they could find you a nice girl."
...William released me and pushed me ahead of him toward the house. "I don't know..." he said. "Girls don't like my sisters, y'know. Men trouble and all that."
   Charlotte Russe waddled to my feet and batted the hem of my skirt as if to demand some solace after being deposited in a basement kitchen by a dirty cabman who swore and smelled like sardines.
   I leaned against the table, hands pressed on the cool wood, and stared at Ellen. "You are a conniving devil!"
   She shrugged her shoulders. "Eh, ah'm a woman. Which is mostly th'same thing."
   I patted Auguste on the shoulder and smiled at a passing cab-driver so we might not look like a trio in the throes of a political drama of national importance. "Perhaps we'd better speak somewhere else," I said. "And just a pointer: you really don't know how to speak to a woman."

There you go! I hope you enjoyed this peek at The Windy Side of Care because since it's a contest-piece I can't give you any more than that. (And rest assured, whatever you may think you didn't read anything vital to the plot so tweedle-dee. You're none the wiser. ;) If any of you are entering the contest I'd love to see snippets of yours story. I had two plots going and this one just flew away with me and is probably the strangest Cinderella-story I've ever read. The judges may not like it, but it makes me laugh so I'm glad I've taken the time. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Today's Cache: Things you must See

There are so many times that I come across a really awesome article, video, or thingamabobber and forget to tell other people about  it; I would, but I do forget. Because of this tendency of mine, I figured that today (while I've remembered) I would compile a post of must-sees, must-reads, and must-listens. Got it? These aren't just a random grouping of things (ahemahemahemmaybeso) but they are carefully selected for your viewing pleasure. May I present Today's Cache? You will not regret the time taken to look-watch-hear-etc., I swear on bended need.

If you've ever been a little puzzled by things like dialog tags vs. action beats (which I realize Go Teen Writers has covered as well) you will want to read this article. I was impressed with how succinct the Donna Ippolito was in her presentation of the topic and how much information (and humor) she pulled into the article. A great and concise explanation of the uses, differences, and key points of good and bad dialog.

If you follow me on Facebook (fun and hijinks and all that jazz), you will have seen this article by teen author Rachel Coker that had me looking at her with a raised eyebrow to wonder who authorized this girl to pop over into my brain and scoop out my personality to sell wholesale. Witness her crime:
Everything reminds us of a book–a story–a character. We zone out in line at the grocery store. We forget to take notes during lectures. We doodle on the edges of programs, bookmarks, and shopping lists. If you try to have a conversation with us, we might blink suddenly at the mention of a funny name or a pretty picture or interesting quote. We’re imagining how we can use it. How we can take these everyday details and moments and shape them into our own stories to share with the world.
See? Terrible stuff. You can't imagine how plagiarized I feel right now.

Contrary to popular sentiment, I did not begin to love Tom Hiddleston as an actor when I saw his portrayal of Loki. (or Return to Cranford) Really, girls? A greasy-haired pale dude with beetle-horns? I fell in love with his talent when I saw this video-clip of the rousing call to battle from Shakespeare's Henry V (Followed by his brief but wonderful role in War Horse). If you aren't feeling like shouting "FOR HARRY! FOR ENGLAND! AND FOR ST. GEORGE!" by the end of the clip, you have less heart than Loki...and that is saying something. Why is Tom Hiddleston mentioned on The Inkpen Authoress? Let's pretend Shakespeare's gripping words were the object here, m'kay? And to prove that they really really were the object, you have to watch....

When I watched this last night I was pretty much crying by the end. If we only had more leaders like Henry V as portrayed in Shakespeare's play! You think Tom Hiddleston's "Once more unto the breech, dear friends, once more" was touching? Hah. Watch this and go wish you had a sword or something with which to erratically dash off and whack France. If you have seen this film you will understand what I mean when I say that any man who watches an old friend hang and then walks about all night comforting his troops and then gives a speech like this and then carries his own dead across a battlefield and then commands his troops not to boast about it darn well deserves the best and most hilarious proposal-scene I've seen to date. 

This sneak-peek at Mirriam Neal's latest brainchild just served to excite me. I love cats...and talking ones at that....and people who are locked away in woodland homes and not allowed to fraternize with anyone? It sounds like the beginning of a deliciously dangerous fairy-tale and I honestly can't wait to see what comes of it! You ought to check out the link, which directs you to the first excerpt of the story. You will laugh; I dare you not to.

This post resounded with me not so much because I have trouble with the particular issue brought to light, but because I have seen other people have trouble with it so many times and it never fails to annoy me. Eyes can't roll on their own, nor can fingers wrap or anything of that nature. (This is almost as vexing as when people use "smiled" as a legitimate dialog-tag right as if it meant to same thing as "said" or "asked". Ugh.) Definitely worth a read because I know--believe me here--that it's a far more prevalent mistake than anyone else would like to acknowledge.

Well, those are my favorite finds and links for the week, and I  do hope you'll take the time to read and watch them. Go on. Scroll back up and start at Thing One and make sure you get your daily dose of Shakespeare. Come on. Give up a little of your *groansigh* precious *sighgroan* little Doctor Who time and internet-usage and get a little bit of manly battle-speak. You won't regret it. Toodle-lah! 

Friday, September 6, 2013

My Life is Prose

I suppose you could date this post back to Abigail's post all about college and the day-to-day happenings of her life. I was thinking about the movie-reels I make in my mind of the lives of my online friends out of the snapshot happenings they give me, and wondered just how correct my picture of their everydayness could be with so little to go on? I figured that some of you might have a wrong perception of my life in return, so I figured it might amuse you to read about a real day in the life of Rachel Heffington, Authoress.

~   ***   ~

   My alarm with the theme music from Captain America goes off around 6:30. I roll over, silence it, and go back to sleep till Dad comes in at 7:00.
   "Rise and shine, girls. I've let you sleep in; time to get up." His words are invariable. This is how I've been awakened every morning for as long as he's been waking us up.
   I don't mind being awakened since I like the morning. Sarah's another matter; I let her sleep while I take a shower, then I get dressed and rouse her again.: "Dad says it's time to get up so you might wanna wake up."
   She mumbles assent, grabs her iPod, and flops out of bed. I head downstairs with my Samsung Galaxy tab in hand and check emails as I make breakfast and button clothes for the little ones.  Jimsie (Levi) toddles in looking for a snack so I kiss him and sit him on the counter where he looks at the matches and talks about "a boxful of little fires." I've always got my tablet or my current book at this hour; you waste precious time cooking eggs and bacon with two hands.
  Mama and Dad finish their prayer-time together and we gather at the table. I'm sent to howl for the girls from the bottom of the stairwell, or I send one of the younger kids to oust them from their sweet sleep. Anna and Leah stumble downstairs last and grab the milking pails, heading out to take care of our frighteningly productive herd of goats.
   Dad stops them; they know we're supposed to eat breakfast as a family so they'll have to wait till after the meal to milk the goats. Anna grumbles and slings herself into her chair, the short pieces of hair around her face aiding in her disgruntled appearance; Leah fixes a cup of coffee, loudly complains that all we have for cream is goat's milk which she has formed a round campaign against,  and plops in the chair across from me. Little Gracie blesses the food (not leaving out the dead dog, the dead neighbor, and our older brother's good night's sleep) and we eat while discussing everything from why you can sometimes see the moon in the day, to who has been concocting plans for the weekend without consulting the family schedule, to how they make Pringle's chips and which lines in The Sound of Music we used to misquote.
   At some point in the melee, Dad declares a state of silence and brings out his iPhone to read the day's chapter from Oswald Chambers's My Utmost for His Highest; we're quiet. Most of the time I listen but sometimes without my consent, my mind takes a walk with a new story idea and I snap back to a frightened attention as Dad reads the last sentence of the devotional. I pray he won't quiz me on what we just read, but I know he'd laugh if he called on me and I confessed ignorance; my writing-induced ditziness amuses him.

   After the final prayer, the silence explodes like a dam bursting and the house will not be quiet again till school-time. We're always singing: sometimes the same song in harmony, sometimes six different songs at once. I'll hum Colbie Callait, while Anna warbles "Nella Fantasia", Grace and Abby sing "On my Own," and Sarah and Leah come in swinging the milk-pail and bellowing "Haven't Met You Yet". None of us stops and joins the others; we just keep on our merry way, each belting out her own tune. This is how we discover so many brilliant mash-ups, I'm convinced.
  Dad summons those of us whose turn it is to work in the landscape business for the day. If it's my turn, I grab a book or three, head out, and never get home till 9:30. These days I don't have time for writing, but I do manage to get in a concentrated hour of reading while we make the trek into town. He usually takes two or three of us, and we seldom know till breakfast who will be home and who will be working.

    If I'm not working, I finish the chores and Mama starts school with the kids. I head upstairs to pretty myself up and put on makeup, clean my room, put away laundry, and what-not. When that is finished, I go my Lair: the place which never ceases to soothe the soul. Now is my time to plan lessons, get in my writing quota, respond to emails, write blog-posts, and read other writers' blogs. I click into my iTunes account and turn on Kate Rusby with the volume down low, and start plunking. Generally I can get over a thousand words in one hour, leaving time for my other pursuits. If I have an especially inspired day, I'll work in two different stories and give adequate attention to each. (but not very often.) During the spring and summer, however, I seldom have the leisure of this slot of time at all; we spend all morning working in the gardens. If I do have the slot, however, I am generally Laired till lunchtime when I descend from my eyrie to scrape up something for lunch.
  There is no family meal-table for lunch: we sit here, there, and everywhere, and often I'll take my plate and a book out to the porch, enjoying the view for ten minutes before it gets any later in the afternoon and the sun is too harsh in one's eyes to read. When we built the house, the decision to face the front toward the West was intentional--we have a gorgeous and unimpaired view of the sunset; but toward 3:00 we must draw the blinds or else blink like moles upturned from their furrows of earth till the blaze lessens in fury. After the lunch-break it's back to washing dishes, sweeping, running laundry, etc.

    Afternoon is the time when (if I'm not at work or watching the kids or doing something for Dad) I have time to take an Agatha Christie or The Mind of the Maker or whatever pet-book of which I am in the process of reading, and stow myself away somewhere. I can't read sitting upright--it's just not my thing, so I sprawl on a couch or sit on the porch with my feet propped on the railing, or lay on the floor of my Lair; sometimes I'll read aloud if it's a difficult piece of work and I understand it so much the better. If the sunlight is gentle enough to bear sitting on the porch, I choose that and Cricket comes to curl in my lap and sit on my book and generally make a feline nuisance of herself till I ease my novel out from under her and pet her absentmindedly with one hand. Generally speaking, though, I don't have much leisure in the afternoons: this is the chunk of time when I teach the classes I prepare for, or watch the kids while Mama does the grocery shopping (or do the shopping myself), and when 4:30 comes around I begin the lengthy and involved process of making dinner for a family of ten.
   A curious trait of my character is that I must have a recipe to get me started (i.e. a goal set before my eyes of what I intend to make) but I never stick to the recipe once I've read it; philosophers would have a heyday with that one, I'm certain. Often I will search online for half an hour for a recipe that sounds good, then look at the ingredients list, realize I have none of the ingredients or could make it so much more creative, and ditch the instructions. By default, I end up making dinner pretty much every night. (except, of course, when I'm working.) I actually enjoy the different sort of creativity which cooking for a large and often impecunious family requires--substituting anything for everything is rather good practice, you know. Plus, as I said about breakfast, I can cook with one hand and read with the other; you don't actually have to watch the food, I've discovered. A quick glance now and then to be sure you aren't holding your book too close to the flame or that the roux isn't burning is quite good enough. In between batches of pots and pans on the stove, I step outside onto the porch to watch the sunset with Jimsie who, by this point, is usually getting fractious and needs the distraction as much as I.
    "Look at that sunset," I say to him as we sit on the sun-baked bricks of the front steps. This is our familiar catechism, and I watch to see if he'll catch my unspoken question.
    His blue eyes flick up to the sky and the dimples show in his baby-face. "God made it."
     "Yeahhh," I say, rewarding him with a kiss. "God made that sunset for you."

 As pleasant as it is to sit with an adorable toddler on the porch in a wash of sunset, the second half of evening-work still calls; the girls milk again and I wash up the dishes and call the little girls from folding laundry to setting the table. Then we eat, sometimes with Dad and the work crew, sometimes not, and the third (or fourth) round of chores commences. Jimsie gets his bath now, or else it's straight to bed with him. Depending on the day of the week there is a different sister whose job it is to tuck the little ones in; when it's my turn we brush his teeth, change him, have a tickling session, and settle down in Mama's rocker where he requires at least two stories: one about birds and another about cows. I fluff his pillow and he nestles down in his crib with a content sigh. I rub his back and pray with him, then sit in the dim light coming from the crack in the bathroom door and read or check emails on my tablet while Jimsie (and Grace) falls to sleep.
   By the time he is asleep and Abby has been tucked in, it is generally 8:30. The evening is fair game now; if I have not had time to write, I'll slip into my Lair and wearily plunk out as many words as are left in my bones. On the days of happier schedules, I will have already accomplished this and can watch a movie with the girls.
   Dad is the warden of our sleep and, to his credit, begins to sound the closing bells around 10:00 so that if we went to bed when he first suggested it we should not have any trouble waking at 6:30 when our alarms go off. But Mama has taught us to be night-owls and we never do listen; Dad goes round like the Town Crier two or three times more till 11:00 has come and gone and finally our movie or discussion is finished and we're ready to call it a wrap. I stand at the front door and call Cricket who never listens either. After a few summonses, she is relegated to a night outside and I lock the front door and head upstairs.
   Sarah and I change and get ready for bed, and squeeze in a little bit of reading before one of us decides to turn out the light. We have our sparring and debates at this hour if one of us is in a philosophic mood, but more often than not we're simply very tired and drift off to sleep with a quiet "Good-night" that is echoed by the wider-awake one of us.

 ~   ***   ~

This is my life in prose. It has never been a normal life, as the schedule is forever cut apart by being summoned to landscaping duties or handyman-ing or grocery shopping or baseball practice. Some days I don't get a single word written, and it can be frustrating. But if you could make a mosaic "normal day" out of these shards, there it is. I hope I haven't bored you with this recitation of ordinary things, and that you'll be better able to understand why my word-count is occasionally so low or why I am not the young-lady-writer who has the ability to do nothing but write all day. Literary pursuits do encounter real life and I've found it is possible to submit the one to the other and still realize both. If you are determined, though you may have a prosaic and disjointed life like mine, you'll come to realize that one doesn't need a clear schedule or gobs of solitude if one is to be a writer. One must only have a plan and learn to ease dreams into the cracks of life and sooner or later you'll find that the dreams are so woven into reality that they've become reality...and they're all the stronger for it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Fraulein, you are obviously many things, not the least of which is repetitious."

I do not want to let slide all the questions you asked me a couple of weeks ago, so I think I'll just go ahead  and answer them all in this post! They are not particularly philosophical questions, so a line or two in answer to each will certainly be adequate and probably less confusing for you readers than trying to devote an entire post to a single inquiry. Got it? Okay.

Bree asked: "To which character in The Baby to you feel most sympathetic? To which can you most relate?" Though there are several characters to whom I feel much sympathy, I believe The Queen would be the one who garners most from me. You want to hate her simply because she's the whole reason a child was stolen, but you just can't. She is the sort of woman who would not have been royalty if she hadn't had a brother ambitious enough for both of them, and though she rules well, she is a little bewildered and only comes out of her bewilderment when in the presence of her baby, the Prince of Crissendumm.
I can most relate, probably, to Jamsie or Smidgen; both are trying to keep the scraps of their family together, both are finding certain aspects of that responsibility a challenge, both have a lot at stake. I can relate not because my family is falling apart, but because if it ever came to that, I'd feel like the responsible party. I can also relate to Starling, though, as far as longing for certain things that seem impossible, and going about the Palace making odd observations and remarks. That is not to say that these three are my favorite, but that I can most relate to them. I think at present The Admiral is my absolute favorite, and now I've got Elisabeth on board with me in that respect which makes me happy.

Bree also asked: "What age-range are you aiming for with this book?" Technically speaking, it is for ages 12 and up. Jamsie and Richmond, the principle characters, are thirteen and twelve respectively (I think? I forget now) so it is a little young to be classified as Y/A fiction. But it's not mid-grade fiction - the themes and complexities are a little advanced for middle-schoolers, I think, though I saw recently that middle-schoolers were being required to read The Scarlet Letter. I mean, honestly? You'll soon tell me that Bleak House is required reading in kindergarten. I have always enjoyed "children's" books, so I think identifying with one age-range (while easier for marketing) lessens the value that an all-encompassing range would have. I think that many readers in many age-ranges will enjoy The Baby. The side-characters are, for the most part, out of their teens, so there are plenty of adults to interest older readers.

And: "Who is The Baby, or is that Top Secret?" The ambiguity of The Baby's identity is purposeful and inevitable. You will have to wait to read the book for a full explanation.

And: How long is the project currently? (and how long to you expect it to be?) Currently, The Baby is a sorry little 21,000 words long. I still have much of the plot to write, but it is not going to be a hefty book. I hope to reach 70-80,000 words.  Lots of work to do. *sigh*. I have been busy with plotting and detailing, but there has not been over-much writing going on. The trouble with building word-count for me seems to be all the alleys I could go down with my fascinating side-characters, and knowing me, I have to be careful not to give them too much of the stage. (good luck with that.)

Esther asked a mash of simple questions that I can answer quickly:

1. Are the Baby, Jamsie, and Richmond the only earth-folk in Crissendum at the moment? One can never be quite sure, can they? The thing is, the citizens of Crissendumm often visit this world, but this world is rather ignorant of the existence of their world, so apart from tumbling down The Puddle or another portal, people seldom go there.

2. In whose household is Starling? The Queen's household. At the start of the book, Starling is an unfortunate undermaid's undermaid.

3. How old are Jamsie, Richmond, Smidgen, and Starling? Jamsie is thirteen, almost fourteen; Richmond is twelve, almost thirteen. Smidgen never exactly tells us his age, but I'd warrant he's in line with Richmond. Starling is sixteen, but very small for her age.

4.  Falling into Crissendum is apparently simple enough, since your characters did it accidentally. Is it as easy to fall out? Does the puddle go both ways? There are several portals in and out of Crissendumm. One would be sailing off the edge of the world, because in Crissendumm, this is still possible. Another method is stepping in the arch formed by the Nodding Twins, two ancient willows. This dumps you out somewhere in a wood in America and is a mischievous way, because you're never sure which wood. There are other ways, like stepping through a certain reflection of a reflection into the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, which can be a bit awkward. The portals are all marked on the globes made in Crissendumm, and are common knowledge. It is a rule with the portals that they can only work one direction each trip, so you have to exit by a different portal; this keeps traffic to a low. Imagine banging into someone careening down one way while you were shooting up the opposite direction? Road-kill in such instances would be difficult to clean up. 

5. Who is this John character? John Brady is Leona's love interest, and Leona is Smidgen's sister. John is a teacher at Whiskin's Abbey at the beginning of his contracted term of four years, and thus tied to life as a monk for the interim. 

And for the very last question, Bree asked if I could give you a proper introduction to Crissendumm. I shall refer all of you who are curious to Crissendumm: A World Inside a World where I explain lots and lots about this strange place. I hope my answers satisfied you, and thank you so much for asking; I love to delve into the whys and wherefores thereof. :)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Author Interviews: Sarah Sundin "On Distant Shores"

You will remember when I read Sarah Sundin's With Every Letter and enjoyed it so much I ended up interviewing her on The Inkpen Authoress? Well, when I heard that her newest book, On Distant Shores, released, I sent her an email and asked if she'd be willing to be featured again.

 See, one of the things I like best about Sarah's books are how well researched they are. Her historical novels might not be the ones with the massive driving plots or the wild action, but they are accurate as all get-out and the characters get at you in a way that is not so frequent as you might think. In short, I love what of Sarah's work I have read, and I think you will too.

  1. As a published author, which are your favorite and least-favorite parts of the responsibility of promotions?
Like most authors, I’m not fond of promotion. I love the “interact with readers” part of it—Facebook, email, things like that. I don’t care for blogging or writing articles, and I dislike when I need to post too many things about my books or myself within a short period of time. Book release months can feel a bit icky—and yet they’re a lot of fun too.
  1. What is your favorite method for historical research?
Whatever does the job. I start with general books, peruse bibliographies for more specialized books, search the internet, contact museums and experts, and visit the settings when I can.
  1. I know you have been to a couple of the places featured in your books, but when traveling to your setting is not an option, how do you ascertain that your portrayal of the places and people are accurate and believable?
That’s always a challenge. I love Google Maps “Man on the Street” feature where you can “drive” down the streets and enjoy a panoramic view. However, this shows me the sites in 2013. I have to watch out for what has changed and what hasn’t. I like to read firsthand accounts from people who were there for the bits of color.
  1. Georgie sounds quite a lot like how I would have been if I was in the military during WWII. :) Describe her to us, and tell us how she became involved in the military in the first place!
Georgie was fun to write. She’s a perky people-person with a huge heart—but she struggles with fears, and she’s used to turning to friends and family to make decisions. In fact, she joined the Army Nurse Corps and became a flight nurse all to be with her best friend, Rose. When she’s faced with the dangers of the combat zone, she’s afraid she’s in over her head.
  1. Your first book in the Wings of the Nightingale Series, With Every Letter was about Mellie Blake, On Distant Shores is about Georgie Taylor, and you have told us that the third book will be about the final gal in the tight-knit trio. If this isn't too much of a "choose your favorite child" question, can you tell us which heroine is your favorite and/or which most resembles your personality?
It’s definitely “choose your favorite child.” Mellie, Georgie, and Kay couldn’t be more different, but I completely loved writing from each point of view and adore each of these women. Mellie’s personality is definitely closest to my own—an introvert who never fit in when she was younger, but learns to embrace friendship.
  1. In another interview you mentioned that your sons like to read your novels more than your daughter - do you have any idea why, and have your charming literary-ladies set a high standard for your sons' idea of a suitable wife? ;) {not that this would be a bad thing. Any guy would be lucky to win a Mellie's heart.}
That’s still true about my children. I’m not quite sure why the boys (15 and 20) like the books—except that I do blow things up. That’s important. My daughter (17) just feels uncomfortable reading romances her mother wrote. Eww. I understand.
As for the feminine standard, I hope my books would help. My heroines are realistic women with strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, dreams and hang-ups. I hope the stories would help the boys understand real women and how they work. For the same reason, my heroes are well-rounded, so young women will have realistic expectations on how men act—it’s rarely flowers and poetry and effusive compliments.
  1. Your computer crashes and you lose a third of your book. (God forbid.) Your first reaction: 
    The paralysis of sheer terror. Followed quickly by freaking out.
  2. Your son or husband or the technician comes in and finds the lost work; everything's peachy-keen. Your reaction to that initial reaction:
Embarrassment at the freaking out. Profuse apologies for the freaking out. Over-the-top gratitude.
  1. You are handed plane tickets to go on a research trip to anyplace in the whole world except where your novels are currently set. Which continent do you choose, and what sort of story might you decide to write?
Well, that’s not very nice. Right now I want to go to Boston or take a cruise on the North Atlantic to research my next series. And the last thing I need is a new story idea to distract me. How about Hawaii? That would be very inspirational.
  1. Some authors swear by reading books in their genre during the writing-stage of their novel. Others consider that the most counter-productive thing they could ever do. Where do you stand on this?
No problem. I read what I like, in and out of my genre. I do try to keep up with the other WWII novels on the market to make sure I’m not duplicating story or character elements—and because I love a good WWII story. I also like to direct my readers to these other books, because they’re usually hungry for more. And I only write one book a year!
  1. What is your favorite snack to eat while writing, or are you one of those creatures who can exist on lukewarm tea and no sleep?
Gumdrops, tea, chocolate, coffee—all good. While writing In Perfect Time (August 2014), I started chewing gum because my hyperactive drummer/pilot hero is a gum-chewer. I found it burns off my nervous energy when writing and reduces gumdrop consumption.
  1. Ocean or mountains to rest up and recharge?
Yes, please I love the ocean. I love the mountains. Both are inspiring and relaxing and rejuvenating to me.
  1. What is your favorite book on writing how-to?
I have a trio. Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey for story structure and plot development, Brandilyn Collins’s Getting into Character for character development, and Dave King and Renni Browne’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers for good general fiction writing conventions.
  1. Are you a shoe-queen or a barefoot girl?
Neither. I don’t go barefoot because my feet get too callused, but shoes are just…shoes…to me. I like a good comfortable pair, cuteness is always fun, but I wear my favorites long past their fashion expiration date and refuse to pay much for new shoes. I’m disgustingly practical.
  1. Have you ever read an Amish romance, and if so, did you like it?
I have. It isn’t my favorite genre, but I read Suzanne Woods Fisher’s books at first because she’s a personal friend—and I love them! She includes lots of humor, and her characters are complex, realistically flawed, and different.
  1. Which do you love best: your cat or your well-meaning-but-destructive dog?

My cat. I’ve always loved cats best. But Daisy the yellow lab grows on you—she’s a true character. And she’s Facebook gold—any post where I mention Daisy gets twice as many comments as any other post. By far.

What a fun interview! Thanks so much, Sarah, for participating. And she didn't only participate in the interview; Sarah has agreed to give away a copy of On Distant Shores to one blessed reader! To enter, leave a comment on this post with your email address. That will earn you one entry. For extra entries, follow Sarah's blog, share the giveaway on Facebook, your blog, or Google+, and come back here with another comment to tell me what you did! The winner of the entry will be drawn next Wednesday, so don't forget to check back. Again, thank you for the interview, Sarah, and congratulations on the release of On Distant Shores