Category: Uncategorised (page 1 of 7)

What Makes a Good Cover?

 

I’m at a stage in my writing where I’m looking at cover designs for a new release of Christmas short stories. Wanting to do it “right,” I Googled best selling e-books, holidays  on amazon.com.    A glance at all those naked torsos made me laugh and decide I’d better try another category.  There is not a naked male in any of my stories where the tone is light, whimsical, and just a bit magical.

This time I tried “clean and wholesome.”  The tone is more suited to my stories but a lot of the covers seemed dark, to my eye.  Maybe it’s my age, but reading a title against a black or navy or even dark red background is hard work.  I know, I can magnify the image, but if I were a reader hunting through a long list of Christmas anthologies, I doubt I’d have the patience to enlarge each image.  I’m more apt to pause at the one that catches my eye without any effort on my part.

A quick search of “anthologies,” presented even more black-toned covers.  I know many best selling authors  tend toward this style and readers must like them or the authors wouldn’t be “best selling.”  Still, if I’m looking for a cover for my book, I want it to be pleasing to my eye.

The first page under “historicals,” provided a little more colour, but most had too much heat for my, as yet unpublished, anthology.

Finally I had a look at some of my favourite authors’ covers. Debbie MacComber covers have the right tone for my stories.  There is a softness about them and a sense of “home” that appeals to me, and reflects the mood of the stories I tell. Lisa Wingate has some beautiful covers, at least I think they are. Robyn Carr uses flowers and beaches and porches.  Light, cheerful colours make me want to open those books.

I found sponsored ads on the amazon pages of these writers that caught me up short. The covers were nothing like the ones the marquee authors used and I wonder if the stories were similar.  These are sponsored ads, so Debbie MacComber, etc. are not endorsing either the covers or the stories.  It behoves readers to check out those sponsored ads carefully and not assume the books are similar to the top-name writers.

It’s important to know one’s limitations, so in the end, I turned to the fabulous Dawn Charles at Book Graphics to create a cover for my stories. I know she’ll do a good job and she’s lots of fun to work with, but I’m still interested in what readers look for in a cover.

Do you like black? Do you like lots of muscled torsos?  Do flowers make you yawn?

Leave a comment and I’ll put you in a draw for the new book. Winner announced  Nov. 1, 2017.

Today’s blog is a promo for a friend of mine.  Jacquie Biggar and I are in the same critique group, so I get to read her books as they are being written.  I’m always hooked on the first page, so I’m happy to recommend her latest.  Hope you enjoy it too.

 

HOLD ‘EM:
A GAMBLING HEARTS NOVEL

by Jacquie Biggar

Continue reading

Transition

My personal life is in transition right now, and it’s making me a bit grumpy. Of course, life is always evolving, always changing, but some changes , like marriage, or a new baby, or a disaster, or a lottery win, are more immediate and more disruptive than others.

As an author, I find change, especially big, unexpected change, fodder for the imagination. Many books on writing recommend “begin at the moment of change.”  And when I think about it, I believe I’ve read a number of books that begin with a marriage, or a new baby, or a disaster, or a windfall of fortune.  They’re great stories, that yank the reader into the lives of the characters with the first sentence.  The rest of the book explores the ramifications of that big change at the beginning, and follows the protagonist through the adjustments she makes until she emerges at the end of the story with a new normal.  If it’s a romance, that new normal results in happily-ever-after.

The book I’m reading right now concerns an orphan in the mid-twentieth century. Talk about transitions!  Each family she lives with wants to change her.  They don’t like her hair, they don’t like her speech, the don’t like her name.  During the course of her life her name is changed several times, merely to satisfy the sensibilities of others.

Classics, like Pride and Prejudice, begin with change – a newcomer to the district. Mysteries often start with a murder, a major transition if ever there was one.  Regencies frequently begin with a young woman becoming an orphan, cast on the good graces (or not) of her relatives.  A friend of mine is writing a story that begins with a jilting.  Runaway Bride, starring Julia Roberts used that premise as well.  In my book, The Man for Her, the story opens with the appearance of a man the heroine thought was dead.

Some transitions are less traumatic – a holiday, beginning university, starting a first job – but even such “tame” changes can generate a spellbinding story. Alice Munro, in her short story, “Runaway” begins with a neighbour returning from a holiday.  Such a small change, yet it triggers a whole chain of events that change the heroine’s life..

The change in my life is not earth-shattering or traumatic, it’s merely unsettling. But, as an author, I have the opportunity to experience first-hand the emotional effect of a life changing event.  This is why writers keep journals.  Not only does a journal give me place to store ideas, impressions and insights, it gives me a safe place to write out my grumpiness so I can get on with enjoying my life, and all the changes that mark our days.

So, here’s to change — may it keep us involved and growing and learning.

Homecoming

I’m just home from a trip to Newfoundland.  I’ve long wanted to visit Canada’s most easterly province.  At one time I naively thought I could “do” the Maritimes all in one sweep.  Once I got my geography straight, I realized that our oldest settlement (St. John’s,  1583) and newest province warranted a trip all by itself.  For the purists among you, Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, as Canada’s tenth province.  Nunavut, created in 1999 is a territory.

The island is nicknamed “The Rock,” and I certainly learned why during our 3000 km journey. Rocks and trees and lakes, for miles and miles and miles, although in NL they use the word pond.  Only a couple of very large inland bodies of water got the lake designation.  Oddly, once I’d adjusted my West Coast expectations, the landscape began to feel familiar.  I grew up on the Canadian Shield in Northern Ontario, so  Precambrian rock and glaciations are home turf for me.  I felt at ease in this wilderness.

We journeyed to L’Anse aux Meadows, away at the northern most tip of the island, to see the remains of the Viking village that was established there five hundred years before Columbus “sailed the ocean blue.”  Here we learned that some vegetation like Lingonberries (Partridge berries in Newfoundland vernacular) were also found in Norway.  The area also contains bog iron, a necessary ingredient for forging, and a staple in the Norse culture.  Those adventurous seafarers chose to build a village in a place that reminded them of home.

 

One of the most striking features of Newfoundland culture, is the people’s attachment to their homeland.  Economic hard times have meant droves of Newfoundlanders have had to leave home in search of work, but no matter where they find themselves in the world, their deep desire is to return to “the Rock.”

For myself, I enjoyed my explorations, but I felt a lift of the heart when I started for home. I craved the comfort and ease and familiarity of my own place and my own things and my own people.

 

As writers, we can use that longing for home to give our readers an uplifting journey that, takes them to new places, excites them, frightens them, teaches them, and eventually brings them home with a smile. We can instil that sense of familiarity and safety with the author’s voice, the type of story, and the core truth of our tales. 

When a reader picks up a book by Alice Valdal, she has certain expectations.  It’s my job to make sure those expectations are met.  When the same reader delves into a novel by Cora Seton, the expectations are different, and Ms Seton must work hard to satisfy her reader, too.

  Readers love to venture into new places, new situations, different times, but, I believe, they want to come home safely at the end.  That desire is a powerful tool for the writer.  Use it wisely, make your readers happy, and watch your sales grow.

Short Story

I’ve been talking about Dreams and Promises, a collection of Canadian short stories, on this blog, and about my own story, When the Boys Came Home.

Since KDP rules preclude my sharing the story here, I’ve written a prequel for my readers.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

When the Boys Came Home – Prequel

 

 June 1920

 Pte. George Weston stood on the deck of RMS Olympia, watching the coastline of Great Britain fade to a distant smudge on the grey sea. He knew he’d watched this scene in reverse five years ago, but not a moment of it remained in his memory.

He turned to the woman at his side. “Regrets?” he asked.

Mabel Featherley shook her head. “Of course I’ll miss home and family, and friends.  But this is the right thing to do.”

He drew a deep breath and expelled it in a long sigh. As usual, his nurse made him feel safe.  Had he always been this uncertain, he wondered.  Had he always been afraid?  It was a damnable thing when a man couldn’t remember himself.  For the past couple of years, convalescing in hospital, he’d believed himself a wounded English soldier.  Then Harry showed up and George learned he was a Canadian, Pte George Weston of the Second Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  His mother had been notified he was missing in action in 1917, after Passchendaele.  Now he was headed home to Glencove, Ontario.  He didn’t know if he was more excited or scared at the prospect of going home to a place he could not recollect and a family who were strangers to him.

“Only another week.” Pte. Harry Peters, leaning on the rail on George’s other side rolled a cigarette and stuck it in his mouth.  “ One week and we’ll be home.”  He struck a match and held it to the cigarette, then drew on the smoke and exhaled a long, tobacco fuelled breath.  “Whatever that means.”

“Peace? Safety? A loving welcome?” George asked the questions that plagued his own mind.

“Maybe,” Harry smoked thoughtfully, “maybe not. The army despised POW’s.  Who’s to say the country won’t too?”

The rest of the story is available free in my newsletter.  You can subscribe using the button on the right hand column of this page.

Cover Design

I’m learning something new this week, cover design. I’m part of a group who has written an anthology of short stories to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.  When the project began, I was assured someone else would handle all the formatting, uploading, etc.  Then, last week, authors began creating covers for their individual stories.  So, I had to learn something new in a hurry. 

 

My story is about a WWI soldier who returns to Canada with amnesia.  He has forgotten he is engaged to the heroine and brings an English fiancée with him.  Will he get his memory back?  Which woman will he choose?

 

What do you think? Which of these covers do you prefer?  Please use the comment section to record your choice.  I’d love to hear your reasons, too.

Down Time

 

We’ve had a long weekend where I live so I took some time for rest and recreation. These photos will show just how restful the days were.

 

 

Then it was time to plant the garden. Not so restful but full of re-creation.

Not exactly an artist’s date as defined by Julia Cameron but still a weekend of filling the well.

To all who celebrated Victoria Day this weekend, I hope you came back to work renewed.  To those who will mark Memorial Day next weekend, I wish the same for you.

Civic Privilege

I’m writing this blog while on duty for the provincial election. Our church is a polling station and a member of the congregation must be present at all times.  It’s a small duty.  I need to show people where the washrooms are and where we keep the coffee cups.  In an extreme case, I can shut off the water and electricity.  I’m playing a very small role in public life and I’m glad to do it.  High school social studies courses talk about “civic duty,” but I’m inclined to call it “civic privilege.”  I’m blessed to live in a land with a free vote, a free press and freedom of assembly, among other things.  I’m honoured to contribute to that society.

Another example of civic privilege occurred in our city this weekend with the Times-Colonist book sale.  For the past twenty years our local newspaper has organized a gigantic used book sale.  Members of the public are encouraged to clear out their unwanted books and donate them to the sale.  An army of volunteers unpacks them, sorts them, lays them out on tables and returns forgotten photos or stashes of money found between the covers.  The proceeds of the sale go to literacy programs in area schools.

It all began as a one-off idea by a concerned citizen, worried about cuts in the education budget.  The newspaper editor agreed.  Expecting only a few boxes, he offered to store them in his office until sale day.  It wasn’t long until he realized his mistake.  When the paper published a request for used books they were overwhelmed by the response.  Tens of thousands of volumes appeared on their doorstep.  That first sale raised $20,500.00.  Over it’s life-time the sale has raised $5,000,000.00 for local schools and reading programs. 

Not only do schools receive a generous cheque, the day after the sale teachers are invited to come in and scoop up the leftovers for free.  (Books sell for $1.00, $2.00 and $3.00)  After the teachers, local charity stores stock up their shelves.  This year the city police department came in and made off with a few bundles of free reading for prisoners in the cells.  What can’t be sold is sent to an international charity that donates books around the world.  My old coffee table book may end up in a mission school in Africa.

The one-off idea failed.  The book sale is now a feature of our community life.  The local curling club has become the sorting/selling hub of the enterprise.  An army of volunteers plans their vacations around the book sale.  New friendships are forged, old acquaintances renewed, and books get into the hands of readers.  It’s a win/win/win for everyone.  It couldn’t happen without good citizens, people who step up to fill a need, people who get behind a great idea, people who make a difference.

So, as I donate a little time to ensure my civic privileges, I’m proud to be part of such a caring, sharing, and responsible community.  Happy voting, everyone.

Morning Pages – My Take

 Following on from last week’s thoughts on meditation, this week’s blog features another way of clearing static from the mind, morning pages.

Julia Cameron, in her seminal book for writers, The Artist’s Way, insists that morning pages –three long-hand pages of stream-of-consciousness writing — are essential to the creative process.  Her theory is that we purge ourselves of mind static by writing it all down on the morning pages and are then free to get on with our work of creativity.

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, instructs her students to start with childhood memories in their quest to “tell the truth” in stories.

I try to combine these two pieces of advice in my writing exercises.  Yes, I do writing exercises.  Just like a pianist practices scales, every artist/performer must keep her tools in good working order.  In other words, practice.  Many of my writer friends consider morning pages a waste of time.  The thirty minutes spent spewing drivel — their words, not mine — could be better spent on the current work.  That may be true for some, but I find doing some exercises before getting into the real work of the day, makes that real work more enjoyable, more poetic and more “true.”  However, I do choose which exercise to practice.

If my vocabulary seems to have shrunk to the same ten verbs repeated over and over, I do a “beautiful words” exercise.  Some words resonate with me, perhaps not with you, but the morning pages are for the writer not the reader.  So, I’ll fill a page with words like lilacs, lady, lavender, lollygag, lamp, luggage, lily, lollapalooza . . .  It doesn’t really matter what the words are, I’m just opening my mind to the beauty of language and calling some of those buried syllables to the forefront.  When I’ve finished, I go to my WIP and the words, that have been laboured and blocked,  now flow joyfully.

Often I’ll use my morning pages to create emotion.  Here’s where the instruction to start with childhood memories is invaluable.  As adults we’ve learned to be civilized, to bite down on harsh words, to take a balanced approach.  As adults, we’ve learned to flat-line our emotions.  As children, we had no such constraints.  If we were happy, we were ecstatic, if we were angry, we were in a red-hot fury, if we were hurt our very souls wept with the pain.  If the scene in my story demands that my heroine be angry, I’ll do a writing exercise recalling a moment in childhood or the teenage years when I shook my fist in the face of my tormentor and shouted out my righteous rage.

To make these exercises effective for the story teller, they must go into detail.  Remember the room you were in when the event took place.  Describe it in every tiny detail.  Try to recall if there was music or bird song or the hum of a furnace.  What did it smell like?  What were you wearing?  In the morning pages, you want to go deep into your memory.  As well as putting you in the appropriate emotional state, the writing will put you into deep point-of-view as well.  The scene you write after this writing practice will be more “true” than any you made up out of your conscious mind.  Don’t worry about running out of material.  Flannery O’Connor   said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.

Morning pages can take the form of character interviews or a diary entry.  Here is where I explore my character, sound out her childhood memories, let her dream without constraint of money or time or circumstance.  When I put that character into the story, most of what I wrote in the morning pages will never make the published page, but the essence of what I wrote, forms the character and the more “true” that character is, the better the story.

Make up your own writing exercises.  Practice them.  See if it doesn’t make your writing – or painting, or sewing, or teaching or gardening – more satisfying.

If you haven’t read “he Artist’s Way, or Bird by Bird I highly recommend them.

Blurb

 

My apologies to anyone who received repeated posts on E. Pauline Johnson. This website has been the victim of some malicious hacker.  The nasties were too deep to clean, so we had to rebuild the whole site.  My techie assures me it now safe.  Why are there so many evil-doers in the world and what benefit do they gain from turning innocent people’s lives upside down, not to mention the cost!  Okay, enough rant.  On to writing business.

 

Recently I attended a workshop on writing the back cover blurb to your story. The instructor was the fabulous Shelley Adina Sneft Bates – she writes under all those names –and the worksheet looked straightforward.

To begin she told us to write a “shout line.” That’s the line that goes at the top of your back blurb, maybe on your website or advertising copy.  It’s a single sentence that intrigues the reader and suggests something about the story.

I’m no good at summarizing a whole book into one line, but my attempt, “You’ll need a rifle,” said the preacher, Received applause and a big thumbs up.  I felt pretty good.

The first paragraph of the blurb on a romance novel is supposed to talk about the heroine, the second paragraph introduces the hero and the third paragraph provides the setting and the conflict and a hook. All in about 200 words.

At this point I moved from star pupil to bottom of the class. My effort had the group asking all kinds of questions that had nothing to do with my story, so my blurb must have been misleading.  Also, my story contains a love triangle, so I didn’t want to introduce only one hero on the back blurb, that would be a spoiler.  I want to reader to wonder “whom will she chose?”  I felt pretty dumb.

Was the problem my ability to write a back blurb, or was it the story itself? I have plenty of angst over my writing without any help from “my friends.”

The drive home over a mountain road in a torrential rainstorm cleared my head! While trying not to hydroplane or cross the invisible lane markings or have a panic attack, I mentally worked on my back blurb.  By the time I got home, I was much happier with it.  Not only that, I’m happier with my story.

So, two lessons learned. One is an old lesson I seem to need repeated at frequent intervals.  Namely, I cannot wedge my story into someone else’s pattern.  Those charts and headings and “musts” paralyze my brain, and I feel imprisoned by the boxes.  I know this, I just forget when confronted by a shiny new template.

Second lesson learned, the exercise of writing a back cover blurb even before the book is finished serves as a tool to clarify the plot and the story question. With those two points clearly in mind the writing and editing process is faster and more effective.

Oh, third lesson: read the weather forecast before committing to driving that road!

 

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