On this busy, busy Monday, this is Danny Kaye and me reminding you to always TTTR: Take Time To Read!
Happy Monday, y'all!
I haven't spoken much about Lent this year yet. I don't know why I haven't, except that this year, it seems to be an exceptionally private time. It is, of course, a time of meditation, of clearing the chaff from the wheat, the re-ordering of things according to their proper priorities, of seeing things as they really are.
Lent is a desert time. You strip down to the essentials and venture forth into the barren for forty days to seek what it is that eluded you in the time of abundance. Ours is not the only culture that's done this - Native Americans have a long history of sending young men out into the wastelands, seeking insight as part of their coming of age ritual. But our Lent is unique in that it is not showy. Like Daniel in Darius' court, we are called to a desert in the midst of the ordinary, to strengthen ourselves by the denials of things right before our eyes, things we haven't the luxury of running away from.
What is the point of all of this? The destination is as simple as Dorothy's goal on the Yellow Brick Road: we seek to find our way home. We are called to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds" because we are not of this world. (And, yes, regardless of whether or not you profess to be Christian, this last goes for you, too: this world is not your final destination. You are called to higher and better things - isn't that awesome?!)
Lent is a time of remembering who we are and whose we are. It is a time of great homesickness. It is a time to remember that there is a home waiting for us at the end of the road, lights on, door open, and a loving father, waiting with open arms to welcome us back.
Like most people, I find music incredibly inspiring and often use it to inspire me while writing. It's a tricky thing, though, finding just the right soundtrack for the write piece that you're working on. After all, John Williams' A New Hope soundtrack just won't work for, say, a romantic comedy that's not about geeks or a period piece about a family coming together after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (note to self - must write that book...)
Anyway, to help you all out, here are some of my favorite soundtracks to write by: click on the images for a taste on Youtube. If you love 'em, let me know in the comments below. And if you have any suggestions for me, be sure to leave a comment for me, too!
I've always been a bit of a DYI person. Not that I'm the type that makes my own cheese (though it's on my to-do list) or swaps out transmissions or anything intense like that. But when it comes to publishing and writing, I generally find myself trying to do everything. Sometimes I have great results. Sometimes it's more of a 'Lesson Learned' thing.
Making my own cover for Michael Lawrence: the Season of Darkness was one of the latter. Don't get me wrong - I love this cover (the colors! the rose! the intrigue! Isn't it pretty?)! But over the course of the months, going to different live events, I got some feedback that made me realize that I have many things to learn about graphic design. Here are a few, which I now gladly share with you!
1: SIZING THE TYPE
Intention: The Season of Darkness is intended as the start of a small series, so I made the main character's name big, as it's the title of the series.
Result: Almost everyone has assumed that Michael Lawrence is the author. It's only when they squint that they see my name. Unlike Laura Holt's attempt to drum up business, putting a man's name on my book hasn't helped sales, alas!
Conclusion: Make sure the author's name is large enough to see to deflect confusion. Also, when I re-do this cover, I'll probably be listing it as 'The Season of Darkness: a Michael Lawrence mystery'.
2. THE ROSE
Intention: In the language of flowers, the white rose stands for marriage (among other things) and I thought this rose, threatened by encroaching darkness and shadow, represented Michael's marriage problems pretty well. #deepermeaning, am I right?
Result: Turns out, when most people see a rose, they think 'romance' - regardless of color (several would-be readers thought fantasy romance when they saw my rose). In contrast, the movie tie-in cover, with the two leads looking like British detectives having a stressful day, was instantly recognizable as what it was: an American murder mystery.
Conclusion: Don't try to be too clever with your imagery. If the book looks like a romance novel or a gothic adventure, mystery enthusiasts will not bite. (Alas, my poor, misunderstood rose!)
3: THE TAG-LINE
Intention: "Murder Will Out' is an idiom meaning 'murder cannot remain undetected'. I'd heard this phrase used over and over again in the mysteries I read and watched and it's the perfect tag for this particular case for reasons that I can't get into without spoilers. Plus, I knew it was English, which, as I was going for the feel of a British murder mystery, only added to its appeal.
Result: Turns out, whatever books or movies I was enjoying aren't commonly known. This phrase, which is of unknown origin but sometimes attributed to Chaucer, made more people question me than the numbers 1 and 2 combined. No one knew what it meant. As a result, no one was intrigued by it.
Conclusion: Run your tag line by a few people before you commit to them. It'll save you a lot of explanations in the long run.
In Summary, creating your own cover is a ton of fun and well-worth the time and effort. But do yourself a favor: show it to a few of your friends, neighbors, co-workers, or innocent passersby before you commit. You may be saving yourself a lot of explanations in the future!
By Joyce Poggi Hager
Musings off the Matt is a collection of warm, funny, sometimes heart-wrenching essays by New Jersey writer Joyce Poggi Hager. Ranging from family stories to recipes, they recount her Italian heritage, childhood, motherhood, and early empty nesting, Hager’s stories read like a conversation between two old friends over a cup of coffee – you’re barely a paragraph in when you find yourself feeling like you’ve known this person and her family forever.
Collected from the best of Hager's popular blog series (and featuring a story she'd written for Chicken Soup for the Soul), the essays allow you to meet the author at life's most intriguing, hilarious, and heartfelt moments: from fond childhood memories to mothering her own children, from discovering she has lime disease to helping her elderly and widowed father cope with loneliness and a move to a new city. Written with clean, tight prose, these cheery little stories are sure to provide a comforting escape and calm reassurance to anyone who’s ever dealt with family or found themselves searching for the perfect biscotti recipe. Recommended.
It's probably too early for me to have cabin fever... But I do anyway. I find myself looking longingly out the frost coated windows, day-dreaming about adventures in warm, tropical climates or running with Indiana Jones through desert valleys, trying to escape Nazis. Not that life isn't good, because it is, but because no matter what you have, there's always going to be a little part of you that's looking for more. And if you aren't careful, this desire for more will cause you to overlook certain important truths.
Which brings me to Cinderella and her glass slippers. You see, it occurred to me that very often we get exactly what we want, but we don't realize it because it's looks a little different than expected. We wanted the American dream, generally thought to consist of a house, a white picket fence, a spouse, two or three kids, and yearly vacations to Disney World, and are surprised when to discover that the American dream also includes bills and in-laws and leaky-roofs and cars that refuse to start on cold mornings. We dream of adventures and are stressed when we run into car trouble on the road. We want to meet strange and exotic peoples and cannot understand our neighbor's partying habits. We are Cinderella, who wanted to go to a ball and didn't realized that she could use the moldy old pumpkin, a few local rodents, and what had to be the most uncomfortable shoes on God's good earth to make her dream come true.
Fairy Tales are not just stories - they remind us that, under the muck and mire of real-life problems, magic awaits. We are all Cinderella, who had the most impossible shoes and the worst day-job ever - but had the eyes to see beyond these encumbrances to where her fairy-tale began.
Sometimes its hard to see beyond the every day to the great and good things that lie like buried treasure underneath. But it's there, if only we take the trouble to look. The ordinary are more often than not far more wondrous than they appear - and that applies as much to us as it does to a pair of unlikely glass slippers.
I'm tickled pink to announce that Tale Half Told has been honored to receive the B.R.A.G. Medallion! Summer Shadows was also honored with this a few years ago and Margaret and I are just so pleased to have it for our first collaborative effort! (As well as encourages us on our next book!)
If you haven't checked out the IndieBrag website, be sure to do so: it's a great online resource for the best in indie publishing!
Also, if I don't get a chance to do so later, Happy New Year, you all!
Looking for ways to fill up that brand-new Kindle or E-Reader you've gotten? We've got just the thing! 40 books, on sale or free, from now until January 6th! Be sure to check out the selection here and have a very Happy New Year!
A World War 2 veteran reflects on his past one Christmas Eve. A suburban single-mom moves into a new neighborhood and finds herself dodging the attentions of the eccentric science teacher next door. A young boy takes his first flight in his mother's boyfriend's plane. An aspiring actress in 1950s New York finds help from an unusual source. A man who has everything finds himself in love with the one woman he can never have - or can he?
Uncommon Type is a collection of 17 short stories by Tom Hanks, all of which feature, in one way or another, a typewriter. Book-ended (see what I did there?) with stories of a tight-knit if eccentric group of friends, Hanks' stories are alternately tragic and hilarious, folksy and edgy, hopeful and heartbreaking, but always human. In fact, that's probably the best thing you can say about this book: you put it down feeling that, in some way, the world is a little warmer and a little more home. Not all of the stories come off perfectly - it feels in some that Hanks is stretching his literary muscles a little beyond their capacity - but that being said, its been a while since I've read a new book that made me feel like the human race was all right. I could use a few more books like this one.
(Note to clean-read enthusiasts like myself, there are a few adult scenarios in these stories.)
Happy Cyber Monday!
Today, you can download Tale Half Told for free on your Amazon Kindle! Just click on the link and enjoy - if you like it, be sure to let me and Margaret know in the comments!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!
Celebrating both Thanksgiving (gooble, gooble!) and the upcoming holiday season, I'm happy to be one of 35 (THIRTY-FIVE!) authors offering books at 99 cents this week, from November 21-28. If you're looking for romance, adventure, historical fiction, mysteries, sci-fi, or more, you're bound to find something to love!
Michael Lawrence: the Season of Darkness and Summer Shadows are both priced at 99 cents, so be sure to get them while the sale lasts! And while you're at it, check out these other selections here:
I know I'll be getting a few of these for my Kindle!
Every other Friday, I'll showcase a snippet from either a work in progress or an old manuscript, a new short story, or random poem or scene from a never-finished book. If you like what you read, be sure to leave a comment below! This snippet comes from a story I began back in 2011. Enjoy!
Because it was Friday, the restaurant was crowded. The bar was tight with sports enthusiasts who alternately cheered and jeered as their teams scored and lost ground. On the peripheral, all of the tables were taken, most packed to the limit and everyone seemed in a boisterous and jovial mood. The wait staff hustled and the sounds of furious activity emanated from the kitchen each time the doors swung open.
The line of waiting patrons was stretched from the anxious hostess’ desk and into the tiny waiting area where it looped around and went out the door into the foyer and then onto the well-lit sidewalk. It was much quieter out here. People stood in little groups, hands in pockets, shuffling their feet, checking cell phones, and looking with envy at those who had the luxury of waiting inside.
Had it been Nicole Carson’s choice tonight, she would have seen the line and driven right on past. She did not relish in the happy noise and over-warm friendly atmosphere. She much preferred the quiet of, say, her favorite Chinese food restaurant, or the River-Side Catch during the off hours. These places she could be sure of clean, healthy food, a quiet atmosphere, and a menu with which she was already familiar. And standing outside on a chilly March night in the New England weather was not her idea of a fun time, as healthful an activity as some may argue it was.
But, as it was not her choice and as her sister, Kat, had faithfully promised to her that she would call ahead for seating, Nicole found herself pushing her way through the crowded waiting space to the hostess station. She heard snatches of conversation as she wound her way through the little groups.
“… so then I said, ‘What the h--- do you mean, additional fees?’ And he was, like, ‘When you signed….”
“…My feet are sooo tired. I worked 14 hours in the store today and that witch, Hazel…”
“…and just when you thought the movie was over, right, bam! There was this explosion. I nearly died…”
“…I mean, I’m more than due for the raise. I work harder than any one else and when that Deutsch thing was going down, I was the one who…”
“We should have just gone across the street.”
“But you hate Indian food.”
“True, but I hate starving to death more…”
The harassed hostess with the deteriorating makeup pulled herself away from a lively discussion of table assignments with three disgruntled waitresses to face Nicole. She spoke the words with the lifeless intonation of a woman who had nothing left to live for, a living martyr who rather resented being plagued as she was. She took a clip-board with a frighteningly long list of names on it and waited.
“Carson. We called ahead.”
The hostess stopped writing and checked her list. “Katherine Carson?”
The hostess suppressed a grimace and viciously scribbled out the CARS that she had scrawled at the bottom of the list. She looked about and said, “I’m sorry, it’ll still be another few minutes.”
The hostess turned away and Nicole had to say, “A buzzer?”
Annoyed, the hostess found one and thrust it into her hands, then turned to play peacemaker.
Nicole found herself being sucked back into the crowd. Hemmed in on all sides by bodies, voices, and odors, claustrophobia was not long in coming. She fought her way through and found herself outside again. This time, the crisp air was a blessing and she took a few, deep breaths to steady herself. Her lungs felt revived and her whole outlook brightened. After all, it wasn’t that cold out. The table wouldn’t be too long in coming, this restaurant chain had a very good reputation, and she would have a good conversation with her sister, Kat, whom she hadn’t seen in a week. Things would be good.
I've decided to start a new feature for Fridays - Every other Friday, I'll showcase a snippet from either a work in progress or an old manuscript, a new short story, or random poem or scene from a never-finished book. If you like what you read, be sure to leave a comment below!
Today's #FridayReads is from a work-in-progress tentatively called Jenny Goonight. It's a western about a travel-worn missionary woman who goes to visit her uncle, famed Civil War reporter Matthew Goodnight, in the town of Evanston, only to find her uncle embroiled in a power struggle with Varina Evans, wife of the town's founder. But Matthew isn't the man Jenny thought she knew and things go from bad to worse when a body turns up and Jenny finds herself accused of the killing.
In this scene, Varina Evans hears some disturbing news and turns to her son, the quick tempered John Henry, for advice.
Varina Lee Evans stood in a warm glow of the light, watching as the buckboard disappeared into the gathering darkness. Elizabeth and Josie Walsh, the wife and daughter of the general store owner, had come to pay a social call. At least, that was the reason Josie understood for their coming and it was the excuse that both Varina and Elizabeth would use, should anyone ask.
Elizabeth had come for advice, advice that she could ask of neither the Pastor nor from her husband, Elliot, and she was not Catholic that she could confide in a priest. That left, very naturally to her mind, the Widow Evans.
Varina Evans and Elizabeth Walsh were not what people might refer to as bosom friends. In fact, there was no one in town that could claim that relationship with Varina, unless it was her daughter-in-law, Helen. It was not close-friendship that brought Elizabeth to Varina, then, but a sort of fealty. The Evans were the founders of Evanston, the owners of the largest spread, and, according to most, the de facto rulers of the town, a story that Varina and both of her sons vehemently denied. But distance themselves as they might, people still thought of them as the chief family in town and when there was a civic problem, the Evans were usually the first turned to.
Darkness closed around the buckboard and the rattling sound faded as the two women drove back to town. Varina thought, It wasn’t too long ago when such a short journey would have been too dangerous for two unarmed women. How fast things have changed.
Now the dangers were different.
From somewhere in the house, a door slammed heavily and she heard her son’s voice echoing through the rooms. John Henry had returned and from the sound of his voice, he’d seen the editorial, too.
She left the relative peace of the darkened porch and went inside.
The Evans mansion, as it was called by the locals, was an enormous, rambling structure that combined the practical needs of a ranch headquarters with the style of a Southern plantation house. The over-sized rooms were decorated with rich wall paper and plush carpeting, ornate candelabras, and heavy furniture. There was a piano in the parlor and a balcony outside her bedroom. Her deceased husband John had done his best, in a heavy-handed fashion, to provide her with a house that was like the one she’d grown up in. He'd succeeded only in reminding her how different life out west was from the one she’d known.
John Henry was in the living room, standing before the fire place, rubbing his chin. He was dusty and grimy from the road, and the full day and he looked as though he’d love to put his fist through the wall. Trigger Olsen, one of their senior hands, was present too, running his hat through his hands.
She stopped in the doorway and nodded to Trigger.
“Good evening, Trigger,” she said. “You two are working late tonight.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Trigger bobbed his head, glancing at John Henry as he did so. “We, uh, ran into some trouble in the north pasture.”
John Henry looked sharply at him.
“Well,” Varina said evenly, “no matter. We kept dinner warm for you. It’s waiting in the kitchen.”
Trigger waited for John Henry’s nod before scampering off. He was too well acquainted with the Evans to want to be in the middle of a family discussion.
When he was gone, Varina went and sat in the armchair, lowering herself carefully and smoothing her skirts as she did. John Henry kept his eyes on the fire place. The air chilled at night, so a small fire was always started at the end of the day. With Helen expecting in a few short weeks, the extra precaution was considered even more necessary.
When John Henry didn’t speak, Varina did.
“The north pasture?” she asked.
John Henry seized the poker and stabbed at the logs.
“Broken fence again,” he muttered. “We patched it. Thomas around?”
“He’s upstairs, with Helen.”
She waited another moment, then said, “I understand you paid a call on Matthew Goodnight this afternoon.”
With a growl, John Henry threw the poker back into the stand and began to stride about the floor impatiently.
“According to Josie Walsh, it didn’t go well,” Varina ventured.
“Josie Walsh!” he said, with disdain. “What does she know about anything?”
“She was under the impression that someone pulled a gun today, John Henry. That someone pulled a gun on you after you attacked Matthew Goodnight.”
He stopped in front of her.
“I couldn’t let him get away with printing that article,” he said. “Not when it’ll affect Thomas. You know it’ll hurt his chances in the election – it’ll hurt his chances with anything.”
She looked up at him levelly. It was moments like these that he looked most like his father – a big man. Too big, she sometimes thought.
“And do you think he’ll print a retraction now?” she asked, ice in her tone.
He hesitated, then turned away, only just refraining from swearing.
“We can’t just let him do this!” he muttered through gritted teeth and his fist came down on the mantelpiece, making the china dolls dance. “Something must be done!”
Varina Evans waited a few moments. In dealing with John Henry, she found that some of the techniques she employed on her husband were most effective. No one would have accused the late John Thomas Evans of being a whipped man, but then few knew Varina very well. And though the son was very much like the father, there was one difference: John Henry was much more bullheaded than John and try as she might, she could only influence, not control.
He is much more like me than his father in that respect, she thought. He’s his own man. I can only do so much with him. He is like his father – but he is not John.
She waited until she was ready, then said, “Elizabeth Walsh was here today.”
John Henry turned, frowning. She watched his hands flex.
“What did she want?” he asked.
Varina drew in a breath and looked up at him steadily. “She came to tell me what I already knew. You’re right, John Henry. We have got to do something about Matthew Goodnight.”
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