Thursday, December 17, 2015

Like it Was Yesterday

I was asked a while back what I have against baseball hats. The answer is nothing. There are times and places I’d say wearing one is inappropriate, but I don’t generally have anything against baseball hats. I was asked to defend the opinion because it was expressed by a character in one of my books. While I admit to some overlap, my protagonists do not think and talk just like me.

Sometimes my characters say something I would never say or do something I would never do. Sometimes I have a lot of fun when I get to invent an opinion and especially if there’s a memory behind it.

This is what I was working on recently. My next heroine, Heidi Ray, likes the smell of bacon. Partly she likes it because it reminds her of something. I amused myself for some time coming up with different fictional anecdotes for that particular memory before I settled on one that fit the story. You’ll have to read the book to know what it is.

I think these memories tied to our senses are some of the strongest because they can catch us by surprise. A sound or a scent floats by and you’re carried ten years or more into the past without warning. It got me thinking about some of my own memories, and I decided to speak for myself for a change. For each of the five senses, I thought of something that immediately reminds me of something else.

Taste: chocolate no-bake cookies
One of my aunts made these for family gatherings. It was the only place I had them as a kid. My sister found a store nearby that sells a very similar cookie. One bite and I’m at my grandmother’s house in my head.

Sound: Mr. Jones by Counting Crows
This song was popular when I was in high school. (And now it’s listed under classic rock. Am I really that old?) I can’t say it’s my favorite song of the time or that I even listened to it all that much, I just know that nothing makes me think of my teenage-self more than this song popping up on the radio.

Touch: a certain heavy blanket
My mom has a blanket made by her sister. It has hung on the back of her couch (several different couches actually) for longer than I can remember. We always left it there, just as decoration, unless we were sick. Any time I had to spend a day lying on the couch, I pulled that big heavy blanket down on top of me. Its weight was like a warm, comforting hug. My siblings did the same thing. Now and then I’ll feel that blanket and remember only the good parts of staying home sick from school.

Smell: printer ink
Not the ink from my home printer. I mean more large scale. For some years, my mom had a work-at-home job that involved stuffing folded flyers into grocery store mailers. (I’m wondering if anyone does this by hand anymore.) Sometimes she let me help fold the flyers. I didn’t even realize they had a distinctive smell until many years later when I opened a church bulletin and got hit with a very familiar scent.

Sight: the horizon
I’m looking forward to triggering this memory soon. I currently live in North Carolina. There are too many trees and hills for the sky to touch the ground here. But I grew up in rural Ohio, which is mostly flat farmland. Every time we drive up there to visit family, there comes a point in the trip when one of my kids (who have always lived in NC) will look out the window and shout, “Look how far you can see!” That’s when I look past the clumps of trees moving impossibly slowly by us to the distant sky and think, “It looks like home.”

Friday, November 6, 2015

It's not a trilogy.

I have a donut problem.

I’m working on a series called Coffee and Donuts. It’s planned to be four books with independent stories. What links the books is that the characters attend the same weekly social gathering, not surprisingly referred to as Coffee and Donuts. They sometimes see characters from other books, though usually minor characters or unidentified glimpses.

The books follow the same timeline that starts and ends on a Sunday. On the last Sunday of books 1-3, the characters arrive at Coffee and Donuts to discover that there are no donuts. It has always been my plan to explain the missing donuts in Book 4. Right now, I don’t know how to do that. This shouldn’t be a problem because it’s a fairly minor occurrence. It doesn’t really affect the primary love story, and that’s exactly why it is a problem.

Every time I try to work on Book 4, all I can think about is donuts. What happened to those donuts? Why are there no donuts? Is someone running late? Was there a terrible accident? Could it be that the characters in the first three books have no idea that what is a minor inconvenience to them has forever altered someone else’s life?

No! The donuts don’t matter. I’m supposed to be thinking about my main characters and maybe giving them names. Names are important, and they don’t have names yet. Or jobs. Or families. Or any connection to each other. Because I keep thinking about donuts. Should I have them meet over donuts? Perhaps one of them works in the donut shop? Was one of them supposed to bring the donuts? But how do they get forgotten? Are they forgotten? Or maybe dropped on the sidewalk?

I don’t know. I can’t answer any of my questions about the donuts until I write most of the story (or at least have it mapped out) and I can’t write the story because I keep wondering what happened to the donuts. This is my problem.

I guess I might have been complaining about this vicious circle to someone I know. That person suggested I didn’t need to write a fourth book at all. The response was, “Trilogies are a thing you know.”

I know. Donuts are a thing, too. Neither is a helpful thing. Switching to three books sounds too much like giving up. I’m going to figure out Book 4 eventually. I think maybe I need to eat a donut first. Maybe that will get them out of my head.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

And if I mention a chasuble...

I like to tell people that I read lots of Christian romances for “research.” I’m not really into all that mushy stuff myself. It’s just important to pay attention to the genre. Everyone believes me.

Yes, they do.

One thing I have learned though is that most heroines are nondenominational. They are rarely identified as Methodist or Presbyterian or Lutheran or UCC or Catholic or Baptist or…anything other than simply Christian. That makes me feel sort of like an oddball for writing books with Catholic characters.

Fortunately, I’ve come to a point in my life where I’m comfortable being an oddball. But in this case I’m not being different to be difficult. I’m all for playing down the differences between the denominations. We’re all searching for the Truth and light fiction is not the place to ponder the discrepancies.

I know less about some denominations than others, and I don’t know how members of each feel about these generic (for lack of a better word) heroines. I know that Catholics, however, are left out simply by the terminology. As soon as the heroine attends a Sunday service, you know she’s not Catholic. As soon as a minister is mentioned, you know she’s not Catholic. Of course if she’s interested in dating the pastor, a word Catholics do use, you still know she’s not Catholic.

This is one of the reasons my stories use Catholic words. The Catholic Church has more members in this country than any other denomination. I’m thinking some of them would like to imagine themselves at the center of a fluffy love story, too.

I hope that my word choices do not turn off other Christians though. Despite the vocabulary issues, my characters are still Christians. They go to church. They pray. They try to improve their lives by following Jesus. All to varying degrees, just like real Christians. The faith of my characters shows up in varying degrees as well because first and foremost I write love stories. Books about couples falling in love, being in love, somehow finding their way to that happily ever after. They may or may not happen to experience any sort of religious epiphany at the same time they are falling in love. I'm more concerned that they have a little fun.

I guess I simply want to go on record saying that my characters are not trying to convert anyone any more than I am. They live their lives according to their faith with occasional references to the practice of it. They might throw out a term like RCIA for Catholic readers to think, “Hey! I know what that is,” but it’s fairly inconsequential to the story.

** If you don't know, a chasuble is the top layer of a priest's vestments. I'm not sure it's exclusively Catholic. It was the first "interesting" word that popped into my head.

Monday, September 7, 2015

What is a book bubble?

This is a question I could not have answered a few weeks ago. Then I was offered a free trial of Bublish, a company that markets books by pairing short excerpts with comments from the author. They call these book bubbles.

Something about the idea intrigued me. It was the word free. My advertising budget is, um… okay, I don’t have one. What could it hurt to look into something that was free? I decided to try it and at first I was overwhelmed with questions.

What excerpts can I use that aren’t spoilers or just confusing to anyone who hasn’t read the book? What can I explain in the word limit? Can I reveal real life inspiration without embarrassing the source? Do I even have anything interesting to say about a few paragraphs of a book? How much time can I spend on something unlikely to attract new readers?

That last one isn’t pessimism. I’ve simply been at this long enough to know that any campaign is a gamble. And personally, bubbles for books I’ve already read would be the most interesting.

Here’s what hooked me… I have read my books. I began to reread some of them with an eye towards remembering the process. It’s been fun, something like going through a box of old letters from friends. I’m enjoying the (recent) nostalgia. But this trial is only 60 days. Every time I log in to post a bubble, I see a countdown to when the trial expires. I’m trying to see how many I can squeeze in before the deadline.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An Interview or Two

I agreed to do an interview for someone’s blog and it immediately spawned another request… from my daughter. She gathered a stack of paper and announced that she was going to do an even better interview. She wrote her first question and we began to pass the paper back and forth. While we worked, she asked if I would publish her questions.

I have decided to grant (most of) that request as well. I have edited out the books I wrote under different names and corrected a few spelling mistakes. This is otherwise a Q and A with my nine-year-old, exactly as she wrote it.

Q – How many books have you written?
A – 9 novels, 2 picture books, 1 short story collection…
Q – I meant all together.
A – Let me add them up. 23.
Q – What are they called and what order were they written?
A – 1. Dear Jane Letters _____ 15. 16. Jealousy & Yams
2. Zero Station ___________ 18. 19. Collecting Zebras
3. Tightening the Knot ______ 19. 20. The Christmas Project
4. Double Take ___________ 10. ????
5. ???? _________________ 13. 14. ????
6. Weathering Evan ________ 22. 23. Said and Unsaid
7. ???? _________________ 16. 17. ????
8. 9. The 4th Floor Lounge ___ 17. 18. ????
9. 10. ???? ______________ 20. 21. ????
10. 11. 12. ???? ____________ 21. 22. ????
11. 12. 13. Meet Cute ________ 8. ????
14. 15. Andrew’s Key

Q - How come you scribbled on your interview? This is your big day being interviewed by your daughter. And have you ever heard of the order of operations?
A - I’m sorry. I will try to write neater. It was hard to remember all the books in order.
Q - You did not answer my second question.
A - I have heard of the order of operations. 
Q - Well, there is an order of reading, too.
A - Interesting. You might need to explain the order of reading.
Q - You’ve written 23 books and you don’t know the order of reading. That’s what’s interesting. 
A - I’m not sure I know what one has to do with the other. Does that mean you read the books in the order I wrote them?
Q - Not exactly. So what’s your favorite book you have written?
A - Am I allowed to say all of them?
Q - Absolutely not.
A - I’d say right now it’s a tough call between The 4th Floor Lounge and Said and Unsaid.
Q - Obviously it’s The 4th Floor Lounge. What is your favorite chapter of The 4th Floor Lounge?
A - My favorite chapter? Off the top of my head I’d say I like the part when Charlotte is stuck doing a group project and Jason comes to rescue her.
Q - What is your favorite word of that chapter?
A - Hang on while I get the book. Despised.
Q - Okay, now you have to use that word in every response or else I…
A - Or else what?
Q - Or else I bore you with a long rant on ethics. (And you forgot the word despise. You get three strikes. That’s one.)
A – I despise that condition and I’d like to change my favorite word to I.
Q - Okay. How many stars do you give Dear Jane Letter’s cover?
A - The original cover? I give that two stars because it’s bad, but I’ve seen worse.
Q - It is awesome! But I wish you could read the newspaper. [stern]
A - I think I would run into copyright problems if I hadn’t blurred the newspaper.
Q - Your eye doctor will shout at you if the newspapers don’t stop being blurry. (And you would NOT.)
A - I’m not worried about my eye doctor having a problem with controlled blurriness.
Q - What do you like most about making covers?
A - I like to play with the various effects tools in the software. Sometimes I make crazy covers that I know I won’t use because I get distracted.
Q - You are distracted as I write this. [stern again!]
A - Sorry. I was helping one of your siblings.
Q - I like to play with them, too.
A - With computer effects or with your siblings?
Q - Oh, go to school and join the kindergartners (and you know this more than ME!).
A - Yes. I know you meant the effects. What’s your next question?
Q - What if it’s not a question?
A - I thought interviews were supposed to have questions. Wasn’t that your point?
Q - Really! [insulted] I guess kindergarten is open, too. BUT NOTHING ELSE! Do you have a goal to write 50 or 100 or 150 or… books?
A - I’ve never thought about that. It would be very cool to be able to say I’d written 100 books.
Q - Make a goal for 1500 words a half dozen hours. (Or else the rant comes in!)
A - Sometimes I do write 1500 words in 6 hours. Or less. 
Q - No or lessesses. Wait. Is that the wrong number of S’s and E’s? It is hard to remember how it’s done.
A - Okay.
Q - You did not answer the one that is actually a question. [insulted]
A - I don’t see anything I haven’t answered.
Q - What about the is that the right number of S’s and E’s???
A - Oh! That should say lesses. Though lesses may not be a word.
Q - That was a yes or no question. [stern]
A - Then the answer is no.
Q - Only one word allowed.
A - No.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Power of a Good Book

I was recently working under a more fun deadline than usual. More fun only because it had a reward.

Back in March, I read Love on the Mend. At the end of the novella was a preview of the author’s next book. This was a few chapters of a book that had not yet been released. I almost didn’t read it on principle. Offering up a few chapters of a book months before a person can read the rest of that book is, in my opinion, just plain mean.

I read it anyway because I knew I would like it. Then I looked at the calendar. That’s what I do. I’m a planner. I like to know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and exactly how I can make sure it will happen on schedule. According to my planning, the June release of the full book, A Worthy Pursuit, appeared to coincide with me finishing the first draft of the second book in my new series. I decided that I would reward myself for that milestone by reading Ms. Witemeyer’s book.

Almost as soon as I made that decision, my plan began to fall apart. A big chunk of the first book, Said and Unsaid, wasn’t working for me. Backward progress is not good, but it had to be done. I took time to reimagine a few of the main character’s qualities. I ripped out two characters and tossed in two completely different – but I hope better – ones. It was a mess and I ended up with missing chapters near the end of the book that I couldn’t seem to write. They were supposed to be done before my kids had a three-week break from school. They were not done. The kids were home. My neatly formed schedule was chaos.

Did I mention the insomnia?

I do suffer from occasional insomnia, but it doesn’t have anything to do with falling behind. I just thought I’d put that out there in case I wasn’t getting enough sympathy.

When A Worthy Pursuit was released on June 2nd, I hadn’t even started the draft I was supposed to finish before I could read it. That’s right. Hadn’t. Even. Started.

But I was not ready to admit defeat. I found a way to buy myself time to possibly make some form of my deadline. My local library had several copies of the book. And a waiting list for them. I put myself on that list. If I chose to read one of those copies, any delay in reading the book had nothing to do with me failing to do what I said I’d do. I was simply waiting my turn. It couldn’t be helped. I still had time.

I put my head down and got to work on that draft. Other library patrons proved unfortunately considerate though. They may have simply been fast readers, but I was moving up that list awfully quickly for no one to be aware of those waiting. I kept writing and tried not to panic.

I still had a lot of work to do when my turn came up. I went and checked out that book anyway. There was still a chance I could meet the deadline. It was concrete now though. The library gave me two weeks. I wouldn’t need more than two days to read the book and that meant I had twelve to finish my draft or one of two things was going to happen. I could admit defeat and send the book back unread while I continued working then check it out later. Or I could admit defeat and read the book undeservingly. The second option felt much more likely. Especially now that A Worthy Pursuit was sitting on my counter daring me to read just one more chapter before I went back to work.

I resisted by hiding the book.

And now the good news. I did it! I finished that draft. It needs a lot of work, but that’s okay. I have a schedule for getting it up to scratch. ;) It was technically a few days into July when I put down my pen. But I finished with just enough time to read the book and return it on its due date.

Now I owe Karen Witemeyer a big thank you for providing a book that gave me the motivation to work on my own and that was a worthy reward even with all the buildup. And look at this. I got a blog post out of it, too! Aren’t books great?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ghosts of Covers Past

I expect to post the cover and description for my next book soon. Some authors like to create a lot of hype and fanfare around a cover reveal. I’m not going to do that. I know that anyone who gets excited about seeing one of my covers will likely be disappointed. Let’s be clear that I’m only talking about the cover here. We should all definitely be getting excited about the book itself. The story will be wonderful. I promise.

But the cover…

I decided that the best way to keep expectations in check (as well as the best way to embarrass myself) would be to show off exactly how bad the cover could have been. Since I never delete anything I was able to go trolling through the digital wasteland of covers past to pull out some examples of covers that did not make the cut. These are the rejects, the covers that I created on the way to… something else.

The first thing I did was find the very first cover I ever made. Here it is.  Finding this cover made me very sad. There’s no question that it’s terrible. But what I eventually chose for the print version of Dear Jane Letters is no better. That’s what makes me sad. In fact, I’ve come to dislike that cover so much that I almost wish I’d have gone with this one.

I found this interesting picture in the folder for Zero Station.  I say it’s interesting because I don’t even remember creating this. I have no idea where I was going with the concept. It looks like a sound wave and there are some communication themes but… where was I going to put the title? Is there any chance that’s actually a capture of me saying the book’s title? I don’t know.

I found more bad examples for the next few books but let’s skip ahead a bit. I don’t have an amusingly bad cover for The 4th Floor Lounge to show off but I did find something in that book’s folder that made me laugh. I use this brilliant naming convention where each concept along the way is saved as cover1, cover2 and so on. Usually the file I upload with a book ends up being something around cover8 or cover9. While I didn’t have nearly that many tries, the final cover for The 4th Floor Lounge was saved as cover240. I’m thinking I was pretty frustrated at that point.

I was late putting together a cover for Meet Cute: 5 Romantic Short Stories. I needed to print up a few books to pass out for editing and feedback and used a placeholder cover. When I unveiled the first attempt at a background people said the boring one was better. Aren’t I lucky to be surrounded by friends willing to offer such ruthless honesty? In this case, I was too stubborn to listen. I only toned down the image for the final.

I wrote about my trial and error process while I was working on the Hartford covers and since I specifically mentioned the one that gave certain people the wrong idea aboutJealousy & Yams, I have to show that reject here. That’s boiling water, people. Not soap. Not that it makes a difference.

And last we have this almost cover for Collecting Zebras. If you compare, you’ll see this is very close to the actual cover except for one significant difference. I forgot how close I came to naming that book My Last Zebra. The title was a last minute change. Was that a good call?

I don’t think we can say that each of my book covers is necessarily better than the last one but I think we can see improvement from beginning to end. And probably some improvement within the pages as well. I hope people I know and people who read my books will continue to tell me what they like and don’t like. I’m always open to feedback. I’m stubborn but still willing to learn.

Thanks for coming with me on this trip down What Was I Thinking Lane. I’m going to hide now while you all stop laughing.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Work in Progress

Things I am NOT ready to reveal about my next book:

The title. This book has had several working titles and I am not excited about any of them. I’m hoping for inspiration soon.

The cover. With every book I write, there comes a point in the project when I think to myself something like, “Oh, crap. This one’s going to need a cover, too.” I know all books need covers but I’m only thinking about the story when I start one. Eventually, I have to let myself think about the work. And covers are work.

The blurb. I have a first draft description of the book, which is earlier than I usually achieve this step. But I’m hoping for feedback from test readers before I commit to the current text.

The release date. I’m guessing August but that’s tentative.

Things I AM ready to reveal about my next book:

The subtitle. This book will be the first of four in a series called Coffee and Donuts.

The heroine. The story is told in first person by Alexa Fenley. Alexa was not raised in the church, and I believe that makes her my first convert. She is at times far braver than I would be.

The guy. No surprise there’s a guy. It is a love story after all. Oh wait, that’s not a surprise either.

Four random quotes. The following are out-of-context things that Alexa says in the book.

“I’m not a squealer. There are a lot of secret thoughts jumping around in my head right now but none of them have to do with how pretty those animals are.”

“I only decided you might not be an ax murderer.”

“These hallways are confusing. I thought I could find my way faster if I just walked around the building.”

“You get to ask me my favorite leaf but what you do for lunch is too boring?”

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Book I'm NOT Going to Write

It happened. For a lot of reasons that mostly boiled down to wishful thinking, I didn’t think it would ever happen to me.

I didn’t believe it when I got the summons. I didn’t believe it when I called the number provided and learned that I was just inside the cutoff of people who actually had to show up. I didn’t believe it when I sat in the room of nearly two hundred people and was told that only two trials needed juries. I started to believe it when I was the last person seated on the second jury.

And you better believe there was a whole truckload of internal grumbling about it.

I know. It’s very un-American of me to be annoyed at the inconvenience of dropping everything else (and figuring out how it would get picked up) for the three days I had to be at the courthouse, not knowing each day if I would need to be there the next. I talked to some family about the events later – when it was legal for me to do so – and I conceded that it was at least somewhat interesting to have this new experience.

That’s when the teasing began. Everyone said that now that I knew what jury duty was like, that was how the characters were going to meet in my next book. There were ridiculous jokes about passing love notes in the jury box and that #4 would forever be someone’s pet name. The word sequester was laced with so much innuendo I may never again be able to hear it without sexual undertones. (Thanks for that, guys.) One of my sisters defended me by saying that I would ignore those suggestions because I write cute books. Though she doesn’t use cute as a compliment.

Once the talk died down my mind went where it always goes, to the happy place where I’m telling myself a story. I had to at least consider the courthouse. People could meet there.

The story immediately took a dark turn. I envisioned that the juror fell not for another juror but for the defendant. She planted a bomb in the courtroom and it somehow took out everyone except herself and the object of her affection because that’s how that sort of thing usually goes down in fiction. They went on a wild run from the law. I thought it best to try to work it so that the reader wouldn’t know until the very end whether the defendant was a guilty man pleased with his escape or an innocent man playing along because he was terrified of the psycho juror.

But I’m not going to write that book (and not because it’s probably been done a few dozen times) or several other ideas that I’ve thrown out since. I have more ideas than I have time to write so I only start on the projects that interest me the most. Unfortunately for some people, those are usually the cutest ideas. I spend a lot of time with my characters and I need to enjoy their company. I would not enjoy spending months trying to get inside the head of someone willing to commit murder. I don’t think I’d even enjoy the few hours it would take to read it.

I plan to continue to write books where people only die of natural causes, if they die at all, and no one has to set foot in a courtroom for any reason. I’ve been to the courthouse and no matter how you use the word, cute just doesn’t describe it.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

In Honor of the Mushy Holiday

I’m pretty sure I know what my husband is getting me for Valentine’s Day this year. It’ll be the same thing he’s gotten me every year since I’ve known him.


He never gives me flowers either. Instead, he laughs with people about that time I told the kids they were not allowed to “bring nature into the house.”

I’m mentioning this because I have a point that has nothing to do with trying to make my husband look bad. He’s giving me nothing because he knows I want nothing. I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, which is not to suggest that I think there’s anything wrong with it. It just isn’t my thing. I’ve never considered myself a particularly romantic person.

And yet I write love stories.

I was recently pondering this potentially incongruous idea. It caused me to review some of the gifts and gestures that my characters have used to win each other over. I have written some of the stereotypical things like flowers and jewelry. There was also a spider ornament and a plastic monkey, some fighting over glitter, and I even tried to use a pile of rocks as a sweet gesture.

Am I in the wrong line of work?

I don’t think so. I think I’m mushier than I realized. There is a love letter in one of my books,Andrew's Key, that brings me to this conclusion. Some people might argue that Charlie spoils it somewhat by explicitly stating that he wrote the letter because he thought Rebecca liked letters. I disagree. That is precisely what makes it romantic. Writing a love letter to someone who thinks love letters are lame would not be a winning overture.

True romance is finding out what the other person likes and trying to do just that. Some things have become synonymous with romance because a lot of women like them. That means my future characters will likely find themselves on the receiving end of traditional gifts. But I hope I will also find more surprising ways to melt some hearts.

If I can come up with a character who believes flaming batons are the coolest thing ever then it will totally make sense for her to swoon if a guy learns to twirl one for her. Okay, maybe not swoon but at least believe he has her happiness in mind. A romantic gesture is anything that says I know you and I appreciate what makes you different from anyone else.

Hey, you know what? I bet I’m getting something for Valentine’s Day after all. It won’t be wrapped and it will look a lot like the things my husband does every other day of the year. Guess who is not only mushy, but also very blessed.