Sunday, July 24, 2022

Quick Summer Update

The last Romance Arts book, The Art of Friendship, will be released on August 27th. A new book is always exciting. This time it’s also a little scary. I discovered a few continuity issues rather late in the game. Anyone who has read the earlier books knows the guys get together to play Tichu. (Fun fact: All the files for this series are still stored on my computer in a folder called Card Club Guys because that was the original subtitle.) They sometimes get distracted if the love interests come in when they’re playing, and they end up asking each other questions about the score or whose turn it is. Someone needs to know the answers to these questions. The writer needs to know the answers to these questions.

I got it wrong at least once when a character told someone he just dealt when in fact he had not. At another point, a character pops up in a scene he never entered. Someone else specifically said there were six people shortly before he shows up as a seventh. Oops. Oops. Oops. For the record, other people read the book and missed those things so it wasn’t just me.

Not that I’m trying to blame anyone. Whenever I have to go back and rewrite something, I run the risk of writing in typos and I thought I was past that point. The book will still be ready for release, just cutting it closer than I’d like.

In other news, the CMA book awards were announced this month. I was very happy to see The Art of Introductions earned an Honorable Mention. Anyone who hasn’t started the series (I’m sorry you’ve been so busy.) can take advantage of a 99-cent kindle copy. But only until the end of July.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Art of Making a Cover

The kindle version of the last Romance Arts book is now available for preorder. As usual, I rejected quite a few covers on the way to the one currently gracing The Art of Friendship. A few of the ideas didn’t work out the way I pictured. And a few of the ideas were just bad ideas. I’m not above admitting I sometimes have bad ideas. I’m not even above making fun of my ideas.

Let’s start with the original picture. That’s Lake Erie, if anyone is curious. I think an Ohio resident could be inspired to paint a great lake. But how would she make it kooky?

My first thought was a monster lurking beneath the surface, something the viewer wouldn’t notice right away. I pictured something a little like a giant catfish with all those creepy spikes coming out of its head. I knew there was a problem even while I was imagining the beast. I can’t draw. The graphics software I use doesn’t have a “sea monster” effect. It’s very old. It doesn’t even have a “magically blur the bad drawing into a murky creature” effect.

The best I could come up with was a little Nessie head poking out of the water. Anything popping out of the water is really good at drawing attention, which is a problem when the kooky isn’t supposed to be the first thing anyone notices. It was the first thing anyone noticed when I made it much smaller. It was still the first thing anyone noticed when I shifted the “painting” to include a big tree. Plus, Nessie is not what I wanted, not original, not feeling like something Audra would paint and… I eventually called that bad idea number one and moved on.

Then I had an idea about tweaking the horizon, making it somehow unnaturally-shaped. I tried tilting it, which only looked like someone had tilted the painting. Yes. I should have seen that coming. I tried warping the horizon in a small section. That looked like an island. Is an island in Lake Erie kooky or original? No. God did that a long time ago. My best version was this odd jagged line. It’s… bad idea number two.


I tried to turn some rocks into music notes. My test audience thought they were weird birds. It’s only clear they are notes when zoomed in. Audra’s pictures are things that could appear in nature but don’t. I wish I’d remembered that before I spent I’m not going to tell anyone how long making note-shaped rocks that look like birds.

Lightning on a clear day would be unexpected. And it was at least fun. I zapped different parts of the beach and kept changing the size and hue of the bolt. Some of my lightning looked awesome, but I couldn’t get any of it to blend, to fade into the rest of the scene. I asked myself how I could make the lightning more subtle. Obviously, it needed to be off in the distance. Where there might be clouds. That either ruined my idea of forced me to see that it was bad. Back to the drawing board regardless.

For a while, I thought the sand on the shore was the key. I tried stacking it and adding ripples. Sand is pliable though. Everything I did just looked like someone was playing in the sand, which was exactly what I was doing in a digital sense. I returned to the water for the idea I used on the final cover. I think it was a good idea. I have a few of those, too. I hope readers agree.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

I think I'll keep doing it wrong.

The well was dry this month. I was scrambling to come up with a topic, and that caused me to do something rather desperate. I searched up author blogs to see what others had written recently. I hoped I could find an idea to “borrow” or perhaps mock in a friendly this guy was out of ideas, too, sort of way.

What I found instead was a ton of advice for author blogs. I thought there might be a list of suggested topics somewhere in all that advice. No. Really no. There was only a long list of things I’m doing wrong. Here are some of the dos and don’ts I’ve been screwing up.

1) The most frequent advice for writing an author blog is don’t. It’s about ten years too late for me to fix that. The reason I shouldn’t have started is that I won’t make money writing a blog. I never expected to make money doing this so I guess I was wrong about that, too.

2) If I write a blog anyway, I shouldn’t think of it as blogging. I’m supposed to think of this as “online writing I do for free.” This way I always remember that I’m giving away something valuable here. The implication is that the goal of a blog is to inflate my ego. I’ve never been comfortable using blog as a verb so I generally think of this as writing a post. And it’s only one of the main goals I’m getting wrong.

3) The primary goal of my blog should be to drive traffic to my author website. My blog is my author site. Another source specifically told me they should be the same so I thought this was one thing I actually had right. Now I’m even wrong about being right.

4) The primary goal of my blog should be to move readers to an email list. Oops. I don’t even have an email list. My primary goal has always been that if someone reads one of my books and decides to look me up, there will be something here, maybe even something mildly interesting. But now that we’ve established that all of my motivation is wrong, let’s dive into the specifics I’m messing up.

5) Every title should be clickbait. It is wrong to make titles match the content. My titles should hint at shock and life-changing information, no matter what. You won’t believe what I’m writing next! More books. I bet no one saw that coming.

6) Write a ton of repetitive stuff. All of the advice about frequency suggests a number of posts per week, not per month. The quantity of my writing is apparently way more important than what I’m writing about. I was wrong the moment I tried to put some thought behind it.

7) Everything I write should be at a 3rd grade level because people are busy. Why does having a lot to do lower intellect? I guess I’m too busy to understand this advice.

8) Every post should include at least one image. I’m told the picture doesn’t have to be related. It only has to be colorful or attention-grabbing. My lack of pictures is so wrong. I didn’t know I was supposed to make people feel busy for not getting why there’s a pile of crayons next to a post about my next release date.

9) Don’t write about my writing process. People don’t care about that. Some people don’t care to read romance. Maybe my fiction is wrong, too.

10) Write about my writing process. Readers like “a peek behind the curtain.” I’m confused.

11) My writing process is only interesting to other writers. Oh. Maybe. I’m still not sure this makes sense.

12) Do regular interviews with people who fascinate me. Wait a minute. This is an actual topic suggestion. But when I make a list of people who fascinate me, it quickly becomes apparent that most of them have one thing in common. They’re dead. This puts me back to square one. I’ll worry about that next month.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Trivia Time

For something a little different, I have an interactive post this month.  Try this little quiz to see if you are a solid fan or if maybe it’s time to reread some of my books.  Follow this link to enter answers. 

1 - What is NOT kooky about one of Audra’s paintings in the Romance Arts series?
A) a face in a patch of wildflowers
B) a purple bee
C) corn in a wheat field
D) striped clouds

2 - When Owen tries to change the frosting color while making cookies with Gaby in The Christmas Project, what does she threaten to do if he tries again?
A) frost him
B) kick him out
C) not give him any cookies
D) write his name on the burnt ones

3 - Julia Dierksheide is the narrator of which book?
A) The Christmas Project
B) Everything Old
C) By Its Cover
D) Not Complicated

4 - In which Coffee and Donuts book do the donuts go missing?
A) Said and Unsaid
B) A Perfectly Good Man
C) Sofie Waits
D) all of the above

5 - What does Daniel say he is willing to do for Molly in Not Complicated?
A) dunk his hands in lice water
B) walk through fire
C) yodel in front of strangers
D) wait in line at the DMV

6 - Which book is the 2nd book in the Love in Andauk series?
A) By Its Cover
B) Into the Fire
C) What Goes Around
D) Everything Old

7 - In Said and Unsaid, what does Alexa say would be a good name for a band?
A) Brilliant Hippo
B) Sparkly Alligator
C) Bald Monkey
D) Jumping Fleas

8 - Which book is the 3rd book in the Coffee and Donut series?
A) Said and Unsaid
B) A Perfectly Good Man
C) Not Complicated
D) Sofie Waits

9 - Angel Melling is the narrator of which book?
A) Into the Fire
B) The Art of Communication
C) Sofie Waits
D) Collecting Zebras

10 - Where does everyone try to hide in Andauk?
A) Burger Brothers
B) St. Jude’s
C) Granny’s Shelf
D) Seymour’s Market

11 - In A Perfectly Good Man, what is wrong with Heidi’s perfectly good remote?
A) battery cover is taped in place
B) the 5 doesn’t work
C) the 7 doesn’t work
D) a large crack on the side

12 - Which book is the 1st book in the Stories From Hartford series?
A) Jealousy & Yams
B) The Christmas Project
C) Andrew’s Key
D) Collecting Zebras

13 - In They See a Family, what does William’s young niece say he does badly?
A) bark like a dog
B) sing
C) pretend to be a person
D) pretend to chop wood

14 - Whose house in Hartford is rumored to be haunted?
A) Andrew’s
B) Rebecca’s
C) Jill’s
D) Mabel’s

15 - Which book is the 4th book in the Romance Arts series?
A) The Art of Introductions
B) The Art of Patience
C) The Art of Communication
D) It doesn’t have an official title yet.

0 – 3 correct: You probably don’t even remember what links you followed to end up at the quiz.

4 – 7 correct: Maybe you’re a new fan and haven’t gotten through all the books yet. Keep reading. You can do it!

8 – 11 correct: Either you got some lucky guesses or I should thank you again for reading.

12 – 15 correct: You might know the books as well as I do. It means a lot that you’ve spent so much time with my work.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Predictable

A hobby of mine, as well as a few other members of my family, is to try to predict events in the movies or TV shows we’re watching. It makes screen time a little more interactive (or competitive, depending on the night). I think we’re pretty good at it, and it’s usually fun to be right.

There are people who might not agree that this is fun. I’ve seen plenty of reviews that imply predictable only has four letters. The word is used to dismiss a book or show as having no surprises, no imagination and maybe no entertainment value at all. What’s the point, some people say, if the ending is obvious?

But for those of us who want a happy ending, a dose of predictability is a must. I want to know from the moment I learn the hero’s goal that he will eventually accomplish it. I want to know as soon as the bad guys are introduced that someone will stop them. I want to know that the unrequited love won’t stay that way. I maintain that it is the how and not the what that is important.

I need examples to explain myself. If, not that this has ever been part of a real plot, we were watching a love story and guess the girl’s conniving boss will lie to the guy to cause a split, we will be happy when we’re proven right. (We will be. I said we were good.) But our opinion of the movie will change based on how the scene plays out. If the guy walks off in a huff without even talking to the girl, we’ll groan at the ridiculous development and care very little about what happens next. But if the writer manages a clever conversation where he thinks she’s confirming what the boss said, and she’s actually saying something else, we might root for them to figure out the truth and start guessing what will tip someone off. The fact that we saw the misunderstanding coming matters less than how the characters handle it.

For another example, let’s imagine a side character assures the heroine that she won’t have to leave the vacation early because her sister’s baby isn’t due for another three weeks. We don’t have to be good to know the baby is coming early. Anyone who read that sentence guessed it, too. Right? This is where predicting plots isn’t just a hobby. I’m trying to learn. Imagine if the same character ran off for a birth and we didn’t even know anyone was pregnant. That kind of left field event isn’t better. How could the writer work in enough details to make the incident seem natural but not completely expected? Hint: It usually has to do with not explicitly saying something won’t happen.

I’m pondering all this because I’m working on the fourth and final book in a series. People who have read the first three probably have a guess at which two characters are getting together in this upcoming book. If they want the happily ever after that I want, they’ll be kind of mad if they’re wrong. I need to consider how to write a story that is predictable in a sense but not completely void of surprises. Hopefully, a few laughs will help. It can be hard to see those coming.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

In the Margins

I recently completed a quest inspired by the Apostles. It wasn’t as cool as that sounds. In fact, it wasn’t a religious experience at all. This is the part where I back up to explain.

The margins of my notebooks are littered with scribbles. Most of the scribbles are – no surprise – directly related to the book I’m writing. There are words and sentences pointing to where they should be inserted. Some are notes to myself to check for continuity when I type it or tiny diagrams to keep track of days of the week or where characters are sitting. If something happens two days after Thursday, it better sound like a weekend. And if the turn order mixes up in the middle of a game, readers will notice even if the players don’t.

But sometimes these notes don’t have anything to do with the book. I generally have a notebook within reach, and it can be a convenient place to jot stuff down. This is where the Apostles come in. I don’t remember how it came up, but my husband and I were trying to remember which of the twelve had been introduced in the first two seasons of The Chosen. With a notebook in my lap, the first thing I did was write the names along the margin so we could check them off as we thought about it. When I stumbled on that list of names a few weeks later, I smiled at the memory of why they were there. And then I wondered how many other random things might be recorded on the edges of my notebooks.

I grabbed a stack of the last half dozen or so for my quest. I found some unusual – if not terribly interesting – scrawls. There were several math problems. I occasionally write while my kids are doing homework nearby. If someone asks for math help, I’ll demonstrate a similar problem. I found the word “socks” written all by itself on the top of a page. No one in that book was talking about socks. Have I ever had characters talk about socks? If I made it entertaining, I was feeling more genius than I am right now. Was that a laundry reminder or a very unhelpful acronym?

Across the top of one page was a string of capital letters that would probably be meaningless to anyone else. I remember having my notebook at a cross country meet. When it was time to stop writing and start cheering, I marked the first letter of each girl’s school as she crossed the finish line. I can keep score in my head when there are only two or three teams, but this was the conference championship. I used my handy paper to track our school’s performance. (2nd place!)

There were other letters in a different notebook. I printed E A D G B E and no longer know why. Is it something to unscramble? Coincidence that all the letters are music notes? I didn’t hear a familiar melody and feel I would have sketched a staff to remember something musical. I did write a song title somewhere. It was one I liked on the radio and wanted to look up the artist later. I wrote an address because I knew I’d have my notebook when I needed to put it in the GPS.

There are several pages with pen scratches in the margins, places where I was in denial about running out of ink. Those do have to do with the book and with me not wanting to get up to find a new pen. The only place pencil appeared were the following lines: Hi! This will break. Ha! It did not. The lines also stick out for being not in my handwriting. I believe my daughter wrote that after asking if I thought some wiggly lead would fall out of her pencil if she tried to write with it.

I found a lowercase m with a tiny vertical line under it next to 2m with another line. That doesn’t jog a thing. I kind of wonder if it’s something algebraic, but I wonder if I only think that because there was other math. The most confusing discovery was a series of tiny vertical and horizontal lines. It sort of resembles Morse code. It is not a code I recognize or remember. It will stay tucked in my notebook with all the other little stories I didn’t intend to write. I didn’t even know I wrote mysteries.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

My Next Story

Guess what happens next month.

There are a lot of things happening next month, most of which I know nothing about. But an important one for me is a new book release. Anyone paying attention knows this will be the third Romance Arts book, The Art of Communication. Anyone really paying attention has probably guessed who’s getting together in this one. I’m not going to talk about the story inside the book because, you know, spoilers. This is the story of making the cover. I’m going to describe how I decided the kooky part and if you want to find it yourself, I suggest you do that first. Otherwise… cover spoiler! Who knew that was a thing? (Hint: The link on the title should let you see the cover, and preorder the book while you're at it.)

The “paintings” on the covers for this series are supposed to be examples of Audra’s work. They are scenes from nature with a little tweak. My post last January contained some whining about how difficult it was to get a picture that wasn’t all gray in the winter. This time I planned ahead and snapped lots of pictures of flowers during the summer. I wanted flowers on book 3 and picked out the picture to use pretty quickly.

Deciding what to tweak was not as quick. My first thought was the color of one of the flowers. I made one a darker purple, or changed it from pink to purple, depending on who you ask. The result was aesthetically pleasing. However, it didn’t have that unnatural bent I wanted. I think flowers can be different colors. I don’t actually know about this type of flower or flowers on the same plant (which wasn’t obvious in the picture anyway). But it looked perfectly normal to me.

I thought perhaps I could add a sunburst to one of the yellow centers instead, make it look almost glowing. This was either a bad idea or a great idea I was not capable of pulling off. I couldn’t get it to look natural and unnatural at the same time. It’s supposed to take the viewer a moment to notice anything is off. My sunbursts were too subtle to locate. Then they were about as subtle as the sun. Middle ground was taunting me from somewhere out of reach.

At that point, I decided the picture was the problem. I gave up and went for a walk. It was already fall so the flowers in our neighborhood were somewhat uninspiring. But while looking around, I did get the idea that I didn’t need to change the flowers at all. I could change something next to the flowers. A bee. I snapped a picture of a tiny little bee and inserted him into my cover picture. Then I made him purple instead of the flower. That’s not something you see every day, nor is it something you see the moment you look at the cover.

While celebrating this victory, I mentioned to my husband that there didn’t seem to be as many bees hanging around our backyard as in the summer. He was surprisingly shocked that the picture wasn’t something I got off the internet. He should know by now that I use my own pictures. I want everyone to know I have way more dedication than to copy a bee picture. I stood in the backyard for five whole minutes to get it. Too bad that was the easy part.