Friday, December 16, 2022

Today is release day.  The Art of Proposing is now available.  Maybe it could even be a last minute Christmas present, if ebooks weren't hard to wrap.  This is only a very short preview of the last short story since no one has to wait to read the rest of it.  

Ryan’s Turn

 The town had already hung the wreaths on the lampposts.  The lights were off because it was the middle of the day, but Violet still smiled to see how pretty they looked.  It increased her already Christmasy mood on the way to help Ryan decorate the January CafĂ©.  He turned down a drab side street to park behind the restaurant.

Violet had been inside with him when it was closed at least a handful of times.  Watching him unlock the door and flip on the lights still made her feel special.  He didn’t let just anyone in.  He unlocked the office as well.

“You can start making a plan while I wrestle the tree,” he said.

She said, “Okay,” and went inside to the cabinet of decorations.  She identified the box with the tree ornaments – it was labeled so it wasn’t difficult – and picked it up intending to bring it out front near where the tree would go.  She’d only made it back to the office door when she heard the creaking of a stepladder unfolding.  She set the box down to investigate.

Ryan had placed it between two prep tables and was about to ascend.  He seemed to read on her face that she didn’t have a question.  “You want to watch me get it down?”

“I’m curious.”  She answered with a shrug.  “You were kind of mysterious about it last year.  Like, you wait here so you don’t see me getting the tree from its super-secret hiding place.”

He let out a short laugh, then talked as he moved up the ladder.  “I’m sure I never called it a super secret, but I was probably vague on purpose.”  


To read the rest of the story, buy the 99-cent ebook:  AppleAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

I didn't promise any specific day last month, but I did say the third story would have a preview in November.  First a bit of news... The kindle version of the fourth book, The Art of Friendship, will be free on Amazon November 17 - 20.  It's a good time to catch up for anyone who hasn't finished the main series.  The book will be available on other ebook platforms soon after.  Another reason it's a good time to catch up.  Now back to the short stories.

Trevor's Turn

    It had been a long time since the door to Next Love had fooled Trevor. He knew the weight of it so well it didn’t even look heavy anymore. A voice that was also familiar called his name as he entered. Elaine Brachy waved to him and said, “I’ll be with you in just a minute.”
    The middle-aged man who was talking to her seemed to take Trevor’s arrival as his cue to leave. He shook Elaine’s hand and said something about looking forward to the new table.
    Trevor nodded at the man as he passed him. He was nervous about this mission and wanted to do it quickly so there was gratitude in the nod whether the man recognized it or not. Elaine met him partway. “Alison isn’t back from that estate sale yet, and I don’t expect her for a while. Has she texted you something different?”
    “No, I… I’m here to see you,” Trevor said. “I want to ask for your help with something.”
    “While Alison’s not here?” Her eyes glittered with excitement over what that might mean.
    Trevor plowed ahead. “I have an idea on how to… I’d like to ask Alison to marry me.”
    Elaine sucked in a huge breath and held it for a moment before she turned her head to the side and yelled, “Jim!” Her eyes hadn’t left Trevor. They stayed happy and maybe even a little happier after she startled him. She still enjoyed watching him squirm, but he still deserved it.
    Alison’s dad poked his head out of the back room and looked around until he found his wife.
    She motioned for him to come out and join them.
    Trevor didn’t think they both needed to be involved. He did not voice that opinion. Elaine would probably tell Jim as soon as Trevor left if she didn’t tell him now. She didn’t even wait until he had gotten all that close. “He’s going to propose to Alison!” she announced.
    Jim didn’t say anything. He acknowledged with a slight incline of his head that he’d heard.
    Elaine rolled her eyes at the less than exuberant reaction and turned back to Trevor. “What do you want us to do?”
    “I’d like her to find the ring in one of her hardware boxes while I’m here tomorrow,” Trevor explained. “I’d like you to help me figure out which one she’s gonna need and slip it inside before I get here.”
    “Oh! Let me see it!” Elaine held out a hand.
    Trevor guessed she meant the ring and carefully moved it from his pocket to her hand.
    “Nice,” she said. “Is this a family ring?”
    “No, it’s new.” It was a fairly delicate band with teeny diamonds inset all the way around. Alison wanted something practical and planned to slip a silicone band over it while she was working. Trevor hoped he picked the right one, and the approval in her mom’s eyes suggested it at least wasn’t awful.
    Her dad didn’t seem all that curious. He was walking away.
    “Let’s check out her work area,” Elaine said.
    Trevor followed her as he resisted the urge to ask for the ring back. He intended to leave it with her so he might as well start trusting her with it.
    Alison had a work area just outside the back room. They had to weave through some furniture to get there. A medium-sized dresser missing all its drawers was in the center of it. The dresser appeared freshly painted – smelled freshly painted – all white. There was probably more work to be done on it. There was a larger dresser nearby waiting to be stripped. It had no handles.
    Jim didn’t go all the way to his sanctuary. He stopped in Alison’s space and slid open the top drawer on the larger piece. “She’ll want handles for this one,” he said. Alison always left handles in the top drawer once she’d chosen them.
    “Okay,” Trevor said, “but what if she picks those out this afternoon or before I get here tomorrow?”
    “What time will you be here?” Elaine asked. “Can you get here first thing?”
    “I could. But if I’m here early, Alison will suspect something is up.” Trevor was not a morning person. And that was putting it lightly.
    “Good point,” Elaine said. She wore a shrewd expression. “I’m sure we can shift something from Jim’s workload or come up with a reason something needs to be bumped ahead. I can time it so that still needs handles at noon tomorrow.” She rushed over and opened the plastic bin with handles. She used both hands, and Trevor didn’t know where the ring went. He was working on that trust.
    She surveyed the contents of the bin. “I can hook it on one of these darker ones so the white gold will stand out.” As she closed the lid and returned to her feet, she appeared to read some uncertainty on Trevor’s face. “You want my help, and you’re getting my help. Don’t worry about a thing.”
To read the rest of the story, preorder the ebook:  AppleAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

As promised last month, this is the first part of the second short story from The Art of Proposing. A preview of the next story will be sometime in November.  When exactly?  I guess that will be obvious when it shows up.

Cameron’s Turn

    Katie got a face full of steam when she opened the oven.  The enticing aroma had caused her to lean forward too quickly.  She stepped back as she pulled the door all the way down, then pulled the pan out and set it on top of the stove.  She inhaled again.  The barbeque sauce was tangy enough to tickle her nostrils.  The kabobs looked delicious, just a hint of char on the edges.  They also looked like more than she could eat.
    She should have asked Cameron to join her.  Maybe.  Something had been weird when they talked about her plans for dinner.  He’d been duly impressed with the advancedness of using the broiler.  She couldn’t quite put her finger on why it had sounded as though he didn’t want to be invited.  He hadn’t actually said that.
    Katie grabbed a bagged salad from her refrigerator.  The meat was enough of an adventure.  She frowned at the salad that was also enough for two.  She could wait a day and have the same meal again on Friday.  It was always nice to have an easy dinner on Tichu nights.
    Her phone rang as she was sitting down to eat.  It was probably Cecelia.  She kept the ringer silent for unknown numbers, and her sister was the gabbiest person she knew.  It was a good guess.
    “Hey, Cecelia.”
    “Hey.  Did I catch you after dinner?”
    “I’m just starting,” Katie said.  “But I don’t mind talking while I eat if you don’t mind me eating while we talk.”
    “Sure.  It’s kind of late for you though.  Something complicated tonight?”
    “Not complicated exactly.  I had to let the meat soak in the, uh…”
    “I’d say you were turning into a real gourmet if you knew the word marinade,” Cecelia teased.
    “It was on the tip of my tongue.”
    “Is Cameron there?”
    “No.  Not tonight.”
    “Uh oh.”
    “There’s no uh oh,” Katie said.  “We don’t have to see each other every night.”
    “It’s not uh oh that he’s not there.  It’s uh oh that you sound wistful and defensive about it.  What’s wrong?”
    Katie made a noise to indicate she was chewing.  She was chewing and congratulating herself on the flavor.  But she was also buying herself a few moments to think.  Cecelia was easily her most drama-loving sibling.  Katie had to be careful what she said to her.  This time, she’d forgotten to be careful how she said it.  There couldn’t have been more than the faintest whiff of defensiveness.  And Katie didn’t think she sounded wistful at all.  “Nothing’s wrong,” she said.
    “And now you sound more defensive.  Why did you say you don’t have to see each other every day as though… I don’t know, but I didn’t say that.”
    Katie took another bite.
    “You might as well tell me,” Cecelia said.  “The baby is already asleep so I have lots of time to talk and bug you until you tell me.”
    “Fine.  But it’s really nothing.”  Katie paused for a quick sip of water.  “I was talking to Cameron at lunch about what I wanted to try for dinner.  He said something about how he hoped I would enjoy it.  I don’t remember his exact words, but something about the way he said it sounded like he was preempting an invitation.”
    “Why would he do that?”

To read the rest of the story, preorder the ebook:  AppleAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

As promised last month, this is the first part of the first short story from The Art of Proposing. A preview of the next story will be posted on October 20th. Don’t forget to check it out.

Logan’s Turn

    Logan almost expected Violet to hand him a script when she opened the door.
    She said, “Hi. Come on in.” There was nothing in her hands.
    Logan followed her inside and closed out the chill.
    She sat in the old armchair and nodded for him to pick a spot on the couch. It felt like a performance review. When those were obligatory and unhelpful. “So I’m not sure how much I should beat around the bush here,” Violet said. “What exactly did Audra tell you?”
    “Too much,” Logan said. Audra had told him too much.
    “She wants you to propose on Valentine’s Day.”
    “Yes, I know.” He sounded more irritated than he’d intended.
    Violet smiled understandingly. She knew it wasn’t directed at her. “I kind of thought sending you to me for advice was overkill, but I didn’t realize she’d already spelled it out so clearly.”
    “You know Audra,” he said. Violet had been her best friend for almost five years. “She always spells things out more clearly than she thinks she does.”
    Violet laughed. “You should’ve heard her trying to tell me how to casually slip in how she mentioned she was hoping for a proposal without saying that was the whole reason you were here. I mean, I gave you credit for knowing I wanted to talk to you because Audra told me to.”
    He’d have felt a little weird about accepting an invitation to come over when Audra wasn’t home if he hadn’t known exactly what it was about, but knowing what it was about was the problem. “Since I am here, maybe you wouldn’t mind trying to offer some real advice?”
    “I can try.” Violet looked interested but not eager, which made it easier to put her in the middle.
    Not that Logan would have put her in the middle if Audra hadn’t already done it. He punched at the pillow next to him as he spoke. “This is what Audra said. She said, ‘You didn’t do it at Christmas. You didn’t do it on New Year’s or my birthday. I know you know what day is Monday.’ Then she moved on like she’d just dropped a little hint for me to ponder when I knew what she was saying even if she didn’t use the word propose and even before you wanted to talk about ‘something.’”
    “Hmm. Now I’m wondering how Audra got to be so persuasive. I mean, we both knew this was unnecessary and yet here we are.” Violet motioned between them with a bemused expression, as though she was trying to remember how she’d agreed.
    It was simple. Audra always tried to make other people happy, which made them want to return the favor. “I was already… I got the ring before Christmas,” Logan said. “But then I worried it was too soon after I…” He paused, not sure if Audra had told Violet about his accidental proposal and not wanting to go into it if she didn’t know.
    “After you sort of accidentally proposed?” she supplied, not bothering to hide how funny she thought that was.
    Audra had definitely told her. He nodded and continued. “I thought she’d want me to ask on a day that was already significant, but if it was too soon after the other thing, it might sound like a joke. Valentine’s Day is the last in a string so… But then she pointed that out. She told me when to do it and that she’s looking forward to being surprised. I can’t do both.”
To read the rest of the story, preorder the ebook on Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Bonus Content

Q. When was the last time you interviewed yourself?

A. Are you sure I’ve done that?  It sounds a little crazy.

Q. You definitely have.

A. I’m not admitting anything except that I don’t remember the last time.

Q. I think that means it’s time to do it again.  Don’t you?

A. No.

Q. It’ll be fun.  People love your self-interviews.

A. I don’t even know if self-interview is a real thing.

Q. It is.  And people love it.  This is an opportunity to spread joy.

A. You’re going with spreading joy as the reason I need to do this?

Q. Don’t you want to spread joy?

A. Go ahead and ask a question.

Q. When is your next book coming out?

A. The Art of Friendship will be available very soon, on August 27th.

Q.  Hey, that’s real news.  This interview thing was a great idea.  That’s book four in the Romance Arts series, right?

A.  Yes.  It’s the last book in the series but not quite the end of the series.

Q. Wait.  It’s not the end of the series?  That sounds like bigger news.  What do you mean?

A.  I’m writing a collection of short stories, proposal stories, one for each of the four guys in the books.

Q. Proposal stories!?  Where and when can I read those?

A. The first part of the first one will appear…

Q. Wait!  Can I guess who is going to propose first?

A. You could, but I wouldn’t be able to say if you’re right or not.  We don’t want to spoil anything if anyone else wants to guess.

Q. I’ll guess later then, but I think it might be the guy who sort of almost proposed in the book.  What were you saying about the first part of the first one?

A. It’ll be posted right here September 20th.  And then in October, I’ll post the first part of the second story.

Q. What about the rest of the first one!? 

A.  Well, this is where some people might think I’m being a little mean.  I’m going to make you wait until December.  A sample of the third and fourth stories will be posted in November and December.  And right after that, just in time for Christmas, the full collection will be available as an ebook.  I’ll provide links to make it easy.

Q. Can I guess what you’re calling this ebook?

A. Sure.

Q. Is it Four Amazing Proposals from Four Amazing Guys?

A. Uh… that’s a little long and… Remember how the other titles all start with The Art of?

Q. Right.  Theme.  Is it going to be called The Art of Popping the Question?

A. I actually thought about that for about five seconds.  But it’s too… not right.  The collection will be called simply The Art of Proposing.

Q. That would have been my next guess.  So when do we get to do this again?

A. Well, I did just explain how the posts are planned through December.

Q. Cool.  More joy in January?



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 or 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


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.