Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Peek into the World of Book Cover Design ~ Interview with Designer Yvonne Parks of Pear Creative

Yvonne Parks runs a design company called Pear Creative that specializes in book cover design as well as publishing and marketing materials. She has worked for multiple New York Times best-selling authors, with over 1340 books to her credit. She lives in Ottawa Canada with her husband Jason and their 2 young daughters.

1. Your company has an interesting name, Pear Creative ( How did you come up with that name and is there a significant meaning to it?

Thanks! Yes, it’s not a usual name, but that was intentional. I wasn’t always Pear Creative. I started out as “Yvonne Parks Design”, but over the years as my company grew, I wanted to expand beyond just myself, and so the company needed a new name.

First, in marketing and design, the word ‘creative’ is used in a similar way to the way we understand the word ‘design’. “Joe was in charge of the campaign’s creative” Meaning: all work done to produce a marketable look, style, or theme to any visual project.

The ‘pear’ part came a few years back as a group of business minded friends and I were discussing how really good marketing can take a word or object, and change the public’s association with that word or object. Remember when an “apple” was just a snack to keep the doctor away? Now, when you say “Apple”, we think of top of the line computers, and industry changing inventions like iPhones and iPads! That is tremendous marketing of a brand! One friend joked that perhaps I should use an orange as my logo…just to play with the ‘apple’ idea. I replied with a sigh. “That’s cute, but in all honesty, I want to take people beyond just apples and oranges! I want to give them something new and fresh!” And so Pear Creative was born! Perhaps someday when people see a lone pear, they won’t think of just a yummy fruit but of that cool book cover that they loved. :)

2. I have loved the covers you’ve been creating for OakTara ( over the past year. When did you first know you wanted to get into design, and cover design specifically? And how did that come about?

I’ve always been creative. Music, painting, jewelry making, knitting…if I could use it to create something…I was drawn to it. I just loved making things pretty! When I was 7 years old, I wanted to design clothes…and carried a briefcase with me wherever I went, dreaming of being a designer. (Not just a designer, but the owner of the design company I pretended to have!) Now I can see that my passion had already manifested itself when I was just a child!

My first love has always been music. I’m a singer/songwriter/musician first, having done some recording over the years. But as a career, I spent 12 years teaching music, piano and voice until literally ‘falling’ into a job as a designer. I had been given an old version of Photoshop around 8 years ago, and just for fun, would play around with it. I began creating custom blogs and websites for friends and family, and a publisher literally called me one day after he had browsed my sites and asked me if I had ever considered a career in book cover design. The thought was crazy! Sure, I knew what looked nice to me, but I didn’t know anything about books! I actually turned him down at first. But he was persistent…seeing something in my blog designs that he wasn’t seeing in any of the resumes and portfolios coming across his desk from graduated design students. It was Divine timing, as I had just decided to stop teaching music after more than a decade, and was thinking about what to possibly do next. I was hesitant, but I eventually said yes to a trial period of 3 months of contract work with that publisher. They said they would show me the ropes of what it took to prep a book for print, and that eased my fears just a little. Well, that was 6 years ago, and I’ve done over 1000 books for that publisher alone. Since then, I’ve branched out to work with a dozen publishers, as well as self-publishing authors….having completed over 1340 printed books in 6 years.

I now do all kinds of ‘creative’ work. Not just books, but company branding, marketing materials, websites, advertising campaign creative…you name it. However, my first love is book cover design. I never tire of it!

3. Are you educated in a digital art field? Or did you just naturally fall into it?

I wish I could say that I have a big fat degree from a prestigious design school. But I can’t say that. I’m self-taught. At first, I was rather embarrassed about that, and considered going to get an education in graphic design. That is, until I had an experience that changed the way I saw myself and my work. I was asked to design a recruitment campaign that would hopefully increase the number of nurses coming to Canada. I hadn’t done this kind of work before, but just dove in. I did billboards, bus benches, websites, and career ads in Canada’s largest national newspaper. I treated every ad like a book cover. Simple, clean, eye catching. I honestly didn’t know what a career ad was supposed look like! Long story short: This campaign met with unprecedented success, bringing in record results. Our client said this about me “Yvonne thinks so outside the box…!” I said a polite ‘thank you’ to the compliment, but then laughed to myself. “I’m outside the box, because I have NO idea where the darn box is!” Having never been taught the ‘rules’ of design…I went by my own eye and what felt right to me…and it has proven to be the secret of my success. I am now asked to teach my design philosophies to classes of book design students, and have recently been asked to contribute a chapter on cover design to a design curriculum. (How ironic and fun is that!) J

4. What is the first step you take when you are starting a brand new project? And from there, how do you go about creating the covers?

I’m given the title, subtitle and author’s name for a book, and then a very concise summary of what the book is about. I like to put myself in the place of the potential buyer for a while. Obviously the potential buyer doesn’t know the full content or storyline. So how can I, as a designer, communicate through simple imagery, and even font style…a few things about this book? First, what kind of book is this? (Genre etc) Who is the target audience? What is the setting/location? In what era does it occur? What emotion do I want to evoke in the reader at first glance?

My philosophy is simple. A book cover isn’t meant to tell the whole story. It’s simply meant to pique the interest of a potential buyer….and then hint to the contents of the book. If you can make a buyer simply curious….you are halfway to selling a book…simply because you’ve caused them to pick it up. They then flip it over and take 20 seconds to read the first couple lines of the back cover copy. It’s the marriage of the curiosity-piquing cover, and the intriguing back copy that ‘seals the deal’ and sells a book.

5. What elements make for a great cover design? And in this day and age of lots of covers being shown in digital format, are there things you take into consideration that you might not have several years ago?

I find that simplicity is the key. My favorite covers are those that aren’t busied up with lots of images, collages, fonts or textures. Less is definitely more.

I’m a fanatic about fonts. Maybe ‘font nerd’ is the better word. I know all of them, and I see every font on every sign and billboard I pass. Something people don’t know about fonts is that they can go out of style! I compare them to clothing fads. You see it everywhere for a while…there is a market saturation…and then ‘bam’, they are passé. I can look at a cover and know what year it was designed, simply by a designer’s poor choice to use an overly trendy font. If it’s easily identifiable and popular, the better chance that it will also end up looking ‘old’ in a couple years. This isn’t good for sales if you want your book to sell for years to come. So I’m a fan of using simple, classic, straight fonts that are timeless.

E-books have changed design somewhat. We used to consider how a book looks ‘across the bookstore’, and how it will grab you on a shelf. Now we need to consider how it will grab you when it’s the size of a quarter on your screen on sites like Amazon. If I make it tiny, can you still read the title? Can you still make out the image? These are factors that definitely need to be considered in this new digital age.

6. What are your favorite photo editing/layout programs?

I use the industry standard, Adobe Creative Suite family of products: Photoshop for editing and manipulating images, InDesign for the rest of the text layout on the spine and back cover, and Illustrator for work with vectors.

7. I know OakTara uses stock images. Some publishing houses send out a questionnaire to authors asking for details about characters for the art department. With stock images, how do you go about finding a model who seems to fit the character(s) in the book?

The majority of publishers use stock images. The huge publishing houses have massive budgets, and will use custom photography. However, the cost of professional photo-shoots with models or staging of scenes can range from $5000 – 20,000 and more! So, with dozens of stock sites, some having 16 million images (with 70,000 new images added each week), there are more than enough images to choose from. Then with Photoshop we can tweak and alter images to be even more unique to the book.

Finding the perfect character can be a challenge. I start with looking for a certain aged person, with specific emotion. I’ll search using words like: “Wistful teenage girl”. Things like skin tone, hair style/color can be edited in Photoshop, so we start with the basic emotion, age and gender. It can take a while to sort through literally thousands of images before you see your heroine ‘pop’ off the page at you.

8. I know OakTara is very good about giving their author’s input into cover design. Do you ever get frustrated with a cover you think is just perfect, only to have the author ask for changes?

Ah yes. It does happen! Different publishers have different philosophies about the author’s involvement. OakTara is simply outstanding with how they involve the author, yet let the designer determine how to best communicate the contents of the book. Many times the author will search through stock photos and send a few samples of images that they feel represent their character, and this is just so incredibly helpful! No one knows the characters like the author, so this is such a great resource to have access to. In the end, it’s every publisher’s goal to sell books! My hope is that each author can come to trust me with their ‘baby’, and in turn, l will do my utmost to give them the most marketable product I can.

As with all business, the end goal is to make the client happy. There definitely are times when what the self-publishing author wants is not in the best interest of their book. Meaning that what the author would like to see is not what will sell their book…and sometimes it can be a detriment to sales. I try to do my absolute best to help clients make the best marketing choice….because sometimes what they like, isn’t what will sell books. So yes…I have been frustrated with a ‘perfect’ book being altered. But that is just part of the job. In the end, a happy client is what makes me smile.

9. Ah, so you work with individuals, too. Where should authors contact you, if they are interested in your services?

I work with publishers, companies, churches, non-profits, or individuals….you name it! Sometimes an author will have their book done by me through their publisher, and will then come to me on their own for additional marketing materials. I can create bookmarks, postcards, business cards, posters, blogs, websites…whatever they need to help promote their book or brand. I also create one-sheets for authors who are in the process of introducing their book to agents or publishers. Some authors have me do a front cover while shopping their manuscript, just to give it that ‘wow’ factor and catch the eye of a publisher.

There are so many ways to market and promote your book. Just because you are a newer or first-time author doesn’t mean your book and materials can’t rival any bestseller out there! Everyone should be able to have an exceptional book cover at a reasonable price.

Authors are welcome to visit my site and browse my portfolio and either use the contact form on my site, or email me at

10. Can you give us some images of two or three of your favorite covers and tell us what makes them significant to you?

Sure! There are books I’m proud of for different reasons. Sometimes I just love the cover, but other times I’m proud of the success of the book and its author, and that I had the pleasure of having a part to play. I designed a new book for best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad) called Unfair Advantage that is currently on the New York Times bestseller list. Those kinds of successes are fun.
Here are a couple more that I enjoyed being a part of.

One Step Away is a new book in an exciting new series by Eric Wilson, the New York Times best-selling author of Fireproof. I like the simplicity of this cover. Each book in the series will be following the same title placement, with the number 2, then 3 and so on used in the various titles. It’s a fun way to connect a series visually.

Kondi’s Quest by Sylvia Stewart (OakTara Publishers) is a cover I love. There are 4 different layers of images to this cover that blend seamlessly to create a quiet mood and texture. The little girl, the grass hut, the sky, and then distressed paper all work together for a seamless effect. Add a pop of color in the title, and we have a beautiful end product.

Watched! Is an upcoming release by OakTara Publishers. In fact, you are getting a sneak peek! No one has seen this yet…but the publisher gave me the go-ahead to share this cover with you. I love the intensity of this cover. It captures you. You’d see it from across a bookstore and instantly be curious. It gives you a little glimpse of the auburn haired, young woman in the story too. See how we can ‘hint’ to the story rather than ‘tell’ the whole story? This is also great example of using a clean, simple, classic font that will always look fresh and current.

So there you have it folks, I hope you enjoyed the information in this interview, as much as I did. I could stand in a bookstore aisle and look at covers all day. As a reader, what are some attributes that attract you to a book cover enough to make you pick it up and flip it over to read the blurb, like Yvonne talked about earlier?

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Here's What I Learned About Attribution, He Said

I just had an epiphany about how I write. Turns out, I was writing dialogue backwards. It went something like this:
Luke said, “An attack?”
Mal said, “A warning.”
Book said, “Have they hailed us?”
Uhura said, “That’s the odd thing—there’s been nothing but radio silence.”
Book said, “I’m not a spacer, but that sounds strange.”

You see it? Said, said, said, said, said. But I think it wasn't that I was using the 'said's that was incorrect as much as where I used them. (More on this at the end.) I didn't know how to correctly handle basic dialogue tag attribution.

Attribution is how the writer tells you who said what. Mark Nichol writes:

Attribution is the convention in composition of identifying a speaker or writer when you include direct quotes (which should be enclosed in quotation marks) or paraphrases. An entire system of usage — a choreography, if you will — has developed around how to arrange quotations and paraphrases and their attributions. Here are the dance steps:

“The basic setup is to reproduce a single sentence, followed by an attribution,” he began. “Then, if the quotation consists of more than one sentence, follow the attribution with the rest of it.” If the quotation extends for more than one paragraph, do not close the first paragraph with an end quotation mark; this omission signals to the reader that the same person is being quoted in the next paragraph.

In that next paragraph, rinse and repeat.

With this in mind, let's look at that first example again with an eye on fiction Attribution:

“An attack?” Luke asked.
“A warning," Mal said.
“Have they hailed us?” Book asked.
Uhura touched the device in her ear. “That’s the odd thing—there’s been nothing but radio silence.”
"I’m not a spacer," Book said, "but that sounds strange.”

For more information click this article on how to use attribution tags to control the rhythym of fiction in dialogue.
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Friday, August 26, 2011

FFF: Why Harper Lee never wrote again

The only thing more interesting than publishing an enduring classic like the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill A Mockingbird is refusing to explain why you never wrote anything else. And yet, that's exactly what I bring to you today, the real explanation why reclusive American author Harper Lee never published another novel.

It is at once earthier and more believable than many of the theories I've seen bandied about.
The subject of "To Kill A Mockingbird" is off-limits for most who talk to its author Harper Lee, but not to her close friend, the Rev. Thomas Lane Butts of the Monroeville Methodist Church. "We talk about it once in a while," he tells Paul Toohey of Australia's Sunday Telegraph. "She once said to me when we were up late one night, sharing a bottle of scotch: 'You ever wonder why I never wrote anything else?' And I said, 'Well, along with a million other people, yes'. I espoused two or three ideas. I said maybe you didn't want to compete with yourself. She said, 'Bull ... Two reasons: one, I wouldn't go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill A Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again'."
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Resource Roundup ~ Suspense & Historical Research ~ Plus Some Freebies

Historical Reading and Research:
Today I offer a couple of great links for historical authors. The first is to an index of inspirational historical fiction. If you've written a work in this genre you can contact the list hostess and she will add your book for you. This is a great site for doing comparables for proposals also. Inspirational Historical Fiction Index 
Then there is this great site I found that has cataloged hundreds of links to articles about the Civil War. So if you need to do some research on the Civil War check out: The American Civil War Homepage 
Suspense / Thriller / Crime Fiction Research:
The links in this section are all to sites that have varying relation to medical or crime research. First there is Redwood's Medical Edge. She blogs about tons of medical stuff and you can email her with questions, too.
Then there is APB Online, a crime blog that exclusively covers current crime news.
CopNet offers tons of information on police procedures and agencies around the country. 
Crime and Clues is a forensics site. 
And the TruTV Crime Library has tons of stories of real life crimes.
General Research:
 If you would like to hear the dialect that your character speaks so you can authentically write their speech, check out The International Dialects of English Archive.
InfoPlease and RefDesk are two sites that might have useful information on your topic of research.
 Lastly, if you are in the thick of promoting a new release, or even a book that's been out for awhile, I've found Build Book Buzz to be a helpful site.
That's all the links I have for you today. Hopefully some of them will be helpful to you! As always, if you have a site that benefits you in one of these areas, please don't hesitate to share it with our readers in the comments.
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Friday, August 19, 2011

Fabulously Fun Friday: Writers Writing

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Lesson in Backstory, from Lisa Gardner's The Survivors Club

When Police Detective Sergeant Roan Griffin is introduced to the readers in The Survivors Club, he's talking to himself. He's rehearsing what he's going to say in response to certain questions, comments, when he arrives at his 8:30 briefing.

"Welcome back," they'd say.

"How are you doing?" they'd ask.

"My anxiety is operating within normal parameters," he'd reply.

Why would a police sergeant be nervous about going to a standard briefing? What's wrong with the man?

New York Times best selling author Lisa Gardner didn't answer these questions yet--and doesn't for quite some time. Instead, she gave us a six-paragraph backstory that begins with describing Griffin's stellar background in law enforcement, moves momentarily into his first introduction to Cindy (who we discover later became his wife), and finishes with memories of a specific event:

Two and a half years ago, when the third kid vanished from Wakefield and the pattern of a locally operating child predator became clear, there had never been any doubt that Griffin would head the investigation. He remembered being excited when he'd walked out of that briefing. He remembered the thrum of adrenaline in his veins, the flex of his muscles, the heady sense that he had once again begun a chase.

Two days before Cindy went for a routine checkup. Six months before everything went from bad to worse. Eleven months before he learned the true nature of the black abyss.

For the record, he'd nailed that son of a . . . For the record.
Lesson #1: Start with a hook. Although the backstory was a good read, Lisa didn't use it to introduce her character. She didn't begin the chapter with, "Griffin had joined the Rhode Island State Police force sixteen years ago. He'd started with four months in a rigorous boot camp . . . " If she'd begun with this dry biographical record of Griffin's accomplishments, she would've bored her reader to tears.

Instead of establishing his credibility at the first of the chapter, she put his credibility in question. She introduced him from deep inside his own head at a vulnerable time. For whatever reason, he was nervous about going to a routine briefing. This introduction captured the reader's attention--hooked him.

Lesson #2: Keep the backstory brief and immediate. We don't know who Griffin's parents are or his deepest high school secret, although Lisa undoubtedly knows. Her characterization is so realistic she probably writes 10,000 words per bio. But the reader doesn't need to know everything she does about the characters. What we needed to know is that Griffin wasn't always a nutcase, has police work in his blood, and had a case that ate at him. That's all we needed, and that's all Lisa provided at this point.

Lesson #3: If you write it, use it. Everything that Lisa wrote in this backstory served a function. The work record spoke immediately to her opening scene of Griffin talking to himself. Cindy, who was mentioned only twice in the entire segment, later became a major element, a heart-breaking twist, a wrenching pain in Griffin's gut. (If you've guessed it's because she died in the story, you're wrong. She died before the story began. I'm not giving spoilers: you'll have to read the novel.)

Lesson #4: Write a powerful ending to the backstory segment. Gardner's last line served as a hook on its own. We are now hooked on the character. Whatever he endured, we admire his grit, we're proud of his success. And we wonder why the man who nailed the bad guy is now worried about a simple briefing.

Backstory shouldn't be gratuitous. Make its word count earn a place in your novel. Maneuver it to serve your purpose--which should be to keep your reader hooked. Be discriminating in what you choose to reveal. Be merciless against uselessness. Ax the dead weight.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Interview with Crime Fictionista Nike Chillemi

When you have a passion for crime fiction, you become the Crime Fictionista--at least you do if you're Nike Chillemi. And what better way for her to exhibit her expertise than to write crime novels? In her debut, Burning Hearts, twenty-three year old Erica Brogna has a jaded outlook on life, thanks to the horrors of WWII. But life’s evils become even more personal when whoever killed her mentor is now after her. Some say Harley-ridin’ Lorne Kincaid, the very man after her heart, is the murderer. Are they right?

Nike is also the founding board member of the Grace Awards, a reader's choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction, and she writes monthly book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine.

Readers will be hearing a lot about this talented author, so let's get to know her here:

AC: You’re a member of the “Edgy Christian Fiction Loves” (Ning). Explain what the group means by "edgy" Christian fiction.

Nike: It seems that members of the ECFL (Ning) have varied meanings for edgy Christian fiction. Of course, the default meaning almost everyone first thinks of is that the book is steamy, sensual, or sexual in at least a strong subtheme, if not in its major plot line. But many ECFL members have a broader meaning for "edgy." The novel, especially if it's a suspense, could be gritty. Burning Hearts falls into the gritty category due to its action scenes and the detailed description of the effects of the crime of murder via arson. Romance novels and women's fiction could tackle darker subthemes head-on, such as alcoholism, spousal and child abuse, etc. The one thing edgy fiction writers have in common is they don't put a shade on it, whatever the "it" is. They don't try to sanitize a gruesome subject, don't gloss it over, or make it more presentable. It is what it is.

AC: What are it’s boundaries? What is considered taboo?

Nike: Well, no subject would be taboo, IMO. There is a boundary, as far as I'm concerned. The Christian edgy fiction writer can present the subject as it really is, but should not sensationalize it. That's a fine line and one the author has to decide with the keen eye of an editor over his/her shoulder. Ultimately, the reader will be the final arbiter.

AC: What’s edgy about Burning Hearts?

Nike: First of all, I was shocked when I first submitted Burning Hearts to various contests and discovered half of the judges thought it was edgy. I'd never thought of myself as an edgy writer way back then. After all, the heroine and hero don't even kiss until the very end. It's a sweet romance between two young people who are quite inexperienced with the opposite sex. However, for some judges, what threw it into the edgy category is my accurate description of police procedure, detailed crime scenes, and blow-by-blow action scenes.

AC: Is there a point where you’d draw the line and say, “I’m not going to write that”?

Nike: Well, I tend to read far more edgy books than I write, so far. For me, it depends upon the characters. In Burning Hearts, Lorne and Erica are not socially adept in the romance department, so you're going to have a slowly developing tender romance. I just submitted book two in the series for editing. Goodbye Noel is a Christmas-themed historical romantic suspense in which the main characters are more mature and socially experienced, and so I'd have to rate it a "warm romance." All my books champion the victim of the crime. At least one of my major characters will be doggedly seeking justice for the victim. So, a line draws itself in the sand that I won't cross.

AC: Tell us about the novel.

Nike: One of the subthemes is America's recovery from World War II and the immigration that followed. I'm one quarter Czechoslovak, and I have a growing Czech immigrant community in my fictitious village of Sanctuary Point. Something quite interesting happened when the novel was in editing. I realized Erica is a bit like me. She wants to be a dress designer and I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and worked in the bridal industry. She's independent and stubborn and it gets her into trouble. I'm independent and stubborn but it never got me into any trouble at all. Yeah, right. Erica's mother is very similar to my Czechoslovak grandmother. Mrs. B excels in the kitchen and has a great sense of humor. So did my grandmother. Mrs. B teases her children and is teased by them. I recall my grandmother swatting my dad with a kitchen towel. He'd laugh and hug her.

AC: What inspired the story?

Nike: I wish I had something exotic to say about how I came up with the storyline. The truth is I keep a file of possible plot lines. I've got about fifty stories in that file right now. I add to a storyline as something comes to me. One of them will grab hold of me. The characters start to take over and demand their story be told. That's what happened with Burning Hearts. I could see Erica and Lorne vividly and I had to write their story.

AC: Where do you get your ideas for the characters?

Sometimes I'll see a person in a restaurant or some place, and they catch my attention. I'll think, I should imagine an entire life for that person and put them in one of my books. And sometimes I do. With me the characters drive the story. I get ideas for storylines but when I find two main characters I'd like to spend some time with, they take over. Voila, I have a story. I'll change the plot line to fit the character rather than force the hero or heroine to do something that might be out of character for them.

AC: Big question: Outliner or Pantser, and why?

Nike: A little of both. I start with an idea for a story, and sometimes I see it from beginning to end. Then other times, half way through I realize I have no ending and have to work to construct one that satisfies. When writing a chapter I just write. No outline. Don't worry about a high point or dark moment for the chapter. Don't even care about a hook at the end too much. I keep writing until I get a first draft. Then I go back and might decide I have a bunch of lousy chapters, but still a great idea for a book. So, the rewriting begins. When banging out the first draft, as soon as a chapter is completed, I write a very short synopsis of it and create a plot line file, chapter by chapter. Then I can go back and look to see if I have a dark moment and a riveting climax or if work is needed.

AC: Love that short synopsis idea. Great tip.
What's your strongest trait as a writer?

I keep at it and I'm teachable. My writing has improved a great deal since I started this journey five years ago.

AC: Weakest?

Nike: I want the reader to get so caught up in the drama of the romance or the chase to catch the murderer that I sometimes don't put in enough backstory. I always have to look at that. Does the character have enough depth?

AC: That's a new one for me--someone wo doesn't put in enough backstory!
Is being published with Desert Breeze a goal or a stepping-stone? What are you striving for?

Desert Breeze is a great place to be and is both a goal and a stepping-stone. I love Desert Breeze because writers there are allowed to express their creativity. It's a terrific writing experience for me. On the other hand, I may have a novel in me that isn't a fit for Desert Breeze. If that should happen, I'd shop it elsewhere and that would not be a problem. Several Desert Breeze authors also publish elsewhere.

More about Burning Hearts:

Erica Brogna’s (23) parents doted on her and taught her to think for herself. Many boys she grew up with have fallen in the war, shaking her childhood faith. In rides a handsome stranger, at the hour of her most desperate need. A woman who is her best friend and mentor is trapped in a burning house. After making an unsuccessful rescue attempt, Erica stands by as this man rushes into the inferno and carries her friend’s lifeless body out.

Lorne Kincade (27) can’t out run his past on his Harley Davidson WLA, the civilian model of the motorcycle he rode in the war. He’s tried. He’s been a vagabond biker in the year since the war ended. His Uncle Ivar bequeathed him a ramshackle cottage in Sanctuary Point, on the Great South Bay of Long Island, NY and now he’d like to hope for a future again, repair the minuscule place, and settle down. The only problem is, a young woman with hair the color of mink is starting to get under his skin and that’s the last thing he needs.

Great story, Nike. Thanks for joining us!

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Fabulously Fun Friday ~ Writing Jokes

There was once a young man who, in his youth, professed his desire to become a great writer.
When asked to define great, he said, "I want to write stuff that the whole world will read, stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level, stuff that will make them scream, cry, howl in pain and anger!"
He now works for Microsoft writing error messages. 

A visitor to a certain college paused to admire the new Hemingway Hall that had been built on campus.
"It's a pleasure to see a building named for Ernest Hemingway," he said.
"Actually," said his guide, "it's named for Joshua Hemingway. No relation."
The visitor was astonished. "Was Joshua Hemingway a writer, also?"
"Yes, indeed," said his guide. "He wrote a check." 

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.
She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.
"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."
A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.
"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"
"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."

A screenwriter comes home to a burned down house. His sobbing and slightly-singed wife is standing outside. “What happened, honey?” the man asks.
“Oh, John, it was terrible,” she weeps. “I was cooking, the phone rang. It was your agent. Because I was on the phone, I didn’t notice the stove was on fire. It went up in seconds. Everything is gone. I nearly didn’t make it out of the house. Poor Fluffy is--”
“Wait, wait. Back up a minute,” The man says. “My agent called?”

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, "Where's the self-help section?" 
She answered, "If I tell you, it will defeat the purpose." 

A hungry lion was roaming through the jungle looking for something to eat. He came across two men.     One was sitting under a tree reading a book; the other was typing away on his typewriter.
The lion quickly pounced on the man reading the book and devoured him. Even the king of the jungle knows that readers digest and writers cramp.

Q. What's the difference between publishers and terrorists?
A. You can negotiate with terrorists.

   #1: "...Yeah, I make $75,000 a year after taxes."
    #2: "What do you do for a living?"
    #1: "I'm a stockbroker. How much do you make?
    #2: "I should clear $60,000 this year."
    #1: "What do you do?"
    #2: "I'm an architect."
The third guy has been sitting there quietly, staring into his beer, when the others turn to him.
    #2: "Hey, how much do you make per year?"
    #3: "Gee... hmmm... I guess about $13,000."
    #1: "Oh yeah? What kind of stories do you write?"

How many science fiction writers does it take to change a light bulb?
Two, but it's actually the same person doing it. He went back in time and met himself in the doorway and then the first one sat on the other one's shoulder so that they were able to reach it. Then a major time paradox occurred and the entire room, light bulb, changer and all was blown out of existence. They co-existed in a parallel universe, though.

Q. How many mystery writers does it take to screw in a light bulb? 
A. Two.  One to screw it almost all the way in, and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.

Q. How many cover blurb writers does it take to screw in a light bulb? 

Did you hear the one about the pregnant woman who went into labor and began to yell, "Couldn't! Wouldn't! Shouldn't! Didn't! Can't!"? She was having contractions.

I got these great writer's jokes from Jokes About Writers
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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review of 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

Based on the archetypes found in ancient mythology (mostly Grecian), Schmidt has created forty-five models “for creating original characters.” Included are fifteen feminine and fifteen masculine archetypes, as well as fifteen secondary character models. The personalities range from Artemis the warrior and Hera the mother to Hades the hermit and Zeus the ruler.

Each archetype (with the exclusion of the supporting characters which are grouped into three chapters) is described and analyzed in an easily scanned chapter. Fears, dreams, goals, and motivations are listed, along with a glimpse into the “Hyde side” of each character’s personality. Each entry concludes with a list of movies, television shows, literary works, and historical instances in which the archetype may be recognized.

Although interesting, I felt it would be difficult for an author to allow the archetypes to form the basis of characters when writing. The book might be better used as a reference point to ensure uniformity in an already existing character’s personality.

However, if for nothing else, 45 Master Characters is worth perusing just for the sake of the last two chapters which provide detailed outlines of both the feminine and masculine journeys.
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Monday, August 8, 2011

Three Thriller Tips

This is another post dedicated to genre writers, specifically, those interested in writing thrillers. Zachary Petit, managing editor of Writer's Digest magazine, gleaned three tips from bestselling medical thriller writer Michael Palmer (The Last Surgeon) that thriller authors should keep in mind when planning their novels.

1. Formulate a what-if question for your book.
For his book Extreme Measures, Palmer wondered, What if there’s a powerful substance that can make a person look dead if they’re not? He says your question should be highly stylized—no more than 25 words and two sentences: “The essence of what you’re going to be searching for in your book,” he says. “You should read it over and over. It should make perfect sense to you.”

Then, you’ll have the concept well-shaped in your mind, and that will help you craft your novel, and also allow you to pitch it in a pinch when you need to … say, in that storied scenario where you find yourself in an elevator with a literary agent, and you’ve got until Floor 3 to seal the deal.

2. Develop a MacGuffin.

Palmer explains the MacGuffin, a term popularized by Alfred Hitchcock and a key in thrillers, as basically the answer to your what-if question.

When he wondered about the substance that can make a person look dead but keep them alive, he thought, Suppose they used it to remove people from society? And that became his MacGuffin.

It’s the thing that drives your novel—for instance, it could be what the characters are seeking to get their hands on or discover, regardless of what that is, or why (a popular example is the film Citizen Kane, and the meaning of the word “Rosebud”). Palmer says you should start your book with the MacGuffin, even if you end up changing it later.

3. Answer the question, Whose book is this?

Consider who has the most at stake—“That’s how you can figure out who your main character is going to be,” Palmer says.

When he’s working on a book, once Palmer knows who his protagonist is, he starts to dig deeper How old is he/she? What does he/she do? Where did he/she grow up? What’d he/she eat for breakfast?

In the end, Palmer says it starts to bring the character to life—and by imbuing his characters with tiny human quirks, readers relate to them. After all, in the author’s opinion, people believe they’re reading books to see what happens, but inevitably, it doesn’t matter—people are reading those books because the author has led them to care about the characters.

Writer's Digest magazine has a number of free services, including a free weekly writing newsletter. I highly recommend it.
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Friday, August 5, 2011

Sign Language

Alex Adena has tons of these on his sight, Signs and Wonders. Be sure to check it out!
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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Waiter, There’s a Smphurphle in My Fantasy Novel!

One of the joys writing fantasy is the necessity of creating unique names for your unique worlds, races, creatures, and technology. Even the best of fantasy writers occasionally take this to a worrisome extreme, however, when they start slapping made-up names on things that really aren’t so fantastical after all. In Alchemy With Words (edited by Darin Park and Tom Dullemond), Milena Benini elaborates:

The great late Damon Knight … strongly objected to people calling their small, short-tailed, fluffy animals, smeerps—when they could perfectly well have called them rabbits instead…. [I]f you are inventing a world different from our own, by all means call whatever is really different by a really different name. Just make sure you don’t merely call a horse a glymph.

Unless you’re striving for a humorous effect, you’re usually better off using prosaic words for even your most inherently original elements. The Flaming Purple Smphurphle just doesn’t inspire the same quality of verisimilitude found in the calmer (if admittedly less intriguing) ondiron, or the even simpler and more versatile flint dagger. Hugo winner David Gerrold points out, in his book Worlds of Wonder:

Occasionally, you may feel the need to make up a new word…. Sometimes you can do this to great effect, but not always…. When you are writing science fiction or fantasy, you will always be tempted to make up new words—especially technical-sounding terms like quadro-triticale and veeble-fetzer…. As a general rule, you should always be wary of inventing new words.

Fantasy authors have just as much responsibility as their less fantastical comrades to ground their stories in a sense of reality. Consider the languages spoken in your fantasy world. How has history and technology influenced the etymology? Why has this particular item gleaned this particular name? If you know why something is called a smphurphle, go for it. Otherwise, you’re probably better off toning it down to a less attention-grabbing word, so as not to prod your readers’ suspension of disbelief bubbles.
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Google+ ~ New Social Media Phenom? Or Fizzle?

Okay, so first let me admit that I'm very new to Google+. I mostly joined just to see what all the fuss was about, and because I didn't want to miss an opportunity to reach readers if I felt they were hanging out on Google+.

My initial thought after being over there for a month or so: What's the big deal?

But in fairness, let me do a little comparison for you between Facebook and Google+.

I do like the way Google+ handles organizing your friends a little better than Facebook. I've never grouped my friends on Facebook simply because it feels like too much of a hassle. However Google+ makes creating your own groups for friends and moving them in there as simple as drag and drop. And you can add one friend to more than one group - so if you have a friend who is an author and a personal friend, you can put them in both groups.

I also like the fact that on Google+ you can remove yourself from a conversation. (Upper right corner of a comment, drop down the menu and choose "mute this post.") So if you wish someone a happy birthday, you don't have to endure the 50 emails from the 50 other people who are also giving out birthday wishes. However, I noticed on Facebook just the other day that they have also made this option available - I believe on Facebook the option reads "Leave this Conversation."

Google+ seems to make finding new friends - read: potential readers - harder than Facebook does. On Facebook I can join a group or a page that is related to the subject of my books and from there befriend many potential readers. However on Google+ this is not possible. (At least not that I've found yet. If I'm wrong, correct me.)

I haven't found any games on Google+ either. This could be a good thing (no more people offering to give you a rare, purple, spotted chicken for your hen-house in Farmville,) but I have to say that I do like to take a few minutes to relax with a short little game once in awhile, and Facebook does have some fun ones - ones I can play with my friends.

Basically other than the above, the two sites are pretty much exactly the same. And most of the action is still over on Facebook. So for what it's worth, my opinion is, you aren't missing much if you aren't on Google+ yet. But I plan to keep my eye on it.

Anyone have any other thoughts? Things I may have overlooked either Pros or Cons?
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