Friday, June 28, 2013

Book Review: Renegade - Mel Odom



Pike Morgan is a true renegade. Orphaned as a child and a veteran of juvenile detention centers and foster homes, he has fashioned himself into a self-contained individual world. The only exception to his self-containment was his fellow renegade Petey, whose headstrong greed resulted in his murder by a drug cartel. Petey's death is a traumatic experience for Pike that haunts him throughout the novel.  Chafing against being restricted to one place by the witness protection program, Pike struggles against the personal relationships he is necessarily forming there in spite of himself. So he welcomes his next deployment with the Marine Reserve.
          Deployed to Afghanistan, Pike distinguishes himself as a fighter. In spite of his resentment of authority, he finds himself developing positive relationships with Corporal Bekah Shaw and Lieutenant Heath Bridger. The three survive a devastating firefight with terrorists in Kandahar. But then they become key players in a frantic search for the terrorist Zalmai Yaqub, who has kidnapped an American journalist and uses him to taunt and bait the US forces.Yaqub is a worthy enemy who possesses the cunning of an experienced warrior, so the supposed rescuers find themselves avoiding perilous traps while desperately trying to stop a decisive terrorist strike. And through it all, Pike grudgingly pursues his unwilling quest to decide what things in life are truly important.

Author Mel Odom knows his subject. He knows the people he writes about in the stateside scenes in Oklahoma, and he shows good knowledge of the Marines' weapons, equipment, and tactics in Afghanistan.  The result is a riveting novel that tightens suspense again and again, rising to a fitting and satisfying climax and resolution.

Review by Donn Taylor, author of Deadly Additive, The Lazarus File, Rhapsody in Red, etc., www.donntaylor.com

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tips from the Pros: Designing your book cover

Guest Post
Welcome Lisa Hainer of Lionsgate Book Design who discusses cover art

Designing your book cover.
We have all seen a ton of badly designed book covers even from major publishers that cause us to pass up that book right away. That is not what I want for your book.

So, whether you hire a graphic designer to do the cover of your book or if you attempt to design the cover yourself, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering what kind of image you should have on the cover.

  • The best cover design is the one that tells me what is promised on the inside. A book cover is like a movie poster advertising a movie; it can be a teaser to communicate a mystery about your story. It can raise a question that your book answers, or it can be show exactly what they will find on the inside.

  • Figure out WHO your demographic is: Basically, WHO is it you want to read your book and who will be helped the most by it's contents. This will help narrow down the artistic style of your cover. A book on safe dating will likely look different for a teen reader than for a readership over 40. 

  • Identify with where your readers are or where they would WANT to be, as in the case with any kind of help book. For instance, a book on abuse could show an abused person still in their trauma or it can show a person in a healed state. It can show the light at the end of the tunnel as a symbol for the hope your book will bring. You have to choose which state you want to appeal to your reader.

  • Keep it simple: A book cover is not a huge poster; you can't fit a ton of detail on a 6 x 9 area. Don't try to show every aspect of your book in one situation. I designed a book cover showing good and bad and America in the middle (flag) but the author wanted pathways into dark woods and other paths into rolling meadows, with vultures in the trees of the dark woods and eagles in the "happy area" and it got to be as much as you would put in a movie scene. Usually good design has ONE overall element of importance. So only show a FRAGMENT of your concept.

  • Identify good design: Good design is always good design and it's nearly impossible to teach it in a short space, so look at book covers on sources like Amazon to see what types of covers fit YOUR eyes, and send as many samples to your designer. Identify WHY you like them, and then try to copy them. 

  • Make sure your headline is easy to read:  If the picture is light and your type may have to be in dark ink. If the image is too "busy," you're going to have to find a way to separate the headline from it in a simpler space or with shadows under it. So first, figure out what is your main element--pictures or text--and don't allow both to have equal importance.

  • Choose great colors: there are more than 4 colors in a color palette. Try not to use primary colors but make use of the millions of others that may seem more grayed back or toned down as you strive to make all of your elements pleasing to the eye.

  • Thumbnail Readability: Make sure your book is readable when it's only 2 inches large on your computer. Your book will be amongst many others on the Amazon catalog or other print distribution catalogs. Again, one main element should be the attention getter.

  • Ask Potential Readers: Test your book cover design on friends, local bookstores, colleagues, other writers, local book clubs, libraries, and even your own family. But beware that some people give opinions just to give them and not all critiques are valid.

  • For my Christian clients, I tell them to "ASK DADDY." Yup, go to the Lord and pray on it. Pray before you talk to your designer, during and after as He is the master designer and knows exactly who He has already appointed to be ministered to by your message, having given you the message in the first place (hopefully).

In the end, don't attempt your own book cover unless you have successfully commissioned yourself out for the marketing purposes of paying clients and have had successful sales.

Just slapping an image on a cover with a headline will not make an interesting cover nor does it mean the marketing point gets to the right demographic. 

PLEASE see a professional for this task and save up the money when you start writing your book to do so.

Doing your own book cover is like trying to operate on yourself. I've seen many an author pride himself in his own cover work even though his book has not made the sales he was hoping for, and he's wondering "why?"

Look at the portfolios of your prospective designer and make sure you would want to buy his/her books. Help your designer out by browsing the stock photo sources listed at ***. They are are mostly under $20 and a book cover license usage is in their standard license fee.

Purchase images that are 300 dpi and the size of your cover.

And look for our article next month on hiring a designer and what to be concerned with as far as commissioning artwork, who owns what and how to get the best cover from them.

***
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Monday, June 24, 2013

That Which Is Over Used

I read a lot. I know I've said this before. I'm also an author and know the struggle of describing actions, things, in dialog, etc. Since I've started writing I notice things in others' work, and my own in first draft form, that stick out. There are a few words to edit out as often as you can. This is all my humble opinion but blogs are the writer's opinion whether based in fact or not.

The most over used word to me is the word 'that'. Not in "He went that a way", but rather when the word doesn't really add clarification to the sentence.
'She was so close to exhaustion that she was starting to get sick.'
She was so close to exhaustion she was starting to get sick.
The 'that' isn't truly necessary yet we litter our narrative and dialog with it.

A way to avoid its overuse can be accomplished substituting 'who' when what 'that' is referring to is a person. It is also more grammatically correct.

Other substitutions are 'it' and 'the' as is 'so'. There are probably others also. It doesn't take much time and only a little thought to find a way to either eliminate, substitute or rearrange the sentence to avoid using 'that'.

Another word often overused when writing in third person is the word 'had'. As with 'that' often the word had can simply be eliminated. Care must be taken to be sure your tense isn't changed either in including 'had' or eliminating it.

As with most of our writing, taking time to be aware of these words will sharpen and improve our writing bringing it above the mediocre.

One caveat; If you are being paid by the word throw them in as often as you can.


Sophie Dawson writes Christian fiction. She lives with her husband and cat on a farm in western Illinois. Her Cottonwood Series novels have been Indie Book of the Day and Healing Love received first place in the genre in AuthorStand.com’s 2012 contest and a second in eLit 2012 contest.
Sophie blogs one a week on her website sophie-dawson.com as well as barndoor.net in edition to AuthorCulture.com.
She has recently released her fourth and fifth books, Leah’s Peace and Chasing Norie.
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

An Author's Humbling Saga

This post first appeared on another blog in Spring of 2012. The story continues to be a source of embarrassment and hilarity all wrapped together. It's the saga of an author (me) and the humbling events that occurred on the way to an award ceremony...

The infamous purple sweater 


Humor occurs in odd places and situations. I believe it is God’s way of reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously. We are—after all—made from dust.

So when I was all packed and ready for my trip to Los Angeles to receive Best Romance award for my novel The Promise of Deer Run at the LA Book Festival, God’s humor was on the verge of a humbling display. The hilarity of it all was not lost on this frequently-humbled author.

Everything was nearly packed the night before I left, but my wardrobe lacked one item: My favorite cotton purple sweater. Now there’s a smart thing to wear in much-warmer Southern California, I thought. No problem—except I had left the sweater at a radio station where I had been interviewed months before.

Arranging for hubby to pick up the sweater on his way home from work, I gratefully grabbed my garment and took a quick look. Appeared to be nice and clean. What I had forgotten was that my husband had taken the dog to the groomer in his car a few weeks prior. Apparently our Corgi was, shall we say, odorific.

Everything went pretty well, until I reached my connection in Minneapolis. Rushing from one end of the airport to another to catch my next flight, I sank gratefully into the chair, warmed all over by the quick pace. Suddenly I smelled something.

Did I forget my deodorant? I panicked. A quick run to the restroom assured me I had not. But a sniff test on the purple sweater told me the source. It stunk like a dog.

Doing my best to decrease my body heat—the warmer I was, the more it smelled—I smothered scented hand cream on my hands and arms.

Maybe that will cover it up?

It was time to board and the smiling airline rep that took my boarding pass heard a special sound on her machine. “Oh! You’ve been upgraded to First Class,” she said in her most cheerful voice.

Great. Now I get to stink up first class. “Thanks,” I replied, praying her nose might be temporarily plugged up.

Skulking down the ramp toward my jet, I devised a plan. I would take off the outer sweater and stash it. Seeing my poor row partner already seated I smiled and very carefully removed my outer sweater. Did I imagine it or was he plastered as far to the side as was possible without climbing out the six-inch by nine-inch window?

As I removed the sweater, I realized I now had another problem. My turtleneck was far shorter than I desired. If it slid up an inch or so, my residual “muffin” of fat above my jeans—still clinging to life even after a month on the elliptical—would likely frighten to death this First Class bunch on their way to Liposuction Land.

Oh well. It’s easier to close one’s eyes than one’s nose.

I sighed. I figured at least I knew revival skills from my nursing days if anyone passed out.

Miraculously arriving in Southern California with no casualties, I made arrangements with my daughter-in-law to wash my sweater.

But this was not the end of humility. At the award ceremony in Hollywood on Saturday evening, I was handed the program listing all the winners, runners up, and honorable mentions. Although my book won first place, it was listed in the program as “Runner Up.” I suddenly felt like the Miss America second best that was hoping for the crown, but saw it placed on someone else’s head. *Sigh*

I approached the event coordinator and pointed out the error. He assured me he would set it straight during the announcement—which he did. And the award itself said, “Winner.”

I had to laugh. I felt God poking me in the ribs ever so gently with His humorous touch, reminding me of my place in this universe.

                                                              *   *   *

My favorite “humility story” since receiving this honor was a conversation with my elderly, hard-of-hearing Mom on the phone the day after the announcement. It went something like this:

Me: Mom, I won first place for my book, The Promise of Deer Run! I get to go to LA!
Mom: Which book?
Me: The Promise of Deer Run
Mom: The second one?
Me: Yes!
Mom: And you won third place? That’s great.
Me: No, Mom, I won First Place.
Mom: You won third place. Well that is pretty good!

*SIGH* Nothing like a mom to really keep one humble. :)

                                                            






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Monday, June 17, 2013

Speaking To Write Better

Toastmasters? Parsons, you're on a author's blog. Hello?
I've been in Toastmasters for over seven years and can say with confidence that it improves your writing craft, in a big way. First, Toastmasters helps you to write. Before you give a speech, you must write it. Most speeches from their manuals have a theme, some parameters that you must work within. What a great way to practice your writing skills. Next, your peers will critique your speech. Toastmasters encourages positive criticism, and you will realize that you're among friends that are committed to your improvement. Perhaps your speech wanders too much. Excellent! Your posse let's you know that, and you can adjust and write better. Because most speeches are between three and ten minutes, you must learn to write in a tight and concise manner. Toastmasters makes for a great place to screw up. You froze halfway through your speech? Wonderful! What better place to freeze, rather than at a pitch session. My agent Terry Burns was hearing pitches. One woman sat and froze up, then broke down and cried. He waited for her to compose herself and since she was his last pitch, suggested they go outside for a walk. She presented a good pitch of her manuscript. And you thought agents were hardhearted. While traveling on our 50 States in 50 Weeks tour, someone left a business card on the seat of the bike, indicating his father rode too, and was a member of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association. I called the number, reached him, and within the hour found myself speaking at their evening club meeting. Talk about no time for preparation! Yet Toastmasters gave me the tools to speak with poise and confidence.
We writers are a solitary lot too, and Toastmasters enables you to get out, meet others, and work on skills together. It also drags you out of your comfort zone. We all could use a little dragging.
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Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Book Review: Night of Flames


A novel or World War II by Douglas W Jacobson 

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: McBooks Press (October 1, 2008)
ISBN-13: 978-1590131664 

$16.95
$7.69 

From the Publisher:

Painting a vivid and terrifying picture of war-torn Europe during World War II, this tale chronicles the lives of Anna, a Krakow University professor, and her husband Jan, a Polish cavalryman. After they are separated and forced to flee occupied Poland, Anna soon finds herself caught up in the Belgian Resistance, while Jan becomes embedded in British Intelligence efforts to contact the Resistance in Poland. He soon realizes that he must seize this opportunity to search for his lost wife, Anna.

My review:

Major Jan Kopernik of the Polish Cavalry Brigade, the 29th Uhlans, says it best: “The German blitzkrieg was not just a military strategy – it was an all-out campaign of terror intent on the total destruction of his homeland.”

Night of Flames is a well-detailed fictionalized account of the Nazi campaign in Poland, and the eventual resistance. Anna Kopernik, an associate university history professor in Krakow, her husband Jan, a major in the army, and Anna’s father, Thaddeus Piekarski, give their first-hand account of life during this terrible time. From being front and center when Warsaw is bombed, to watching the Luftwaffe bomb farmers on the roads and rural villages, to the occupation of Krakow, to joining the resistance, each of them deal with the tragedy. 

Thaddeus decides to be patient at home, believing the Allies will rescue the city soon. Jan leads his brigade into battle trying to defend a poorly prepared country that still depended on civilian telephone lines and beasts of burden to move equipment on their poor roads; Anna and her Jewish friends return to Krakow from a visit to Warsaw where the Nazi occupation edicts put them all in danger. 

Anna and Jan do the best they can to live long enough, fighting for their homeland, to find each other again. Anna gets involved in the resistance when she escapes to friends in Belgium just before Jan comes to Krakow on business for the exiled government because of his ability to speak German.  

Jacobson’s attention to detail shows his respect for the era, for the events, equipment, geography and technology of the time, even weather patterns and clothing and food. While perhaps circumstances seem aligned in perfect favor for the characters, the account is fiction, and fiction asks for the ability to take a leap of faith upon occasion. 

Realistic to the point that I occasionally buzzed through detailed battle accounts, Jacobson’s Night of Flames will offer readers who enjoy well-documented World War II history a great few hours back in time.
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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Subplottin'

Like my skull pic? Whenever I start a new project, I get a three-ring notebook for the eventual hardcopy, and I start shopping for the image that fits the story and slide it under the plastic on the notebook. The image serves as inspiration--my "book cover." This one's for The Simulacrum, a collaborative effort which we hope to finish by the end of summer. The Simulacrum is a thriller wrapped in the world of paleontology and will appeal to those who like stories that crank the adrenaline, but at the same time keep the ol' brain matter firing on all cylinders. The first draft is complete, and my job is to beef it up some. And I'm talking some heavy-duty beef. The novel, complete as is, contains only 54K words out of a necessary 80K+ for this genre.

What to do, what to do?

Subplot. A sure-fire way to increase word count while bringing depth to a story.

In her soon-to-be-released "how-to," Structuring Your Novel, author/mentor K.M. Weiland explains subplots like this:
In a nutshell, a subplot is a thematically related exploration of a minor part of the protagonist’s personality. It’s a “miniature” plot that features a sideline story. As such, subplots are vital for providing both contrast within the plot (they allow us to give readers a “break” from the main plot) and for allowing us to introduce character depth via situations that would be off-limits in the main part of the plot.
This would be the place where your character's intriguing backstory can be woven into your tale. Remember that biological sketch you did of your MC (if you did one)? Not all of it is necessary for the reader to know, just for you to know as you flesh out your character and bring him to life. However, every now and then, there's something--and only you know what it is--that would make a great subplot. It would weave into the story easily and present a different side to your character that the others who populate the story may or may not be aware of.

If you're a plotter/planner, you may already have your subplot in mind. But what if you've done as we have: written your entire story only to discover you've fallen horribly short of your word-count goal? That's when you reread your story with an eye toward a subplot idea and organic places to weave it in. By now, you know all your characters' personalities, and you know what happens at any given point in your plot line. As you reread, you'll be able to see what needs to be done. ("Top 10 Tips to Create Subplots for Your Story," by Samatha Stone, has some terrific ideas for brainstorming subplots if you can't find one easily through your reread.)

For us, the main character is a middle-aged, Harley-ridin' PI named Gunnar, who's stuck in the era ruled by boomboxes and The Eagles. He's snarky and condescending and, occasionally, an out and out jerk. The most we learn about his personal life is that he's a widower. Still, he's the best at what he does, and our damsel in distress needs the best. We watch him at his job, watch the two of them bicker, watch how they deal with both danger and discussions of contradictory science. Had our book been long enough, this would've been perfect. But it isn't long enough.

In comes the subplot, derived from the simple mention that Gunnar's wife had died before the story proper began. The reader finds that tidbit of information just short of a quarter of the way through the book, which turned out to be perfect. By this point, the primary characters are introduced, the story problem is presented, the search for answers is just beginning. Only then, when the main plot is underway, is it safe to bring in the subplot.

Soon after Mary, the female lead, discovers that Gunnar is a widower, I'll introduce a phone conversation between Gunnar and his secretary, informing him that his father-in-law has sued him for the wrongful death of his daughter. How Gunnar handles this--the internal battle he wages, his response to his father-in-law, his ability to buck up under the added pressure--adds depth to his character and gives the reader another view of this otherwise abrasive man. And it gives me lots of extra words to present in the subplot.

All through the book, I found down-times where the dialogue could easily be changed to something pertinent to the subplot, or the activity can be switched over to feed the subplot without harming the main story line and with only a few adjustments to the major text to be sure everything is cohesive. Yes, it's a lot of work to develop a story to go in the story, then fit it in to what already exists, but it can be done.

A couple of key points:

  • The main plot should be established before the subplot is introduced.
  • The subplot must never override the main plot.


For more quick-read points, check out "Subplots," by Billie A. Williams. Terrific advice on the dos and don'ts of subplotting.

Happy writing!~~~or rewriting! :D

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