Saturday, November 8, 2014

Too early to talk Christmas?

The fourth and final book in the Stories From Hartford series is coming out next week. It’s called The Christmas Project and my Christmas project is getting people to read it. Towards this end, the ebook version will be free from its release all the way until Christmas.*

I know what you’re thinking. “Another free ebook? Whoop-de-do. Everyone is giving away ebooks these days.” Am I right?

Let’s have a discussion about why you should be excited about this one anyway. Because I am also a reader and because I also have at least fifty free books sitting on my kindle that I may never get around to reading, I can do both sides of this discussion.

You: Give me some good reasons why I should download and read The Christmas Projectinstead of those other books.

Me: I’ll do my best. Reason #1 – He’s secretly in love with her.

You: Aww.

Me: Exactly. We all know that revealing long-held feelings is even sweeter than any cute meeting. Reason #2 – It’s a Christmas story. You can’t tell me that Christmas romances aren’t popular when the Hallmark channel is showing about 200 of them this month. Since you already watched some of those last year…

You: That’s true. A lot of those are reruns.

Me: Yes. My book is new. Reason #3 – The Christmas Project is awesome.

You: Um…

Me: I know. I’m a little biased. But that’s still a good reason. You like reading books that are awesome, don’t you?

You: Um…

Me: All right. We’ll move on. Reason #4 – It’s part of a series. That means if you like it, you’ll know what to read next.

You: Didn’t you say this was the last book?

Me: Don’t worry about that. The books make sense in any order. Reason #5 – It’s squeaky clean. If you decide you want to give copies for Christmas, there won’t be any embarrassing content to get in the way. Reason #6 – It might make you laugh. There’s one part where—

You: Wait! You’ve totally convinced me.

Me: Really?

You: Yes. I’m excited and I’m going to be back later to tell you what I think of it.

Me: Thank you. I’m glad we had this talk.


*I don't have the power to make a book free on Amazon. I can only hope they match the free price elsewhere, which typically takes a while. If you find that it's not free on Amazon, check back a few days later or download a kindle version from Smashwords.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Connecting the Dots

In each of my Stories From Hartford books, I tried to include at least one reference to something from one of the other books. These are mostly inconsequential to the plots. They are little things intended as something like inside jokes for me and anyone else who noticed the connections. I don’t think anything I’m about to write could be considered a spoiler but if you’re really nuts about that sort of thing, you may want to read books 1, 2 and 3 first.

On second thought, you probably want to read the books first anyway because this will make more sense that way and because the books are very entertaining. Go ahead. This post will still be here when you’re done.

Ready? I’ll start with the characters. Most of the people who appear in more than one book are pretty obvious. I want to point out for the record though that I did not recycle any first names. The Emma who is Summer’s best friend in Jealousy & Yams is the same Emma who is Caitlin and Jon’s sister in Collecting Zebras. This means that when her brother is mentioned in Jealousy & Yams, this is the same guy who has a significant part in the later book.

The young police officer who comes to check on Rebecca at the beginning of Andrew's Key is the same Jimmy we are told can juggle yams in Jealousy & Yams and the same Jimmy who finally gets a last name, Larrick, in Collecting Zebras. He’ll have his biggest part in The Christmas Project as his brother is the Owen in that book’s description.

Rebecca is an avid runner in Andrew’s Key and at least once it says she turns a corner at the building with “the weird purple stripe.” Luke Foster of Jealousy & Yams works in this building.

Angel buys a strange wreath in the third book. (Yes, the one on the cover.) This was one of the old craft kits that Rebecca gave to Jill in Andrew’s Key.

In The Christmas Project, Owen accuses Gaby of once signing him up to ride on a Yam Fest float without asking his permission. This is only an offhand comment but of course anyone who has read Jealousy & Yams knows all about Yam Fest.

At one point in Andrew’s Key, Rebecca stops her car in the remains of a gravel driveway that is no longer adjacent to a house. Something happened at this location that is a primary source of the rumors about her house being haunted. Seth tells this story to Angel in Collecting Zebras.

Angel is reading a book in Collecting Zebras when she says that she’s going to be mad if Charlotte doesn’t end up with Jason. Those names actually come from one of my pre-Hartford books.

There is one minor plot point that carries over from one book to the next. We learn inCollecting Zebras that someone has romantic interest in Jimmy. He’s going to tell us whether or not he shares that interest in The Christmas Project. That’s just one of the reasons for you to be excited that the fourth book will be released next month. I’ll try to give you some more reasons soon. In the meantime, sign up for the giveaway for a chance to win all four Hartford books.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Life After Hartford

Now that I’m working on the last book in the Hartford series (so it’s been a few weeks since I’ve actively worked on it, but I promise I’m making progress) I’ve been giving some thought to what I want to work on next.

I’m definitely leaning towards a similar series, one with books linked by the setting and each one having an independent plot. I’ve been trying to figure out some of the details of this new setting. I haven’t made many decisions but the place might have a name.

I was recently working on a side project when my daughter asked if she could help me. It was a rather mushy scene. She’s eight. I was pretty sure she’d want the scene to be something like, “And when she realized he was going to kiss her, she said ‘Eww’ and ran from the room.”

I pulled out a different notebook and offered to let her help me brainstorm for the new series instead. I asked if she could help me come up with some minor characters, some people to populate my imaginary town. My child has none of my inhibitions when it comes to names. She threw out Lucy Haid. I thought that was a promising start. Then she said the school principal could be Dirk Lay, the mayor May Lewis, a guy working at the library should be named Loy Mystery and a really, really old guy who wanders around the cemetery should be called Asma Loss. She had more ideas.

Already impressed, I asked what she might – just out of curiosity – name a pair of horses. Her answer: Molly and Swift. It took her less time to say them than it took me to write them down.

I asked about some places in the town. She told me there would be only one restaurant and it should be called The Sleepy Crab.

I was getting excited about the gold mine of names. Just as I was thinking I might never have to suffer over names again, my little one suggested a name that I recognized from someone else’s book. This of course makes all her other suggestions suspect as well. I believe at least some came from her imagination but now I cannot use any until I’ve done some research to determine if they have obvious sources.

But I asked what she’d name the town anyway. She said, “Thompson City.” This was when my older son noticed that I was getting help. He insisted that Tweedville would be a better name. If you have siblings, you know it stopped being a brainstorming session at that point and became a battle of wills. There was no backing down on either name and no suggesting further names until I declared a winner. I suggested the compromise of Thompsonville. That sounds like a good Anywhere, USA sort of name. I think I successfully disappointed both children with this choice but I think I might go with it anyway.

Don’t be surprised if Loy Mystery shows up somewhere in one or more of these books. There’s something about that name that intrigues me. It sounds like a fun character. And at least you’ll know where I got the name.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What's so funny?

When we say that someone has a “good” sense of humor, we’re actually saying that person has a sense of humor similar to our own. Because we don’t all laugh at the same things. We don’t think the same things are funny.

We try to narrow down the different kinds of humor with descriptive words like witty, wry, zany, wacky, droll and many more. These words still have different connotations to different people though so I don’t know which ones to apply to the humor that I try to insert in my books. I decided that the best idea is to show some examples. And then I spent way too long trying to pick something. It was difficult to find a scene from Collecting Zebras that I thought was at least mildly amusing but didn’t risk any spoilers. I came up with two very brief conversations. I guess banter is my favorite.
____

“My name is Angel Melling,” I said.

The woman nodded and yelled to her husband, “Angel.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Her name is Angel.” When he continued the blank stare she said, “Like in the song.” She began to sing “Angels We Have Heard on High.” She had a lovely voice and got halfway through the chorus before he nodded.

I had no idea what he thought he understood.

The woman turned back to me. “I’m Carol and that’s Walt. We’ve been married fifty-three years.”

“Congratulations.” I didn’t know if that meant they were celebrating an anniversary or simply liked to brag.

“You moved from the city?” Carol asked.

“I did.”

“You like Hartford?”

“Yeah, so far.”

Walt said, “Ask her how she likes Hartford.”

Carol waved off the question. I nodded at Walt to answer him. Carol said, “Are you married?”

“No.”

“Don’t you worry, sweetheart. Hartford has tons of eligible bachelors.”

“I think I only need one.”

She smiled at me. “That’s right. You just find the right one and settle down.”

“Gloria,” Walt said, “what grade do you teach down there at the school?”

“Um…” I glanced at Carol, who didn’t seem to notice that he thought my name was Gloria. “I’m a speech therapist.” I said it as loudly as I could without shouting.

“A gymnast? You mean like the gym teacher?”

“She said a speech therapist,” Carol said. She was shouting.
____

I’m Jill,” the woman said to me.

“Angel.”

She tipped her head forward. “Nice to meet you, Angel. I noticed you sitting with Walt and Carol when I got here so when I realized you were still over there as I was leaving I thought one of us should do something.”

“By one of us,” Seth said, “she meant me.”

“What did you say to get her out of there?”

He shrugged. “I said you were having some sort of girl problem.”

“What sort of girl problem?” Jill looked at me for clarification.

I said, “That’s it. He came over there and said, ‘Jill is having some sort of girl problem.’”

“What does that mean?” She looked back at her brother.

He shrugged again. “They’re nice. I knew they’d let her leave if I used the word problem and it had to be something I couldn’t help with.”

Jill playfully punched Seth in the arm. “What if they ask me about this imaginary and incredibly vague problem next time I go over there?”

“They won’t. Are either of you up for ice cream?”
____

If you enjoy these excerpts, let me know. Not because I like praise (although, who doesn’t) but because I’m still passing out advance copies of the book and I know you’ll want to read the rest.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Tons of Bible quotes in a love story are...

A) completely necessary. I can’t read a story unless it has a God-centered moral.

B) a nice touch. A little sermonizing helps me root for the main couple to get their happily ever after.

C) tolerable. Don’t force the lesson down my throat and I’ll go ahead and swallow it.

D) sort of like commercials. I’ll put up with them if that’s the price of a great story, but there better be a great story.


Anyone who has spent any time browsing reviews of Christian romances has seen that readers are spread among these camps. The same book might be called uplifting by one reviewer and sanctimonious by another.

I have to admit that I lean towards the C and D answers most of the time. I find lengthy prayers or bible discussions in a work of fiction something like the crowd shots during sporting events. If I turned on the TV to watch a hockey game, for example, I prefer that the people running the cameras don’t spend too much time showing me people in the stands. I don’t mind a few seconds if a kid has broken out some horrible dance moves in the aisle. But it’s usually shots of people screaming at the camera or chatting with each other or some guy eating a hot dog. That is not entertainment.

I read fiction to be entertained.* Most novelists try to appeal to the widest audience by relying on trite messages like “Trust God” or “Be forgiving” and every time the characters start talking about that theme or throwing out bible verses to support it I feel like I’m watching the guy eating a hot dog. Can we please put the camera back on the ice? I picked up this book for a story, not a sermon.

Is anyone thinking, “Wait a minute. Don’t you write Christian fiction?”

Yes and no. I like to think that I write books with Christian characters as opposed to Christian books. This is the difference between mentioning that a character said a prayer and writing out three paragraphs of exactly what was said to God. It’s the difference between writing a scene where a character runs into someone she knows while at church and writing out the lyrics to the hymn they sing and which part of the bible was read.

I rarely try to impart any particular lesson in my books. Because at least the primary characters are Christian though, they generally make choices consistent with a faithful person. Readers can (hopefully) be entertained without finding offensive content or preachy interruptions. And if you answered A or B, you are still welcome to read my books to look for a more subtle message. Maybe I’m deeper than I let on.


* Yes, I also read nonfiction when I’m looking for spiritual development. Maybe that’s why I don’t need it included in a narrative.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

This Never Happened Before

For most of my love stories, I began by imagining the couple. What makes them right for each other and how can I get them together? I usually change my mind about a lot of things in the early stages. I’ve given characters different names and different jobs and added siblings. I’ve decided that what I thought was a good idea was actually a bad, bad, horrible direction for the plot because no one would ever do such a thing in real life.

But I have never changed my mind about who was going to end up together.

My current project, which I have almost officially decided to call Collecting Zebras, was the first time I even considered it. The heroine for this one is named Angel Melling. She is my most… let’s say “aggressive” heroine to date. I’ve written several leading ladies who were not exactly looking for love and at least one actively avoiding it. This sort of limits the guys in the story. Angel, however, is on a mission. She’s pulling more guys into her story and she’s looking at every single one of them for husband potential. And so was I.

This was where my slightly hopeless nature began to get in the way. I found myself wishing I could pick more than one guy for her. It was the first time I felt bad for guys who weren’t a good match. I wrote one possible love interest out altogether because I envisioned too much awkwardness. I kept another in the storyline longer than I originally intended because I needed more time to discount his long-term potential. And I had to resist a strong urge to add another female character so things could work out well for everyone.

In the end I had to remind myself that this was Angel’s story. I only needed to make sure she got the happily ever after. I still feel bad about at least one guy though. This is me going on record to say that anyone who reads my book has permission to imagine a happy ending for anyone who doesn’t get one in the story. I may have even slipped in a hint in that direction.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mr. Nice Guy

The character of Luke Foster was created almost as an act of defiance. I have occasionally been criticized for writing people who are “too nice.” The rationale being that the characters are unrealistic or that there isn’t enough conflict when everyone gets along. I’ve typically found these opinions easy to dismiss. And not because I’m just that stubborn.

My characters feel realistic because they remind me of people I know. I’m lucky enough to have friends and family who really would give me the shirts off their backs. I write nice because I know nice.

The criticism was on my mind though when I sat down to begin work on Jealousy & Yams. It made me consider trying something different. My original idea was to give the main characters flaws that made them initially unlikable. I thought they could be people who sort of deserved each other… that it might be a fun challenge to see if I could make them grow on the reader by the end of the book. I gave up that idea pretty quickly.

I’m simply not interested in reading a book if I don’t like the main characters and I spend a lot more time with the characters I write. I don’t want to write about people who pick fights and cause unnecessary drama. While I do believe people are entitled to second chances, I’d rather spend my time with those who don’t need a second chance. A hint of my original plan still shows up in Summer. I don’t think she starts out particularly unlikeable, but the reader is supposed to wonder what she’s up to.

For Luke, on the other hand, I completely abandoned any thoughts of making him anything other than a perfectly nice guy. I considered giving him a bad habit or a wild past. That’s when the defiance kicked in. I thought, “You know what, I happen to like nice guys and I don’t care what anyone else says. I’m going to make this guy the nicest one yet. He’s going to be so nice that even the other characters notice and comment on how nice he is.”

In Anne of Green Gables, someone asks her if she’d really want to marry a wicked man. She says, “I think I’d like it if he could be wicked and wouldn’t.” I think that’s what most of us want. Luke isn’t nice because he has no backbone or because he isn’t capable of terrible, horrible things. He’s nice simply because he chooses to be nice. And I chose to make him that way.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fixing the Fixable

In my first proofreading pass for Jealousy & Yams, I found a sentence that read, “We put a put on the building.” Oops. Of course I fixed that as well as the many, many other errors I found. I hope that by the time my other proofers and I are done, the book will be 100% free of mistakes. I can’t guarantee that, but that’s the goal.

Very careful editing and proofreading is not about being nit-picky and it’s not about trying to prove I don’t make mistakes. I absolutely do. It’s about keeping the reader engaged in the story. The reader is kicked out of the dream world of the book when the author says something she didn’t mean to say. I know because it happens to me when I’m the reader. These are some recent examples of it happening to me. Everything in italics is a direct quote from a published work.

When her normal sparkling green eyes lit up, his heart would practically stop. Now, they were a deep, intent brown.
I think the author meant to say normally here, which means usually. Normal means ordinary. Calling someone’s eyes ordinary and sparkling in the same breath feels a little… counterproductive. And just as I’ve gotten over that, those eyes change color. I believe at this point I’m supposed to be appreciating how much the hero likes the heroine’s eyes. But I’m not. I’m wondering if they’ll be blue the next time he looks at her.

When the students handed in their test…
Now I’m wondering why all the students get to work on the same test. That’s not how it worked when I was in school.

The organist began playing. She was thankful it interrupted any further chance of continuing their discussion.
I’m thinking it’s kind of rude for the organist to be happy about interrupting people. Also, since this is the only time in the whole book that the organist is mentioned, I’m surprised that we’re suddenly inside her head.

[She] stood up and began to get her pajamas around.
Around what? The room? I don’t understand why this character is suddenly making a mess or why the narrator is so calm about it.

“This silence treatment is driving me nuts. You went to great links to ignore me today.”
Do they call it a silence treatment on the West coast, or somewhere else I’ve never lived? Even so, if she was on the golf course, how would he know he was being ignored?

…he would have spent doing nothing of great importance to kill time.
Here I simply think someone needs to look up the meaning of kill time. Or possibly the word superfluous.

…more cleavage than was already visual through her satin shirt.
Since I wasn’t reading a fantasy novel, this mention of a woman who apparently sees with her breasts really came out of left field. Yeah, I know she meant visible, but that doesn’t stop the ridiculous image from popping into my head. I’m supposed to be annoyed with this character for being flirty. Instead I’m amusing myself with the different body parts the woman might use to hear.

…she thought about the curly, red-headed, child.
This says that the child is curly, not her hair. I have to pause for a moment to imagine what a curly child would look like.

There was just something about a big, soft-haired pup licking your face that made her cave in to his sweetness.
There are too many pronouns in this sentence. I don’t know who is caving to whose sweetness and I really don’t know what a dog licking my face has to do with anything. I’m not in this story.

Three years of concealed, unadulterated love, hanging in limbo, threatened to ruin his future happiness, should he make the wrong decision.
I don’t know. Should he make the wrong decision? Normally I’d say no because wrong decisions tend to be, you know, wrong. But now that the question is out there I’m going to have to think about it.

“Now that it’s getting sickening; what’s the problem?”
I’m going to guess that the problem has to do with something getting sickening. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds like a problem. Even within the context of the book, I had no idea what this sentence was supposed to say. I can only assume that autocorrect is to blame.

I’m not naming these authors or their books because I’m trying to make a point without embarrassing anyone. (I will, however, say that it only took two books to find this many examples and that I cut a few when the post was getting too long.) My point of course is how distracting it is to try to read a book full of typos. I hope I’m careful enough to do readers the favor of telling the story I intend to tell. There will still be people who don’t enjoy my books and those people are entitled to their opinions. My hope is to have removed all the issues that are not a matter of opinion. Using enormous in place of huge is subjective; using effect in place of affect is not.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Difference Between a Yam and a Sweet Potato

The title of this post was a working title for Jealousy & Yams. Even though I changed my mind – for various reasons – I thought I should point out that I know this difference exists because my cover shows the word yams on top of a picture of sweet potatoes.

I made this cover like I’ve made most of my book covers…

Step 1: Decide on a vague idea for the cover.

Step 2: Take tons of pictures of something related to that vague idea.

Step 3: Pray that one of those pictures looks something like a book cover.

Step 4: Ruin it with bad font or special effects.

Step 5: Start over.

Step 6: Make several versions of the same basic cover and show those to others for feedback.

Step 7: Be mocked for lack of artistic ability.

Step 8: Try again.

Step 9: Settle on a cover that is okay at best.


Interested in the specifics? For this latest book, I thought sweet potatoes might work so I planned to mash some for dinner. I arranged them in piles before and after washing. I took pictures of them peeled and unpeeled and whole and chopped. I snapped a few of them in the boiling water and I got one last shot of the peels – the garbage – only because I had captured everything else.

The image I liked best was of the sweet potatoes in the pan. They turned a brighter orange while cooking and I thought the eye-catching color might make a good cover. Unfortunately, one of the first people who looked at that version said it made him think of sex. I guess the bubbles in the boiling water looked like soap. He could not explain to me why soapy vegetables are sexy. Perhaps it’s a guy thing. Since I write clean fiction though, I couldn’t risk giving others the wrong impression. That cover went into the figurative scrap pile.

My second favorite image turned out to be the peels. Since that picture was mostly an afterthought, it turned out to be a bit blurry. No problem. We like sweet potatoes. I made some for dinner again the next week and snapped lots of pictures of my garbage pile. On another whim, I included the peeler.

Originally, the peeler was aimed downward. This made people think murder. No one has ever been murdered in any of my books. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler.) Inverting the picture made it clearer that it was a kitchen tool and not a murder weapon.

I set a precedent for font with Andrew's Key, the first book in the series, so that part was easy. The color, however, proved challenging. An actual artist would likely look at that picture and know what color would work best. I think I tried at least six different colors. I wanted to pull something from the background and nothing seemed to have enough contrast to make the words readable. I eventually used the very shiny part of the peeler. I'm still hoping people will open the book before they judge it.

It’d be great if I could stick to writing and pay someone else to design the covers. Even if this was in my budget though, I’m not sure how well it would work out. I’m afraid I would still have vague ideas about what I wanted and I’d drive the artist nuts trying to explain what was or was not working for me. Case in point: I recently created a new cover for Weathering Evan and I’m not going to tell you how many times I made my cover model change his shirt. Lucky for everyone, all this crazy indecision stays in my head when I’m writing.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Soda or Pop: The Dialogue Dilemma

Where is the Hartford in my stories? There are several actual Hartfords in the US and mine is not based on any of them. It is based on my imagination. I have attempted as much as possible to make it feel as though it could be almost anywhere. In giving it realistic features, however, I’m forced to write what I know.

I picture a landscape similar to rural Ohio. I grew up in one of those small towns separated by large areas of farm land. The climate is closer to where I live now in North Carolina. When it snows a few days before Christmas, it is melted the next day. Even where this weather might not be typical, it is still possible. And during the summer I tried to mention that people were hot without saying exactly where the mercury hit.

The trickiest part of not pigeonholing the town to a particular area of the US has been the dialogue. Shortly after I moved from OH to NC, I made the mistake of calling a can of Coke a pop. People laughed at me. One of them asked if I had just arrived from the 1920s. What had been a perfectly normal word choice in one area was comical in another. Even after, well, more than a few years here, I still cannot bring myself to say the word soda. It feels foreign. Sometimes it’s good that my characters like to drink water.

The issue that has frustrated me the most is when a character refers to other people. I can’t use y’all because it’s decidedly Southern. But do more people say you all or you guys? Does one have a more distinct flavor than the other? Is it awkward to have characters use only names? What if one of those in the group is a minor character I didn’t bother to name because I’m bad at names? (Wait… I already wrote about that.)

There are likely other issues I haven’t even considered. I hope though that my town and its people are relatable even when I unknowingly slip in something Midwestern. I cannot escape my roots. Of course, my sister swears all of my heroines sound exactly like me no matter how different I believe they are. Perhaps making them sound like anyone is as much a lost cause as making them sound like anyone else.