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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Seeking that perfect tagline …

I get a look of panic on my face when asked to produce tagline for a book I wrote. I can either think of nothing (how can I possibly capture all that rich detail in a few words) or I can think of a whole bunch of them and they all sound stupid.

But, I’m trying, because I do understand that a tagline sells.

In late May I entered the first book in my new collection in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (affectionately known as SPFBO). Three hundred books are allowed in (first come first serve as long as you meet the qualifications), ten finalists are chosen and there is one winner. As you can guess, at least 290 entrants aren’t delighted with the results.

However, it presents a great opportunity to virtually meet other authors and to do a little promotion too. My book is in limbo at the moment, waiting on my reviewer to probably cut it (I have to be honest with myself) when he finishes reading and reviewing his remaining three novels. Because he isn’t as fast as some reviewers, my book has outlasted others. Because his isn’t as slow as some, it’s likely to happen soon.

So, I’m trying to make hay while the sun shines. (What a quaint agrarian expression. In a weird way aren’t our over-used expressions just taglines?)

My artistic efforts are now making their way onto Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and here, as I roll out the taglines and give them a try.

Well, what do you think? Do I need to try, try again? Or should I quit while I’m ahead? 😉

 

 

 

When do you get to call yourself a BESTSELLER?

I review and feature a lot of books on my blogs, and it astounds me how many of these books are written by “bestselling authors” I’ve never heard of. I suspect there is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to that title, particularly when you bestow it upon yourself.

So what’s fair and what isn’t?

I’m finishing one of my most successful Kindle Select giveaways ever. (You know, the ones Amazon will only let you do if you don’t let anyone else sell your eBook.) I’ve given away about 2000 books and guess what?

Yup. That is me sitting there at number 1. Now — this just for historical thrillers, and it only lasted for a day, and I was giving them away, not selling them. However, I was number one in a spot on big old Amazon! Does being there make me a bestselling author? (You could say I was selling them for $0.00 …)

What do you think?

Should I join the ranks of those making this claim? Then maybe I’d sell more books and then I’d have more evidence to shore up my boast. We all know people tend to buy books they think other people like … so a little success breeds more success.

Yeah. I’m thinking about it …

… and they’d be pissed.

I can’t believe my latest book comes out in TWO DAYS! Here’s another of my favorite quotes from She’s the One Who Gets in Fights.

Pre-order it now on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08TQKGCP4 or on Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1068509.

I promise it’s a fun read!

More Rebellion by Minor Characters

In my books I’ve always had at least one minor character who insists on playing a larger role than I intended. My most recent series is no exception. In She’s the One Who Thinks Too Much, Ryalgar’s grandmother Aliz was slated for nothing more than an introductory scene, but she not only insisted on sticking around, she quietly took over the entire Velka organization. That is one canny old woman for you…

I’m always curious if other writers experience this and recently I got to ask two very different authors what they thought..

Author Geoffrey Saign has a degree in biology, lives in Minnesota, and has written a YA fantasy series called Magical Beasts. His response to my question was emphatic.

Yes!!! Vampire bat Queen Valera in Book 4, Guardian The Stand, the only book she’s in, is in 5 short scenes. Yet she is so fundamentally important to the story, to the main character, and to the fate of an entire world, that it cannot be overestimated. Plus she is super powerful, mysterious, and interesting! An immortal, she can kick butt, and has no patience for stupidity. But she empathizes with the hero of the series, Samantha (Sam) Green and doesn’t want her to die. When this character first appeared, I had a vague idea about her. Then I loved her immediately and needed to put her into three more scenes. I was so enthralled with her, she came into the climactic ending too.

The same thing occurred in the other books in the series, where a character began as rather mild and ended up as wildly important. In Book 3, Guardian The Sacrifice, the same thing occurred with the Beister, a maniacal killer with huge secrets in his past that directly affected the main character in a shocking way. In Book 2, Guardian The Quest, Drasine, the golden dragon had a significant role, was mysterious, and very powerful. And in Book 1, Guardian The Choice, Heshia, a minor character at first, again became wildly important for the main character, even though she was only in 4 scenes.

Heshia, Drasine, the Beister, and Queen Valera all had a major impact on the main character, the plot, and the ending. They all made my writing more exciting and fun to complete, and the stories richer.

Author M. C. Bunn is a songwriter with a master’s in English who creates Victorian romance novels, including her most recent one, Where Your Treasure Is. She declared that her misbehaved minor characters made her stories better.

If our characters behaved, we wouldn’t have any stories!

Actually, during the first draft of Where Your Treasure Is, a host of characters completely blind-sided me. Though I never planned per se to write a romance that only focused on the lovers, I was unprepared for the world that opened up around them while I wrote their story. There are Winifred’s cousins, young and old, her Uncle Percival and his manservant Morrant, her staff in the town and country—and George Broughton-Caruthers, her handsome, devilish neighbor. Court is a gang member and horse racing enthusiast. His cronies are other prizefighters, cardsharps, gamblers, prostitutes, and circus folk.

The beginning of Winifred and Court’s story came to me in a flash, as did its end. What I had to find out was what happened in the middle. Every time I sat down to write, thinking that I was about to get back to my lovers, all these characters popped out, and the plot, with all its twists, followed them. What was really strange was how familiar they all were. Dorothy felt like that the entire time she was in Oz. Mentally chasing after these characters through London’s streets and around the Norfolk countryside, so did I.

Yet it was Beryl Stuart, Court’s half-sister, who added a richer, darker layer of complications to a plot that could otherwise have easily been summed up as “lonely rich girl meets poor bad boy” and “the course of true love never runs smoothly.” Because of their differences in social class, Winifred and Court were going to have a rough time of it, no matter what. There’s a dark current that flows out of Court’s world into Winifred’s long before their love story begins, though neither one of them is aware of it. Beryl and her friends bring a second love triangle into the plot, which leads to the next book in the series, Time’s Promise.

I’m also deeply fond of Court’s friend Sam Merton, a boy with a love of firecrackers, rip-roaring yarns, and penny dreadfuls, and Winifred’s memoir-writing uncle, the old adventurer Sir Percival and his manservant Morrant.

I appreciate hearing this from both authors. Frankly they made me feel a little more sane!

For the full posts about both books, each of which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Magical Beasts Series and Where Your Treasure Is.

When a sidekick’s sidekick takes on a major role

In my books I usually have one minor character who insists on playing a larger role in the story. I’m always curious as to whether other authors experience this, so I asked author Bill Zarchy if he had such a character in his novel, Finding George Washington. I was quite impressed with the insight in his response!

A Foil for My Foil

Early in the development of my debut novel, Finding George Washington: A Time Travel Tale, I knew that I wanted to tell the story in the first person, from Tim’s point of view. I wanted to bring General Washington to the present, and I figured that I could show George’s personality and response to the 21st Century through his interactions with Tim.

Tim was George’s foil, a character whose purpose is to contrast with another character, often the protagonist, to bring out their differences. Think Sancho Panza in Don Quixote, Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, or Bud Abbott playing straight man to Lou Costello.

Having Tim as the foil certainly worked out in many ways, but pretty soon, I began to think that I needed to provide him with a sidekick. As I wrote the early parts of the story, it became apparent that the very fact of George suddenly appearing in Tim’s life was astounding, to say the least, and Tim needed his own foil to reflect his astonishment. That’s how the character LaMatthew Johnson came to be. Tim and Matt could have their own private conversations about George, particularly in the early stages of the narrative, where they weren’t sure if they believed his story.

That wasn’t all. As I deepened my research into Washington as a slave owner, I realized that I needed people of color in my story. So Matt is mixed race, descended on his father’s side from enslaved people in the South (the Johnsons), and on his mother’s side from Jews fleeing the Nazis (the Lefkowitches).

From their first meeting, Matt confronts George about his role as owner of many enslaved people, forcing him to acknowledge that slavery is cruel, evil, and immoral. These dialogues elevate Matt’s role in the story from mere sidekick duty. He never gives George a break about slavery, even rejecting the notion Washington was just “a product of his time.”

As I write this, it’s Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, the liberation of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt, and I wonder, “was Pharaoh just a product of his time?”

Despite their differences, George and LaMatthew do learn to trust and admire each other.  Matt, whose role at first was to help Tim understand and explain George’s momentous presence among them, later takes decisive and risky action to defend George during a surprise ambush. Originally intended as a mere sidekick, Matt thus forces his way into becoming a principal character.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Finding George Washington.

Vaccination Distractions

Most of us are getting vaccinated these days, and not all of us feel so great the next day.

I’m a pretty driven person, so I’m usually doing whatever needs to get done. However, I decided to give myself a vaccine break and just do what-ever I felt like for the afternoon. A sort of spontaneous sick day playing on my computer.

It was great. I drank hot tea and cuddled up under my favorite blanket and I even ate cookies. I started out with my newest pastime — I recently discovered Mahjong and now I’ve found two different places to play it online. I already knew I was drawn to classic games, those without people or plots, maybe because I tend to write such complicated books. Matching patterns soothes me, and let’s me turn off the words part of my brain.

I’ve also reaffirmed that I love playing with graphics. It’s what I do if you leave me alone with a computer and I’m not playing a game. Look at this cool collage I made with the first five main characters in my new series. I had more more fun doing this than I can possibly explain.

What can I say. To each our own, huh?

If you do get vaccinated (and I hope you will!) I wish you a nice recovery day, too, doing whatever dumb little things relax you and make you happy.

(This is shared from a post on my blog Seven Troublesome Sisters.)

World Building in the Once Upon A Princess Novellas

I host book tours on my other blogs and when I get a guest post that impresses me, I like to repost it here. Recently I featured author Deborah A. Bailey who has this beautiful website. (Full disclosure, she has hosted one of my books there.)

Anyway, when I featured her I asked her about how much vocabulary she created for her fantasy worlds in her Once Upon A Princess Trio. I got back fascinating information about what guided the creation of her entire worlds. Enjoy her answer.

For my worldbuilding, I considered creating words for the worlds I was writing about. But as it turned out I only ended up creating one word, “Malida.” The reason I created it was because I wanted to use it during a conversation between the hero and heroine in Heart of Stone. Willem, the hero, uses that word to refer to the heroine’s grandmother. The grandmother is a former queen of the province where the story is set. In the aftermath of a war, the heroine, Leesa, and her grandmother are (as far as they know) the only remaining members of the royal family.

When Willem asks Leesa about her grandmother he calls her Malida, which is also a term of endearment. It means “great mother.” For Willem to know that name, he would have to have known more about the family than he’s admitting.

Though I didn’t focus on creating the words and language for those worlds, Since they’re based on fairy tales, I made sure to include certain elements. For instance, I included princesses,  magic, and fantasy creatures. In Heart of Stone Willem is a gargoyle who is under a magical curse. He lives in a deserted palace and he has access to enchantments that were left there by the former inhabitant.

In Beauty and the Faun, the heroine ends up escaping into the Great Forest and it becomes a refuge. Forests are often used fairy tales as places filled with magic and mystery. Satyrs, forest nymphs, centaurs and fauns are among the inhabitants of the Great Forest. Each group has their own culture and behavior that they’re known for. The heroine finds these creatures when she enters the forest, and they show that this is an entirely different world than the one outside.

In Land of Dreams the Great Forest is also included, along with fauns and water nymphs. I added additional magical characters, such as elementals, shifters, and river deities. There’s also a character called the Night Queen who presides over the elementals. While I would’ve loved to have created other words (and languages) for the stories, I made sure to include many fantasy elements and fairy tale touches to set the mood.

Through the Eyes of the Blind

I went to college to become a science writer, but I had a bigger plan. I’d cover breakthroughs in neuroscience and nuclear physics by day and then I’d write killer science fiction by night.

I made my way through copy editing and ad writing classes while cramming in all the science and creative writing my schedule allowed. I did manage to get a fantastic well-rounded education and I left with more than a diplomma. I had a pretty decent roadmap for my life.

Then, well, life happened instead and it wasn’t even close.

However, I still have a great deal of respect for those scientists who communicate well, and those writers who love and understand science. Together they explain facts and theories about the amazing universe in which we live.

I host book tours on my other blogs and when I get a guest post that impresses me, I like to repost it here. In late March I featured author and neuroscientist Michael Tranter, PhD and his popular science book  A Million Things To Ask A Neuroscientist. I got to ask him a question and I wanted to know what he thought was the most amazing thing in his book.

Enjoy his answer.

How can you be blind but still see?

(The brain is amazing, that’s how!)

At the back of the brain we have the occipital lobe. This region receives images from our eyes and optic nerves and decides what we are seeing before sending that information to other parts of our brain to determine how to react. So, if we see an adorable fluffy dog, the light reflected from that dog travels to our retina at the back of our eye, along the optic nerve and to the occipital lobe, where it is processed. Other areas then interpret the meaning and decide what the emotional response should be, resulting in a very excited ‘Aww, a cute puppy – I like this, I feel happy!’

However, damage to the occipital lobe, for example, through trauma, a brain tumour or a stroke, can result in the images of the cute puppy arriving at the visual areas safely, but not being processed or transmitted to other areas of our brain, and hence, we become blind. This is a little different to instances where the eyes or optic nerve don’t function. This additional blindness is termed cortical blindness – essentially, blindness in the brain. You may be asking why I am talking about cute puppies and blindness. Well, because in some people with cortical blindness, even though they can’t see particular objects, their subconscious brain still perceives them. This means a person can interact with something even if they don’t actually see it. Let’s use another example. Say you want to walk across the room to the doorway, but there is a chair in your path. Under normal circumstances, you would see the chair and walk around it. A person with blindsight would also walk across the room and avoid the chair, yet they would not actively see that there is a chair in the room. They simply avoid it but do not fully understand why.

This strange phenomenon was first documented in the 1974 research by Lawrence Weiskrantz and has since been recorded in all manner of situations. A person may catch a ball in mid-air without ever seeing it, for example, but perhaps the most interesting study shows how it is possible to identify facial emotions and even mirror those same emotions in your own face, without ever being consciously aware of seeing any facial expressions.

Blindsight has been rigorously tested in many experimental settings, and as such, neuroscientists think they have an explanation. Firstly, the fact that some people with cortical blindness experience the phenomenon of blindsight may be because the superior colliculus – an area of the brain important in visual orientation – is preserved. Although we don’t yet fully appreciate the full function of the superior colliculus, we do know that this area receives information about what we see and converts it into signals that initiate an appropriate movement. To help explain this, imagine sitting down and watching a racing car drive past. Our eyes and head would instinctively follow the car as we track its movements. This is the responsibility of the superior colliculus, to instinctively monitor the environment and decide how to move our body.

The current hypothesis for blindsight states that as the brain senses damage to the occipital lobe, it starts to rewire itself to bypass the visual areas. The person may never entirely regain normal vision, but they may still be capable of living a normal life. Some neuroscientists suggest that this is a process by which the brain reverts back to a more basic form of vision, and one that is seen in animals who naturally lack the advanced visual areas of a human brain.

So, there you have it. That is how you can be blind, but your brain can still see, pretty amazing right?

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out A Million Things To Ask A Neuroscientist.

 

Well-Behaved Minor Characters

In my books I usually have one minor character who insists on playing a larger role in the story.

It started with my first novel, One of One, when I introduced Maurice, an eighty-something telepath from west Texas meant to play the minor role of contacting my main character Lola about an organization of telepaths. However, Maurice refused to exit the book after his one scene. He kept showing up, helping Lola and offering her interesting advice, and by the climax of book he’d grabbed himself a major part of the action.

It only got worse. Maurine went on to reappear in book three and four of the series and by the sixth and last book, Maurice was part of the family. Seriously. Lola’s kids all called him Uncle Maurice.

I’ve had other minor characters do similar, though not as drastic, things and I always wonder how unique this problem is to me. So when I get the chance to ask another fiction author if this happens to them, I jump at the chance.

Recently I asked Author Ellie Beals if she had such a character in her novel, Emergence (and if she didn’t, I wanted to know how she got the characters in her head to behave so well!)

Here is her fascinating answer.

I have been a chronic over-planner and over-preparer all my life.  I waited an obscenely long time to start work on a novel, because I so dreaded what I anticipated to be the long and grueling planning process required before I could actually WRITE.  And then one day, I said:  What if?  What if I don’t do that?  What if I just sit down and start writing?
And that’s what I did.  My plan at the outset was this simple:  I knew that:
  • the centre-piece of the book would be Xavier, one of my two protagonists. He is the adolescent “wildchild” who first surveils and eventually befriends my other protagonist, Cass Harwood – a middle-aged dog trainer and wilderness recreationist
  • dogs would be legitimate characters, helping to move the plot forward – but once again, they like Cass should never blur the focus on Xavier
  • there would be three dramatic and traumatic events and two Bad Guys associated with them, catalyzing the danger that eventually ensnares both of my protagonists.
Beyond that –  everything was open to that strange magic that occurs during the act of writing.  Knowing that it was really all about Xavier was my key to all of the other characters – I wanted to give them only enough oxygen to be realistic and believable, and to properly showcase the wildchild of Lac Rouge.  It was this minimalist drive that resulted in the characters in my head “behaving so well”.  I am a very disciplined human.  I simply refused to listen when one of the other characters clamored for more attention.
And one of them most certainly did.  Stefan is Xavier’s father.  I needed to create context that would realistically explain how Xavier grew up in such profound isolation at Lac Rouge.  So I made his father a declared anarchist with both intellectual and survivalist leanings.  When I first conceived of him, I thought I would shape him to be at least mildly abusive.  As the book took its own path, I abandoned that.  There were already two bona-fide bad guys, and given that I wanted a realistic plot, I figured that was plenty.  I also wanted there to be a reasonable explanation of Xavier’s many fine qualities.  So Stefan became a more complex and nuanced character than I had originally envisaged.  I endowed him with this background:  a Franco-Ontarian distanced from his rural family by his love of learning, who moved to Quebec to work in the lumber camps.  In Quebec he met Xavier’s french-speaking mother,  who left him when Xavier was eight.  Stefan also became partially disabled through a work accident.  He home-schools Xavier, and does a remarkably good job of it, except when his recurrent backpain intrudes.   That is the public face of Stefan.
But his presence injected a host of questions I had to decide whether or not to answer.  For example:  what really happened to Xavier’s mother?  Why did she leave?  Xavier mentions Stefan getting “mean” when he’s in pain, but he never describes that.  How does this “meaness” manifest?  And towards the end of Emergence, after Stefan tells Xavier that Cass has been questioned by the police, Xavier becomes quite concerned about an almost predatory alertness he sees in Stefan, that reminds him of the way Stefan is when they hunt.  Xavvy is not sure about this —  but there is a concern he expresses, without telling us why he is so concerned.  What actions does he fear Stefan might take?
I wanted the reader to be subtly or even subliminally aware of these questions I planted about Stefan.  One part of me played with expanding the book considerably, in order to explore them more fully.  However, given my commitment to render Emergence primarily a story about Xavier – I resisted the temptation.  But Stefan keeps nagging  me.  I have been urged to write a sequel, which I doubt that I’ll do.  But again –  one part of me plays with the idea of a parallel project that focuses on Stefan.  I don’t think I will – life is short and I’d like to try other things.  But Stefan does keep gnawing away at me.  He is only superficially “well-behaved”.    We shall see.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Emergence.

We need eerie music for this!

I host other authors on a different blog, and when I get the chance to ask them a question, I go for information on the things that fascinate me about writing. Recently I asked one such question, and to my surprise, the author (Susan Merson of Oh Good Now This) answered two of my favorite questions. Weird, huh? Both answers were interesting so I am reposing them here.

I said …

I am fascinated by characters that undergo a major transformation in a story, so I often ask an author if there is such a metamorphosis in the novel I’m featuring. I asked Susan Merson this, and you’ll see her interesting response below. But here’s the thing.

Sometimes, instead, I ask a different questions and it usually goes like this. “In my books I’ve always had one minor character who insisted on playing a larger role in the story. I’m curious: was there such a character in your novel?”

Guess what? Author Merson answered that question also, and I didn’t even ask it. Cool, huh? Read on …

She said …

Susan Merson

I like to think of my new book OH GOOD NOW THIS  as a second time around, coming of age story. I am fascinated by how people survive and live their lives fully, especially after loss and the plain old battles of living day to day.

Amanda is a woman in her 60’s who ends up living near Vivi, my protagonist, on a country road, hidden behind tall pine trees. She craves light and strips the house of all its possessions, heaves her clothes into the dumpster, white washes the walls, and scrapes the floors til they shine. Through the large window in her living room she can see the moon and puts her white mattress and white duvet directly in the path of its glow. She can not bear the weight of any memory, any lover, any remnant of what was and lives a reclusive, solo life until she welcomes a young man into her home. He is visiting the local college for a seminar and she needs the money from his room rental.

And she falls in love with him. His easy loping style, his curiosity, his tease of pleasure at her company. Just his presence in the house inspires her to return to the root of who she was as a young woman and she spends her days painting pine cones and making soup, pretending she does not care when or if he returns.

Of course, he leaves, returning to his own life, but freezing Amanda in this new beginning as a person who sees the world deeply, through an artist’s eye once again. And the love she bears for this man-boy, releases the hold her body had on its poisons. Renewed, refreshed, no blockages to hold them back, the old poisons find their way into her body, creating illness when she was just reclaiming life.

Amanda’s death informs the lives of my other characters in this world. The journey she makes from cynical, rejected trophy wife, to full and faulty artist—this unfolding—surprises everyone. And inspires them, as well.

Amanda was a surprise to me when I was writing the book. She showed up when Vivi needed to see how the choices we make in our own lives can affect us, can make our choice for life or death very real. Vivi insists that life is worth the struggle even though she has seen how giving in to poison can loosen our grips and let hope recede. Amanda shoves Vivi toward choosing life at an important juncture in the story and I am grateful she showed up to let me introduce her.

Isn’t she beautiful?

I understand cover reveals can be a big deal, but it’s just not my style. I’m happy to get an attractive cover I like and one that represents my books well. When I do, well, I want to share it. Like right away.

So …. here is the gorgeous cover for book 5 in the Seven Troublesome Sister Series.

It really is beautiful, isn’t it?

What is she holding? It’s called a psaltery, and it’s a stringed instrument that was quite popular in the 1200’s.  This 5th sister is a musician. (It’s one of the reasons she can’t keep quiet.)

Like it’s predecessor (cover 4) this was done by the fine folks at Deranged Doctor Design and arrived almost perfect. The way it showed up is on the left. I had a few minor concerns. A psaltery is too heavy to be held the way she holds it. The lighting effects made her hair look like she was going gray. She seemed rather too tall and thin to be a real woman and her arms, in particular, looked off.

Most if not all of these, of course, were artifacts of the sort of photo manipulation DDD does to make their stunning but still affordable covers.

Back came this version, which corrected most of my concerns, except for the oddly long and skinny arms. We had one more round to improve the arms, and then I decided I wanted the castle on her other side. I was all excited about how our brains are accustomed to going from left to right and felt that the castle on the left would better convey that she was leaving to go somewhere else. (See my post Better Covers: Does Your Brain Prefer Left to Right?) Flipping the castle didn’t make as much difference as I’d hoped, but I liked it okay and was happy to call it good with only these three minor revisions.

I’d love to know if other authors are more, or less, picky than I am about their covers. If any of you reading this self-publish, please speak up and let me know!

This was originally posted on my blog Seven Troublesome Sisters which talks all about that series. Check it out for more info on these books.

She’s the One Who Cares Too Much (Book Two of the War Stories of the Seven Troublesome Sisters) by S. R. Cronin #Books #HistoricalFantasy

Happy to see the way this blog tour is going. Goddess Fish does a great job of organizing these things and I particularly like Viviana MacKade’s blog!

Viviana MacKade

Listen to blogpost for free

Happy to see this great series going!

She’s the One Who Cares Too Much(Book Two of the War Stories of the Seven Troublesome Sisters) by S. R. Cronin released in February in the Historical Fantasy genre.

Coral, the second of seven sisters, has been hiding her affair with the perfect man until her older sister can get her life together. But the perfect man is getting impatient and now she’s gotten pregnant. Coral decides it’s time to consider her own happiness.

But what does she want? The perfect husband turns out to be less than ideal. She adores the small children she teaches but the idea of being a mother fills her with joy. Meanwhile, her homeland is gripped by fear of a Mongol invasion and she can’t stop crying about everything now that she’s with child.

Then a friend suggests the ever-caring Coral…

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Better Covers: Does Your Brain Prefer Left to Right?

I love book covers! After ten years in the self-publishing industry, I realize I spend a lot of time thinking about my covers, analyzing them, and just plain staring at them.

I designed my own first one (and had so much fun doing it), but since then I have relied on professionals who can produce a better product. I was lucky to find Deranged Doctor Design a few years ago and they’re now working on their eleventh cover for me!

But it was cover number ten (shown here) that brought out something I was unaware of.  The final product, or at least what I thought was the final product, shows Olivine, a shy, artistic woman who takes up archery because of her unusually gifted eyesight.

I loved the olive color, and the sense of capturing her in motion, so I happily gave DDD the okay to call this one done with only a minor revision to her hair. (Don’t think that has ever happened before. I always see something I want to change.)

I second-guessed my decision, however, when I studied this cover next to the first three books in this series. The other women all look so strong, so sure of themselves, while my fourth sister — she hesitates. To me, she’s looking back over her shoulder like she’s not entirely sure if she should go on.

Well, she is shy, I thought. Maybe this captures that part of her and I should be glad. But honestly, I wasn’t. I know Olivine is strong inside, like her other sisters, and I wanted my readers (and my potential readers) to know that too.

Then a weird thing happened. I was trying to crop the cover image in PowerPoint to just get her face, to put it into a promotional idea I had. You know how if you grab the side of a small image in PowerPoint to move it, sometimes instead you end up pulling one edge all the way over the other and reversing the image? It’s annoying. Well, I did that, and the reversed image surprised me. Here was Olivine, reversed and looking more sure of herself!

Yet, it was the same picture. How could that be?

I puzzled over this for a while before it occurred to me that I’ve spent a lot of my life reading (and writing) and my words always go left to right. In our alphabet, left is backward. Right is forward. So looking left is looking over my shoulder, gazing at the past. Looking right is boldly looking ahead.

Flip the image of a woman looking to her left and suddenly she appears more ready to face the future. It’s amazing.

Yes, the nice folks at DDD were happy to flip the cover image for me, and today I got a draft of the result.

Look at her. Now she’s perfect.

And, I’ve learned something that should help me evaluate cover designs going forward.  For just as our bodies respond differently to chemical compounds that are mirror images of each other, I believe our brains respond differently to mirror images as well.

This means I can ascribe attributes to a character on a cover by paying attention to which way her gaze is directed.

Cool, huh?

(Note: this was reposted from my blog for the ‘Seven Troublesome Sisters” series. Check out Seven Troublesome Sisters to learn more about these books.)

Wow. Eight books.

I spent over twenty years trying to finish my first novel. Now, as of yesterday, I’ve published eight books. Sometimes it doesn’t seem real to me.

I’ve learned so much. The most important lesson of all, of course, has been to trust that I can do this. That when the ideas come, some will be worth pursuing. That when the page is blank, words will fill it. That when the rewrites start, much will be worth saving and those parts can be fit into a coherent plot. Finally, when I put that final product out there in front of the world, many people will enjoy it.

(Some won’t of course, and a few will take their pleasure saying so in unnecessarily snotty ways, but I’ve also learned that intentional hurtfulness is their problem, not mine. That’s a different sort of lesson.)

Besides all that, there is my killer knowledge of formatting text, my growing abilities to manipulate graphics, and my always increasing presence on social media. If you are looking for a hobby that will force you to stay technologically savvy, I highly recommend self-publishing.

And guess what? I now know what fruits and vegetables were native to Eurasia, when tea and coffee became popular in Europe, what a crossbow is and how to feint in fencing. Seriously, if you are looking for a hobby that will leave you more knowledgeable, may I suggest writing historical novels?

The truth is, I love what I do. I love writing books and I can’t imagine my life without it.

Which novel is my favorite? It’s always the one I’m working on. I spent the last month and a half putting the final polish on Coral’s book, so of course I’m in love with her and her story.

Tomorrow I will turn to the sketchy notes and two chapters that constitute the beginning of Celestine’s book. By Tuesday, I’m sure Celestine will have become the best main character I’ve ever created. It seems to be how I function.

Today, I’m just talking a breath, looking back at the road I’ve traveled and being glad that I function at all.

The Power of Poetry

Poetry remains the one domain of words that usually fails to grab my attention but I perhaps that’s why the exceptions standout. Earlier today I listened to poet Amanda Gorman read her work The Hill We Climb’ at the presidential inauguration. And wow did she stand out.
Her vivacious delivery helped; I loved every minite of her presentation. I also found her use of words clever and even playful in spite of the seriousness of her topic. My favorite was “what just is isn’t always justice.”
Judging from the response on social media, I suspect she won many other non-poetry-appreciators over today, and that her final words “For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it” will be quoted many times over. I hope they are.
I seldom feature poetry on my blogs, but about a month ago I ran a feature on Utanu Maa, a Canadian poet originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and her recent book of poetry entitled “Rise and Fall of My Beloved” which she describes as “my own journey into unconditional love and care, and the resilience to deal with pain, loss, grief, to grieve, heal and continue with life after my brother’s death.”
My feature was part of a blog tour, and this one was set up so that I recieved a unique piece of her poetry post on my blog. I found it powerful and moving also, and seeing as I’m going on about poetry here, I am going to repost it below. I just want to say, if I keep finding myself exposed to to this kind of quality, I may have to decide I like poetry after all.

An Excerpt Just for Readers of This Blog

The Speech

He lacked the speech and was teased, mocked.

People regularly targeted, labelled, and bullied him.

They did not believe in his ability to learn and succeed,

They repeatedly told him loudly, in his face

And ears with intent to persuade him about himself.

They predestined him for failure because he was unable to speak.

He remained silent for a long time, listening carefully.

He observed motions on their lips; he absorbed words and sounds.

Then, one early morning, still in bed,

While everyone was in their last dream or nightmare,

And when time had healed and ended his grieving,

The miracle happened: he spoke!

Words and sounds gusted out of his mouth

Like a volcano erupting after a century of long sleep,

He spoke, he spoke, and he spoke volumes!

He talked firmly to himself or maybe to an invisible entity or spirit,

Repeating verbatim words that he had been absorbing:

The same terms used to tease, label, and mock him,

To bully and denigrate him, to silence him and cast him out.

From the bed where I slept, after we were allowed,

I saw him walking outside like a soldier going to war,

Brave and determined to defend his persona with words!

The struggle was out there, and he went to fight it

With his only but most potent weapon: words!

Words used in a common way: verbally, loudly, and firmly.

He knew the power of words, used for any purpose.

Now equally equipped to face the struggle in his early life,

He spoke correctly just as he had observed words on lips,

Using the same words to tease, mock, or intimidate.

To the big disbelief of all, though I had prayed and pleaded

To my ancestors and God that one day he would speak,

Zola had proven at last his ability to pronounce words.

Soon he would go to school to learn words in books,

To write words on a blackboard or in a notebook,

On a wall or on the ground, carving on a tree or on leaves.

Words pronounced in speech to make a statement,

Words spoken with confidence in a native or foreign language,

Words used to argue, defend opinions, convince, and lead,

Words that would further educate and engineer his brain,

Words as a tool to beat all odds and rise exceptionally like a star,

Indeed, words were clearly spoken by his mouth from this point on.

What liberation, relief, blessing, and privilege!

Buy the Book

If you’re interesting in Utanu Maa’s work, you can purchase it at any of these places.

AMAZON.COM https://amazon.com/dp/0228836506
AMAZON.CA https://amazon.ca/dp/0228836506
KINDLE https://amazon.com/dp/B08M2DNJHP
BOOKSHOP https://bookshop.org/books/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved/9780228836506
INDIGO CHAPTERS https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/rise-and-fall-of-my/9780228836513-item.html
BARNES & NOBLE https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved-utanu-maa/1138021915
BOOK DEPOSITORY https://www.bookdepository.com/Rise-and-Fall-of-My-Beloved-Utanu-Maa/9780228836506
RAKUTEN KOBO https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved
SMASHWORDS https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1051884
APPLE BOOKS https://books.apple.com/us/book/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved/id1538242460

For the full post about Utanu Maa, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Rise and Fall of My Beloved.

How do the people in your life influence the characters in your stories?

I’m always fascinated by how much other authors draw on the people they are close to as they create their characters. Recently I got the chance to ask Joanne Guidoccio, author of the women’s fiction novel No More Secrets, what her take was on this issue.

Bits and Pieces of Characters

Having lived and taught in different cities throughout the province of Ontario, I have felt free to “borrow” characteristics from friends, former colleagues, and students to create composite characters in my novels.

That was the modus operandi for the first five novels I wrote: Between Land and Sea, The Coming of Arabella, A Season for Killing Blondes, Too Many Women in the Room, and A Different Kind of Reunion.

While writing No More Secrets, I followed a slightly different path.

Angelica Delfino, the protagonist, is also a composite character. But this time, I borrowed from the Italian women of my mother’s generation. And, yes, I did include bits of my mother’s life. Before she died, Mama read an early draft and commented, “I can see myself here, as well as…” and then she mentioned several relatives and close friends.

The three nieces—Velia, Nora, and Teresa—belong to Generation Y. While sketching their characters, I considered former students but also thought back to my own experiences.

Growing up, I was surrounded by several friends and relatives who resembled Velia, the quintessential good Italian girl who followed the script. While I demonstrated some of her self-discipline and motivation for academic achievement, I didn’t marry at an early age, nor did I choose to stay home and raise a family.

Nora, Velia’s polar opposite, is considered the black sheep of the clan. Impulsive and carefree (at times reckless), Nora has taken many risks in her personal and work lives. Her disastrous marriage barely lasted one year. Often described as a Career ADDer, she experimented with several careers before finding her niche as an interior designer. In my late twenties and early thirties, I did go through a brief period of job-hopping.

Like Teresa, the youngest niece, I settled in Guelph, a mid-sized city in south-central Ontario. We are both introverts and teachers at Catholic school boards, but the resemblance ends there. A theology department head, Teresa is more spiritually inclined. Early in the novel, she speaks wistfully about her missionary work–something I admire but could never do.

Bellastrega, aka Lynn Miller, started off as a minor character. Initially, I intended to have Angelica’s psychic companion appear briefly in the first chapter. All that changed after she started invading my dreams. She ended up with her own POV and full control of the epilogue. Her character was inspired by a psychic in Northern Ontario. While I don’t possess psychic abilities, I do share a common interest with Bellastrega. When I retired twelve years ago, I made wellness a priority in my life. Many of Bellastrega’s comments and suggestions could easily have come from me.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out No More Secrets.

Making Up Words

Every fantasy author has to deal with the dual problems of how much vocabulary to create and how to do it. Recently I got the chance to ask Russell Archey, author of the fantasy novel The Seven Spires, about his approach. He was kind enough to provide this interesting answer.

I didn’t create much vocabulary for the world in The Seven Spires, but I did draw on many sources for naming conventions. Since each kingdom and realm in the book is based on different mythological and fairy tale criteria, I tried to stick with conventions from each respective source.

For example, the Red Kingdom is properly known as Edda. This name comes from the Poetic Edda of Norse mythology. Names like Horodir are meant to invoke such Nordic naming conventions, where others like Vidar are directly related to Norse mythology. One of the most dangerous creatures encountered in the book is the monstrous, worm-like jormungandr who dwell in the Jotun Foothills—both named after creatures from the same mythology. The capital city of Edda? Valgrind, otherwise known as one of the gates of Valhalla!

Some naming conventions are meant to tie characters together, such as the three sorceress sisters who have the ‘æ’ symbol in their names to give them a mystical appeal. Other names and titles were built from various words to create something new. The capital of the Diamond Kingdom, Icostraea, is a combination of “icon” and the Greek goddess of justice and purity, Astraea.

Of course, what fantasy story filled with mythology, fairy tales, and folklore would complete without dragons? I wanted to try something unique with the dragons in this setting. Dragons are rare creatures in Septer (itself named after a word for the number seven and bringing to mind a symbol of authority) and they are named after what I’ve always felt are dragon-type archetypes.

Father Dragon is the progenitor of them all, and as such, each other dragon is referred to as a “dragon-child.” Each dragon-child found a home in a separate realm, making seven total of their kind in the world: Father Dragon, Drake, Naga, Serpent, Wyrm, Hydra, and, of course, Wyvern. Despite their rarity and special, unique natures, not all are still alive at the start of the novel…

As you can see, even though I didn’t create any languages or overly unique vocabulary for the novel, many different languages were used to build the world itself. It’s a great big continent out there!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out The Seven Spires.

And now, a video

 

 

Fly Twice Backward is on my TBR pile

The premise of Fly Twice Backward by David S. McCracken fascinates me, and I’m looking forward to reading all of it. I’d hoped to do so for a recent review tour but frankly it’s daunting length (723 pages) put a kink in those plans. However, I spent enough time with it to make some observations.

  1. I started the book and thoroughly enjoyed the beginning. The author does a credible job of describing an incredible event — a man of today waking up in the 1950s to find himself the child he once was.
  2. McCracken tries a lot of ambitious things in this novel, and one is providing links to songs and other media intended to enhance his story. It’s a clever idea! I know because I tried it in 2012, in my first novel called x0 (and later renamed One of One)* and I thought it was brilliant at the time. The wave of the future. My own experience was that some readers loved it, some found it a real distraction, and most ignored it. Perhaps I chose my links poorly, but in the end, it took far too much effort to maintain them and I ended up rewriting the book (and four others) removing links entirely. I wish author McCracken a better experience with this idea!
  3. I skimmed through much of the long middle of this book. It appears to be a complicated but basically well-written story with a lot of action. Subdivided into decades, I zipped through the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s.
  4. I also looked at some of the reviews, because I always do that, and I saw some heavy criticism for the author’s inclusion of his personal political views. There is no question he has done that, but so do many if not most science fiction authors. From Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on through Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is  Harsh Mistress up to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s War, this genre has a long history of swaying hearts and minds, and not always in the direction I’d like to see them swayed. As a left-leaning independent* I thought the counterbalance McCracken offers to this legacy was a refreshing change of pace.
  5. I skipped ahead and read the end. I hardly ever do that, but so often such ambitious novels struggle to tie everything together and I was curious. No, I won’t give anything away, but only say the end was a frantic, action-filled sequence told from several points of view. It was fascinating to read and appeared to tie up several storylines nicely. I’ll have to read the whole thing, of course, to really know how well it does, but after my quick perusal, I’m looking forward to this.

*I wouldn’t normally talk about myself in a review, but lucky for me this isn’t really a review.

About the book

You wake back in early adolescence, adult memories intact, including ones that could make you very wealthy now. Your birth family is here, alive again, but your later families are gone, perhaps forever. What has happened, what should you do about coming problems like violence, ignorance, pollution, and global warming? You realize one key connects most, the fundamentalist strains of all the major religions, disdaining science, equality, and social welfare. You see that there are some things you can change, some you can’t, and one you don’t dare to.

Fellow idealists help you spend your growing fortune well–such as an artistic Zoroastrian prince in the Iranian oil industry, a rising officer in the Soviet army working to find a way to destroy his corrupt government, a Bahai woman struggling against Islamic brutality, a Peruvian leader working for a liberal future, and a snake-handling Christian minister, grappling with doubts, sexuality, and destiny. They are supported by an ally who develops essential psychic powers. The group faces familiar-looking corrupt politicians, religious leaders, and corporate czars, but there is an ancient force in the background, promoting greed, violence, hate, and fear.

This exciting, emotional, thoughtful, humorous, and even romantic sci-fi novel weaves progressivism, music, movies, and literature into a struggle spanning the globe. Vivid characters propel the action back up through an alternative history toward an uncertain destination. Experience the unique story and its novel telling.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Fly Twice Backward.

A Burst of Sparkle

I’m opening a favorite sparking drink tomorrow, metaphorically at least, as I kick-off a month-long blog tour for my first series, 46. Ascending. It seemed fitting to do this before my new series begins to dominate my life after the release of its first book on November 13. After all, I do love this original series too.

I’ve found a new blog company, Silver Dagger Tours, to put this tour together and I’ve been very impressed so far. I love the people I’ve worked with on previous blog tours, but my hope is a new venue, with new hosts, will introduce me to new readers.

So far I’ve got these great visuals to use …

and the schedule of stops below, many of them on blogs I’ve never visited. I’ll keep posting here about the tour and how it goes.

Oct 9

KICKOFF at Silver Dagger Book Tours (Link live at 3 am tomorrow Oct. 9)

A Pinch of Bookdust

Oct 12

Sadie’s Spotlight

Scrupulous Dreams

Oct 13

Insane Books

The Book Dragon

Oct 14

Bedazzled By Books

The Bookshelf Fairy

Oct 15

All Things Dark & Dirty

The Faerie Review

Oct 16

Midnight Book Reader

Twisted Book Ramblings

Oct 17

The Avid Reader

Oct 19

Musings From An Addicted Reader

Luv Saving Money

Oct 20

Renee Wildes Weblog

Drako’s Den

Oct 21

Why I Can’t Stop Reading

Momma Says: To Read or Not to Read

Oct 22

My Crazy Life

Inside the Insanity

Oct 23

The Pulp and Mystery Shelf

Teatime and Books   

Oct 26

eBook Addicts

Always Love Me Some Books Blog

Oct 27

#BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee

Stormy Nights Reviewing & Bloggin’

Oct 28

Sapphyria’s Book Reviews

Readeropolis

Oct 29

Airin’ My Dirty Laundry

Dragon’s Den

Oct 30

IndiePowerd by No Sweat Graphics

Books a Plenty Book Reviews

Oct 31

The Book Junkie Reads . . .

A Wonderful World of Words

Nov 2

Bayou Queen Book Fanatics

Books, Authors, Blogs

Nov 3

Books all things paranormal and romance

Girl with Pen

Nov 4

Literary Gold

Sylv.net

Nov 5

Authors & Readers Book Corner

T’s Stuff

Nov 6

Craving Lovely Books

Book Corner News and Reviews

Nov 7

The Sexy Nerd ‘Revue’

Nov 8

Books A-Brewin’

Nov 9

Anna del C. Dye official page

Valerie Ullmer | Romance Author

So, which child do you like best?

In my own experience, my favorite of my own books is always the one I’m writing now. Having read and enjoyed Olga Werby’s book Harvest (see my review) I was curious how she felt about it in comparison to her latest book Twin Time.  So, I asked her which of these two books of hers was more fun to write.

Yes, I know this is a little bit like asking someone which of their children they like best. “Both” is a good answer. But to author Werby’s credit, she had an interesting and well-thought-out response.

“Harvest” and “Twin Time” couldn’t be more different! One is a sci-fi thriller; the other is a fantastical, historical romance. I’ve spent years researching the science for “Harvest”—the scientific details in that story are all true. But the same is true for “Twin Time”. “Twin Time” is partly based on my grandmother’s childhood. She grew up in post-revolutionary Russia, in a rural village where the political change was slow to arrive. When it finally did, her family had to run in the middle of the night to stay alive. They lived through unspeakable horrors and didn’t survive unscathed. Most died. When and where we are born shapes our lives. When you read “Twin Time”, you will get to experience what it was like to live in another time and place with a different value system and different culture.

I came to America as a refugee; I grew up in Russia and those experiences shaped my life. To write about what it feels like to be there, even if at a different time and place than what I knew, was transformative. I loved doing the research, looking at illustrations and old photographs. It made me remember the fairytales of my youth.

Emotionally, “Twin Time” was more powerful for me, while “Harvest” was more intellectually stimulating. Writing these two books was a very different experience. But I wouldn’t swap my life for the life of my heroines in either of these novels—they had it rough. Spending a few years dreaming the lives of these women is very different from living those lives. I have to say, I’m a girl who likes first-class bathroom accommodations!

About Olga Werby:

Olga Werby, Ed.D., has a Doctorate from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on designing online learning experiences. She has a Master’s degree from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology. She has been creating computer-based projects since 1981 with organizations such as NASA (where she worked on the Pioneer Venus project), Addison-Wesley, and the Princeton Review. Olga has a B.A. degree in Mathematics and Astrophysics from Columbia University. She became an accidental science fiction indie writer about a decade ago, with her first book, “Suddenly Paris,” which was based on then fairly novel idea of virtual universes. Her next story, “The FATOFF Conspiracy,” was a horror story about fat, government bureaucracy, and body image. She writes about characters that rarely get represented in science fiction stories — homeless kids, refugees, handicapped, autistic individuals — the social underdogs of our world.

Her stories are based in real science, which is admittedly stretched to the very limit of possible. She has published almost a dozen fiction books to date and has won many awards for her writings. Her short fiction has been featured in several issues of “Alien Dimensions Magazine,” “600 second saga,” “Graveyard Girls,” “Kyanite Press’ Fables and Fairy Tales,” “The Carmen Online Theater Group’s Chronicles of Terror,” with many more stories freely available on her blog, Interfaces.com.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Twin Time.

How Happy is Happy Enough?

So, I’m personally struggling with the question of how happy a happily-ever-after ending has to be to satisfy readers. I suppose my even asking the question makes it clear I think there is some wiggle room, or there ought to be.

I recently featured Doorway to Scorn, a fantasy novel by Dimitrius Jones, on one of my other blogs. I was delighted to get the chance to ask this author what he thought about the infamous HEA ending. I really liked his response.

As someone who’s read his fair share of romance novels, I get it. We love to ship people and see those ships weather a storyline’s challenges and persevere. We want to be rewarded for instilling hope into our favorite pairing with an ending that is adorably predictable.

We escape into these stories because we’re not sure if true love actually exists sometimes. It’s hard to reconcile a belief in soulmates when we can log onto social media and watch a divorce happen in real time at almost any moment. That’s why it’s so tantalizing to find a romance novel that will soothe our concerns with the promise of a happy ending for the featured couple, even if there’s much ground to cover beforehand.

I’m just not here for it, personally. I feel like it’s overdone.

I won’t go so far as to say I prefer depressing, tragic endings and think they should completely replace happy endings. However, I can appreciate a bittersweet ending where not every character gets the exact resolution we think they should. Real life doesn’t work either way. You don’t always get the ending to a relationship that you deserve, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a beautiful story out of it. It doesn’t mean there isn’t art to be found in a non-happy ending.

I think we could benefit from reading about relationship stories that we can better relate to versus stories where we idealize the couple. Some may say it’s boring, but I think it’s a challenge. As a writer, I’m always seeking new ways to express real life in a fictitious setting. What better way to expand my creative bandwidth than challenging myself to craft a great story without relying on tropes?

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any more happy endings. I just believe we shouldn’t fear realistic ones that don’t always make us feel fuzzy inside. It’s okay. There’s still a story there.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Doorway to Scorn.

Do you wonder what a memoir writer doesn’t tell you?

I’ve often wondered about what gets cut from a memoir. I recently got the chance to ask actor and activist Leon Acord this question about his new book Sub-lebrity* (*the queer life of a show-biz footnote) … and here is his response.

I’m a believer of the “vomit draft.” Meaning, when writing a first draft, you write down everything that comes to mind. Future drafts are about cutting, condensing and deciding on and strengthening your “thesis.”

So, after the first draft of SUB-LEBRITY, I realized my book was the mostly comic tale of an out-and-loud gay actor from Indiana now living and working in Los Angeles. If a story wasn’t about being gay, being an actor, or being a gay actor, out it came. There was no room for family dramas or medical traumas.

But as requested, here’s a chapter which I cut from my book, all about my scariest “medical emergency.”

A Twisted Vein

I somehow arrived at middle-age without ever breaking a bone, having surgery, or even spending a night as a patient in a hospital.

Pretty good, huh?  Especially considering my childhood was filled with jumping off barns, riding horses and mini-motorbikes, and farm work!

But that’s not to say my life has been free of scary medical-show drama.

Around 2003, I began to notice, while reading, that text was becoming a little blurry.  I attributed it to my age (40 at the time), and mentally made a note to buy some reading glasses.

I also noticed colors on TV became muted when I closed my left eye.  Again, I assumed it was just a case of aging eyes.

Then one day, as I was walking to work in San Francisco’s Financial District, I looked up at a high-rise building.

Is that building bulging? I wondered.

I closed my left eye. The building did, indeed, appear to have a small bulge — one or two floors warping outwards.

How is that possible?

I quickly made an appointment with my regular eye doctor, a wonderful woman named Dr. Christine Brischer.

As we sat down, I explained to her what I was experiencing.  She looked into my left eye, then my right, with her lighted pen.  Then, without a word to me, she spun around in her chair, picked up the phone, and called a leading ophthalmologist.

“Hi, its Christine.  I have a patient who needs to see you immediately.  Can he come this afternoon?  Good!”

She hung up, and spun around to face me.

“I hope you have good insurance,” she said cryptically.  “This is going to be expensive.”

I left her office in a daze, and immediately called Laurence.  He left work early and joined me at the ophthalmologist’s office.

After a thorough and grueling examination, the specialist explained to use what was going on.

A small artery behind the center of my right retina had sprung a leak.  The blood that was spilling out was pushing the retina forward, thus causing vision in that eye to appear warped.

The ophthalmologist conferred with his team.  They suggested urgency.  Considering the leak was located directly in the center of my eye, they recommended the “big guns” — a “hot” laser eye surgery.  It would leave me with a permanent blind spot in the middle of my right eye, but the heat from the laser might — just might — seal up the leaky vein.  We agreed.

My head was strapped into a chair.  I was warned against moving in the slightest for the 60 seconds the laser was shooting into my eye, as the laser would burn (and blind) anything it touched.

The terrifying procedure began, and the entire time, I wondered What if I have to sneeze? What if there’s an earthquake?  What if I fart?

I didn’t, there wasn’t, and I didn’t.

I was appearing in the play Worse Than Chocolate at the time, and assured director Jeffrey I’d recover sufficiently in time to return to the show following the mid-week break in performances.  And I did, despite incredibly distracting “halos” that stage lighting caused in my recovering eye. (I should’ve worn the eye patch I’d been sporting after the surgery on stage, but critics already felt my villain was a little too over-the-top!)

That weekend, during a performance, as I’m “firing” Jaeson Post and demanding the office key from him, he dropped it as he handed it to me.  I looked down.  With my impaired vision, the brass-colored metal key vanished against the similarly colored wooded floor.

I looked at Jaeson.  Rightfully remaining in character, he refused to pick it up.

I got on my hands and knees and felt for the keys with my hands, like a young, manic Patty Duke-as-Helen Keller.  The audience actually loved it, loved seeing the heavy of the show (me) reduced to crawling on his hands and knees after being such a prick, but it was a very scary moment which I think I played off.

We returned to the doctor for a follow-up a week later.  We were both disappointed when told the vein was still leaking.   So now, I had warped vision plus the blind spot right in the center of my eye.  I began to question the wisdom of using the “big guns” right away.

The doctor suggested we try the hot laser again.  But one blind spot is enough, thank you very much.  So, we opted for the less-powerful option:  inject me full of photo-topical chemicals, and shoot a “cold” laser into my eye, through the retina, at the leak.  Then hide from direct sunlight for the next three days (not so easy to do in Los Angeles), as the chemicals would leave me susceptible to serious sunburn within minutes.

That didn’t stop the leak either. So, we tried it again. Then again.

After seven more expensive cold laser surgeries over 18 months, the leak was finally catheterized.

What caused the vein to pop a leak in the first place?

That question left the various eye professionals stymied.  Until over a year later, when we consulted with a vision specialist on the campus of UCSF.

“Did you grow up on a farm?” he asked within moments.

“Why, yes, I did, why?”

“Histoplasmosis,” he answered, explaining the infection – caused by inhaling dried bird droppings – is common in people who live(d) on midwestern farms.  Most people carry it without ever developing symptoms.  Yes, as a matter of fact, I did spend a few months as a kid raising chickens and selling the eggs to neighbors and family members.  And I remembered, Mom had battled the same thing when I was a young kid — in her case, it attacked the veins in her legs, putting her in a wheelchair for a week or two.

Then again, it may be the kicked-up piles of dried pigeon shit I inhaled while shooting OUT’s climatic mugging scene in that disgusting San Francisco Tenderloin back alley.

Over the years, my blind spot from that hot laser has continued to expand, basically leaving me effectively blind in the center of my right eye.  If I live long enough, the slowly expanding blind spot will eventually leave me legally blind in that eye.

I’ve gotten used to it.  The human eye is an amazing thing, and fills in blind spots with the colors surrounding it.  I only really feel impaired when taking a conventional vision test, while watching a 3D movie, or if I’m driving in an unfamiliar part of town after dark.

The plus side?  I have to subject myself to rigorous eye tests every six months to ensure the leak doesn’t reopen.  Since most of the patients of my ophthalmologist are elderly men and women battling macular degeneration, every time I show up for an appointment, I enjoy the very rare sensation of being the young person in the room — a feat I rarely accomplish in LA!

Or anywhere else these days, now that I think about it…

I thank the author for an honest and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Sub-lebrity*.

Name your target audience

I’ve always struggled with others’ needs for me to define my target audience.

“Uh, people who like to think? Maybe people who are curious?” I told the woman in charge of placing my paperbacks in the local bookstore.

She gave me an eye roll. “I’m going put them in young adult,” she said.

Arrgghhh. So, when Merinda Johns described her book as “more than a romance novel” I was curious. Who did she see as her intended audience? I asked her and I love her response!

Writing for People Who Relish a Compelling Story

Yes,  Blackhorse Road is more than a romance, and there’s an unusual backstory about what propelled me to take an offramp from writing nonfiction, mostly textbooks, to authoring fiction.

After I retired from academia, I started my practice as a leadership coach and focused on helping women break the glass ceiling and fulfill their leadership and economic potential. During the past ten years, I transitioned from writing textbooks to motivational books on creating environments where people flourish through better leadership.

About three years ago, I was on a conference call with fellow life coaches, and we were discussing concepts of what makes a fulfilling life.  Bang! Like a thunderclap, I had an insight. What would it be like to help people understand the concepts of a flourishing life in a story instead of through a motivational book or text? After all, storytelling has been the most compelling form of communication for thousands of years. As far as I could recall, none of the great Profits fed up learning objectives and multiple-choice questions to their followers.  No!  They got their message across through stories.

Since I was ten-years-old, I had wanted to write fiction, but my professional career steered me in another direction.   Now, I saw an opportunity to follow the dream I had had as a child and write books that immersed readers in the human experience rather than writing about frameworks and theories.

Blackhorse Road is best characterized as women’s fiction—a story of a woman’s journey toward a fulfilled life. It is a story about how an ordinary woman tackles challenges, lives through sorrow and betrayal, struggles with self-doubt, and acts on her aspirations to achieve flourishing life.

Blackhorse Road blossoms from my imagination that is influenced by my experience, perspectives, and observations that give the story authenticity and sensitivity, helping readers connect with the characters and feel their joy, disappointment, sorrow, and happiness.

But Blackhorse Road has more—it is enriched by the backstories that set the context for the characters and events in the story—historical incidents, politics, economics, philosophy, religion, and psychology that influence the values of the characters and ultimately the consequences of their actions.  As Connor, one of the characters in Blackhorse Road says, “Time and place shape a person.” It’s the intermingling of these forces that creates a complicated explosion and tension within and among the characters.

Even though Blackhorse Road fits squarely into women’s fiction, it is a story that can appeal to everyone.  This realization came from two “ah-ha” moments that I had.

The first came during a virtual launch party for Blackhorse Road when an audience member asked the beta readers if the book would be appropriate for younger readers.  What prompted that question was the beta readers’ observation about how the lines of communication between Luci (the protagonist) and her father play a critical role in the formation of Luci’s values and belief system, and her grit to achieve autonomy.

In response to the question, one of the beta readers said that she had given the book to her seventeen-year-old granddaughter so that the two of them could read it together, and another beta reader shared that she was reading the book with her fourteen-year-old daughter.  The consensus among the beta readers was that the book was appropriate for teens fifteen and older—an insight we had not discussed at the original meeting of the beta readers seven months earlier!

Okay, I said to myself.  Blackhorse Road is for women readers fifteen years and older.

But then a  second ah-ha moment came roaring through like a tornado when I received a text from a fifties-something man.  “Just finished Blackhorse Road.  WOW!  Very powerful.  Made me cry!  Great job.  Let me know when you have a book signing event in my area.”

So, in the end, while Blackhorse Road has a lot of romance in it, it is more than a romance novel. Blackhorse Road is for anyone who relishes a compelling story about how ordinary people tackle challenges, live through love gained and loss and sorrow and betrayal, and who struggle with self-doubt, and act on their aspirations to achieve flourishing lives.

About Merinda Johns

Merida Johns takes her experience as an educator, consultant, and businesswoman and writes about the human experience. In 2018 Merida took an unlikely off-ramp from writing textbooks and motivational books to authoring women’s fiction. Her stories are learning lessons where awareness and curiosity transport readers to the most unexpected places within themselves.  Merida hails from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, grew up in Southern California and has lived from coast-to-coast in the United States.  Besides writing, she enjoys fabric arts, including weaving and knitting. She makes her home in the serene Midwest countryside that gives her the inspiration and space for storytelling.

Find her at:
Her website:  www.MeridaJohnsAuthor.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MeridaJohnsAuthor/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/meridajohns
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Merida-L.-Johns/e/B001IU2KBS
Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/shop/MeridaJohns
Buy Blackhorse Road on Amazon.

I thank Merinda Johns for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Blackhorse Road.

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