Monthly Archives: June 2015

10 Random but Awesome Gifts for the Bibliophile

My son just celebrated his tenth birthday today (and hubby and I are having a glass of wine celebrating a whole decade of being parents – woot woot). For his party, parents of friends attending inevitably ask what the birthday boy is into right now for possible gift ideas. It got me started thinking of gift ideas for myself, because, hey, I can’t help myself sometimes, and I do have a landmark birthday coming up before long (cough cough The Big 4-0 cough cough). For me, and for many bookish people, you can NEVER go wrong with anything book related. Thus, this random list of awesome gifts for your favorite bibliophile.

1) Maurauder’s Map Blanket (Amazon) Oh I solemnly swear I would be up to no good if someone decided to gift me with this!  What Harry Potter fan wouldn’t love to snuggle up under this blanket?

2) Where the Wild Things Are Coffee Mug (CaféPress) Let the Wild Rumpus Start! I don’t care how old you are, Max’s line from Where the Wild Things Are is still one of the coolest ever for most any occasion. 😉

3) Law office of Atticus Finch tshirt (Amazon) Some serious bibliophiles might say (not necessarily me, but some might 😉 ) : If your friends don’t get it, then they aren’t really your friends.

4) I’d Rather Be Reading Tote Bag (Barnes and Noble) The tote bag that says what we are all thinking, which can also conveniently carry our inevitable collection of way too many new books to possibly read (which nevertheless demand to be purchased).

5) Magnetic Poetry Kit Book Lover Edition (GoneReading.com) Magnetic Poetry kits are always a win with most bookish types, but then add in a nod to our passion for all things books – yes, we have a winner. I think many a bibliophile would need this in their life. I am certainly thinking I may need one. 🙂

6) We’re All A Little Mad Here Alice in Wonderland book locket (Amazon) Alice in Wonderland has many quotable quotes but this one is very popular and seems an especially apt description for quite a few of us book lovers. I know it applies to me!

7) The Strand Classic Tshirt (StrandBooks.com) What book lover doesn’t love exploring and supporting the unique bookshops? Grab a tee from a cool shop in NY as a gift and your bibliophile friend will love you. By the way, I’d like to do a tour of cool US bookshops (for starters, I’m willing to go international at some point too!) – so who’s with me?

8) Banned Book Coffee Mug (ShopPBS.org) Quick way to make a book lover’s blood boil? Talk about banning books! But since we know no one who loves us would do such a thing, why not show your love and get us a coffee mug decorated with a whole bunch of famous banned books? Bonus if you buy from the PBS website. 🙂

9) And Though She Be But Little She Is Fierce necklace (Amazon.com) Many Shakespeare related gifts will do but Shakespeare plus jewelry seems a good way to go, don’t you think?

10) Keep Mr. Grey, I’ll Stick With Mr. Darcy tote bag (Zazzle.com) Any day of the week and twice on Sunday would most true book lovers take Darcy over Grey. No contest.

So these 10 items just barely scratch the surface of the many, many, many wonderful bookish gifts one could possibly give or receive, but they were some that caught my fancy. Which of these do you like/need for your life to be complete? What about your favorite bibliophile gift ideas? Have you any suggestions for gifts for the book-lover type? Please share in the comments. Have a great week! ~CJS

A Rose By Any Other Name…

Yesterday, an issue came up that I had to try to solve. There is an author in the wild who shares my name, and my Facebook community page had linked up to her’s. She is a romance writer, and has a specific fan base. I spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out how to simply change the name on my community page so it wouldn’t link up. Facebook doesn’t make it that easy but I stumbled across the right settings and things are now corrected. The whole experience made me think about choosing a name you want to be known by publicly and what happens when someone else owns your nomenclature.

When we began setting up Twisted Writers, the question was asked about what we wanted to go by. Some of us wanted to use our actual names while others were considering pseudonyms. Our reasons for this were as varied as we are. Personally, I wanted to use my own name as I really kind of like my name. But, days before Twisted Writers was set to go live, my mom texted me, excited, because she had just seen a book on a shelf with my name on it. I had to tell her no, that wasn’t me, that I would have told her BEFORE anything had been published, and I certainly have not written any romance books as of yet. She was still excited. It’s not very often you come across someone with my name. So, I googled this author and realized very quickly that I was going to have to choose a different nom de plume.

Choosing a name…I already have one…sigh. Well, I could go by a pseudonym, and I did choose one (also already taken), but I didn’t want to hide behind a mask. I’m not really good at pretending to be someone else. I chose, instead, to go by my nickname.

The thing is, nowadays, a name isn’t just a name. Certain names sell; some sell big. When you see the name Stephen King (if you’re a fan), you are going to buy that book. And, if you see the name Stephen L. King, you might just have been suckered into buying someone else’s book. I can’t even walk into any store that sells books without seeing James Patterson’s name everywhere. Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Clive Cussler…to name a few, are names I’ve seen everywhere. And their books sell. So choosing a name is kind of a big deal. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but an author has to be able to be distinguishable from other writers by more than just their writing.

I may or may not change my name before publishing my first book. I’m still considering other factors but I can tell you one thing…you won’t be confusing me with an erotic romance writer any time soon. 😉

Jesi

Some Memories Never Die

Since I keep talking about writing from experience, I thought I would write this week about an episode of my life that has been on my mind lately. I can’t explain why it just happened to pop up this past week or two, especially since it took place more than 40 years ago.

The year was 1971 and I was in my single digits, but old enough – at least back in those days – to get around town on my own. My family and I were living that summer in a flat in Bucharest, the-then capital of “communist Romania,” well behind the Iron Curtain. Bucharest, of course, is still the capital, but as this was a different time, it may as well have also been a different place.

When we were not touring the beautiful Carpathian Mountains or enjoying the beaches of Romania’s Black Sea, we pretty much got caught up in the city life routine of Bucharest.

I know this all sounds more like a story in itself, but the event I want to highlight occurred one morning in the courtyard, in the rear of our building, where I liked to play.

So anyway, during that particular morning, one of the neighbor women who I got to know, came out carrying a live chicken. She had, apparently, maintained a firm grip on the legs all the way home from the market, as it hung upside down squawking in her right hand.

If you have already figured what was about to happen, don’t spoil the “surprise.” Remember, I was just a young child from a big, modern American city, who wasn’t quite sure what the woman’s next move was going to be and certainly did not want to believe it.

Oh yeah, I suspected what was about to go down, but it all happened so fast, that I didn’t have time to digest it until it was all over. Even if there had been time, which there wasn’t, I couldn’t ask what she was doing, since my Romanian vocabulary encompassed little more than “good morning” and “thank you.” It did not include, “What the bloody hell are you doing with that chicken and cleaver?!”

The deed was done in only a second, but the main event had just begun. The chicken’s severed head flapped around, bobbing up and down, clucking wildly, as if it had taken on its own life and personality. I’m sure this was all a weekly routine for the woman, but up until then I had never seen anything like it, especially as a small kid from “big city America.” Had I mentioned that? After all, it was enough of a shocker to have to stand in long lines for fresh milk; that is if you could even find a market that had it in stock in this country where most farmers didn’t have the luxury of a tractor and still used a horse and cart to get produce to the market.

But then, over in “ring number two,” the chicken’s headless body did its own act, running – not walking – around the courtyard in a circle and in a state shock, as if it could see where it was going. It was as if it, too, had taken on its own personality, not realizing the cleaver across the neck deal meant it was supposed to drop dead.

Okay, so even though I have yet to use any part of this particular incident in any of my stories, this is the type of personal experience I draw on when I type away on my keyboard. It is an event that, 40-plus years later and for better or worse, remains vividly imprinted in my mind. And, while it is rare that I will use an entire event in a story, I will take bits and pieces to combine and embellish to fit my needs.

Habitual Bliss

This morning I got into my SUV, to go to work, and proceeded to take the wrong route. I was about three streets into the drive when it dawned on me that I was headed in the direction that I take to go to my grandmother’s or the library (both are on the same road). Now I can still get to my new job this way, but it is not the preferred way due to go due to I have to turn onto a main road and the visual for on coming traffic is limited.

I laughed at my mistake and continued on but it had me thinking about my habits. I travel to the library and my grandmother’s at least 3-4 times a week. Sometimes more. Okay, mostly more.

However, I have only driven to my new office once. That being yesterday morning. So it has not become much of a habit just yet. It is not even a route that I have driven more than a handful of times in the past two years.

This brings me around to my train of thought and to today’s post.

Habits.

Here lately, we are all struggling with finding time to do what we need to do. Amanda wrote about accountability on Monday, and she is right. We have to be accountable for making the time to write. We have to stop treating this as a hobby and take it serious as we would any other job. Albeit, some of us have jobs that require 40+ hours at the office, families, school and so on.

BUT. If we can carve out an hour a day, or two hours a day during the weekend, and make this part of our daily routine, in no time writing will become a habit. It will no longer feel like a chore trying to find the time to do what we love doing anyway.

It goes along with the goals we should be setting for ourselves, pick a goal, pick a day, pick a time slot, then just stick to it. Eventually it will be our normal routine, the road more driven that we are most comfortable taking.

Some of us are already doing a bang up job at writing daily, or whatever their routines are, and if so – bravo! Good for you. But how much time do you spend wasted before you buckle down and jump to it? Do you browse the net before you start? Or scan your Twitter/Facebook feed before buckling down?

Honestly, how much time do we waste when we could actually be putting words on paper/the screen?

So let’s make writing a habit and not a chore and see where we end up.

Is writing already part of your daily habit? Or has it become a struggle? Let me know in the comments.

Till next time,

~AJP

habits

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words?

Is a picture worth more than 1000 words?  Do words carry more impact than a picture? Perhaps it depends on the words, and the picture, but the question is an intriguing one.

I recently watched a movie called Words&Pictures with Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche that brought this question up in an interesting way, as both Owen and Binoche play teachers at a private high school where a “war” arises between the Honors English students (lead by Owen’s English teacher and struggling author) and the Honors Art students (championed by Binoche’s artist and art teacher). There are installations of both words and of pictures set up by each side making a case for each. There is also ultimately a challenge where the artist presents one painting that the author will then meet with a thousand words in challenge. Which wins? Sadly the movie is really just average and has a rather lame rom-com type scenario where the two verbally spar and then fall in love, then there is a conflict. Blah blah blah as Binoche’s character says at one point, but the concept of  a war between words and pictures was a good one.

Since my majors in college were English and Speech Communication, you can imagine my tendency to rule in favor of words being the most powerful. However, I can concede the overwhelming power of a photograph, a drawing or a painting. We writers frequently use pictures as jumping off points for our writing and we certainly can come up with at least 1000 words, good and probably not so good, or more stemming from our reaction to that inspiration. Many artists, too, find inspiration in the great works of literature or other powerful words. While I liked the idea of a challenge pitting words against pictures, it would be impossible to rule in favor of one over the other. All art has power to affect and inspire, in ways we seldom ever could realize.

Having recently fallen for the art of poetry, I think it a lovely combination of both words and pictures. Plutarch said:

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.

How perfect is his description? I find poems often evoke a stronger more immediate response, like seeing a painting in a museum might, than a longer work such as a novel might. I, of course, love a novel, but the elegance and power of a poem seem most like viewing a picture. Both seem to let the reader/viewer fill in what is left to imagine. What do they make you feel? It’s a beautiful thing.

What about you? Do you think a picture is worth a thousand words? Is that preposterous, words obviously win that war? Or does it just depend? What words and pictures do you think of that make you lean one way or the other?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 🙂

Have a great week!

~CJS

Feature Article: On Collaboration by Helena Hann-Basquiat

This past October I participated in a poetry challenge where I met and started friendships with other writers. At the time, one of those writers was preparing to publish a new book in time for Halloween entitled JESSICA. Well, of course THAT got my attention. And so, my interest piqued, I began following the author on her blog, Being the Memoirs of Helena Hann-Basquiat, Dilletante. Not too long into this year, Ms. Hann-Basquiat (who has never kept silent the fact that her name is a pseudonym) finally revealed herself, or rather HIMself, to her readers and followers, who were incredibly supportive and encouraging. Somehow, during all of this, Ken (Helena) and I became friends, thanks to Facebook and blogging. But I became a big fan of his writing before that.

Currently, Ken has been working on a sequel to JESSICA. SINGULARITY, the title of his forthcoming novel, throws a new light on JESSICA. Have I made you curious yet? Hope so, because today I am bringing you Ken, talking about collaborating on a project with other writers from different backgrounds, and what happens when two ideas do not mesh. His experience is worth reading about. Please enjoy.

Links are provided at the end of the article.

Jesi

On Collaboration by Helena Hann-Basquiat, a.k.a. Ken

I have always enjoyed collaboration.

I love surrounding myself with talented writers, artists, and musicians. If I were independently wealthy, I’d open up a studio like Andy Warhol’s Factory and create a culture of artistic collaborative expression for the 21st Century.

I love collaboration for the very synergy of it – the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Each person brings something to the project that the other wouldn’t have even considered at times.

We all have our limitations and blind spots. I may dream something up that is beyond my ability, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the drive and desire to see it become a reality. And so I share my vision with others, and often times, I’m very lucky and find people who want to join up and help make it happen.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to captain the ship, but I know the importance of a good crew.

As a captain, I tend to be a little mad (let’s cut through those icebergs, sail through that hurricane, head to the horizon and see if we really do fall of the edge) and so I tend to surround myself with people who either share or at least trust my vision. That trust is important, and it goes both ways, but I’ll get to that later.

Last fall, I had an idea for a collaborative project to celebrate Hallowe’en. I had been masquerading not only as Helena but also as this dark creature, Jessica, who I purported lived in my basement and wrote creepy stories on old dusty parchment, using her own blood for ink. She was part Crypt Keeper, part Elvira, Mistress of the Night, part ghoul, part temptress – the truth is, I didn’t really know what she was. Mostly she was just a name that developed a bit of mystique, both for me and my readers.

And so my initial idea was to recruit a half dozen writers and artists to come up with their own stories about Jessica – you know, the type of story you tell around a campfire (I hear she only drinks the tears of Latvian orphans and that she bathes in the milk of endangered Yaks from Nepal)… each one trying to out-do each other.

That’s how it started, and I was just going to be the host, adding witty banter from Penny and me.

Then I got sick – really sick, and ended up in the hospital, and in a morphine dream, I got an idea about the strangest demon birth ever conceived.

And so I started writing what would have initially been my contribution to the JESSICA project.

Then the stories started coming in, and I began making connections between them – they did, after all, have a common subject.

What then began was one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing career – weaving the voices together into something that worked as a whole. For Jessica, I embraced the fact that there were six different voices telling the stories. Through a series of journal entries, police reports, confessions, and interviews, I was able to make that fact completely acceptable – if anything, having different writers with different voices adds, in my opinion, an authenticity that many writers might find difficult to achieve on their own.

I think that if you are going to collaborate, there are only certain types of stories that you can probably tell. You definitely have to allow for multiple perspectives, even if you later discount those perspectives as false… I have an idea I’d like to explore sometime about a murder mystery where all of the players involved actually confess to the crime, and tell how and why they did it. Wouldn’t that be a trip?

When I began what has now become SINGULARITY, I didn’t realize that I was writing a sequel to JESSICA until the very last sentence of my opening chapter. And as soon as I realized what exactly had happened in that opening sequence (no spoilers!) I knew what I wanted from my collaborators, who had already been recruited and were waiting for me to let them know what was going on.

Now, here’s where I have to confess a couple of things – when I was writing JESSICA, I didn’t go in with anything – I simply requested tales answering the question “Who Is Jessica?” The writers complied and then when things started developing, I clued them in a bit, but told them to be patient, that I was putting something incredible together and if they just trusted me, I promised they’d be pleased.

However, when the idea for SINGULARITY started developing, I made a strange request of my collaborators. I asked them to just write me a story. I gave them some ideas and some parameters, but the one thing I told them was that it wasn’t to have ANYTHING to do with Jessica.

Don’t worry, it didn’t make sense to them, either.

The idea I had was strange and unorthodox – the stories were both part of the bigger whole, and yet they were also stand-alone tales in themselves. They are stories written by the character Jessica B. Bell.

So, with Singularity, you not only get the novel itself, but interspersed within the novel are these stories – which you dare not ignore as they are each as compelling as the whole – that form the basis for the characters in the novel.

However, I kept the other writers in the dark about this for the most part. I didn’t allow for those “What if…” conversations to take place with everyone. When you are working with a handful of writers spread all over the globe, sometimes it’s hard to have brainstorming sessions. And so for one of the original writers, I’d gone in a direction that just didn’t mesh with her. Lesson learned, and we both had to talk about how to proceed, and came to a very professional mutual decision for her to leave the project.

Which way is easier? Having everyone in on it or just taking the reins and hoping the other writers trust you? I think that you need writers who trust their “captain’s” vision, but then, any captain who keeps his crew’s destination a secret can expect a mutiny or two before long.

So I think there has to be a conversation up front about it. When I was writing JESSICA, I was quite frank with the other writers, and I think we were all equally excited to see what would happen with all the stories. I told them that I may end up cutting and pasting their stories together in order to fit the whole. One of the writer’s stories didn’t appear in its complete form because it was such a great glue with which to bind the other stories together. I couldn’t have asked for a better story, or a more accommodating writer in that instance.

SINGULARITY, instead, became a collection of stories within the whole. We all created characters, and then I used those characters to some extent within the greater story.

SINGULARITY is a novel about stories and storytelling, after all – about creating and destroying, with the tool and weapon being the same thing – fiction. The imagination. Playing with the very concept of what it means to be real, and how resentful fictional characters must be when their creators have finished with them.

I’m not going to give anything away, other than to say that there will be a third book, which is already formulating in my head.  For now, go read JESSICA, and look for SINGULARITY August 1st.

 

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettanteThe enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.

Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.

Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, this past April, released Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two, as well as the Shakespearean-style play, Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.

She is currently working on a sequel to JESSICA entitled Singularity, featuring contributions from five other writers.
If you haven’t read JESSICA yet, you can read Chapter One HERE or buy it HERE

Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE

Available now! image06 JESSICA image07

Getting Graphic with Your Work

My friend and fellow blogger over at Mad Genius Club, Cedar Sanderson, has been doing a series of posts on cover creation. Today, she tackles not only that but postcards and bookmarks as well. So, with her permission, I’m reposting it here since it is something we all need to keep in mind as we look at ways to promote our work. You can find her other posts on the topic here and here.

Getting Graphic With Your Work by Cedar Sanderson

And I’m not talking about describing the gory bits in gruesome detail. No, I had planned to do a walk-through tutorial today about creating a logo for your writing business. I hadn’t anticipated two things. One, to do a proper logo you need to create a vector file rather than image or illustration. I’ll get into what that means when I do the post – for today it matters because a week ago I ended my subscription to the full Adobe Creative Cloud, dropping back to Photoshop and Lightroom, and that means I don’t have Adobe Illustrator for showing how to do a logo. Which isn’t a bad thing, because most of you don’t have that, either, or you wouldn’t be asking me to show you how to do this. I did a little research, and downloaded Inkscape, the cousin of my favorite freeware graphic program, Gimp. Then I ran into the second thing I hadn’t planned on. You see, I’m getting married next week. I’m also traveling for several days attendant to that. I am afraid I ran out of time this week to teach myself Inkscape and create a tutorial. So! I put together some odds and ends of graphic design projects that can be useful to you all, and one that I was specifically asked for. I will be around to chat in comments, so feel free to ask questions. Oh, and Amanda wanted me to point out that things I discuss in this post, like guides and flattening layers, are pertinent to those of you working on print covers. So pay attention!

Postcards and Bookmarks

Having something to hand to someone who is interested in your book is a great thing. You can, of course, default to a standard business card, nothing wrong with that. You can do a lot with those. But today I’m going to talk specifically about the layout and requirements of the bigger, more art-heavy promo material. I take them with me to conventions to sign for people who own my ebooks but want a signature. I hand them out to… anyone who remotely looks interested when I say that I am an author. I give my local libraries packets of 50 bookmarks to keep with all the others on their counter. I can mail the postcards to libraries, schools, and other venues and promote myself and my books (I rarely actually do that, but it’s a possibility).

While you are shopping for a printer, you will discover that there are a lot of variations in size available. I’m using a 4×6 inch postcard, the standard size, for this batch. I may switch it up with the next one. Book marks can be laid out in the same way, so I won’t cover them individually now.

In Gimp, open a new file. Set the size to 4 inches by 6 inches (or what your printer requires), and then drop the Advanced Menu down, and set the dpi to 300 or 400. Do not leave it at 72 dpi, the default, as this will be rejected by any reputable printer and will look terrible if printed. Now that you have your new file open, pay attention to the print requirements for bleed. You will want there to be no live elements (important text or graphics) within 0.25 inches of the edges. You can click on the rulers at the left side and top and drag what is called a ‘guide’ to mark  your bleed area so you don’t put something there by accident.

I chose to lay out this postcard with three covers and represent my Pixie trilogy. I would not put more than four covers on a card, you don’t want it to appear cluttered. postcard layout

Open as Layers (found in the File menu dropdown) the covers or art you want to use. I generally use a jpg or png version of the covers so I don’t have to manage umpteen zillion layers in GIMP. Scale the covers to the desired size, you can do this easily with a right-click on the image and selecting Scale Layer. Using the move tool, place the art where you think you want it. Keep in mind you may have to move it again. This card was designed to have text on the front and a blank back, but you will note there is not a lot of text. This is a tool to interest them in what you have to offer, enough that they will take the next step. In the highlighted box, I have my website address. In the other corner, I have a QR code. These are scannable with a smartphone or tablet: this particular code will take them to Pixie Noir’s Amazon sales page, where they can look inside and read the sample. I want them there so they can buy as soon as I hook them.

When you’re ready to print, you will save this file as a pdf, just as you did for the cover for print. Make sure when you do so that you first merge all the layers, but save your work before you start this process. If you look closely at the screenshot above, you will see several layers of images, text, and other elements. All of those need to be flattened, or bad things can happen in the printing process. Right click on each layer thumbnail and select ‘merge down’ from the menu. DO NOT SAVE your xcf file at this point! You want to preserve all your xcf (Gimp) files for later. I’ll show you why in a minute. Now that you have everything smooshed, drop down the File Menu and select Export. Export your file as a pdf. Close your file and click discard changes.

Batch-Editing Art and Covers

This last week I had a chance to help out a friend who was in a bind. He had commissioned art for the covers of several stories, but they lacked a unifying element to tie the series together, and he wasn’t sure what to do to further signal his specific genre with the typography. This is not something many of you will ever have to do, most of us deal with one book at a time, but there are occasions when it’s a useful task, such as aligning covers for a series. And I told Dave I’d show how I did it, so he can tackle it himself if it happens again.

What I did was to open the first layer of artwork and lay the text out on it, along with the graphic unifying element (tentacles, to signal Lovecraftian cthuloid elements in the stories).

I’ll explain how I added the tentacles. After poring through the Dollar Photo Club for something suitable, I came up with the illustration below.

 

This is an illustration rather than a vector, which is better, but it will work.

The first thing you need to do is right-click the layer thumbnail in the righthand window, and look at the bottom of the menu, where you will choose ‘add alpha channel’ which allows you to have a transparency rather than white (default) background. Then I chose the ‘select’ menu, and then ‘select by color’ and clicked on the black around the octopus. Then I clicked on delete and eliminated all the black, leaving a suitable graphic.

The graphic element, I can now manpulate it without overlying it's background on the art.

Finally, I had one cover laid out with title, author name, and graphic unifying element (hereafter GUE).

Note all the layers in the righthand window.

Choose ‘Save as” from the file menu and name the file appropriately. Save it as an XCF file for now, you may need to manipulate it again. You will note the GUE is seen in the upper left and lower right corners. I had put just a little bit showing, and changed the mode (see top of righthand window, above opacity) of the layer to make it look like I wanted. Experiment with this, dodge, burn, lighten… powerful effects here.

Now that I’m happy with the fonts, layout, and this cover, I can move onto the next one. I simply click the little eye next to the layer thumbnail and make the art disappear. Eventually I will delete the unused layers, but I want all of them right now in case I need to make changes.

Layers

The art isn’t gone, it’s just not showing on the work area any longer.

I've already altered the title, and the GUE, the author's name I don't touch.

Now I go up and open the art for this cover from the File>Open as Layers menu. You may need to drag the art layer thumbnail in the righthand window down, until it is under the other elements. You may also need to scale it so it is the same size as the background you see above. Play around with your GUE layer some more, until it looks right on the art.

What the final product of another cover in the same series looks like

Using Save As, name and save this file, then repeat with changing the title and the art for each cover you are doing. Dave had six, but it took very little time once I had every thing set up to manipulate the art and GUE under the layers of the text and modifying elements (drop shadows and that sort of thing).

It’s Elementary, and Only the Beginning

showing

Good morning. As we make it through Friday, a time when us weekend warrior writers look forward to letting loose and exercising our alleged talents – we know who we are – I want to follow up on Jesi’s posting from Monday about “showing” descriptions in our stories, as opposed to “telling.”

In writing fiction, in particular, the basic concept is rather elementary, yet I have found lately that a significant segment of emerging writers do not understand what it means or how it works. Of four writers I specifically have in mind, as I sit down to write this, three of are more mature – well into their 60s and 70s.

I was lucky, I suppose, having picked up the notion of “show, don’t tell” in high school English. Although, I do have to admit, it took a while before I understood even the basics. At first, I was frustrated because I could not get how writing, alone, could lead to creating some picture or visual setting.

But, when I finally caught on to what my teacher was talking about, it all seemed so magical. I felt like a new world had been opened and that I had been bestowed with a fantastic new power of insight. It truly became a new dimension of writing for me.

Jesi’s example of taking a few sentences of a description about a tree that reads more like “stage directions,” really hits the problem. You can see her example in her posting, as she shows the modified three sentences of dry description and, using the vehicle of a third-person perspective, brings it alive for the reader’s imagination. It makes all the difference between falling asleep out of boredom and having the curiosity and motivation to read on.

To me, using a rough description from one of my own stories, it is the difference between listing the attributes of a mountain valley with its green trees, small creek and tall mountains, as opposed to having the reader step into the picture to discover a creek with its overflowing winter’s runoff, meandering through the lush greenery of its aspens where a family of sparrows is playing. The birds get scared off by an approaching wolf and takeoff toward the heights of the sky-reaching snow-covered peaks.  Again, it is just a rough draft version, but hopefully it helps illustrate the point.

Sorry Jesi if I’m riding the coattails of your topic this week, but I think you have hit on a critical point of writing that I think is worth repeating, because some people are just a bit challenged, as I was, as they attempt to grasp the concept.

From there of course, the goal is to strive to perfect “show, don’t tell,” which is the lifetime challenge of the art. Personally, I’m always looking at fresh variations to try to experiment with, as I strive to draw the reader through the story. I know some writers have come close to perfecting the art, but so far, I have a long way from being one of them.

 

A Dangerous Place To Write

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Don’t envy me because I’m in Sunny Florida. (That sounded pretentious, didn’t it?). This is not a safe place. It’s downright dangerous. I’ve already had to pull a snake out of the pool!

And I was talking to my sister, Annette, a couple of nights ago. She said she doesn’t go anywhere near the beach. Sharks. Loads of ‘em. And if they don’t get ‘ya the rip tides will.

My sister Lucille, has a lake in the back of her house. They have to be careful when they go outside. There are three alligators in it and they like to come out of the water, every now and then, and and walk around their property.

And now people are telling me about bears. Black bears walking around the nieghborhoods. What? Oh, yeah, they say. You’ll see them sometimes in people’s back yards. Don’t feed them, someone told me. Like she had to tell me that! As though I’d be outside calling out, “C’mon over here, seven foot bear, and take this bread from my hand.” The idea of feeding a bear that was in my back yard would never occur to me. But I guess there are people who need to be told that kind of thing. It’s the reason they have to put warnings on stuff that say things like, “This lawn mower is not to be used for cutting hair.”

And Panthers. Can’t forget those. I was warned about them, too. And don’t let your little dog go outside alone. Hawks will grab her. Okay, what the hell did I get myself into? I had visions of sitting out in the sun with a cold drink at my side and my laptop in front of me, happily typing away at the keyboard. I imagined writing with the warm rays on my face and the sound of the pool’s gurging water in my ears. How relaxing. Now it seems as though I’ll be taking my life in my hands.

Oh, okay. It’s probably not all that dangerous (glances out the back window looking for bears). But there really is a lot of wildlife walking around. We heard a racket one morning and ran to the front window. A flock of four foot high, grey birds, with long legs and necks were coming down the street like they owned the place. About eight of them. They were screeching loud enough to wake the dead. It was like they were daring anybody to come out. They were like feather covered gangsta’s. “Come on out! I dare ya’!” We all cowered inside our houses until the went away.

It’s cool, though, really. There’s a huge conservation area nearby and people really did tell me all those things to watch out for. Being a writer, this is all just more material. There are stories, here, just waiting to be told.

I’ll tell them from inside the house, though. No, I’m not scared of the animals! It’s the sun. It’s very hot. Really.

Borrowing Trouble

Last week I was required to take a TSI (Texas Success Initiative) assessment test so that I can begin registering for certain classes come fall. This is just a program/test that determines your skill level in the core areas and helps line a pathway better suited for each individual. It covers the basics with sections in writing, reading and math, totaling almost 200 multiple choice questions and a written essay and you have five hours to complete it in.

Five long hours.

There are worksheets and books out there designed to help you study for these types of things, but I was given exactly 12 hours notice before I was to take the test and that included time needed to make dinner, handle the night time routine with the kids, sleep, wake up and travel to the testing site. Needless to say, studying was not given an opportunity.

Did I mention, five hours of testing WITHOUT prior study.

My apologies, reiteration seemed necessary.

Now I am going to be real honest with you… I hate math. I absolutely detest the numbers and equations and simplicity of something that manages to give me so much grief. Sure, I can add, subtract, calculate percentages in my head – especially when there is a good shoe sale going on – but ask me the square root of anything and I am out of there. Numbers and I, we just don’t really get along, it’s nothing personal.

So when it came time to do the math part of the test, you might be surprised to learn that I truly didn’t sweat it much. I answered to the best of my ability and when all else failed, I any many miny moe’d what I didn’t know. At the end of the day, math is just not my thing and I was alright with whatever my math score was. The worst that was going to happen was me being told that I was not good at math. No big deal.

Out of the three parts, I was most excited about the reading part. Shoot, I can read! Reading is fun. It is an adventure, bring on the reading test!

What had me really panicking was the writing part. I am talking heart palpitations, sweaty palms, eye twitching, it wasn’t pretty. My husband just laughed, informed me to calm down and take a breather because this was not a pass or fail sort of test.

There was a lot of glaring going on at my house after dinner that night.

He didn’t understand. I wasn’t worried about passing or failing really. Sort of. It was more than that.

best-good-enough

I am a writer. I have spent the last ten years of my life with one goal in mind – write. What if this stupid assessment told me that I wasn’t very good at it? Then what? It was too much to handle, too much to consider and I almost called it quits last Wednesday. College just wasn’t for me. Not if it meant taking a stupid test that told me that I didn’t pass a writing assignment.

By morning, I stopped borrowing trouble and remembered something. I am a writer. So what if I didn’t score well, I would just learn to improve whatever I scored low on. That is the great thing about being a writer, there is always room for improvement. A first draft is just that, a first draft. No one expects you to get it right the first time, so do not expect as much from yourself either. Allow yourself room for growth and improvement, and remember… perfection is boring.

Have you ever been in a situation that made you doubt your abilities? If so, share with me in the comments below. 

Till next time,

~AJP

In case you are wondering, I failed the math section by 19 points, but scored a 7 out of 8 on my writing essay! All is right in my world.