Monday, April 29, 2013

Ghost of Lost Eagle...cover decisions.

At long last, my western/romance/paranormal GHOST OF LOST EAGLE is done! Edited five times, signed off by my beta readers and scheduled for release in May, this is book ONE in the Sweetwater Canyon Series.

I'm thrilled. This book was fun to write and challenged every writing rule I follow. Now, it's time to hand it over to readers and pray for the best. Am I confident? Hell no. I'm scared to death. I went out on a limb, blending western historical fiction with romance, by pairing an unlikely couple in a love-hate relationship. Then, I dragged them through attempted murder, a deadly accident and the emotional drain of a terminal illness.

Where's the paranormal? All this happens under the strange influence of the ghost who haunts nearby Lost Eagle Canyon. The Indian apparition and his minions, a lone wolf and a Cayuse Indian pony, change the lives of the main characters forever. Likewise, Mason Tucker, the butcher turned cowboy, discovers his destiny is somehow linked to the ghost through a shared spirit guide that he did not know he had.

All I need now is to settle on the cover art for my story. It's proving difficult. How do I summarize a complex story in a single cover picture? Pick one scene? Nope. A single scene leaves so much out . . . it's just not enough. How about a collage? Never was a fan of a bunch of mixed up pictures. They confuse me. Which theme do I promote? Western? Romance? Paranormal? How about all in a single picture?

Why is this cover so important? To me, a cover is like the first wink between strangers that will, hopefully, lead to a relationship. It needs to be special, to hint at possibilities. If it works, the immediate followup is the title, in essence, the title is a pick-up line. Sounds a lot like dating, huh? Title MUST be great. It is the author's first chance to impress a potential reader-mate with the writer's voice. Imagination expressed through the title suggests a theme and stimulates an image at the same time.

My final task on Ghost of Lost Eagle is to find that special cover art before my story takes the gut-punch jump into readerville. I worked with two graphic artists today without finding the magic. One said her idea was "good enough." Wrong! Compromise on the cover is not an option. It MUST meet my demand to "showcase" the story in a snapshot. Problem is, the release date is closing in like the due date on a pregnancy. It's going to happen.

Therein lies the theme of this blog. Authors wear many hats. Ultimately, it will be the personal drive of an author, me in this case, that produces the final cover. A writer's last, and possibly most critical, artistic decision is cover art. Beware, graphic artists, I am on a mission.

What ideas do you have for finding a good graphic artist? Any recommendation for one? And, what about selecting a scene? Collage? Critical scene? Setting scene?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sense of Humor - Writers Need It!

This morning began at 5AM on two hours of sleep. I spent last night editing until 3AM when my eyes crossed, and I fell asleep with a finger on a keyboard. One letter repeated for three pages. Thank God I woke up when I did.

Why get up at such an un-Godly hour with only two hours of sleep?

I had received a request yesterday from a good publisher for one of my manuscripts. They wanted it ASAP, so I set my bedside alarm on rooster time to get up early. Then, I returned to editing and became so engrossed in another story that I lost track of time until my run-in with the “s” key at three in the morning.

This is my real life as a writer. Obsessed, focused, meeting deadlines—always jumping through hoops, most of which are self-imposed deadlines. But, that is how I managed to complete four manuscripts in the past year.

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Gut checks, milestones to measure progress and sheer willpower combine over time toward one goal . . . the book. I started this day exhausted but forced myself to chug along the road toward that distant finish line. I was on a literary mission and ran headlong into "the wall" in my literary marathon.

One of those gut-checks came as I franticly printed, collated and prepared that special manuscript for the waiting editor. I record such character-testing experiences in my “Life Lessons” diary and you might get a kick out of my notes for today:

Life lesson # 3439: While printing a 425page manuscript for an acquisition editor, do NOT eat leftover pepperoni pizza. Greasy fingerprints screw up one’s professional image. Messed up several pages. Must reprint.

Life lesson # 3440: Dachshunds are great pets until you set a pepperoni-stained manuscript on the couch while washing hands. Dachshund tongues ERASE ink-jet print as they franticly lick pepperoni oil off paper. (Am I the only writer who did not know that?)

Life lesson # 3441: After discovering 420+ pages of the manuscript spread randomly across the living room floor, put Dachshunds outside immediately. Delay results in paper-trained puppies living up to their training. Yes, one piddled on the scattered manuscript. “Life, I've enjoyed enough of your lessons today. Please go educate someone else! Thank you, D.”

If you ever thought it would be “fun” to be a writer, you’re right. Euphoria at completing a full novel rivals any other high I have enjoyed. Perhaps the prize in the writing marathon is made all the sweeter by overcoming obstacles. What other choice do we have? It is the authors that grind out the marathon who reach the finish line. Bring on the next hill! I love the challenge, even if I have to reprint fifty pages.

Tip:  It helps for a writer to keep a sense of humor.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Get Well Boston...

Bombing of the Boston Marathon raises emotions ranging from fear to empathy, anger to insecurity. It's easy to be tempted . . . to succumb to the lure of hatred.

Who did this horrific act?

We don’t know so far. Yet, I already recognize the single most important trait about this killer. Hatred. Somebody’s core being contains so much hate that he, or she, is capable of murder with cold-blooded planning and single-minded lethality.

But, this blog is not about the killer. It is about the survivors. Families have lost loved ones. Others have been wounded, from minor injuries to life-changing amputations. They are also survivors. But, it doesn’t stop there. I care about the event participants and fans that were traumatized. They, too, are survivors.

Ultimately, televisions and the internet spread emotional trauma across my country. We all share pain and suffering with those people in Boston who were directly targeted. Should we be angry? Sure. Should we demand justice? Of course.

What about fear? Should this experience make us fear future terrorist attacks? Not me.

Fear is the goal of terrorism. If we succumb to fear, then terrorism wins. Hatred is their lesser goal. If they can get us to hate and retaliate, then they bring us down to their level and our generalized response breeds the next generation of terrorists.

Reject fear. Personally, I will never bow to the threats of terrorism. Likewise, I will not let my anger over this attack in Boston prejudice me toward any religious, cultural or political group. This attack was the final outcome of hate, nothing more. To prevent such events in the future, we must defeat hatred. That war begins in our own minds. It’s our choice.

Sorry this blog is not about writing, but I thought this needed to be said. Please, my friends, demand justice, but resist hate. If we hate, they win.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fact or Fiction?

“Readers suspend reality when they read works of fiction.” Nonsense!

Some people think writing fiction means the writer can conjure up any old notion, and the reader will blindly accept it. I’m sorry, but that is just not true.

I used to enjoy Superman comic books when I was a kid, never questioning how he breathed while in space or deep under the sea. Old cowboy movies showed shoot-outs where one guy’s “six-shooter” fired an endless string of bullets without reloading.

Why didn’t this lack of realism ruin the stories for me?

Andre Norton wrote a wonderful sci-fi story called Galactic Derelict. It’s one of my all time favorite books. Travis Fox, a young Apache Indian, wanders into a top secret government technology race between competing American and Russian scientists. Swept back in time to the recovery site of an alien spaceship, Travis hides inside the vessel and is transported back to the future. A technician inside the vessel accidentally triggers a homing navigational program. The alien ship takes off, but is twenty thousand years past its real space time. Travis and the technician experience numerous hostile environments as the ship stops in strange worlds across the galaxy. Former advanced civilizations that created the space ship have long since devolved into sub-intelligent species living among ruins of ancient technology.

Her story is wildly exciting as Travis relies on his Indian skills and sharp senses inherited from his genetic lineage to deal with strange new animals. Throughout the tale, the technician works to get them home while Travis explores and hunts with the reader at his side. It is a wonderful juxtaposition between advanced technology and primitive culture.

Suspend reality? Sure, that's part of fantasy. How did the alien space vessel cross vast distances when physics tells us nothing can exceed the speed of light? Don’t know. I don’t care. What was the scientific foundation for the time transportation? Again, I don’t need to know. There are lots of areas where the reader MUST suspend reality to enjoy this story.

So, what about this story kept my interest?

Facts, not fiction, made this story compelling to me. The Apache Indian used skills and knowledge unique to his heritage to survive. The author did her homework. Travis Fox came across as real . . . as believable. The technician deconstructed the alien ship’s control systems using familiar technical and scientific principles. Again, I could believe this character. And, the interaction between the men ranged from friendship to frustration, yet, mutual respect never waivered. While the setting was fantasy, the characters were real.

I just wrote a western-romance <with a secret subset> story. Of course, the plot is fictional, but I studied Native American lore and real history of the old west in the 1870’s to make sure my plot is completely believable. Old photos of the region provided me amazing descriptive detail. History research surprised me with accountings of a small gold rush that happened shortly before my story’s setting. I even studied classic Mexican weaving designs so my written accounts of old blankets in the story come across real.

It is true, readers must suppress reality to some extent when they read fiction. But, they also need realism to make characters and settings come alive. That’s why research is so important in fiction. Facts make fiction real!