By Its Cover

There are parts of writing and publishing that I love and parts I absolutely abhor. I hate writing a blurb (that handful of paragraphs on the back of the book that tells you, the reader, what it’s all about – without giving away too much, of course). I hate the moment I get notes back from my editor and the moment I have to open the file and scroll through all the things that could be fixed, should be fixed, and will be fixed – by me, often late at night and with an expression of grim determination on my face. But there is one part of writing I absolutely adore, and it has little to do with words: Creating the cover.

Now, I’m not an artist. I don’t paint. I don’t draw. Leave me a few spare minutes in Microsoft Paint and I’ll gift you with a stick figure and some sort of blob thing that might be a turkey… or a radish. So I have Ash Navarre, a designer, and luckily, I’ve had her for all of my books. And she is awesome, and not merely because she puts up with my demands and constant tweaking.

My first book, Knotted, is light, frothy, and sweet. There’s no blood or murder, no bad language and no sex scenes. So I needed something that reflected that. After some back and forth discussion with Ash, and a few early versions that were scrapped as new edits were made to the story, this became the final result:

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Now, my second novel – fortunately or unfortunately – is nothing like my first. The Half Killed is dark, set in the latter part of the Victorian Era in London, and contains such light and happy plot points as murder, demon possession, and mental trauma. Which means that pinks and blues and a kicky little font were pretty much out of the running.

Now, the Victorians are known for having a tremendous obsession with death and the macabre. And considering the subject matter of the story, Ash created a picture that suited the words inside perfectly:

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Honestly, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of going back and forth on this one. I told Ash what I DIDN’T want (which tends to be easier for me to figure out than what I DO want), she said she had an idea of which she showed me some of the initial sketches (to see if I’d be okay with it), and away she went. And I love it.

Then, last year, I wrote a short, contemporary story that was included in the Christmas Anthology, Unwrapping Love. Now, Ash didn’t make the cover for the anthology, but she did make the standalone cover for my own story, a 10k word jaunt about Christmas, ballet, and the one that got away.

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And the final cover she created for me is the most recent. Next month, I plan on debuting a new story on Wattpad, a story about angels and demons amid the strictures of Victorian society. I asked Ash to “throw something together for me”, and this is what she came up with:

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Once again, she shows why she’s the cover designer, and I… am not.

But she’s not only done cover design work for me. She created the cover for her own book:

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She’s also created two stunning covers for author K.S. Villoso:

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and:

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Along with an upcoming debut novel from Wendy Altland:

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So I am thrilled to be working with such a talented cover designer, who works so well with every author – and always reads at least some version of the story before creating a cover for it – in order to give them exactly what they wanted, sometimes coming up with a picture they may not have even had in mind until she shows us where our words are taking her.

If you’re not going to design your own covers, then try as hard as you can to find someone who will give you what you want, who knows what they’re doing, and who only wants the best, most suitable image on the front of your book. Your cover is the first thing that people see, and I will confess that I have purchased books and checked them out from the library solely on their cover alone. Don’t settle. This is important stuff, people.

***

Knotted is available on Amazon.

The Half Killed is available on Amazon.

First Position is available as part of the Unwrapping Love anthology, but will be available separately in Fall 2015.

A Darkling Way will be free to read on Wattpad in September, 2015.

Good As Dead is available on Amazon.

Jaeth’s Eye is available on Amazon.

Birthplace and The Crimson Gown with both be available in Winter 2015.

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Writing with Children

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I love my kids. I really do. Even though I had to type that first bit about four times because my two-year-old son kept smacking the keyboard of my laptop and screaming into my chin. But they do put limits on my time and my ability to get things done. Before I had kids, I would decide to do something, and then I could do it. (I didn’t necessarily get it done right away. Just because I was single and childless didn’t mean I wasn’t also Queen of the Procrastinators.)

But once you add kids to the mix, everything changes. “Going out” before children meant getting dressed, grabbing your coat, gloves, keys, wallet, what-have-you, and walking out the door. “Going out” after children means sending two children to the potty and changing the diaper of the third one, changing their clothes, wiping the sticky stuff off their faces, combing their hair, searching for shoes (DEAR LORD HOW DO YOU HAVE SIX SHOES FOR YOUR RIGHT FOOT AND ZERO FOR YOUR LEFT???), going to the potty again because someone didn’t poop the first time, wiping hands and faces again, WHERE ARE YOUR PANTS??? I LAID OUT PANTS FOR YOU!!!, tossing snacks and juice and wipes into the diaper bag, WHY IS THERE MARKER ALL OVER YOUR FACE? WHERE DID YOU GET A MARKER???, and rinse and repeat for another thirty minutes until you finally herd all three children out to the car after managing to talk them down from bringing seventeen stuffed animals with them to only four.

Trying to write with children in the house pretty much follows the same formula. Yet every day begins with the delusion that once I’ve fed everyone breakfast and once everyone has evacuated their bowels (three times for the toddler, more often than not) they’ll go off to their corner of the living room and play with their blocks and train sets and dollhouses and leave me to my corner of the living room for a lengthy amount of writing time.

No, no, no. This almost never happens. Why? Because reality. So how do I write while three young children run circles around me. Very slowly. But here’s what I do to accomplish SOMETHING on a daily basis.

1. Work On Several Things At Once

On any given day, I add a few hundred words to two or three different stories. I have to. Gone are the days when I could sit down at the end of a long Monday and focus on one story and one story alone and allow my mind to completely immerse itself in every little detail of that world. Now, I have several books and short stories I’m working on at the same time, so that when I’m suddenly pulled away from one scene by a spilled cup of juice or a fight over a toy or WHY IS THERE CAR GREASE ON THE CARPET? WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? I can start on something else once I’ve lost my train of thought.

2. Keep Writing Implements Easy to Access at All Times

I used to keep my laptop nearby all the time and then simply pop over and jot down a few lines when I had a free minute, but then my toddler figured out how to open it and pry all the keys off the keyboard and then I cried and much chocolate and potato chips were consumed. So now I have to keep the desk shut whenever I walk away it for more then 3.2 seconds. But I also have a dry erase board on my refrigerator for when notes and lines pop into my head at random moments, notebooks and pens and crayons everywhere, and I’ve even written things on my hand. And on receipts. And coupons. And on that free weekly newspaper thing that shows up in my mailbox and I never look at it but they pile up week after week until I finally bundle them up and toss them into the recycling before I turn into one of those people who ends up buried in her own junk mail.

Wait. What was I talking about again? Oh, right. Always keep something nearby with which you can write. Even if it’s a stack of Post-Its while you’re hidden away in the bathroom for a fifteen-second pee break.

3. Sleep is for Losers

Seriously. I have given up sleep for writing time. This is just how it is. Doesn’t Martha Stewart sleep only four hours a night? Well, I’m not going to take over the world and get all the laundry sorted AND edit that penultimate chapter of my novel while getting eight hours of rest a night.

4. Set a Timer

But then, for those magical times when my children do ensconce themselves in playtime, and no one is grabbing for my time or grinding purple chalk into the living room carpet, it’s often too easy to slip away into writing and forget that I do have to eat and use the bathroom and feed my children and change that diaper before it becomes something I need to burn in order to cleanse the world of its existence. So set a timer, or you’ll look up an hour later to find your daughter painting your toddler with red nail polish in order to make him look like Iron Man. (True story.)

5. Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

Oh, the husband is driving to church today? Bring along a notebook or a netbook and type away in the passenger seat. Grandma is playing with the kids? Jog upstairs and write for ten minutes. You somehow managed to go to the grocery store on your own as if you were your own person and not a marsupial with multiple babies crawling around in your pouch? Sit in the car for fifteen minutes afterwards and munch your spoils while working out the tangle of that tricky paragraph.

Because here’s what I’ve learned having three kids: Time does not exist as it used to. It jumps in huge leaps and bounds, and clocks and planners and scheduling don’t mean a thing when your child is flipping out because their favorite blanket is going on a much-needed tumble through the wash. So grasp at every moment to write and to read and to create.

But I’ve also learned that when my child needs me, or when all three of them need me at once, the laptop and the papers and the red pen are put away for a time. Because they’ll grow up, and all too soon. But the stories that are stashed away inside my head? They’ll still be there. Maybe some of the details will change, but they’ll stick around, even after my children have grown up and gone away.

The Half Killed – Deleted Scene

I’ve posted a couple of these before already, deleted scenes that never made it into the book. But they’re necessary, always necessary in laying out the details of a character’s background, a bit of history that never makes it into the current events of the book, but needs to exist to shape everyone and everything in the world trapped inside said book.

And so today I bring you another deleted scene, from the childhood of my main protagonist, Dorothea Hawes. If you’d like to read the other deleted scenes I’ve posted so far, you can find them here and here.

I hope you enjoy.

In Sleep

The matron’s woolen dress smelled of perpetual damp, the fumes only growing stronger when she stood quite near a fire or any other source of heat. The heavy skirt, darkened with dirt and moisture near the hem, swished across the wood floor, caught on the edges of the threadbare rugs, and knocked the occasional chair off balance. But when she stood over your shoulder, the rough weave of the wool scratched your arm, and you thought of nothing but brushing it off like you would an irritating insect. But you could not, and so you remained still, with the old woman breathing down your neck, her bones creaking in time with the slow, steady cadence of your words.

And when you faltered, she only hit your back with the flat of her hand, your spine straightening, sometimes even arching away from her touch. It was never a forceful strike, nothing meant to cause you pain, but simply a reminder that she was there, that she was behind you, beside you, watching, listening to the Word of God as recited by your tongue. It became clear to your mind, quite soon after your arrival, that she never touched you but to hit you, and that this same queerness of behavior followed true with her treatment of all the other girls. And there were so many of them now, enough girls to fill every bed, so that you fell asleep every night to the sounds of breathing and bare feet kicking at thin blankets.

As soon as you finished reading, the book passed to the next girl, and then the next, until the entire lesson had been read. One of the other matrons spoke then, telling you to go to your rooms, and the lights were put out behind you, darkness filling your wake as the footsteps of fifty girls shuffled up the stairs to the dormitories.

There was some light from the moon, casting shadows on the wall as you stepped out of your dress and took care to hang it on the peg beside your bed. The nightgown was cold, and you shivered as the stiff fabric slid across your arms, over your back, but it did little to prepare you for the cold of the blanket that you tugged up to your chin, over your mouth, just high enough so you wouldn’t have to see the pale cloud of steam escape from your lips every time you exhaled.

One by one, the girls around you fell asleep. Better to sleep than to suffer through the cold, and you wished that sleep would come to you, but it never did, leastways not until the ephemeral light of dawn colored the windows, and then only a few minutes of rest were your before the bells began to ring, another day called to life with the sound of shuffling feet, this time tramping down the stairs, on their way to breakfast.

The sleep itself was not what frightened you. It was the dreams, the visions that flashed before your eyes, always right there, yet always just out of reach. And the voices were louder then, because you didn’t have the strength to fight against them or to shut them out. And knowing this, they taunted you, telling you things you never wished to know. And in the morning, when the ringing of the bells pushed that other ringing out of your mind, you only felt more tired than the night before, the look on your face prompting a few of the other girls to ask if you were unwell. But you told them that you were fine, and then you washed your face, and rebraided your hair, pinning it close to your head before covering it with the stiff white cap.

Another day of lessons then, of basic reading and writing, and then hours of sewing, or in your case, because your stitching had never been fine, of untangling bits of thread and yarn for the others to use. The work was dull, numbing to both body and mind, and you sat with your eyes narrowed, your back bent over the task, and when the lights dimmed, the work was brought nearer to your face, until your eyes were mere slits, the red reaching in from the corners, stinging until you had no choice but to wipe the tears away with the back of your hand.

Night came again, overtaking you before you were aware of it, the bells ringing again, and you fell into step behind the other girls, while being pushed up the stairs by the dozen or so girls behind you. Another night, your dress hanging on the peg, and the exhaustion swept over you and around you until the dreams pressed in again, the voices attacking with greater precision, never trying at the same place twice, but always searching for a weak point. And when they found it, they slipped inside, only you couldn’t battle them in your sleep. One voice in particular was more familiar than the others, yet it spoke softly to you then, almost lulling you into a deeper slumber, one that threatened to smother you with its offer of comfort.

The screaming didn’t wake you. Your throat was already sore from it, as if you’d been crying out for some time, and when you finally opened your eyes, you saw the other girls in the dormitory, all of them crowding away from you, pressed against their own beds, against the walls, a few of them running out the door, nearly falling down the stairs in their haste to escape.

One of the matrons appeared a few moments later, still in her nightdress. You remember the look on her face, the horror that flashed in her eyes, and it was then that you noticed the placement of the other beds in the room, all of them far away from your own, as if they’d been swept toward the walls with a great hand, and only your bed still sat untouched in its original position.

Gathering herself, the matron staggered forward, her hands on your shoulders, gripping them, shaking until the screaming stopped, and you gasped for breath, unaware before that moment that you had almost fainted from lack of air. She struck your cheek and called you a stupid girl, a monster, and as she spoke, the soft, familiar voice echoed the same thought in your ear. Only you were much more inclined to believe him above all others.

***

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The Half Killed is currently available for pre-order at Amazon.com for only .99 cents from now until August 25th. You can check out the reviews on Goodreads and add it to your list.