As a writer, I’m always looking for new story ideas. I often find that past experiences can be a great help. Have you ever survived a dangerous situation? How did you do it?
When I was first learning to snow ski, I got caught after dark on top of Stowe Mountain in Vermont. It’s a huge ski area. It was my first day on skis and, somehow I got separated from my friends. I wound up on a black diamond run and of course I started falling—throwing myself down in the snow was the only way I knew how to stop!
By the time I got half way down the mountain, the ski lifts had all stopped running and it was dark and freezing cold. I tried taking off my skis and walking, but the snow was deep, and it was even harder than trying to ski. I knew I was in big trouble.
Maybe the reason I started writing Romantic Suspense had something to do with that day. Just when I was ready to give up and just wait for whatever was going to happen to happen, a guy came skiing down the hill out of nowhere.
Instead of skiing on by, he swished to a stop right next to me. He must have realized I was in trouble and if I didn’t get down the mountain, I could die in the subzero weather that night. The guy—my hero—helped me get up and start “skiing” back down the mountain. He showed me how to snow plow, helped me turn and never left me, no matter how many times I fell.
It took hours to get off that mountain. We wound up in an empty parking lot, where I his car was parked, and he drove me back to the main lodge where my friends were waiting. I never saw him again, but I’ve never forgotten him. There is a chance he might have saved my life that night.
So, I guess there really are heroes out there in the real world. At least I believe that. Beau Reese, the hero in BEYOND DANGER, is that kind of guy.
Mega-rich, black-haired, and blue-eyed, Beau was a highly successful race car driver before he left the circuit, sort of a Texas Paul Newman. Beau loves fast cars and fast women, but under it all he’s a one-woman man and Cassidy Jones is just the right woman for him.
Unfortunately, Beau is wanted for murder.
The good news is, Cassidy is a detective. She’s convinced of Beau’s innocence and determined to prove it.
I hope you’ll watch for BEYOND DANGER, and in June, you’ll look for BEYOND CONTROL, Josh Cain’s story. If you haven’t read BEYOND REASON, I hope you’ll give it a try.
Till next time, all best and happy reading, Kat
Sometimes I wish for a fleshy toggle switch just to concentrate. A switch to turn on the, “What ifs,” or off to allow me to listen to a conversation without having a character make a sidebar comment, with a dimmer to shut out the annoying static from everyday life. On the other hand, where would a writer be without those voices banging around, attempting to push a story out of them?
Most writers I know have characters talking to them. Not just giving an occasional shout, but full arguments that can shove a manuscript into unplotted waters. What would happen if they went silent? I shudder the thought.
My characters made themselves present in those geeky years attending a new high school, trying to fit into any group, but not. Of course, telling anyone about them could have brought dire consequences. Someone would have had me committed to a padded cell on the sunny side of a psych ward, so the thoughts went into a journal. The voices got louder, I listened, my writing voice strengthened, and those ideas became plots.
From where did these constant distractions come, and why me? Isn’t there enough going on in my life for one of me knocking around in my mind? Oh my gosh…my characters just gasped collectively.
I smile before giving a mental nudge. “Hey, just kidding guys.”
Although I still wish for a fleshy toggle switch, I cannot imagine a life without writing or my constant companions pushing my boundaries by asking, “What if.”
Have a creative New Year, and as always, Happy Writing,
It’s a saying we learn as children: Don’t judge a book by its cover. It means, of course, that it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, and we should look within to discover the true meaning and worth of an object or a person. It’s an excellent lesson, made more memorable because of the catchy phrase we associate with it.
As we apply that to sage advice to many things, though, do we follow it literally? Most of us do exactly the opposite when it comes to actual books.
A book’s cover can tell us many things: the genre, the age group that is the target audience, and even how professionally the book has been produced. Take these two anthologies for example: Once Upon a Time: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales for All Ages, and Day of the Dark: Stories of Eclipse.
Certainly the titles and subtitles give us some clue as to genre and target audience, which is good since not every communication about a book comes with a cover image. But, as another old adage reminds us, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” so the cover design has a greater impact than the title on our first impressions of a book. The two book covers for these anthologies are:
These two covers elicit very different first impressions. The former (Once Upon a Time) is colorful, magical, and a bit whimsical. The font has a fairy tale feel. One would not have any qualms about picking it up and handing it to a child to leaf through. It invites children and adults into a world of imagination.
The latter cover (Day of the Dark) is mysterious, and bit foreboding. Looking at this cover, you would not expect it to be the reminiscences of people who have viewed an actual eclipse, despite its title. No—this cover tells us these stories are apt to be a bit darker. The color and font used for the subtitle, Stories of Eclipse, reinforces that impression. This book doesn’t reach out to a children’s audience the way the castle and happy dragon do on Once Upon a Time.
The same is true for books within the same genre. My new mystery, Death in Glenville Falls, has a cover that should tell you something about what might lie behind it:
The colors are warm and inviting, and the scene charming. There’s even a cat. This idyllic scene might make you think of Jan Karon’s Mitford series. But there is clearly a sinister element afoot, for what foul force would result in the stabbed book in the foreground? This cover tells you that there is a mystery inside, but it falls within the traditional/cozy side of the genre. It might keep you up at night because you want to keep reading, but it probably won’t give you nightmares.
On the other hand, my friend Geoffrey Mehl has a book, Nine Lives, that also falls within the mystery genre. With a title like that, it could be the story of the cat on the cover of my mystery, but his cover looks like this:
The sinister element is certainly there—silhouettes of people holding guns—but none of the reassuring, small-town charm balances it. Instead, we see computer code streaming behind them. This is clearly an edgier, suspense novel—and probably one having to do with computer data.
The same can be true, even for books with similar titles—only the cover tells us whether it’s one we’ll want to pick up and read more about or not. Take, for example, the books The Vampire’s Prisoner and Vampire King. Both titles suggest a powerful vampire is at work within the pages of the novel, but the covers give very different impressions. Look at:
The two offer very different kinds of chills.
Selecting a cover is often solely left to the discretion of the publisher, but for independent or hybrid publishers, authors have more control over how their books will look. It’s important to bear in mind that the cover image and cover design are truly the potential reader’s first impression of your work. If the cover looks amateurish, the assumption will be that the contents are, too. If, however, your cover grabs the readers’ curiosity, they are more apt to pick up the book, turn it over, and read more about it. If the back cover copy confirms what the cover promises, they might then turn to read the first page. And if they like what they see there, you might well have made a sale.
And all because they have judged your book by its cover.
Carol L. Wright is a former book editor, domestic relations attorney, and adjunct professor. She is the author of articles and one book on law-related subjects. Now focused on fiction, she has several short stories in literary journals and award-winning anthologies. Death in Glenville Falls is her first novel.
She is a founding member of the Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC, is a life member of both Sisters in Crime and the Jane Austen Society of North America, and a member of SinC Guppies, PennWriters, and the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.
Raised in Massachusetts, she is married to her college sweetheart. They now live in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania with their rescue dog, Mr. Darcy, and a clowder of cats—including one named Dickens.
A week before Thanksgiving, a sudden virulent pneumonia sent my husband, Ron, into heart failure. Fifteen days later, his life ended in an ICU when I asked the staff to turn off life support. Knowing this was what he would have wanted was the only comfort my sons and I felt.
In the quiet hush of the nursing unit, our youngest son and I waited for the end, touching and talking to Ron, knowing he could hear us even though he couldn’t open his eyes or respond. Seven hours later, we watched the monitor blip red for the last time as his valiant athlete’s heart gave out. Only a straight red line remained, releasing us from our sad vigil.
My shattered heart said goodbye to the man who had been my college sweetheart and best friend. We had celebrated our 58th wedding anniversary months earlier, and his passing stunned me. My family went into shock. He’d played golf with a friend just ten days before illness struck, and now he was gone?
I was plunged into the post traumatic stress reaction we call grief, but life went on, demanding I take on everything Ron had done for us as well as my responsibilities. The daily rhythm to our marriage vanished and my brain fragmented. Forgetting came easy, focusing was almost impossible. By early afternoon my tears and the emotional drain of losing him had exhausted me. I slept a lot.
People urged me to take time for myself, do something fun. You’ve got to be kidding! I’m drowning under everything that must be done.
Because his mother died at 99, Ron wasn’t prepared to pass at 85. He hadn’t told me how to get into the online stock or bank accounts, what to do with his life insurance or how to prepare our taxes. I didn’t know even little things—like how to set the controller for our lawn sprinklers when to pay the gardener or get the car serviced. My husband had not only taken care of all the usual “man” things around the house—fixing a running toilet or taking out the trash—he’d managed our finances because he had an accounting background. I was a retired RN.
I could have sworn I was the object of some witch’s spell when things began to fall apart—printers and TVs, the electric garage door opener, the cords connecting the wooden blinds in the family room shredded due to age, and the vertical blinds in the living room windows that faced the street stopped closing tightly, and people could see in—see a woman alone—at night.
Chaos. There was no other word for it. How was I going to survive?
My WIP, a novella, had lacked only a thousand words to completion when my old life ended so abruptly. Even had I been able to get my mind in gear, I had no time to write. So I didn’t.
After a couple months, the one pleasure I allowed myself was to let friends drive me to a meeting of our RWA chapter in Orange County, California. I let chatting about writing on the drive in and back, the warm chapter friendships, and discussions about craft and marketing flow around and nurture me.
After one meeting, I came home inspired, opened my computer and reread my novella. Oh, I had no time for this but, when I realized this was a world I could control, I wrote for fifteen minutes.
Deepening my characters as they moved toward their goals in the world I’d created brought surcease from the real one I struggled with every day. Little by little, I finished that thousand words, then it struck home that I’d written myself into a hole: I was rushing the ending.
And so I wrote on. Then, as smooth as silk, I had over 40,000 words and the work was done. Without even thinking about it, I had finished a Book in a Year.
I will never forget Ron or the life we shared. He had a gift for numbers, mine was wrangling words onto paper. I loved him because he encouraged that part of me, love him more deeply now because through the chaos words on paper were what centered me, gave me the courage to figure out my “new life”—as my artist/writer friend, Sheila Hansberger, describes widowhood.
Artists paint, sketch and sculpt, composers compose, and writers write because that is what we do.
It is who we are.
Dee Ann Palmer is a multi-published, award-winning author who writes sensual romance under this name. As Carolina Valdez, she writes explicit gay and m/f romances in several subgenres. She lives in southern California, is a PAN member of RWA, and belongs to Sisters in Crime.
Adventuring is in Monica McCabe’s blood. She’s addicted to travel, National Parks, & exploring new places and mysterious locales. She’s climbed glaciers and ancient Mayan pyramids, dived shipwrecks and reef caves, camped in Sasquatch country, and drove across the USA three times. When not traveling she’s writing romantic suspense and adventure for Lyrical Press, Kensington’s digital line.
Recently I went on a hike at my town’s local greenway. I soaked up bright sunshine, admired the lush landscaping and a gently rolling stream that followed the trail. Then suddenly, I had an epiphany. Not the earth shattering, life changing kind. More like a realization, a cosmic connecting of the dots when it comes to being a writer.
It’s no secret that I love travel. I like going places. That fascination has infiltrated into my stories too, which brings us to that moment of truth on the trail. It occurred to me that books and real estate have a lot in common. Location, location, location. It’s also my mantra. I’m always on the prowl for a new place to explore – whether for vacations, movie time, or reading choices.
It also plays into being a writer. Some people start their story with characters. The WHO is important. They want to know everything about them – eye color, hair color, where they went to school. Not me. I start my story with the WHERE. Then I move into the WHAT. Until I get deep into location and plot, characters are just a vague impression. It’s taken me four books and a long nature hike to realize this is my process.
Setting is what motivates me to begin the book. Imagery helps create my story. I have a blank wall next to my computer. When I start to build my story world, that wall turns into a collage of pictures that detail out every major scene location. The deeper into the book I get, the more images fill that space.
Mere words cannot express how much I enjoy this kind of research. It’s the best part of writing. And yet, what inspires me to choose a location…I can’t say. I saw something, heard something, I honestly don’t know. It just happens.
DIAMOND LEGACY is set in Botswana, Africa because I wanted a story about diamond smuggling. I dug in and learned that mining for the gemstone dominates the country’s economy and work force. And the animals! It was a perfect choice.
EMERALD FIRE opens in St. Lucia, West Indies. What better place to hide modern day pirates? Full of secret coves, luxury yachts, & breathtaking scenery, it’s every bit the perfect Caribbean island. We visited a few years ago, after I wrote the book. I really want to go again.
The latest book in the Jewel Intrigue Novels is PHANTOM PEARL. It’s a book divided. First half is in Australia, the second half Singapore. This time though, I took research to a whole new level. Hubby and I went to Australia and it was two weeks of pure awesome. This article could easily describe how endlessly amazing the place is, but I’ll restrain myself. Let me just say – if you’ve ever thought about it – DON’T WAIT. DO IT. It’s totally worth the 17 hour flight.
Back to PHANTOM PEARL. It’s a treasure hunting story that involves a WWII mystery surrounding Japan and Malaysia. So I hid the truth in the rainforests of Far North, Queensland.
Then it’s on to Singapore for a grand finale on Jurong Island, a massive industrial seaport. Have yet to visit Singapore, but if I ever get the chance… Did you know their airport is consistently voted best in the world? It’s a destination all its own.
Based on my book reviews it seems my passion for travel shines through, because there’s a consistent theme. Vivid imagery, how the setting takes on a life of its own. I had one that swore I’d been to Africa. I wish! My secret weapon is Google Earth and travel journal sites like Trip Advisor. I spend hours going over every square inch by satellite and reading real life reviews for nuggets of gold to use in my books.
I’m already thinking of my next tale and I’m fairly certain it will be set in Italy’s spectacular Amalfi Coast. Because look at it! Can you imagine basking on board a luxury yacht in this harbor, sipping limoncello while soaking up the Mediterranean sun? Yes, please!
So what about you? If you could go anywhere on the planet, where would it be?
Tell me the #1 spot on your bucket list and you’ll be entered to win a free copy of DIAMOND LEGACY or EMERALD FIRE. Africa or St. Lucia? The destination is yours to make.
Thank you, Monica, for being our guest today on A Slice of Orange.
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