Sunday, August 31, 2014

images and chest hair-- or not

When creating covers, one of the things that both amuses and frustrates me is finding male images where the men have hair on their chest-- even a little bit. That royalty free images generally do not is a testament to waxing, shaving, male modeling, body building, and who knows what else as it's sure not about reality for men's bodies.

Yes, metrosexuals might wax, but real cowboys, loggers, men who work with their hands, very few of them do (as in I have not known any). Most movie stars likewise still have hair on their chests. 

Remember the guy below and his popular television show? Oh probably not if you are young (Clint Walker and he played Cheyenne from 1955-1963). I suspect he played a role in how many western writers still write about the tall, black haired western hero ;). His show almost always had him taking off his shirt for one reason or another. None of us complained :). I will admit when I was 13, I thought I'd marry him someday. Then I found out he was already married. A major disappointment!

So finding men with bristle on their jaw, that's easy but on their chests... not so much. Yes, it's true some men have very little chest hair, but all men, by nature, have some. I recently saw Dirty Dancing again and Patrick Swayzee had a great body in it, several shirtless scenes, and I had to look hard to see if he had chest hair-- he did. Just not a lot.

Even Native American men had chest hair, but genetically they had little. Many of the tribes plucked their chest hairs-- maybe because they were into body paint for battle. Could that explain the hairless men of the royalty free sites?

Maybe this is because young women like smooth hairless chests. To me, likely a testament to my own age, I like chest hair although I wouldn't particularly like it heavily covering the whole body.

Some object to the covers of romances having bare-chested men period and find especially negative the need for so much muscular definition. Well men do have muscular definition, at least those who work hard for a living. What they do not have are waxed and oiled chests. I am all for muscular chests... but for my book covers, give me some chest hair please? 

When Jimmy Thomas, one of the models for book covers, said he'd be putting out some images with hair because he'd had an injury and was unable to model for awhile-- hence had not waxed, I was waiting and bought two different ones. Currently this is not on any of my covers, but someday it'll be the inspiration :). To me, hair on a man's chest is manly. Why is that not more popular for book covers???

Thursday, August 28, 2014

creating paperbacks

back-cover & cover for Her Dark Angel

Besides a summer of editing, this has been a time for me to work out back-covers for paperback versions of six Portland romance/adventure/suspense books. A back-cover has to fit with the cover while giving a reader a bit of what they will find in the book. I looked at various books I owned for ideas as to what would be needed. There were many options from basically a blurb, to something catchy, to no info at all. 

Good. That means I can do what I think suits my books. I plan to let these set for awhile as I consider if they are the final version. It has taken time-- and isn't finished as the spline still has to be created but my publisher (husband) does that. It was though rewarding as I enjoy working with images.

In the process of all this work (yes, I have gone a little dry-eye from so many hours staring at words), I put together the chronology for all my books. For the historicals, I'd done this as I wrote them, although hadn't put them in a list. You can't write a historical without knowing what else happened at the same time. Earlier, I hadn't bothered with the contemporaries as I always thought of them as happening when I was writing them.

Except some had connecting characters and years in between. I needed to figure this all out when I decided to connect the Portland, Oregon, books as a series-- related by their locale. What I learned is that while some had a specific number of years between the first and connecting story, I had to choose wisely where I began the dates. 

Things also happen in contemporary times, which you could not ignore if you set your book there-- 9/11 is an example. Any book set in 2001, unless early in the year, would have to take that into account. I was in no mood to go back into any books set in that fall and add it in; so best to avoid that specific time period. 

The other thing I have done during my editing phase is set the books, with continuing characters, closer together on my blog specifically for them-- Rainy day Romances. I enjoy writing stories with continuing characters; so it has happened more than a few times. I get to liking a certain character or set of them and enjoy working with them again.

Maybe my finally creating a chronology is another stage of becoming more organized. Writing is one thing. Publishing a book adds another dynamic. When I wrote just for myself, chronologies didn't matter. Readers though do their own calculations. If they don't like the writer's logic, probably they won't return for another book. The books in this list are all my contemporaries to date. I do have plans for more though and will now just add them where they belong.

When we did the first paperbacks, we put out Luck of the Draw, which is set in 1974. I was uncertain of whether to include it in the list of contemporaries as there is a lot of debate about how far back contemporary goes. Some suggest a good idea is to call such books-- contemporary historic fiction. They add that if it was contemporary to you, it's contemporary, which it certainly was. It is set in Oregon but Pendleton. Like so many of the things I write, it doesn't fit in a convenient box! About that, there isn't anything I can do...

      1974    Luck of the Draw (Pendleton, Oregon)

1998      Moon Dust (Portland, Central Oregon)
1999      Evening Star (Portland, Coast, Southern Oregon, Tahoe)
2000      Desert Inferno (Arizona)

2005      Bannister’s Way (Portland, Coast)
2006      Second Chance (Portland)
2007      Hidden Pearl  (Portland, Umpqua)
           Sky Daughter (Idaho)

2009      Her Dark Angel (Reno, Portland, Tahoe)
2010      When Fates Conspire, Part I Diablo Canyon  

           From Here to There  (both Montana)

2012      The Dark of the Moon-- Part II Diablo Canyon (Montana)
2013    A Montana Christmas (Montana)
2014      Storm in the Canyon -- Part III Diablo Canyon  (Montana)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

on writing

Online I am connected to quite a few writers mostly in the romance or fantasy genres. I also though, through this blog and others, know those who would like to write but feel they either cannot or aren't ready. 

The world has changed from when publishing houses were the gatekeepers as to who could be a published writer. Those big houses still exist and have the big bucks behind their books, but there are now a lot of small eBook publishers as well as writers like myself who have opted not to let anybody else call their shots. Writers have options, and that can become confusing or even a block for those who have yet to take the leap.

Places like Amazon or Direct to Digital, make it pretty easy to convert books into something readers can buy. The prices of such books benefit readers and writers. I became a big fan of eBooks to read once I saw how I could go on a vacation without taking ten books. I love having hundreds at my fingertips on a device that can fit in my purse. I still read paper books, but eBooks have been good to me as a writer and a reader.

For those who would like to write but have yet to feel they can, it's important to keep in mind-- publishing is now an option. So if you want to write-- write. Don't critique yourself out of doing it. Write. From writing will come writing, and it might not be what you expect. 

Being your own toughest critic, the one who stops you from writing, is the problem creative people face. I cannot paint like Rembrandt/Van Gogh/Pollack or write like Hemingway/Gabaldon/Steinbeck; so I should not paint/write at all, etc. etc. etc. Most of the names you admire didn't paint/write that way when they began either. It takes doing to get there.

Then when you write something, let someone else read it; ideally someone who likes books in your genre. Ask them to tell you what they liked or did not about the book. I remember when I first began writing and let friends read my words. That took a lot of nerve. It's scary. There is real reluctance to let someone we care about see our creative work. But it is what helps us see if we are getting there or missing the boat. If we are missing it, what can we change? Actually an honest friend can be far more helpful than later a random reader who the writer can never question as to what they meant by their criticism.

Finding your own genre is a big part of enjoying writing. Do you like to read mysteries? Start thinking of mystery plots. Do you like to think about relationships, about why they work or don't, consider romance? Do you have the kind of imagination that creates apocalyptic or fantasy worlds? Horror? Erotica? Whatever is your natural inclination might be your genre. 

Write the book you'd love to read.

Don't be stopped by whether that genre is acceptable to your social group. I am well aware romance is not okay for many liberals. It's actually the Cinderella of writing which gets little respect (sometimes justifiably so). Women in certain social sets hide romance books from their friends. They will show off the latest NYTimes bestseller, which got rave professional reviews, but not the book with the hot couple on the cover. Although, these days eBook devices make it easier to hide what is socially unacceptable. They don't make it easier for the writers of such books. 

What are you writing?
no more questions...

But here's the thing, if it's your natural genre, it's what you will enjoy writing. It takes more nerve to write in a genre that is unacceptable to your crowd and talk about it. I know about that. I suspect it's why romance writers tend to hang together as it's somewhere they can share their work and ideas without feeling that silent criticism.

If you want to write and enjoy the writing, if you want to be more than a formula writer, you have to find your genre, the one where you love to read and where you have an idea for a story that you haven't read anywhere else. 

When you want to write it so much that you don't care if it's socially acceptable with your friends, that's the passion you need and that will make your book come alive for you. 

If you aren't there yet, then you probably aren't ready to publish. You can still write, but but don't think you never will publish and make public what you write. Someday it'll be-- who cares. This is for me! It is my creative gift, and I am going to use it.



Monday, August 25, 2014

New Moon

While I am not huge on astrology, where it comes to the moon, I pay attention (most of the time). Today is a new moon and the following is what I received in an email. Many gardeners plant by the moon cycles. Whether it makes sense for our lives, it is good, I think to stop once in awhile and think where we are. Lunar cycles are a natural way of doing that. When humans were more nature oriented, we probably found this more natural than when our cycles come from work or even entertainment.
"We are moving towards more clarity and organization and a renewed energy to get back to tasks that were put on hold for various reasons. This is a great time especially to honor the clarity and commitment around endings and beginnings. 

"Identify what is ending or what needs to end and your intention to end it. It could be anything from the habit of self judgment to work that no longer serves you, or even a relationship. What have you struggled with lately that you need to change?; Do a ritual that will help you mark the ending.; 

"When something ends, there is always a new space created for something new to begin. Identify what is beginning in your life or what you wish or intend to begin and ritualize it somehow for yourself. 

"Sometimes we are so focused on what is ending that we can't appreciate why has been knocking on our door. Open the door to NEW and use this new moon time as a way to establish an energetic marker for your endings and your beginnings. Because the times support clarity and organization, it is also a great idea to make an action plan as long as you have enough clarity."                                                Patricia Liles  

This link suggests some ways to ritualize such a time-- 

how to alchemise the new moon energy to manifest your goals

This isn't so much mystical as cyclical and using nature's cycles to further our own intentions. If we set aside no time to think where we are going and is it benefiting us, then likely we are letting someone else set our goals. For some people that works better than others.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Writing space II

Although my ideas, for what makes a good story, are much as they have always been, how and where I go about getting there has evolved and may again as that's what life is about, isn't it? I remember writing many books with only a dreamlike image in my head for what the characters looked like-- even though I write, what I consider, character-driven stories. I used words to describe their appearances, how others saw them, but I didn't have the image of a movie star or someone I knew behind those words. 

Publishing changed all that when a cover was required and eventually book trailers where I needed images to show a potential reader something about the book. That led to discovering royalty free image sites. I started out rather loosely with those but today have a pretty professional view of them-- that is I don't buy individual photos but rather set aside favorites until I have enough to justify a subscription of a week.

What I could not use for trailers or covers were any of those on Google's image search site. Those there are not available for commercial usage or if they are, they are too costly for an indie writer like myself. Photographers can be pretty unpleasant to writers of blogs or books who take their images without paying or at least permission-- sometimes they don't even own the rights. So I skipped looking through Google and depended on what my own photos and those image sites like CanStock or Jimmy Thomas.

That changed when I began to see how other writers used Google images, not to put out publicly but to inspire themselves. Inspiration isn't something you have to pay for, and it lets you have a wide variety of faces in your head when you are writing. It also though required going back to them now and again-- even if I had saved them to my computer.

When I got the idea of a bulletin board above my computer, I realized I could use photos of images from anywhere as they weren't being used for my business (which is publishing my books). 

Getting space above my computer required the rearranging of the area, moving a large Wenzel painting and a Navajo rug in our living room, changing a few things in our bedroom, but in the end, I found space for a lovely big board. 

Currently I have been editing my older contemporary books. The images of hero and heroine are just as important in an edit, to be sure I am staying on track, as it would be in a first draft. Seeing the faces above me reminds me what the hero and heroine see. It keeps me synced to the story in a way I wasn't before. 

What I like about this system is I can easily change the images to suit each story. If I don't have the right face for a villain, I can print it off and tack it up there to keep in mind their dastardliness. I have inspiration above me all the time and no clutter. It actually looks good from the sofa and chairs in the more living room end of the living room. This set up is perfect for a writer of character driven stories. 

Right now I am still playing with how I want the images to be arranged. I got this board started when editing the fifth of six of my Portland contemporaries. Second Chance involves a wildlife rehab center. I should that this editing has been hard, word by word work, but so far is only yielding what I would call the last swirl of frosting a cake. The changes I am making aren't major nor do they reflect goofs. They are just a better way to bring the story to life. The cake is solid. The frosting was fine, but that last swirl of the knife is what makes it look so good.

From Second Chance, I went straight to Hidden Pearl which begins in Portland but goes down the valley to the Umpqua River and country out of Roseburg-- all imaginary settings for my story but set in the reality of a real region.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

the writing space

Whether artist or writer, we all have to find places to do our work. Over the years, I've pretty well tried a lot of them from a kitchen table to an extra bedroom but am enjoying best my corner of the living room-- which is good considering how many hours a day I work there between editing, writing books, creating covers, working with photos, and blogs. 

Working in a living room has a drawback for the living room. Writing can be a cluttered work. There are notes and ideas for the book. Jump drives are piled nearby (smart writers save onto them frequently-- or should I say experienced computer users), Then there are the personal items-- lipstick (well, mine because my lips often feel dry, and I don't want to remember where my purse is), extra glasses, the dealie I use to strengthen my neck, BenGay, postits, etc. Camera can't be too far away.

So, a working writer's area in the corner of what is an otherwise tidy living room is an issue if it matters how the living room looks. On the other hand, for working, it's perfect for me. It wouldn't be for everyone. 

One thing that makes my space work is my husband is not much of a television viewer. If the boob tube was on, there might be a conflict. Although when I had the grandkids here a week, I worked right through their morning kid viewing. It also enabled me to peek over once in awhile to see what they were watching. Mostly I have a personal ability which helps, when working around others, I space out what is not on the computer screen in front of me. 

This space is also handy for me to be near a phone, out where I can duck into the kitchen if need be, where I am in a central location to the house.

By working here, I am near windows which enables me to check out  strange noises (also, of course, has me hearing all the log trucks, noisy motorcycles, and cars traveling too fast on the highway (about 100 feet away although with a creek in between). I can keep an eye on the cats if they are in what we loosely call the hummingbird yard. 

Naming our yards, which (like most people) we have two, is not the easiest thing because of the placement of our house, and this being a farm property. We have come up with different ways to describe them but none have stuck. The hummingbird yard can also be called the old yard, the first yard, the creek yard, the flower garden yard, front yard (even though it's really the backyard), or the driveway yard. The vegetable garden yard can be the... oh you get the idea. Maybe one day we'll figure out a title for each that works. For now I love having two yards where one works when it's morning, the other afternoon. One works when it's hot and the other when it's cooler. We have tables to eat in them in both. Where I am working looks out onto the the 'first' which is also the rose garden yard. 

What made my writing experience here even better is something I just added to my work area. It took a rearranging of favorite paintings and a Navajo rug but I am very happy with how it functions. Because I went on so long about my yards, I'll save this change for next blog. It is a change I much recommend for writers where characters are important to their story.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Evening Star

cover based on ElenaRay photo/painting at CanStock

As I have been doing a re-edit for all of my Portland, Oregon based books, I have also reconsidered their covers. I had earlier come across the above image which seemed perfect for Evening Star. It's not exactly a typical romance cover even though the story is a romance. It suits though what the heroine goes through to become all she wants to be. Evening Star is a story of a woman opening herself to love and risk. 

This cover represents her at the stage of her life where she has finally won her victory and recognizes what she needs most in her life. It is more  iconic than many of my covers. I like the freedom to do this. Another of those pluses of being an indie writer.

I have mentioned some of my books are about peeling back protective layers, about the need to go within to find the ability to live a full and fear-free life. Evening Star is such a book.

Regarding the image, a friend wrote the following as an analysis of it. I liked her words so much that I want to share them here also. 
"The Oceanic mystical mature woman intrigues me when I saw the detailed version. It is as artistic and powerful as you are.  She is in a ballet pose with toes of one foot pointed as if about to move in a sensual way. sexual but not submissive at all. Quite to the contrary. Her arms express dominance declaring leadership. The mandala she holds up looks Celtic.  But do take your glasses off and look at the image. Her arms are like the brow of an owl with eyes the center of the conical shells.  I love that a powerful mature woman is sensual and yet her power might also be her demon.

I think my impression of this painting fits the kind of stories you tell.  If a cover could sell a truly creative book of yours, this is it."                             Diane Widler Wenzel
I would like to think that what she said about the image and about me is also true for my heroine. She discovers the woman she finally realizes she wants to be. 

One of the things love relationships reveal in us (and one of the strengths of romance novels) is how they pare us down and reveal our strengths and weaknesses. While a romance will be dealing with other problems, in the end, it's the story of two people and what it takes to join together as one couple. It is in such relationships where we are most tested. We unfold ourselves to be known. This cover reveals the story I hope I have told in Evening Star.

If you bought this book, to get the edits (which weren't major) but always improve the stories in my view, you delete it only from your device, go to Amazon's Manage Your Kindle where you click on send it to the device you want (never delete it there or it's gone).

 If you haven't already bought the eBook, and it sounds interesting, it is $2.99 for August but back to $3.99 in September. 

Hopefully by September all the Portland books will have been re-edited, some for the umpteenth time, and out as paperbacks. Some go together with continuing characters. They all though set in my part of Oregon and involve a city I have at times lived in and love very much-- Portland. Today, if I had to live in a city (it'd be a tough adjustment), it'd be the one I would most enjoy, which makes it a lot of fun to base stories there where my characters live in neighborhoods I know well and could very much imagine living.