Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Let's Talk Book Covers by Laura Bradford

JENN McKINLAY: Yay!!! One of my very favorite author pals is popping in today, and I love her post so much. It's the twisty turny tale of cover art and what it does to authors. Except Laura's story is crazier than most! Here she is to tell it as only Laura can...

LAURA BRADFORD: I can’t speak for all of my fellow writers, but I suspect I speak for many when I describe that moment right before you see your latest cover for the first time as nerve-racking. Because, as we all know, people do, in fact, judge a book by its cover. Granted, different covers speak to different people for different reasons, but they do speak and they speak loudly. 

They can also incite nightmares and trauma, but we’ll get to that…

Next week, my 34thbook (A Killer Carol) will release, and I have to say that the artist assigned to this particular series hit it out of the ballpark (See: Exhibit A). In fact, when I saw just the black and white sketch at the beginning, my jaw literally went slack for the second time in my career. 

Yep, A Killer Carol’s cover is, in a word, stunning

Exhibit A


Now, before we move on, I need to say that I have been pretty fortunate in the cover department. The artist that designed A Killer Carol has worked on just about all of my mystery series with Berkley. She listens to my cover suggestions, actually reads the books from what I can tell, and delivers something I’m excited to see out in the wild. 

But that excited-to-see-out-in-the-wild part? That hasn’t always been the case…

Back in late 2004, I was literally on the edge of my seat waiting to see the cover for my very first book, Jury of One. The book had taken me close to five years to write on account of having two little ones at home. But it found a home with a small, (now defunct) independent publisher and was set to come out in spring 2005. Because I’d spent so much time with this book, I had a very specific idea for the cover.

In my mind, I saw a nighttime setting. In the foreground was a beach. On the beach, I envisioned a body—face down—with a shadow looming above. In the background, the lights of a boardwalk beach town (ferris wheel, etc.).

As I would soon learn, that’s not the cover I got. 

To make this more fun, let me set the stage for the day I saw this cover for the very first time. I’d been alerted by my editor that the cover was in the mail and so I was pretty much hanging out by the mailbox waiting. On the day it was supposed to arrive, there was no mail in the mailbox at all.

Zip. Nada.

The next day? Same thing. No mail. Nothing.

About an hour after the mail carrier usually came, we got a knock at the door.

It was the mail carrier.  His mail truck had caught fire the previous day (nope, not joking) and much of the mail was either burned or damaged by the water used to put the fire out. Anything that was salvageable would be delivered on Monday.

Monday came. So, too, did a pile of mail, rubberbanded together, with one of those notes that say something along the lines of due to circumstances beyond our control (yada, yada). But in that moment, all I cared about was the singed envelope, bearing my publisher’s name in the upper left hand corner.

I pulled it out of the pile, carried it into the kitchen, ripped that sucker open, and found this (see Exhibit B)…

Exhibit B 
Felt your jaw go slack, too, didn’t you?

No nighttime scene…

No lifeless body in the foreground…

No shadow…

No boardwalk lights…

I have to admit, that the sound that came out of my mouth at that first sighting was part sob/part laugh. I mean, after the whole fire-on-the-mail-truck thing, it was hard not to look around waiting for Peter Funt of Candid Camera to walk out of my pantry.

But, alas, there was no Peter Funt.

There was just me and my pink cover… A pink cover with a green sun…

 JENN: I have no words and, just so we're clear, that never happens! If "cover stroke" was a thing, I'd have had it.


A footnote, for those who are curious: 

1)   I still have the singed envelope.  
2)  Jury of One was picked up by Worldwide Mystery later that year. The new cover, while better, was still nothing I’d pictured.

So, how about it, Reds and Readers, what's your take on book covers? Any horror stories? Any covers that got you to buy a bad book? What do you like to see in a cover?

Laura Bradford is the national bestselling author of An Amish Mystery series, as well as the Emergency Dessert Squad Mysteries, and the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries (the latter written as Elizabeth Lynn Casey). In addition to her work in mysteries, Laura also pens women’s fiction novels. Her latest, A Daughter’s Truth, released in May and is a Fall 2019 Book Club Pick for Mary Janes Farm Magazine
To learn more about Laura and her books, visit her website: www.laurabradford.com.  

Monday, September 16, 2019

My Favorite Part of Writing

JENN McKINLAY: Currently, I am writing a new mystery, page proofing another mystery, and revising a women's fiction book. All three are very different stages in the writing process, and I find while I am switching hats three times in one day just to keep ahead of it all that I am most eager to work on the revisions, whereas the page proofs are dreadfully dull and the writing of the first draft is work, hard work. I'd never really thought about which part of the process is my favorite, but now I am quite sure it is revisions. The brutal work of the first draft is done, and I can now go back over each word, trying to make it the best it can be without having to pluck it out of thin air. Fun! At least to me. So, I thought I'd ask my fellow Reds, which is your favorite part of the writing process and why?

LUCY BURDETTE: Jenn! I never considered the fact that we might be twins, but it's true! I am revising THE KEY LIME CRIME (so many good ideas--why didn't I think of this!) and trying to hammer out food critic #11, and trying to come up with another plot for a women's fiction. Edits are so rewarding, whereas first drafts are murder. It's not only the words that are hard, it's plot points and character motivations. Everything from scratch. On the edited KL Crime, I've already done my best to map all that out. And now a talented editor is saying "this section is perfect" (occasionally) or "not sure this follows, will the reader find it too much coincidence?" And then offering solutions. It's really very gratifying, unless you get stuck with a lousy editor. But that's another blog...

HALLIE EPHRON: My favorite part of writing is *having written*. First draft is definitely the toughest. Excruciating. But once I've got something down there, no matter how bad it smells, I'm a happy camper. Revision--I'm with Lucy and Jenn--it's the best part. Page proofs? I need to read it aloud to keep myself focused, but I'd rather be doing them any day over first draft. And I'm blessed with a terrific editor. I may not want to hear her say "But but but..." but she's always right.

RHYS BOWEN:  My favorite part is toying the that tiny germ of story long before I write anything down. Venice. A small legacy. A secret life. Where would she have lived? What would she have done? Gradually filling in the jigsaw pieces in my mind before I write a word. Then I start to write and every book is exactly the same. The first fifty pages are pure panic, sure it will be a disaster, a failure, a story I won't be able to complete. And then by page 100 I see a glimmer of light ahead. By 200 I'm skipping merrily along to the end, knowing where I'm going (almost). I enjoy revisions and final polish. I usually dislike copy edits because most copy editors do not confine themselves to commas and repeated words but suggest to me how sentences should be written. Stet is often used.  

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I love the idea of a book, when you can feel the characters and the setting moving in the shadows, and the book could still be the most brilliant and perfect thing I've ever written. I like the first third or half, too, the set up, discovering the characters I hadn't known would come along. The last half is hard. A slog, and against the clock, not sure I can tie everything together and make it work. Revisions with my editor are fun. She has great suggestions and I always know the book will be the better for it. Copy edits are a pain, but necessary. Page proofs, just shoot me. None of which really answers your question, Jenn. It's all up and down, and often blind panic.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Blind panic is a good description, love that, and am glad it's not just me. I love having that moment of realizing- OH! What a good idea! And the first three chapters or so bloom like gorgeous weeds. Then, the looming wall. Now what?  Working without an outline I go hand over hand, word by stinkin word, knowing that if I just persevere, I will find the story. It's simple addition, right? Just keep writing.  
When I am through the horrible endless middle, and then get the first ending, and then the second, and then I think, okay, there's a terrific  book in there somewhere! And then, hideous but beloved first draft finished, I have to find it.   They key is--for me--not to be afraid. It has worked 11 times, and it will work again. 
Then my darling brilliant editor gets it, and reads it, and then and tells me...things. And I think--yes!  Why didn't  I think of that stuff? And I plow into revisions with the joy of the re-energized. So, short version:  I love the revisions. LOVE. Because as a result of my editor, I create things I would never have thought possible. That the final book is SO different from the first draft is my life preserver. Don't worry, I tell myself. Trust the process.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I am not a fan of revisions. One of the reasons I'm a slow writer is that I tend to craft my sentences, paragraphs and chapters to be pretty much exactly the way I want. Of course, for HID FROM OUR EYES, written over five years, I needed so many revisions, I've lost track of the number of times my editor and I bounced the manuscript back and forth. Every time it was like the Kubler-Ross stages of dying; denial ("There's nothing wrong with this scene!") Anger ("Dammit, why is he picking on me?") Bargaining ("Okay, I'll do one scene, but I won't add a whole new chapter." Depression ("I'll never be done with this book and my life is over." and finally acceptance (Actually, these suggestions really do make the story much stronger.")

My favorite part is what I'm doing now for the Untitled Clare and Russ No. 10,  what I call the pen on paper stage. I noodle out ideas, themes, sketch out possible characters, list who wants what and what is the worst thing I can do to this character. I'm doing the starting research, getting just enough to inspire parts of the story, not having to fill in every detail as I will toward the end of the book. It's the Platonic Ideal stage of the book, all bright possibility untrammeled by the actual, you know, writing down words part.

What about you, Readers? Does anything surprise you in this post? Any writers out there want to chime in? Tell us your favorite part of the process!

And here are our weekly RED HOT DEALS!

DEBS: GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS is still available as an e-book for $1.99! 

Click here to read a FREE excerpt from Kincaid/James #18, A BITTER FEAST,  coming October 8th! 

Signed copies of A BITTER FEAST are available for pre-order from The Poisoned Pen and Barnes and Noble. 

JULIA: The second Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery, A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD, is on sale for only $2.99 the entire month of September! Here's where you can buy:
Kindle      iBooks      Nook      Kobo
Prefer a trade paper copy? Enter the Goodreads Giveaway for one of 25 copies!  

HANK:   Want to hear THE MURDER LIST? Here's a link to a clip of a FREE excerpt from the first Audiobook chapter  https://soundcloud.com/macaudio-2/the-murder-list-by-hank-phillippi-ryan-audiobook-excerpt/s-iJCwg  
 The clip can also be found on the book's landing page here: https://read.macmillan.com/lp/the-murder-list-audiobook/
(which includes all the current outlets for ordering!) 


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Winner, Winner Sunday Dinner

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Today's recipe comes courtesy of our friend Celia Wakefield, who made this dinner for Youngest's last night home before toodling off to college. There's no name for it; perhaps you all can come up with something? Here's the deets:
1. Skin 3 tomatoes or use a cup of canned tomatoes. drained.
2. In a large pan, heat 2-3 T olive oil and add 1 large onion, finely chopped; 2 leeks washed and chopped. You can add other late summer vegetables, whatever you have from the farmers market.
3. Remove the kernels from 3 ears of cooked corn, add to pan once the leeks and onions are translucent. add more olive oil if necessary
4. Bag of gnocchi: follow instructions for cooking and put water on to heat.
5. Skin and chop the tomatoes, add to pan with veggies.
6. Seasonings: Roasted garlic, basil or oregano,  parsley, salt and pepper.
7. Grate a cup + of cheese; parmesan, cheddar, Manchiago, etc.
8. Cook the gnocchi; if the veggie sauce looks dry, add a half cup or more of the pasta water when the gnocchi is done.
9. Add the pasta to the sauce. Sprinkle with the cheese, reserving some for your guests to add. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Girl on the Cover

You go to the bookstore. 

You see the array of books on the “this just in” or “new releases” shelves—and what might you notice? There’s a certain word that seems to appear again and again.

And Elizabeth Zelvin has one word for that word. She says: Enough. And her new short story anthology is not just an illustration of her frustration—she hopes it’s the beginning of a solution.

The Girl Book Conspiracy

I’ve had a revelation about the spate of Girl books in the crime fiction market: Gone Girl, Girl On A Train, Girl in the Window, The Girl Next Door, The Lost Girls of Paris, gathering momentum ever since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I don’t think it’s simply the marketing ploy that many have called it, with publishers jumping on the bandwagon of one megahit with more of the same. 

As a Second Wave feminist—“Really? I studied you in school!” an awed young person told me recently—I remember how hard we had to kick and scream to get everyone to stop calling those of us who weren’t fifteen and under “girls” and start calling us “women.” Yet all of a sudden, on the covers of books in airport bookstores and big box stores—which as every author knows, means hundreds of thousands of copies sold—they’re calling grown women girls again. 

Oh, but they didn’t mean it that way! They’d never do that! As a brilliant therapist, (not me), once said, unconsciousness is no excuse. So what’s the big deal? For one thing, books are culture bearers, or in the pop-up vernacular, influencers. And the titles of bestselling books have exponentially more influence than the books themselves, because, through word of mouth and the media, they reach so many people who never read the books. 

I’ve never read Gone Girl, because even its greatest admirers assure me I'll dislike the protagonists. I don’t do unlikable protagonists, not if I see them coming. But I’ve heard the book mentioned hundreds of times and participated in dozens of conversations about it, each reinforcing the concept that a grown woman is a girl, girl, girl.

But why does “girl” vs. “woman” matter? What difference does it make? I say it makes a huge difference in our unconscious assumptions and biases, which is why we fought so hard to change it in the first place.  Girls are—supposedly-- immature. They’re naive and weak. They don’t know much. They need things explained to them. They can be dismissed and patronized. They can be manipulated. They need authority figures to make decisions for them. They need to be protected, i.e. controlled “for their own good,” --which I think we figured out fifty years ago was how the patriarchy disempowered us while feeling good about themselves. Some of those generalities may work if the girl is ten years old and the adult responsible and ethical. But it’s not right to make such assumptions about grown women.

I'm not asking anyone to abolish the word “girl,” of course. Just use it when you’re talking about real girls! When I planned Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology, I was looking for stories about women. But girls as well as women showed up. The cycle of abuse is ongoing unless we find ways to break it. Some of the girls whose voices you can hear in these stories have experiences that may seem unimaginable to women who were nurtured and protected during childhood. Yet others may hear such voices and, as in the #Me Too movement, recognize parts of their own experience that they have never dared to examine. These are girls whose stories we need to tell, so readers can hear and believe them.

As a therapist in my "other hat," I know these stories are common in real life. Yet they seldom show up in short crime fiction, even in the darkest e-zines. Maybe they don't realize that young survivors can change the story. When I myself wrote a short story about such girls and the women they grow up to be, I couldn't think where to submit it. So I created a market of my own and invited other women writers to join me.

What do you think when you see “girl” on a cover?  

HANK: I will confess to loving my title THE WRONG GIRL—that book came out in 2013.  It is, however, about an infant daughter.

What do you think, Reds and readers? Is "girl" more than a word?


Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology—crimes against women, tales of retribution and healing—is editor/ author Elizabeth Zelvin's plan to strike a blow for abused and intimidated women and girls in short crime fiction, making them the protagonists of their own stories. Fifteen women mystery and crime short story authors created fictional sisters who take charge of their destiny.

Elizabeth Zelvin, three-time Derringer & three-time Agatha nominee  
Crimes against women, tales of retribution and healing
Editor, Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4