Archive for the ‘Art and Writing’ Category

Catrina Burgess author (aka Cat Brown)

Catrina Burgess (aka Cat Brown) is an author and blogger based in Arizona. When she’s not writing, she loves to bake and spend time with her husband and three rescue dogs  Coco, Trouble, and Ashy and their cat Shitty Kitty.

Welcome Cat!

When did you launch Romance Junkies and what made you decide it was time to step back from running it?

I started Romance Junkies back in 2002. At that time I was a freelance web designer and aspiring romance writer. I’ve always been a big reader and in between working a day job and writing I was doing a lot of reading. I thought it would be fun to start doing book reviews with some of my friends. And since I was a web designer I decided to whip up a little website where we could post the reviews. I thought the site was going to be a small weekend project, but the first week we were open, I got a very nasty email from one of the big romance review sites. The letter had a very threatening tone and was telling us we couldn’t feature certain authors that were apparently “their authors.” I remember reading the email to my husband and afterward saying in an astonished tone, “Who knew there was a romance mafia.” I’m pretty laid back, but I don’t like bullies. I decided that day to spend all my free time working on the Romance Junkies. My goal was to try to make it as big as possible, for no other reason than to annoy the “Romance Mafia.”

After 13 years of running the site, I decided it was time for a change. I wanted to spend more time working on my writing, and I wanted to try some new projects. Some new challenges.

Are you still involved in the Romance Junkies site?

Marie Harte, who writes contemporary romance for Sourcebooks publishing, is the current owner/operator. She is a good friend, and I know she is going to do a fabulous job with the site. I have stepped down from all Romance Junkies management, site decisions, and actual work, but I’ve stayed on with the site as a reviewer. I plan to do a few reviews here and there.

When you founded Romance Junkies back in 2002 what was the online world like for romance authors/novels and how has it changed since then in your opinion?

Big review sites and big blogs filled Romanceland. I remember I would hit my favorite sites and blogs each week to get news and gossip about what was going on. Over the years, social media has expanded with things like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Now I get a lot of my Romanceland news via Twitter and Facebook. Rather than blogs run by a big group of people you see a lot more small, individually run blogs. A lot of young book reviewers are doing their reviews on YouTube.

You’re also an author – when did you start writing and why?

I started writing back in 2001. When I turned 36 years old, my husband lovingly told me, “You need to start working on that writing dream you’ve had since you were a kid, because let’s face it time is running out.”  I told him I had no idea how to write a book, and he gave me one of his no-nonsense stares and told me, “Stop whining and go figure it out.” Now in his defense, he does tend to be very straightforward in the things he says. He will tell you the honest truth, whether or not you want to hear it. He is also the most supportive husband—he is one of my main critique partners and has really helped me over the years become a better writer.

I started working on that first book in 2001. It took me eight months to write that first book and five months to edit it. While writing that book, I realized how much I loved the whole writing process. Yes, it’s crazy hard, impossible some days, but so much fun. There’s nothing better than battling through and writing a book and getting to those sweet words—THE END. Nothing cooler than seeing the characters you have in your head become walking and talking entities.

What genre do you write in and why?

I started out writing romance. I have four stories that were published with one of the big epublishing houses. I’m not going to name them since my career with them ended when the house blew up with a bunch of crazy drama.  Around that that time I got very sick. So sick I had to give up my day job—I was teaching computer classes and doing freelance web design. My husband, who had always helped me run Romance Junkies, took over the bulk of the work on the site. He also had to take on an extra job since I was no longer able to work. The poor boy had a sick wife at home, was working two day jobs, and was putting up features on Romance Junkies during the wee hours. I told you he’s a very supportive husband. Every year I got a little better and after two years I was able to get back to working on Romance Junkies. Though sadly I was still too sick to go back to working a regular day job.

When I was really sick, every six months I would try to write. The first two years the fatigue was so overwhelming I just couldn’t write. I didn’t have the mental clarity to get words down on paper. And then after year three of being sick I saw that author Candace Haven was offering a fast draft class. I decided to give it a try, even though I knew there was a very good chance I wouldn’t be well enough to participate. To my surprise suddenly I could get the words out. The tips I learned about fast drafting in that class really changed the way I wrote. Instead of editing as I worked, I started just banging out a fast, rough first draft. It was so freeing to allow myself to be creative and to turn off the editor in my head. Of course with no editor on duty, that meant my rough drafts were incredibly rough, and it would take me as much time to polish and edit a manuscript as it did to write it.

Before I was sick, I wrote romance, but now the stories coming out of me were much darker. Even more surprising—they were YA. Working on that first young adult book Awakening was a life saver. When your life is full of fatigue, your world becomes very small. You mourn the high energy person you used to be. You have so many limitations on the things you can do you get depressed. I took all that depression, all those dark thoughts and I poured them into my story. I spent the next two years writing the four books in the Dark Ritual series under the pen name Catrina Burgess. Those characters in the book, the Scooby gang as I call them, kept me entertained and I truly believed helped me get better. I’m still sick, and I still have a lot of limitations on the things I can do, but on a good day I can think clearly. I’m mentally 70% there, which is a huge improvement. More importantly, I’m well enough to write. I never realized how much I loved writing until I couldn’t do it anymore.

You’re published by Full Fathom Five – the publishing company launched by James Frey – who shot to fame years ago with his bestseller A Million Little Pieces – how did that come about and how is it going so far?

I’m with the infamous James Frey publishing through the Full Fathom Five Digital house. I wrote the first three books in my Dark Ritual series and posted them on Wattpad. Wattpad is a teen writing community. I honestly didn’t think anyone would be interested in reading my YA books. I was writing them to entertain myself and my teenage nieces. I was shocked when the series started to get a lot of traction on Wattpad. Before I knew it, the first three books had over 3 million reads. I was getting fan email from teens from all over the world. I decided to enter Awakening, the first book in the series into a Wattpad writing contest. To my amazement, out of 3,000 entries, Awakening was picked as one of ten winners of the Wattpad 2014 Prize. Awakening was named best suspense book. After winning the contest, I was contacted by Full Fathom Five.

I spent a good deal of time researching the new house and their management. It’s always a risk to go with a new house, but I decided to take the risk. It took six months to negotiate a contract we could both live with. Once I was on board with the house, I got to know the staff as I worked with them. And I really enjoyed working with them.

The toughest part of the whole process was the eight months of publisher edits. Since I signed in January and the first three books all came out the month of October, I was under very tough deadlines. But somehow I survived them, though I don’t remember much about last summer, it seemed to have whizzed by in a blur of edits.

I love how the series turned out. I adore the covers. And I would have happily continued working with FFF, but unfortunately the digital house this year decided to downsize. They are not taking on any new submissions. I plan to write a half-dozen books set in the same world as the Dark Rituals series, but now I’m free to do whatever I want with those books. It’s a bit scary having an orphaned series. It’s very unlikely another house will pick up the rest of the series. At the moment the plan is to self-publish the rest of the books. Nowadays when you self-publish you have to consider covers and edits. Those expenses come out of your own pocket. You cross your fingers and hope that the book sells enough to repay the money you paid out of pocket. There is no guarantee it will. There is a risk, but there is also quite a bit of freedom having full control over your book. It allows you to take more risks with the story and the characters.

Given your background at Romance Junkies – what do you think are some key things that every author should do to promote their books?

If you asked me this question three years ago, I would have had a pat answer for you. There seemed to be a roadmap that authors could follow to find success and sales. But in the last three years the publishing industry has been in a free fall. Suddenly authors who had been making a great living writing are having a hard time surviving.

I’ve given a lot of thought to why there has been such a drastic change in Romanceland in the last three years. Is it because Amazon changed its algorithms?  The fact that so many indie authors are now publishing romance? Has the avalanche of free books turned readers off from buying books? Could it be that the middle class is shrinking, and people seem to be working more which leaves them less time to read and less money to spend on books? I think it’s a combination of all of the above.

So what can an Author do that will ensure she/he sells a zillion books? If I could answer that question, I would be the most popular person in Romanceland. I think it’s still important to try and get your name out. It helps to be active on social media. Book blog tours, Facebook ads, reviews—I think these things still help with book sales. But when it comes to the big sales I think it’s lightening striking—the combination of timing and luck. If you are lucky enough to have a project that hits big with Amazon rankings and somehow gets found by the readers and those readers spread the word about the book to all their friends–you get this grass roots buzz happening. The rankings and readers interest gets the blogs all talking about the book, and the big sales seem to follow. I don’t know that anyone has found a guaranteed way to make all of those things happen. If they did, I’m sure the whole of Romanceland would be talking about it.

Personally, I’m going to try a few non-writing projects see if I can raise my Author visibility. In the fall I’m going to start doing YouTube videos about paranormal topics. Hopefully, I can make the videos informative yet zany enough to entertain my teen readers.

Let’s say your book has been out there for six months, and the shine is off the apple – what are some key things that an author should do to keep their name out there?

Another good question. The answer seems to be write more books. It’s a tough time in publishing—authors are expected to write multiple books a year and, at the same time, do a ton of social media and marketing. You see many authors struggling to find time to write with all the marketing they are doing. Some authors seem to be able to juggle the two seamlessly. I’ve seen authors who are somehow on Twitter all day long interacting with their readers and yet they still find time to write. I wonder when they sleep.

What do you love reading and who are three of your favorite authors?

I love Jennifer Estep’s spider series. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is on my “auto-buy” list. I just discovered Calia Read, and I love the books in her new series–Unravel and Unhinge.

You have chronic fatigue syndrome – how does it affect your writing and daily routine? What are some things you do to help keep yourself balanced?

Chronic fatigue is a dreadful thing to have. Most people don’t realize how debilitating fatigue can be. There are days when I feel like I have a house sitting on my shoulders and getting up and putting a load of dishes in the dishwasher seems like an impossible task. I’ve always been a type A personality, but no amount of mental strength or willpower can fight through that much fatigue.

I found what works for me, is if I set a weekly page count. I try to write every day, but that’s not always possible. I find with the weekly page count it helps me push myself to get pages done on those days when I feel well enough to write. But there are many days during the week when I’m too sick even to sit at the laptop. Especially if I overdo it.

Last Olympics the women’s volleyball team had a mantra they used—breath, battle, believe. It’s a mantra I’ve adopted to help me get a book done. I breathe and take it easy on days I can’t work. I battle and work on the book on days I feel good. And I believe that if I keep working away the book will eventually get done.

Bonus: What are you really good at and why? (can be something silly) J

I can crochet afghans. It disturbs and amuses my friends that I can crochet. I’m someone who lives in graphic t-shirts, jeans, and vans, and I guess crocheting is something that people always think of grandmothers as doing.  I’m good at it thanks to my very own grandmother who taught me how to crochet.

Thank you!!!!!

Connect with Catrina Burgess (aka Cat Brown) via her website and via facebook, goodreadswattpad, and via her blog

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J.M. Griffin is the bestselling author of the popular Vinnie Esposito Cozy Mystery Series – Today JM interviews her friend, romance author, Blanche Marriott in our new series called: Author 2 Author.

MG: I had a chance to chat with Blanche Marriott, a friend and wonderful author who has offered such heartfelt encouragement to me and others in our writing journeys, that I wanted to share her thoughts with you. Blanche writes romance with a great sense of humor, and I’ve enjoyed reading her stories. Thanks for sharing, Blanche!

Tell our audience a bit about yourself, your writing process, and how/why you became a writer.

BM: Like most writers, it begins with an idea, a story playing in your head, or voices acting out a scene. I had a story playing in my head for years until I finally decided it had to be written down.  It was a great story, the best thing anyone had ever written!  It would sell in an instant and I’d be instantly famous with talk shows knocking down my door for an interview. That story is now covered in dust and sits in drawer somewhere, never to see the light of day.  It was AWFUL!!  But that’s where the love of writing began. I knew I could do better, so I did.

JMG: When did you realize you wanted to write and why did you choose romance? 

BM: I’d always done writing of some sort, even as a child.  Poems, short stories. It was mostly for myself. A way of expressing myself. It wasn’t until college when an English professor wrote kind words on anything I passed in. He saw potential and I think that was the first time I took any of my writing seriously. Why did I choose romance?  Mostly because that’s what I enjoyed reading.  I loved a happy ending.

JMG: How many books do you have published? 

BM: 6 novels, 1 non-fiction satire.  I’ve written 14 total.

JMG: If you could offer advice to newbie authors, what would you say? 

BM: Persevere. It’s a long road, often times frustrating. But if you believe in yourself, you can do it. Don’t think that the first thing you write will sell like hotcakes like I did. It probably won’t.  The craft of writing is learned over a period of time, mostly trial and error.  By the time I got to my third book, I felt like I’d hit my stride and had some sort of idea what I was doing. It felt right, and it was. That was the first book I sold.

JMG: Tell us your opinion on Indie publishing versus traditional publishing? 

BM: Obviously, there’s something good to be said about both. Likewise, there are bad points for both. It’s much harder to get published today with traditional publishers (in my opinion) because they are only looking for the best of the best. When I sold my first book, it had been a long time coming–over 10 years.  Nowadays, with the tight competition, and the fewer new authors being bought, I fear that these new authors are in for a lot of disappointment. Indie publishing can satisfy that burning desire to be published, but it can leave one with the nagging question, “Is it really good enough?”

JMG: Have you ever independently published your work? If so, what did you take away from the process? You can tell us the good, the bad, and the ugly, we won’t mind!

BM: After selling 3 books traditionally, I decided to go the indie route because the book I really wanted to publish didn’t quite strike any publisher’s fancy. It was just a little off the beaten track so it was turned down across the board. I enjoyed the freedom of indie publishing. I felt I could write what I wanted, the way I wanted. That can be a drawback, because who says what I want to write is any good?  Again, we never know. But when I read the reviews, I feel vindicated.

JMG: I know you’ve taken a break from writing, but do you think you’ll return to it one day? 

BM: I suppose I might. They say once a writer, always a writer. I admit I still look at things with a writer’s eye: movies, TV shows, people watching. It’s second nature. Perhaps one day the bug will bite hard enough and I’ll have to bite back.

JMG: Do characters still pop up into your brain yearning to be put in a story? How do you handle it when that happens? 

BM: Yes, like I said in the previous answer, things still hit me from time to time. I don’t rush to get a paper and pen anymore like I used to, but maybe it’s a matter of exercising the brain, or greasing the wheels.  If I see enough awful plots out there, I might just have to write a better one.

ABOUT BLANCHE MARRIOTT:

Blanche Marriott began writing romance novels in 1991 while balancing her career as a wood products manufacturing manager. She often joined the troops in the factory, working on sanders, drills, and saws. It gave her time to “talk” to the characters in her head and figure out what they would do next. In 2001 she switched careers and now works for a CPA firm as an accounting assistant, specializing in payroll.

She has completed 14 novels while staying active in 2 writing groups, serving on the Boards of Directors several times, and a number of conference committees. But the best part was the life-long friendships she’s formed with so many writers, published and unpublished.

Her first published novel, KALEIDOSCOPE, won 2nd place in the 2003 WisRWA Write Touch Readers’ Award for published authors. Her second book, WAY OUT WEST, won the  prestigious New Jersey Romance Writers’ 2003 Golden Leaf Award for Short Contemporary. WAY OUT WEST was also a finalist in the 2004 Virginia Romance  Writers’ HOLT Medallion Awards.

Her current novels are ONE MORE NIGHT and HIS BROTHER’S BABY. She also has a non-fiction humor book, BORN TO BITCH, chronicling life’s little annoyances.

When she’s not writing, Blanche enjoys gardening, reading, and playing with her grandkids.

CONNECT WITH ROMANCE AUTHOR BLANCHE MARRIOTT via her website, on twitter, on facebook, and amazon.

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Sister Sister: Bea and Leah Koch

Many women dream about becoming romance authors. But how about becoming romance booksellers?  Meet – Bea and Leah Koch – the proud owners of The Ripped Bodice bookstore. And they LOVE what they do.

The Ripped Bodice is the only exclusively romance bookstore in the United States. Based in downtown Culver City (in the greater Los Angeles area), the store offers a wide selection of romance novels from every sub-genre. It also sells jewelry, stationery, beauty products, cute t-shirts and unique gift items.

The store is owned and operated by a dynamic sister duo – Bea and Leah Koch. The sisters have loved reading romance novels since they were teenagers and have always dreamed of opening a romance novel bookstore. Originally from Chicago,  Bea  went to Yale and NYU, where she wrote a graduate thesis titled, “Mending the Ripped Bodice.” Leah moved to Los Angeles to attend USC, graduating cum laude with a degree in visual and performing arts.

LP: Why did you want to open a bookstore that sells romance novels exclusively?

The Ripped Bodice

TRB: Quite simply, it’s what we love to read. But more seriously, we believed that it was long overdue and an important thing to bring to the romance community.

LP: When did it open and how did you get it off the ground?

TRB: We soft opened a week before March 4th, which is our official grand opening date. Our opening weekend was one long party with author signings and events – it was the perfect way to launch.

Temptation is around every corner at The Ripped Bodice

LP: Are there plans in the works to open at other locations?

TRB: Not at the moment, but we get asked all the time about expanding. We’re excited that so many readers want a Ripped Bodice in their town, but we’re focused on building the best business we can before we open another location.

LP: How has the romance community responded to your store?

TRP: The romance community has been so welcoming. We get customers from all over the world travelling to the store and it’s so exciting when they walk in and tell us they’ve come from Italy, Australia, you name it.

Happily ever afters abound at the Ripped Bodice

LP: How do you define a romance novel?

TRP: We use the Romance Writers of America definition – a central love story and a happy ending.

LP: When did you start reading romance and why do you love it so much?

TRP: We both started reading romance in our early teen years. I think for me (Bea) it was so incredible to see women’s stories and search for love centered. And I just fell in love with historical romance. I love the blend of fact and fiction and the way authors use their research to enhance their stories.

LP: What sorts of events do you hold in the store and what do you have coming up?

TRP: We have traditional author signings and readings, but we also try to offer a broad slate of events. We’ve had essential oil classes, ladies night out, and movie screenings. As I type this, we’re getting ready for our community book-club meeting, and we have an author signing this weekend with Alisha Rai, Carrie Ann Ryan and Alyssa Cole.

LP:  How has business been so far and is it everything you expected and more? How are customers reacting?

Lovely. Welcoming. Cozy. Inside The Ripped Bodice.

TRP: It’s so much more than we expected. When someone walks in and says something like, “I’ve been waiting my whole life for a store like this” there is such a feeling of pride, but also kinship. I’ve been waiting for a store like this as well! Of course, there are customers who aren’t as familiar with romance but we love that too because it’s what we’re most passionate about and we love sharing it. We hear variations of “you guys are so enthusiastic!” pretty regularly.

LP: What is your favourite aspect of running the Ripped Bodice?

TRP: I love recommending books. I feel so lucky that I get to introduce my favorite authors to new readers, and discovering new authors through our customers is incredible.

There is a lot to discover at The Ripped Bodice

LP: Besides books what else do you sell at your store?

TRP: We sell jewelry, candles, cards, prints, pins, bookmarks, etc. We try and merchandise beyond books in a thoughtful way. Everything fits together in some sense. We work with so many amazing female creators and makers beyond just authors.

LP: Have guys figured out that your store is a great place to meet women?  Is it mostly women who shop in your store or do you get men too? Men on their own or with a spouse or girlfriend? How has the reaction been from guys who visit the Store?

TRP: We’ve had lots of gentlemen come in with romantic partners or friends. The reaction is definitely different depending on whether they know what they’re walking into. We certainly welcome men into the store but we are primarily a space for women and that will always be our first priority.

LP: Are either of you interested in writing romance novels? If so what are you working on?

It’s about books, love, and happy endings at The Ripped Bodice.

TRP: Bea has always wanted to publish a romance novel (and she will one day!) but right now we are focused on the store.

LP: When boxes of books arrive – that is when your stock arrives – who gets to open the boxes first? And is there any “squeeing” involved?

TRP: There is, in general, a good amount of squeeing. It’s just such a joy to take these books out of boxes – and it wasn’t something we had really considered before opening. We were readers and fans first, so having a favorite’s new book a few days before it’s out is like having the most wonderful secret.

Two smart and enterprising women who turned their love of romance novels into a wonderful business.

LP: Bonus: Who do you fangirl over?

TRP: How much time do you have? So many amazing authors, Courtney Milan, Christina Lauren, Beverly Jenkins, Lisa Kleypas and Julia Quinn to name just a few.

Thank you so much for joining us today! 

If you’re an author and you would like your book considered for the store, or to set up a book signing you can contact Bea and Leah on the Author Page on their website.

For more information about THE RIPPED BODICE Bookstore, or to connect with Bea and Leah Koch visit their website, like their facebook, page and follow them on twitter, and instagram.

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I have always been a fan of comic books and graphic novels, not only as “novels,” but the art form itself and all the great storytelling that comes with them, storytelling that would not necessarily be dampened without the imagery provided within, but is enhanced through these images.

So many people see these graphic novels as “comic books,” which I’m sad to say to this day still carries with it a stigma of being pure drivel despite the wonderful titles out there and the millions of people who love and appreciate them. Unfortunately, the words “comic book” and “graphic novel” still do not get the respect they deserve.

Fortunately, the art of the graphic novel is beginning to be appreciated in society and academics with the aid of pioneers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman (The Sandman), James O’Barr, Michael Turner (RIP), Grant Morrison, Brad Meltzer, and hundreds of others. So, in an effort to spread this awareness that graphic novels are just that, “novels with images,” I give you a list of ten of the greatest graphic novels ever printed. Go read them. Let them inspire you. Let them inspire your writing or your art. I know they have inspired mine.

The Crow by James O’Barr– In many ways, the ultimate love story, as well as being the ultimate revenge tale too. Pick up the special edition of this one which has added content (including a dedication to the late Brandon Lee) by O’Barr that is not in the original and one of my favorite sequences ever, “An August Noel.”

Kingdom Come – Alex Ross’s realism artwork and beautiful storytelling make this story of DC’s iconic superheroes, aged and battered, making one last comeback.

The Dark Knight ReturnsFrank Miller’s pivotal tale of an aged Batman/Bruce Wayne forced out of retirement. Though I don’t particularly like Miller’s take on Superman, this graphic novel belongs on this list for the story it tells of the time worn caped crusader.

The Death of Superman– “The Best Selling Graphic Novel of All-Time” pretty much says it (though I think it no longer holds that title). Superman versus Doomsday in a battle to the death that shattered the worlds of a million readers (and childhoods). Pictured is my CGC graded copy I just obtained this year of one of the six issues in the Death of Superman comic run. This was my favorite issue when I was a kid.

Watchmen– Alan Moore’s iconic deconstructionist tale of flawed superheroes belongs on this list. There’s a reason it made “Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels of All Time.”

Final Crisis– This marks the death of Batman and single-handedly changed the DC Comics universe sparking the Battle for Batman’s cowl. Pivotal in its relevancy to the DC universe.

Batman: Hush– A dark tale with wonderful artwork by Jim Lee and a story that takes Batman on a hunt through Gotham in an attempt to discover the identity of the villain named Hush.

Wolverine: Old Man Logan – This sordid little tale of Wolverine in a post-apocalyptic America where the villains have triumphed and too few heroes remain to end their tyranny is tragic, beautiful and well-written.

Superman: Godfall– The beautiful art by Michael Turner (R.I.P.) really drives this story of an amnesiac Superman stuck in Kandor without powers and with a new lover, Lyla. The story’s themes of fascism, alien prejudice, misplaced deification, and terrorism give it a depth that makes Godfall much more than a simple superhero story.

Identity Crisis– One of DC’s best-selling series that handles many dark themes (sexual violence and brutal murder) and really redefined the mood/underlying themes of the DC universe. The mini-series run was selected as one of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens in 2007.

Morgan Chalfant is a native of Hill City, Kansas. He received his Bachelor’s degree in writing and his Master’s degree in literature from Fort Hays State University, where he now teaches writing.

You can purchase Ghosts of Glory by Morgan Chalfant at  Lachesis Publishing, Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble.

Connect with Morgan Chalfant on facebook, tumblr, and twitter.

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Venice, Italy was captured by Patricia Barletta’s imagination before she captured this photo.

Where does your story take place? In a galaxy far, far away? Or maybe in an anthill teeming with tiny creatures? No matter where you’ve chosen to place your characters, they have to be someplace. The setting of a story is much more than logistics – making sure a character doesn’t trip over a table or walk out a door that wasn’t there before. Setting is also a state of mind. We think one way if we’re on a busy city street in the summer and another if we’re trudging through the mountains in the middle of a blizzard. Characters in a story should, too. What if you’ve never experienced either of those conditions, but one or the other is important to the tale you want to tell? What if you want to set your story in a place where you’ve never been? How do you do that and make it authentic?

Image: www.ispirando.it

My book, Moon Dark, is set in Venice, Italy, in 1797. I’d never been to Italy when I decided to set my story there, and I certainly couldn’t time-travel back to the late eighteenth century. I knew a little bit about the city, that it had canals and gondolas, and a celebration called Carnevale, but not much else. So I had to do some serious research about the physical place, as well as its history and customs.

The first sources I went to were travel guides. These are great for giving the layout of a place, as well as the tourist attractions like historical sites, which were in everyday use in my historical story. Most have detailed street maps. Some show the floor plans and interiors of important buildings, and some others give details that only the natives know. This type of information is important if you want your characters to appear like they belong where you’ve put them.

Image: Merlin TV series http://www.bbc.co.uk

Next, my research took me to political histories of Venice. Even if you’re writing a story set in the present, a little knowledge of the setting’s history helps fill in background details, because no one lives in a vacuum. No matter who or what your character is, he/she/it should know or want to know something about the past, whether immediate or distant, because it impacts the present. In my case, I discovered that Venice has a long history of keeping secrets and protecting herself by using spies, called capo neri. Putting them in my story added another layer of danger and suspense.

One of Canaletto’s paintings of Venice Image: www.telegraph.co.uk

Every region of the world has its own rules of conduct, and we interact with each other differently now than we did in the past. I needed to discover how the Venetians lived their lives and where they slept. I delved into social histories, which explained customs and mores of the time. Since the buildings in Venice are unique because they have entrances which open directly onto the canals, I looked at books on architecture. Fortunately, at the time my story is set, landscape painting was the hot fad, and Canaletto was its master in Venice, so I was able to look at his artwork reproduced in books that showed scenes of the city. For stories set in the modern era, photography books work well. And of course there’s the app, Google Earth.

I happened to find a memoir written by a Venetian about his ancestor who lived at the time of my story, which gave me fabulous details about Venice and her inhabitants. Journals, travelogues, and newspapers are some other good resources for discovering what the people of a time and place are thinking about. Your characters may be focused on the action in your story, but other stuff is going on around them.

The next stop in my research journey took me to fashion books, because people move differently in corsets and petticoats and waistcoats and breeches than they do in tee shirts and jeans. Besides, readers of romance want to know what the characters in a story are wearing. Finally, cookbooks reveal how and what people from a specific region eat. You are what you eat, right? And don’t forget to check the weather. It’s not sunny and seventy-two degrees everywhere all the time. You can get details about conditions at different times of the year online. You can even find out the specific date the moon was full centuries ago.

Patricia Barletta (right) with her friend enjoying Venice.

Serendipity plays a big role in research. I’ve tripped over quite a few interesting details that I’ve used in my stories to make my characters and settings more authentic. Once you get the sense of a place, you can extrapolate and let your imagination run wild. I don’t think there ever was a Canale di l’Ombres (Canal of Shadows) in the real city of Venice, but I put one there.

I finally got to travel to Italy last year and see Venice. It was everything I imagined – magical and mysterious and beautiful. And I was thrilled to discover that a lot of my descriptions matched the actual sites. But I can’t decide which was more fun: creating it in my imagination or riding through its canals and walking its alleys.

Moon Dark

Patricia Barletta writes historical romance with paranormal elements. Her first release with Lachesis Publishing is MOON DARK and it’s the first in a new and exciting series called the AURIANO CURSE SERIES. You can buy it here at Lachesis Publishing or on amazon, kobo, Barnes and Noble.

Find out more about Patricia Barletta and her books on her website: www.patriciabarletta.com.

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Graphic Designer Tammy Seidick

Tammy Seidick is a graphic designer from Allentown, PA, who designs book covers, among her many talents. She has a BFA (Bachelors of Fine Arts) and an MA (Masters in Publication Design). She’s married with two boys (ages 14 and 10) so she is busy! In her spare time she loves attending her sons’ sporting events and cuddling with her two cats while watching “too many” True Crime videos on YouTube. Welcome Tammy!

LP: Tell us how you got started in book cover design and why?

TS: My mother-in-law, the fabulous NYT Bestselling Author Kasey Michaels, decided to start self-publishing her backlist in 2010. I created her ebooks and covers, and my book cover design business has grown from there.

LP: Do you work independently or are you affiliated with a particular publishing house?

TS: I design covers for both indie authors and publishers. I work with Kensington Publishing and Open Road Media.

LP: Tell us about your process – how do you go from a “blank computer screen/canvas” to a finished cover?

TS: After consulting with the client, of course, I start with a stock image search. I download dozens of possibilities, and then, in Photoshop, I piece together a select few to form the background of the cover. Then, I add the title/author name. Sometimes I add a series logo. I send the client 2-3 comps to review. After we go through a couple rounds of revisions, I finalize the cover with hi-res images. Then, I deliver the final files to the client!

LP: Why are covers important in your opinion?

TS: A good book cover should quickly broadcast the book’s genre. It should be effortless for the reader to know what type of book is under that cover. It is the very first impression a reader has of your book and it should be professional, eye-catching and discernible at a thumbnail size.

LP: Who are some of your clients and what covers did you do for them?

TS: Some of my indie-author clients are Kasey Michaels (Everything’s Coming Up Rosie, Escapade), Lindsay McKenna (DELOS series, including Nowhere to Hide), Jill Gregory (Something Borrowed Something Blue, Never Love A Cowboy), Ruth Ryan Langan (Highland Barbarian, Duchess of Fifth Avenue), and Emelle Gamble (Molly Harper, Duets).

LP: What have you just finished – that will be out soon?

TS: Lots of romance and thriller covers for Lyrical Press (Kensington Publishing). I’m also currently working on new ebook covers for Kasey Michaels’ “Maggie Kelly” woman sleuth series. Figuring out the look for this batch of covers is a bit challenging since the books are part romance, part cozy mystery.

LP: Indie/self-publishing is very big right now – but not all indie authors hire pros for their covers ––why they should work with a professional cover designer.

TS: A few years ago, an indie author might have been able to get away with an amateur-designed cover, but not these days. Competition for readers’ eyeballs is fierce. Your reader is scrolling through dozens and dozens of book covers, and yours should visually blend with indie-published and traditionally-published books alike. Only a professional designer (or a very good amateur!) can provide that.

LP: Share with us a few of your “Oscar-worthy” golden moments – toot your own horn – about some of your accomplishments that you’re really proud of.

Cover Model Jason Aaron Bacca has been featured on more than 400 book covers

TS: Recently, cover model Jason Aaron Baca has been getting a lot of press. I’ve used his photos on a number of covers, specifically the DELOS series by Lindsay McKenna. Because of that, I’ve been lucky enough to have my covers featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune among others. Other than that fun bit, I’m always pleased when anyone who reviews my book covers says that my covers are well-targeted to the book’s audience. For a graphic designer, that’s what it’s all about — communicating a clear message to the viewer.

LP: Let’s talk costs. How much do you charge for a cover? And do you offer other services – like formatting?

TS: My book cover design costs depend a bit on what an author needs. Anyone interested can go to my website for more info: com. 🙂 I don’t offer formatting services, but I work with an awesome formatter who I can highly recommend.

LP: Who are a few of your favourite authors? What do you enjoy reading?

TS: I’ve recently re-started my horror author kick. Years ago, I read everything by Peter Straub and was greatly affected by his classic Ghost Story. I’m just about finished with it now. I wanted to see if it still scared me. (It did!) I also recently read Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives for the first time. I have pretty varied reading interests. I also recently enjoyed a non-fiction audio book, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin and a nutrition book, The China Study.

LP: Bonus: When you’re working on designing a cover –what is your go-to snack?

TS: I prefer salty snacks over sweet. My downfall is when I’m working late at night and I reach for something like tortilla chips or Cheez-Its. And I. Can’t. Stop. 🙂

Thank you Tammy for joining us today! 🙂

Tammy’s cat Ci Ci oversees all of Tammy’s work.

You can reach Tammy Seidick on her website, facebook, and twitter.

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Yamaha 50cc – Just like Dad used to ride.

When I was about eight years old, my dad put me on the back of his white Yamaha 50cc motorcycle for a ride. We ended up in a field by the shopping center and he asked if I wanted to ride by myself.

Are you kidding me?

He helped me get a leg up and balanced the bike for me. A quick tutorial on the controls, and I was off. Well, off for about fifty feet when I hit a rut in the dirt and promptly fell over, spraining my arm. When we got home, mom wasn’t too happy and that was the end of my motorcycle training.

Later, my older brother by eight years came home with a big, blue bike. It was so shiny and I loved how the paint sparkled in the sun. He’d take me for rides and I’d laugh the entire time; it felt so good to go fast. Then he wrecked it on a busy street and broke his leg. Determined to keep us alive, my mom declared no more motorcycles or riding while we lived with her. She even said no to flying lessons, which seemed a whole lot safer (to me, anyway). That was the seventies, if you’re counting.

Teri and Ivan

In the eighties, I got married, had a couple of great sons, divorced, and forgot about going fast. Until I met Ivan.

By now it was 2011 and here was a guy with a couple of motorcycles who’d been riding most of his life. That’s when I remembered the feeling of going fast. The little girl inside me was excited by the prospect of learning to ride. The fifty-something-year-old woman was feeling iffy about the whole thing, but game to give it a go. I am nothing, if not willing to try most anything at least once.

So, in 2012, I learned to ride.

Get your motor runnin’ . . .

Four years later, I’ve discovered a lot about myself while motorcycling. For starters, I know everyone in a car wants to kill me. Now, I’m not pessimistic by nature, but people in cars just don’t see motorcycles, so YOU have to always be aware of THEM. Second, I worry too much (see previous point). And, riding is a lot like yoga. I’m always practicing to do something better or with more awareness than the last time I was out.

One of the unexpected perks of riding is how it’s changed the way I see the world. The colors around me are much more vibrant when I’m on a bike. I can’t escape the ‘scents’ of the road, be it a flat skunk, trailer of pigs, or someone cooking on a grill. Everything is more immediate, in the moment. It’s these things, and others, which I believe have made me a better writer, particularly with sensory detail.

Confidence can come in many ways.

I’ve also learned to take risks and I’ve watched that translate over into my stories as well. I’ve never written contemporary mystery, but when tempted with the opportunity, immediately jumped on it. Stepping out of comfort zones is how we grow. I believe strong women are the most interesting ones, so those are who I write about, be it a ninth century healer, a Victorian time traveler, or an ex-Detroit detective returning to her small home town to take over as police captain. My goal is always to inspire others to take chances and live their dreams.

Teri Barnett writes historical, paranormal, and time travel romance. You can purchase her books  Through the Mists of Time, Shadow Dreams, and Pagan Fire at Lachesis Publishing. or you can purchase Teri’s books on amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Connect with Teri Barnett online via facebook and twitter, and check out her web site.

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Highlands of Papua New Guinea Image: www.ourmedia-network.org

I never intended to be an author. I became one by accident. My father had been a great story-teller and when my first two children came along, we were living in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. There was no tv and no cinemas, so I took on the role of story-teller. I read little-people’s books if I could find any, told the stories I’d hears as a child or, in most cases, made them up myself. It was years later, when I was doing the same thing for my grand-daughter, that I thought up a plot that rang a bell. I knew I wanted to continue with this story and write the book.

So I took a couple of courses with Australia’s TAFE (Department of Technical and Further education). This didn’t give many ideas on marketing a story, just writing it. Then my first publisher, Zeus Publications, gave me some more ideas, arranged my first radio interview and my first book-signing at an Angus and Robertson store (one of the biggest book store chains in Australia at the time but sadly gone now). So I expanded these early strategies and used local newspapers and radio stations to advertise the books and give dates on which I would be book-signing in that area. 

Now, this is where my luck came in, in two ways. I worked full time but in a job where I could put in extra hours for a week or two, so that I could have a work-day off later, and I have friends who are teachers (and who read my books and enjoyed them). So, I was introduced to other teachers whose classes were in the right age group and whose teachers were glad to have a visit from a ‘published author’ and had times that were suitable for me to make visits. I knew the first time I faced my prospective audience would be vital, so I planned well ahead.

Now for a load more luck and some evidence of planning that paid off. I was very conscious that I would be writing for younger people – 12 to 82 year-olds as it has turned out. So I avoided swearing, sex and even romance (which I can’t write anyway) in my books, and this was just what was needed to have the books accepted for the New South Wales Premier’s Reading Challenge. That means they would be in the lists from which students taking part in the challenge, could read. This made the books additionally attractive for libraries in that State. That means I had a huge potential reading group provided with no extra work from me. It also was a great ‘in’ when talking to teachers.

The rest is history (or rather time-travel).

Richard Blackburn has written a three-book YA time travel/adventure series for Lachesis Publishing, called Guardians of the Gate, featuring a university student who travels back to Medieval England only to discover she has some amazing powers she never knew she had. Book 1 Dawn of the Sentinel and Book 2, Return of the Sentinel, and Book 3: Rise of the Gatekeeper. You can purchase the books at Lachesis Publishing, amazon, barnes and noble, kobo and iBooks.

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Image: wellnesswritingretreats.com

For the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend writer and artist retreats. While you may think there are considerable differences, and there are some, the foundation of these types of retreats is creativity and what the effect is on those who attend.

There are many things that happen when attending these functions, such as listening to speakers, learning to use methods we haven’t tried before, eating great food we didn’t cook ourselves, and most of all we gather together to network and grow. We meet different people, get to sit and chat with our friends while making new ones. You might find yourself at a table with an agent, editor, publisher, a new author, a seeking-to-be author, and multi-published novelists/hybrids. The list goes on, but you get the idea. What a perfect time to ask those questions you’ve been trying to find the answers to from those who have been there, done that. A dining table is a perfect place for conversation, take advantage of it.

Image: mainewriters.org

Every year, some friends and I attend the Maine Writer’s Retreat in Portland. We’re greeted with enthusiasm, warmth, and much friendliness, which encourages us to return year after year. The RIRW retreat is the same way, and a good time is had by all.

Retreats allow us to relax, to connect without inner creativity, to learn from one another and the presenters, who are as relaxed as everyone else. You’ll find speakers are more willing to sit and talk with you, to be available to us, the creative people, who are interested in what their specialty.

Unlike conferences, where large amounts of money are required to participate in all the events taking place, including hotel costs, and airfare charges, I find retreats offer cozier accommodations and fewer attendees that make the atmosphere warmer than conferences will. While I enjoy both of these get-togethers, I would choose a retreat over a conference unless, of course, I was interested in attending speaker events all day, or pitching my latest work. This is only my personal preference, and I acknowledge others may feel differently, especially if they are only starting out and want to learn the ins and outs of the writing and publishing business.

Image: Hopkinton, Rhode Island Writer’s Retreat

To make the most of either of these venues, we must step outside our comfort zone and talk to complete strangers instead of remaining with our friends, to be daring enough to pose questions to those people we stand in awe of. It’s difficult, but we can do it, all of us, because to network, we must leave our comfort zone. Retreats are offered all over the place. Google has lists of them for writers, including Christian writing retreats, and more. I Googled writer retreats for New England and came up with some great places in Massachusetts, Vermont, and one in Hopkinton, RI.

An upcoming retreat in Portland, Maine can be found here:  and another will be held in New Hampshire this fall in Manchester, NH. For more information on finding a Writer’s Retreat near you or somewhere you really want to go check out writersretreat.com – a great resource that lists retreats worldwide.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

J.M. Griffin. is the author of two cozy mystery series for Lachesis Publishing. The popular (and sexy) Vinnie Esposito series and the fun (and yummy) Deadly Bakery series and the co-author of the dark and compelling Linty Dragon Mystery Series. Book 1 Dragon’s Touch is out now!

Connect with J.M. Griffin on social media: twitter, web site, facebook

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Ray Bradbury

In May 1983, I was 16 years old and a junior at San Bernardino High School in California. One of my best friends, Rodney King, was a senior at Pacific High School across town. Rod told me that Ray Bradbury was scheduled to give a presentation at his school. I was on San Bernardino High’s newspaper and persuaded my teachers to give me permission to report on the presentation.

On the morning of Ray Bradbury’s talk, Rod picked me up and we drove to Pacific High School. We were walking across campus, when the principal stopped us. She saw I was carrying a tape recorder and asked if we were reporters from other schools. I confirmed I was. She then said, “Mr. Bradbury is having lunch in the library, would you care to join him?” Of course, we leapt at the opportunity. There he was, the man himself! Ray Bradbury in the library talking to teachers and administrators. He seemed pleased to see some students there as well and we joined in the conversation.

David Lee Summers’ signed copy of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Once we finished lunch, we adjourned to the auditorium where Bradbury spoke and answered questions about his work. Afterwards Rod and I went up to him to say goodbye and thank him for talking to us. He pulled us aside and said, “I’m going out for cocktails with some of the teachers after this. Would you care to join us?” Of course we agreed and spent another hour with him. It was truly a magical day. I remember he told the story of how he came up with the story “The Veldt” from The Illustrated Man. He read some of his poetry. He encouraged us to read and write every day. All of that has remained with me over the years. Sadly, these were the days before everyone carried a cell phone much less invented he word “Selfie,” so I don’t have a picture with him, but he signed my copies of Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I treasure to this day.

I next had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Bradbury about two years later when he spoke at California State University at San Bernardino. That was a brief visit and he signed a copy of Dinosaur Tales for me. What I most remember is that when I stepped up to him in the autograph line, he immediately recognized me, stepped around the desk where he was signing, and gave me a hug.

I didn’t see Mr. Bradbury again until early 1995. At that point, I was living in Tucson. He came out to speak at a writer’s workshop held at the University of Arizona. I attended with my wife, Kumie, and my friend, William Grother. He gave a wonderful presentation over lunch where he told us a person should read a short story, a poem and an essay every day. “Imagine how much you will learn,” he said. He also told us about his experiences in Ireland, writing the Moby Dick screenplay for John Huston. Again, I had an opportunity to visit with Mr. Bradbury. He gave me and Kumie hugs and we left him to speak to other fans.

A couple of years later, I saw a copy of Green Shadows, White Whale, book of collected Ray Bradbury’s stories about working for John Huston in Ireland. I remembered his stories from the workshop so fondly that I immediately bought the book and read it right away.

About that time, I was also reading submissions for a magazine I was editing called Hadrosaur Tales. Three stories in a row that described a knight climbing a mountain to slay some hapless dragon. I found myself asking, “Isn’t there a fresh way to tell this story?” I thought of Ray Bradbury in Ireland, writing Moby Dick. The question occurred to me, what if teams of people flew out in airships and hunted dragons? I wrote the story of a young man named Rado who joined such a crew. Rado was named for Ray Douglas Bradbury. When the story was published in Realms of Fantasy magazine, I sent Mr. Bradbury a copy and told him the story of how I came up with the idea. He wrote back a few days later and said how much he enjoyed that day in 1983 at Pacific High School, how proud he was of me, and that “The Slayers” was a “fine story.”

Ray Bradbury in 1978 (The Paris Review)

If you’d like to hear Ray Bradbury speak, my friend Gloria McMillian recently pointed me to a YouTube video recorded in 2001, the year my story was published in Realms of Fantasy. In it, he gives terrific advice and tells many great stories from his years as a writer. You can watch it at: here.

Back in 1983, Ray Bradbury told the story of visiting a carnival when he was a child. A man called Mr. Electrico strapped himself into an electric chair. With lightning arcing all around, Mr. Electrico pointed a lightning rod at the young Bradbury and said, “live forever!” That’s the moment Ray Bradbury decided to be a writer, so he could live forever.

That day, Ray Bradbury pointed at me and said, “Live forever, submit your stories now!” I have lived by that ever since and now it’s my turn to point to you. “Live forever!” 

You can purchase David Lee Summers’s books at Lachesis Publishing, on amazon, Barnes and Noble, kobo, and iBooks.

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