Cover Makeover

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New cover!

Sometimes, the hardest part of change is admitting that you need some.

Okay, here I go (deep breath): some things about the way I’ve been marketing my books are not working. So I’m taking it one step at a time, looking at my book descriptions, keywords, categories, all those bits and bobs self-publishing authors have to learn about to help us become more visible to readers.

The first step in my evil plan to achieve world domination (or just, you know, sell a book or two) is to re-evaluate some of my covers. A lot of publishers refresh their books’ covers over time, as styles change, and I plan to do some of that. But this one cried out to me right away.

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This girl needs a makeover.

I liked the idea for the original cover for Catering Girl at first. But I think it might have been too high-concept for the story. The intention was for it to be a representation of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, except with the substitution of the coffee cup for the little movie camera: the award goes to…the catering girl.

Crickets. Major crickets. Crickets with jazz hands.

In retrospect, I think the intention might have been good, but the overall execution was confusing. The granite texture says serious and even funereal. The frothy, piped-icing look of the title font says “cute bake-shop cozy mystery.” The story is neither of those things. I think I was trying to lighten the tone of a graphic I had fallen much too far in love with, and send a message that “although this story has some substance, it’s also fun!”

Together, it said, “Uh, no.”

I’ve been meaning to revise the cover for a while, hunting for images in my spare time. Everything looked too light and fluffy—poolside girlfriends, umbrella drinks on pristine glass tables. Then I found this lovely number. Something about it said “Frankie” to me right away. It said “snarky and just a little dark, and how does she do that without spilling her drink?” So, I think it’s a better fit and will hopefully select the right readers.

Onward and upward, as they say.

Catering Girl

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Coming soon on Amazon!

Stand-up comic Frankie Goldberg is one of my favorite characters. She popped into my head while I was stuck in traffic in the middle of Woodstock, New York, and she had a story to tell me. That initial meeting eventually became The Joke’s on Me. But before Frankie reunited with her family, she wreaked a little havoc in Hollywood. Catering Girl is a novella from that chapter of her life.

Frankie keeps getting fired from her day jobs, thanks to her smart mouth and a lot of other bad habits. Now a thirty-something catering assistant on a movie set, she reluctantly agrees to bring a cappuccino to the resident diva. The young star Anastasia Cole is in tears, distraught about disturbing changes in the script. Frankie serves a side of common sense with the coffee, and excited to have an ally, Anastasia offers her the role of a lifetime. It’s not what Frankie had in mind—but being needed might be exactly what she needs.

I’m excited to share a bit of Catering Girl with you here, before I publish it this weekend.

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Catering Girl

Chapter 1

I wasn’t supposed to be smoking on set, even though it was an outdoor shoot nearly halfway to the Mojave Desert. I wasn’t supposed to be smoking at all, having promised everyone who still loved me that I’d quit. But lack of sleep and a vicious hangover made for a deadly combination that lowered my willpower to zilch. I’d just lit up, intent on spending my midmorning break in contemplation of my bad habits, when a voice perforated my muzzy thoughts.

“Catering! You there, catering!”

Busted. I ground my cig underneath one designer heel and prepared for another lecture. Snapping his fingers at me was the producer’s son, an entitled little creep with a Napoleon complex and a suspiciously low hairline. Per my contract with the studio, I didn’t have to man my station for another ten minutes. For almost anybody else involved in this movie, I would have hopped to, probably with a joke and a smile, but I had no intention of saluting this guy’s flag any sooner than required.

My deficiency of hop-to did not appear to please him. His eyes narrowed to nasty slits. “What are you, deaf? Cappuccino to trailer three, nonfat milk. Don’t screw it up.”

Speaking of entitlement. “I’m not going in there.” I’d yet to meet the performer in person, but the last coffee jock who’d gone into Anastasia Cole’s trailer had exited wearing the cappuccino, then kept on walking.

If either he or Miss Silicone thought that a slew of forgettable slasher flicks and one Oscar—best supporting actress, in a slow year—earned her the right to go full-on diva, they both had another thing coming. I didn’t care that my teenage nephew adored her and had seen all her movies, some twice.

The heir apparent sighed. “Okay, what’s it worth to you?”

“Excuse me?”

He pulled out his wallet. “Ten bucks?”

Ten bucks? I saw what that putz drove onto the set. My parents hadn’t paid that much for their house. “Fifty,” I countered. “But if she throws it at me, I’m walking, too. And I’ll take the entire catering unit with me.”

I had no authority to pull up stakes, but I’d been working with guys like this for years. It seemed a safe bet that beyond his own imagined influence, he didn’t have a clue who was responsible for what.

A vein bulged on his left temple. “Christ. You’re as bad as the agents. Anastasia won’t do the nude scene, the other producers are threatening to bail, and now the catering girl is shaking me down for a lousy cup of coffee.”

Catering girl? I straightened my spine, which probably didn’t make me any taller than my usual five foot five, sans moussed curls and impractical footwear, but it made me feel more intimidating. “What did you call me?”

He got right up in my face. “Catering. Girl. No power.” He pointed to himself. “Producer. Power. Get the difference?”

I smiled sweetly at him. “Thank you for clearing that up for me. Now let me give you some advice. When Daddy makes you drive to McDonald’s to pick up dinner for the crew, don’t forget the french fries. Makes the union guys pissy.”

Then I turned and started for my car, forcing a cool, confident walkaway so he wouldn’t see that I was having a quiet nervous breakdown over what I’d just done. It was a crappy movie, but I needed this job, bad. In the thirteen years since little Frankie Goldberg had left the East Coast and the comfort of my mother’s brisket, the career as a famous movie star hadn’t panned out. Nor had I been doing very well as a fair-to-middling standup comic. The only marketable skill I had left was a knack for cooking in large quantities. At the moment, I couldn’t afford to put my job on the line just to make a point. I had bills coming due, my beat-up Barracuda was on its last cylinder, and I owed my sister and her current husband, at her last accounting, six hundred and thirty-two dollars and fifteen cents.

It was the fifteen cents that bothered me the most.

“All right,” he said. “Fifty. And I’ll talk to her first.”

I let out my breath. For fifty bucks, I’d even draw a little heart in the foam. “Nonfat milk, you said?”

A Few Reviews

Screen shot 2016-04-25 at 9.09.18 AMIt’s been far too long since I talked about what I’ve been reading, and I hope to get back to doing this on a regular basis. Here are a few stories I’ve particularly enjoyed lately.

Rainbow’s Edge by Leland and Angelo Dirks

If you’ve read any of the TwoMinutesGo flash fiction either here or on JD Mader’s blog, then you might know Leland Dirks. I’ve been a fan of his writing since I read Jimmy Mender and His Miracle Dog, and I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of Rainbow’s Edge. And I could not stop reading it. In fact, I read it twice. I was completely pulled into the world of this story, a journey of a father and son unspooling the truth of a troubled past as the son lays comatose in his hospital bed. It would have been so easy to push a story like this into melodrama and sentimentality, but in the hands of this skilled author, it is neither of those things. If you enjoy magic realism and tales of redemption and forgiveness, I highly recommend this moving and beautifully written story. (Available for preorder here until April 30.)

FScreen shot 2016-04-25 at 9.02.23 AMinding Travis by Melissa Bowersock (No Time for Travis, Book One)

As of this writing, Finding Travis is up for nomination on Kindle Scout. I am a fan of Melissa Bowersock’s smooth, agile writing style. And I think this story is one of my favorites of hers. Travis is adrift, his marriage all but over, spending his free time as a historical re-enactor for tourists visiting Arizona’s Fort Verde. Then a celestial anomaly—we think—pulls him back in time to the frontier days at the same location, where he is assigned to medical duties in a world before the existence of penicillin and modern surgical hygiene practices. The historical details are seamlessly woven with the plot and the character development (I have a book-crush on Travis’s assistant, Riley), making for a lovely, engaging read. I hear there’s a sequel coming, and I can’t wait to read it.

Wife Material: A Novel of Misbehavior and Freedom by Deborah Cox

I like getting out of my comfort zone once in a while, so I chose this title. Wife Material tells a story of religious abuse and sexual repression in the modern Church of Christ. This was one powerful, fascinating, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching story. I was so deep into the reading that at one point, my husband popped into my room and I actually got angry at the disruption. I couldn’t even talk for a while, after reading some parts. The scenes bounce around in time, which as a reader intrigues me, especially when it’s done well.

What have you been reading lately?

 

The Magic of Writing Fiction about Magic

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I’ve loved magic since I was a kid. I eagerly watched magicians on television, especially Doug Henning, Harry Anderson, and David Copperfield. It looked so cool that they could appear to cut a person in half, make something vanish, or perform some other jaw-dropping feat. In my head, I knew that the illusions performed were not physically possible. Harry Anderson wasn’t “really” sticking a giant hatpin right through his arm on Saturday Night Live. David Copperfield wasn’t “really” making a 747 disappear. Doug Henning didn’t just…do that, did he? But I still was enthralled. The craft of illusion fascinated me, and even though I was able to suspend my disbelief, I admired the work and practice it must have taken to make the performances look so smooth.

Then I had a chance to peek behind the curtain. I lived with a magician for a few years, and he had a lot of magician friends. I watched them practice; I went to their shows; I learned about their props. And for a short time, I was an actual assistant, right down to the fishnet tights and misdirection. I wasn’t very good at my job, but it was a lot of fun to dress up on a weekend and try to get people to put money in our hat. I learned how to juggle and perform a few simple illusions, much to the delight of various small, fussy children and their weary parents.

I still watched the professionals with agog, even though most of the time I knew how the tricks worked. I met Harry Anderson in a Manhattan magic store (he’s adorably sweet and freakishly tall), I spoke with David Copperfield after one of his shows (eerily intense and possibly a vampire), ditto Jeff McBride (less eerily intense than Copperfield though), among others. But there was one thing I noticed time and time again.

Nearly all of the women I’d met in magic were the assistants. They were better than I had been, earned a lot more money than I had, but they weren’t headlining.

My career ambitions lay elsewhere, and just as well, because as I said, I wasn’t very good at my assistant job. You need to be flexible to fold yourself into some of those illusions, and that wasn’t in my skill set. But the question still ruminated in the back of my mind: why aren’t there more women in magic?

As I grew into writing and left magic to the professionals, I discovered two fundamental truths. First, no experience is wasted. Second, certain themes and ideas resonate for a reason. I hoped that one day I would find a suitable vehicle for my magical past and write about a woman who wanted to be a magician in her own right. And then Christina Davenport popped into my head. When I first “met” her, she was a snarky waitress, auditioning to become a magician’s assistant, hoping he wouldn’t figure out that she wanted to use him as a springboard into her own spotlight. It was a sort of power struggle between her and the magician: he wanted her to get inside a box illusion and she didn’t want to reveal her claustrophobia or her ambitions. When I started asking her more questions, a story developed.

How to handle the magic in the story was another challenge.

I’d hung around enough magicians to have internalized the idea that you don’t spill the secrets. Even though magicians like Penn and Teller do let a few cats out of the bag, it’s done strategically, and to let the audience share in the wonder of how something is done.

But how could I write a story set in a background of street and stage magic without a little peek inside—enough to pull a reader into the world and make the (sometimes imagined for the sake of the story) illusions look real without ticking off the magicians by revealing too much? Well, the magicians union hasn’t made me disappear yet, so maybe I struck the right balance.

Another reason I liked working with the theme of magic is that it sort of mirrors the art of fiction itself. Fiction writers harness the power of misdirection, of showmanship, and throw around a little sleight of hand when needed. So even though I might have been a bad assistant, maybe it was because I was really rehearsing for a different role in magic.

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A quick and shamelessly promotional note—for a limited time, A Sudden Gust of Gravity will be available free from The Choosy Bookworm. If you sign up for the Read and Review program, you’ll get a free copy of the book in exchange for your honest review. Even though it’s listed under “suspense and thrillers,” the story is more on the suspense-y, romance-y side. Categories are funny sometimes.

A Year of Reading Indie

IU-reading-challenge-ksb-300x205Happy New Year!

If one of your goals for 2016 is to get out of your reading comfort zone, Indies Unlimited has cooked up a little challenge for you. And I’m really looking forward to this. Twelve months, twelve books, twelve indie authors.

Ready to make your first choice? IU minion, author, and super-reader Candace Williams explains the challenge here.

Holiday Giveaway News

GobbleOne of my favorite parts of being an author is sharing my books with readers. As an independent author, I get to give them away whenever I want to. And that makes me smile.

It’s even more fun around the holidays, especially when I’m getting together with other authors who are doing the same. I’ve probably told you about a few of these things in various places, but I wanted to gather them up here for you:

You still have time to enter the E-Novelists At Work/Choosy Bookworm Giveaway for a chance to win books and swag from thirty different authors, as well as one of two gift cards that could stretch your holiday budget.

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Over the US Thanksgiving weekend (November 27-30) I’ll be just one of many authors participating in a Facebook party thrown by Master Koda Select Publishing. They’re a great crew, and they’ve generously let me be part of the family during their events over the last couple of years. If you want to take a break and have a little fun, we’ll have games, prizes, and a drawing for a bunch of free books and other goodies. They’ve foolishly allowed me to take their stage for an hour on Friday, November 27 at 7 p.m. EST. Mwa ha ha… You can join the party here. 

If you pop over to Goodreads, you can enter the giveaway for one of two signed copies of A Sudden Gust of Gravity. Drawing ends December 9.

For those of you who celebrate, I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving. I know I have a lot to be thankful for.

 

Halloween Anthology: Boo! Volume Three

Screen shot 2015-10-11 at 6.28.13 PMHappy Sunday! Halloween is almost upon us in North America-land, and with it comes the release of the newest Boo! anthology. Boo! Volume Three contains thirteen Halloween-inspired tales by an eclectic mix of authors, including Ann Cathey, Jen Daniele, Erin McGowan, LB Clark, Mala Rheston, Kristina Jackson, Rich Meyer, David Antrobus, and JD Mader.

Where else can you get that much talent and spooky fun for just 99 cents? Proceeds go to charity, and this year, the DB Collective has chosen The Turtle Island Restoration Project, an organization dedicated to protecting oceans and marine wildlife.

Thank you for your time. I hope you enjoy our stories.