Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Book in Search of a Cover

The manuscript is written. The editing and revision are progressing. But your thoughts are locked on a visual representation of your story. The protagonist has been in your head for months, possibly even years, indistinct in exact details—you don’t want anything too recognizable: no photos of starlets or hunks. Other characters live in your head as nebulous physical entities.

What are distinct are the props: houses, trees, a painting, a ball gown, a uniform, the main street, a churchyard. But do any of these express the essence of the novel?

For my novel, Wait a Lonely Lifetime, published by Avalon in 2012, the cover artist chose a night scene of the Ponte Vecchio—one of the most recognizable landmarks in Florence. Though this bridge is mentioned several times in the novel, including a reference to World War II and how it was saved from destruction, the Vecchio does not represent the underlying theme of second-chance at love.

I followed this safe, tried and true, method of cover design with my second novel, published in 2014, using a photo of the city in which the novel, Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls, takes place. Initially, we used a silhouette including the skyline, ballet slippers and a flying reptile, but this didn’t make the cut to the paperback edition. Following this publication, I used flora to indicate the season of the story but had little to do with the story.

My current work in progress, Pavane for Miss Marcher, is an historical novel, set in the 1870s in a rural village in Maine. The male protagonist is a Civil War veteran who returns home many years later, suffering from guilt and an aching heart, hoping to find the woman whose one letter had given him hope that he could once again be human.
 









A red ball gown, a painting of lilies, a pumpkin patch, a piano, a New England house or village?




Saturday, May 13, 2017

First, an apology. I missed my scheduled blog date last month. No excuses other than I can be a ditz at times and I just forgot the date.

Now onto this month’s rant.

About a month or so ago my husband’s cousin answered the phone only to have a man tell her that her elderly mother had missed jury duty and had to pay a fine immediately or she’d be arrested and go to jail. She was alarmed, naturally. But fortunately for her, the scammer made a revealing mistake. He mispronounced the name of the county where she lives. The local television network did a story on it you can watch here:

http://wlos.com/news/local/asheville-woman-became-skeptical-when-suspected-scammer-mispronounced-buncombe-county

Anyone in the Asheville, NC, Sheriff’s Office would presumably know that Buncombe County is pronounced BUN-cum (just like the bunkum he was spinning) and not Bun-COM-bee. Until he made that mistake he had her nearly convinced and very worried.

The scammers are everywhere these days. I don’t even answer my phone anymore if I don’t recognize the number. Anyone who really wants to talk to me will leave a message. I’ve probably gotten a dozen or so messages from purported IRS agents telling me that I owe back taxes and risk going to jail if I don’t respond immediately. Good thing I’ve read about that scam in several places and knew it was fake.

And the phishing emails… Every day I get one or two purporting problems with my bank account or other utility account. It’s easy to ignore when they’re from banks where I don’t have an account, but occasionally I do get them from places I do business with and those sometimes require careful perusal.  In general, though, I don’t click on any links in those kinds of emails. If I suspect it might be genuine, I open a browser and go to the website of the bank, credit card company or whoever from my bookmarks. If there really is a problem, they’ll send me a message there.

One of the more memorable scams I had the fun of experiencing happened two or three years ago. I got a call on my cell phone from a woman who identified herself as a representative from AT&T, saying that my bill was overdue and my service was about to be cut off unless I gave them my credit card info right then.

The fun was that I recognized it as a scam very quickly since I pay my bills online and I’m totally compulsive about making sure everything is paid on time. I knew that my AT&T bill had been paid the week before, well in advance of the due date.

In my defense, I was kind of bored right then. So I argued with the woman for a bit, telling her I didn’t see how my account could be past due. She was good, sounded very professional as she said something to the effect of, “Perhaps a payment was delayed. But I’m showing that your service is scheduled to be cut off shortly. You’ll need to make a payment right away to prevent that from happening.” I managed to string her along for about ten minutes with various excuses and objections.

She finally realized I was onto her, and then the fun really began. The professional tone got suddenly very nasty. She cursed me out. No kidding. Called me a f****g b***h and other ugly names before she hung up. Obviously I’d annoyed and frustrated her. Good. Maybe I even kept her from trying to scam one other person in the time I wasted with her.  I had a good laugh about it.

But truthfully, it’s no laughing matter.  Too many people fall for those scams and are cheated out of large sums of money, sometimes even their life’s savings. I wish I knew how to stop them.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Handicapped, Weak--Absolutely NOT


by Fran McNabb

I love my kitchen window even though it doesn’t face the beautiful bayou where we live. Instead, it faces a small road and an empty wooded lot across the street, but from that window I’ve seen so much that makes me think and sometimes inspires me.

This spring I’ve watched a little squirrel without a tail jump from limb to limb then scamper up and down the oak trees that shade our front yard. Several days ago I saw the same squirrel under our carport where he was drinking from a bowl of water we leave for a neighbor’s dog. As he drank I realized that little squirrel only had three legs. Could that be the same squirrel that zipped around the
oak trees? My husband and I stayed quiet and watched as he finished drinking then ran across the yard and up one of the trees.

 Wow. Somewhere in that little fellow’s past, he had had a horrible accident or maybe a near tragic encounter with a larger animal, but seeing how active he was, I have to say he didn’t let his handicap slow him down.

That made me think of some of my acquaintances who also have handicaps, and like that little squirrel, most of them go about their lives not letting their disabilities stop them. They could sit at home and mope and blame the world for being different or being unable to do all the things they’d like, but they don’t. Like my little neighborhood squirrel, these people have found the inner strength to deal with their problems and make the best of their lives.

You have to admire people who deal with life’s problems and not walk around with a dark cloud over their heads. It doesn’t matter if it’s a physical handicap, an illness that has taken away their normal routine, or maybe a mental condition that they secretly keep inside. People who face these problems can easily lose the joys of life, or like our little squirrel, they can use them to add strength and fortitude.

We can all learn from those who must deal with life’s adversities. I admire them and hope we all can face difficulties that might come our way as well.
 
FRAN MCNABB lives on a dead-end street on a quiet bayou harbor. It is here where she has gotten inspiration for book plots and characters within her stories. She write tender romances, and presently has eight available on most book outlets. She loves to hear from her readers at mcnabbf@bellsouth.net or on her website www.FranMcNabb.com

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Top 10 Reasons to Try Zumba


by Victoria M. Johnson

Fifteen million people in 180 countries have made Zumba a world-wide phenomenon.  Zumba has become a dance-fitness revolution.  But what is it about this workout that is so special?  The same reasons why I think you'll love it:

1.    Hear great music.
         The exhilarating, mostly Latin music provides a festive atmosphere.

2.    Dance to the great music.
         You don't even have to know how to dance.

3.    Learn new dance styles in easy to follow steps.
         Your zumba certified instructor will cue you to their choreography steps in salsa, merengue, cumbia, reggaeton, and more.

4.    No experience required.
         Zumba is for anyone able to exercise.  No one expects you to be perfect.  No one expects you to know the steps.  Just follow the cues at your comfort level.

5.    No special equipment required.
         You don't have to buy expensive equipment.  You just need workout clothes that you probably already have and workout shoes that suit your needs.

6.    Meet other people.
         Come for the physical fitness; find camaraderie in the friendly classes.

Zumba instructor Victoria M. Johnson






7.    It's fun!
         You'll have so much fun that you'll forget you're burning calories.

8.    It's a total body workout.
         Gain strength and stamina.  Zumba helps improve cardiovascular health, muscle conditioning, and flexibility.

9.     Zumba is wonderful for the brain.
         Following along with the choreography gives your brain a workout too.  (In a fun way, of course.)  Zumba is good for your mental health.

10. Zumba is fantastic for the soul. 
         All that fun and movement reduces stress.  At the end of class, believe me, you'll feel energized and amazing.

Are you convinced to give Zumba a try?  I enjoyed Zumba class so much that I recently became a certified instructor.  If you live in Santa Cruz County in California, you're in luck.  That's where I teach on Sunday mornings at Cabrillo Fitness.  You can also check out my Zumba page.  Wherever you live I'm sure there's a class near you.  Do you already take Zumba?  What do you love about it?  Tell us in the comments below.

In addition to giving motivating zumba classes, Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma.  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at http://VictoriaMJohnson.com for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Of Pixels and Pistols and Aching Feet

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

I have walked through Paradise… and my feet hurt.

The Husband and I have just returned from the huge NRA convention in Atlanta, and it was fabulous! But my feet still hurt. There was over 15 acres of exhibits over three floors of the immense Atlanta convention center. We were there three days and still didn’t get to see everything. We even got lost a couple of times in the neatly gridded maze of exhibits.

In case you didn’t know, I like competitive shooting. Don’t do it much anymore, but I do like shooting, which pretty much means I like guns. The Husband prefers long guns while I lean more toward pistols, but we looked at everything and tried everything we could, including the virtual shooting booths. In a pistol booth I hit 12 targets with 13 shots, missing (embarrassingly) only on the next-to-last shot. I don’t like hunting or the idea of hunting but couldn’t resist trying a virtual reality experience where you use a ‘rifle’ to ‘shoot’ marauding bands of feral hogs. Shooting pixels with lasers doesn’t bother me. The only bad thing was the VR helmet would not fit over my glasses, so I had to shoot literally blind – and so missed every single one of those pixilated beasties! For someone with my shooting record it was a humiliating experience. (And we won’t talk about what the tight-fitting VR helmet did to my hair!) I did better at the air-powered range, where you shot pellets at a variety of targets, and made most of my shots, which made me feel better.

I asked a lot of questions about guns and ballistics and took pages of notes, so my fictional villains (and heroes) can be up to date on the tools of their choice. I also loved seeing the historic guns – whether real or exact replicas. I think everyone who writes historicals and has a character who uses a gun should actually hold one in their hands – it’s an eye-opening experience. All of them are unwieldy and unbelievably heavy, including the little two-shot derringers. (I was startled to learn that there is a company not too far from me that still makes beautiful, hand-crafted two shot derringers!)

One thing that sticks in my mind is an incredibly beautiful .45 1911 automatic (which is a big handgun) that was not only a fantastic firearm, but had the entire surface covered with the most exquisite engraving. I have never seen engraving so beautiful, not even on historic museum-quality silver pieces. The owner allowed the manufacturer to display it at NRA – after paying over $50,000 for the pistol. I am so grateful he did, for the gun was not only a prime example of wonderful technology, but of pure beauty.

I could – and probably will – write lots more about the convention, but must say one more thing. The pre-convention estimates put expected attendance at 80,000. I disagree, thinking that by a conservative estimate it must have been closer to 90,000. The crowds were enormous, but it was an incredibly pleasant experience. Attendees were clad in everything from very expensive-looking suits and ties to full camo hunting gear and just about everything else in between, and got around on everything from feet to canes to walkers to scooters to infant strollers.

What struck me most was the behavior of the crowd. It was one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve ever had in large venues. Everyone was polite. There was no pushing or shoving, no shouting, no fights, no arguments. The only raised voice I heard was a mother shouting for her child who had wandered off. Yes, the noise level was high, but it was the natural volume of lots and lots of people talking in ordinary voices in an enclosed (albeit huge) space. One time I tripped (over my own feet) and almost fell, but three strangers caught me before I smashed on the floor, set me upright and would not leave until I assured them I was all right. They offered to get me a drink or a chair or take me to the First Aid station or go look for my husband if I wanted. Their clothes were rough and their accents definitely not posh, but they were true gentlemen, and I found that true of everyone I saw there. Even the children (and there were lots of them) were well behaved.


Would be that the entire world were so civil.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Remakes, Spin-Offs & Rewrites

We all strive to create work that tells the seven or so stories that are iconic to the human condition in a new, fresh way. The stories that express the truths upon which our civilization depends for its strength and civility are based on human experience and imagination. Writers provide the context in which these ancient stories become the fabric of the future through a contemporary interpretation.

Stories of change, departure, arrival, love, betrayal, struggle, finding a home resonate deep in the human psyche, no matter what the circumstance, characters’ nationality or sex, location or any of the other choices authors make to form a credible world in which fictional characters act out a real-life truth regardless of the genre in which the author writes.

Science fiction, romance, mystery, crime fiction and fantasy, no less than mainstream fiction, must have a modicum of “truth” underpinning the action. And that is because we demand to be enlightened as well as entertained; we demand that, despite our willingness to “suspend disbelief,” the underlying foundation is based on our intrinsic understanding of experience.

Some of the highest paid writers make their fortunes using material created by others and, in some cases, themselves. The Star Trek franchise is one example. The Star Wars saga is another. J. R. Tolkien began with a miniature humanoid and built a fantasy world that became the playground of millions of devotees. J. K. Rowlings created a pre-teen wizard, leading the way for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga and Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games which all burgeoned into vast industries of film and merchandise.

E.L. James exploited the work of Stephenie Meyer to build a Sadomasochistic world through fan-fiction. Amazon has created an enterprise for fan-fiction exploitation with its “Kindle Worlds”—stories inspired by books, TV shows and comics.

Although there are no real new stories, copying the work of J.M. Barrie to make a film (Hook) based on characters created by Barrie or redefining the premise of the original story to fit the narrative of another time so that these become the accepted “truth” of the story is an unfortunate result. My advice: read the original novel; that will enhance your understanding of the interpretations.

If you haven’t read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but enjoyed Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the Madhatter (or my personal favorite, the White Queen), read Lewis Carroll’s original, fantastic, imaginative story for all the thrills and spills the film left out.  

A writer has the task of creating, with words, all the vivid, emotive, intense experience that film and fan-fiction take for their platform. Many of the most memorable films began as books—in fact, it is hard to name a film that didn’t have a written origin. Casablanca started its journey as the unproduced stage play Everybody Comes to Rick's by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison. One of the most beloved films, It’s a Wonderful Life, was based on the short story "The Greatest Gift", written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1939 and published privately in 1945. And who can forget Gone with the Wind, one of the most famous books to become a film.

We all hanker for the film deal that will shoot our book/s into the space continuum of the darkened cinema or the digital living room screen. But that will never happen without those words on the page, neither will the fan-fiction or the multi-book saga.

Write the book first.