Kids, Quarantines, and Things To Do In Isolation

FREE – for a limited time!

Superhero Deluxe Edition Cover 3

Got kids at home? I’ve got a fun project…

For those who have kids at home–spring break, Coronavirus, etc.–I’ve made the deluxe edition of my Invent Your Own Superhero writing journal FREE.

It’s been a rough time for all of us, especially with concerns about large crowds. Many of us have delayed travel, seen our own sporting events or get-togethers canceled. We’re all looking for something fun to do at home.

So I’ve made my Invent Your Own Superhero free for a limited time. Grab a copy and spend a day at the kitchen table, creating wild superhero stories!

Purchase Links:
Amazon
B&N
Apple Books
Kobo

Please spread the word (best thing to spread right now, eh?)–and as always, consider leaving a review when you’re done!

Happy Writing!

It’s Live! Playing Hurt: Revised and Updated

ph now small

A special place in my heart…

As many of you already know, I’m a hybrid author (meaning that in addition to publishing my own work on the indie platform, I’m also published by traditional publishing houses). Playing Hurt was actually the second book I ever released; the novel received some really nice trade reviews and counted fellow authors Miranda Kenneally and Jennifer Armentrout among its initial fans.

As it often goes in the world of publishing, the rights to Playing Hurt have reverted back to me, which means I’m now getting a chance to re-release this book, which has always had a special place in my heart—with a new cover as well as new, never-before-read scenes! I’m also releasing the book as a contemporary / new adult sports romance, rather than a YA, which is how the book was originally categorized. The main characters’ ages (18 and 19) and the heat level of the book make it better suited for a slightly older audience.

I hope you’ll come back to Lake of the Woods with me, and experience that fiery first love all over again:

It’s hard to get back in the game—of life or love—when you’re still playing hurt.

Once, she was a small-town celebrity. One of the most talented high school basketball players her hometown had ever seen. Bound for something far bigger beyond the city limits of Fair Grove, Missouri. But Chelsea’s world changed when an accident on the court ended her days as an athlete. She struggles with the idea of no longer being a star—and has no real idea what life might hold for her next.

Once, he was a small-town celebrity. One of the most talented hockey players his hometown had ever seen. Bound for something far bigger beyond the city limits of Baudette, Minnesota. When an unexpected tragedy took his head out of the game, Clint was forced to hang up his skates. He swore he’d never put himself in a position to be hurt again, building walls around his heart.

When their paths cross one summer at a Minnesota lake resort, Chelsea and Clint are immediately drawn to one another. But wounds of the heart cut the deepest, and take the longest to heal. Will an unexpected romance end up causing Chelsea and Clint more pain—or finally heal their heartbreak?

Buy Links:
Kindle e-book
Amazon Paperback
Apple Books
B&N
Kobo

Design a Book Cover in Photoshop (Blend Modes)

I discussed the basics of book cover design in a previous post. Really, a cover is no more than a photo with some words on it. As I discussed in that earlier post, you can truly create a professional looking cover for minimal expense (somewhere in the thirty to fifty dollar range) even without using Photoshop.

I now use both Photoshop and InDesign for my covers. I primarily use InDesign for the print cover layout and Photoshop for the e-book. (The e-book cover is also the image that winds up being on the front of the 3-D print cover.) InDesign is really all about text layout, so it can also give more options when designing your title. I sometimes find it helpful to edit the cover image in Photoshop, then bring it to InDesign to add text–you can save InDesign files as JPEGs.

The main benefit of using Photoshop over another photo editor is that it’s so widely-used, you can always find a post or YouTube video in which a graphic designer explains how to accomplish a task you’re stuck on.

Recently, I’ve been using a basic Photoshop editing trick (blend modes) in order to get some interesting results:

Create a New Project or File

This gives you your blank canvas. Here, you’re going to need to size your cover. If you know you want to offer a print version of your book, go ahead and plug in your paperback or hardback’s trim size. If you’re planning to release an e-book only, I might suggest using a 5.5 x 8.5 or 6 x 9 trim size for your cover. Those are used fairly often in the pub world.

Now Open the Cover Art Image

As I discussed in that previous cover post, the easiest way to get a professional looking cover is to get a professional (stock) image. You’re going to need to do some resizing to get it to fit your nice 5 x 8 or 6 x 9 canvas. The easiest way I’ve found is simply to open the image as a new file, then choose: Select – All, then Edit – Copy. Now return to your blank canvas and chose: Edit – Paste. Your cover image will now be its own editable layer. Your hi-res image will be quite a bit larger than your canvas, though. Select Edit – Free Transform in order to size your image to fit.

Of course, your image doesn’t have to all be on the canvas. It probably won’t be. You’ll crop to get the portion you want on your cover.

Experiment with Basic Editing Modes (Blending)

Here’s where I’ve been having some fun lately. It’s also a great way to easily add some mood to your stock image. Add an image or overlay as a new layer (you can accomplish that using the same cut and paste method outlined earlier), then use Photoshop’s blend mode, usually found in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen:

photoshop

Head for the drop-down menu set to “Normal.”

You’ll find a ton of options for blending the layers together. By playing with the various settings in this drop-down menu, you can instantly make a stock image look vintage, as I did for my cover for Sentimental Journey:

sentimental journey final 7

I used a stock photo of old paper as a layer to blend with the image of the cardinal. Not only did it add a vintage look, it also gave the book a warped-paper effect at the bottom of the cover, which I really loved.

You can also use overlays to help create mood. I added three different rainbow overlays using various blend modes for the cover of my forthcoming Playing Hurt:

Playing Hurt Cover Final

Yep, that’s three different rainbow overlays: one somewhat blurry rainbow to add color to the entire sky, one round rainbow to add the effect of sun peeking through the trees, and of course, the most obvious rainbow over the title.

Overlays can be purchased affordably as well, through several different digital goods sites. I found my rainbows at The Hungry JPEG.

These additional layers and overlays don’t just offer something fun to look at, either. They can help you convey what the book is about–every bit as much as your main stock image. Sentimental Journey contains several historical (Depression-era) passages, and Playing Hurt is about two broken-down athletes that learn their lives can have light and love again. Hope can spring eternal. I hadn’t planned on a rainbow, but was utterly delighted when I found the overlays. I think they make the cover.

Have you used blend modes? I’d love to see the results! Comment here or find me online: Twitter or Facebook.

I’m looking forward to the official re-release of Playing Hurt!

The book has been updated and includes several new scenes. To be notified of the official release, subscribe to my Steamy Romance Newsletter.

 

 

 

 

 

PLAYING HURT – REVISED EDITION

I’m thrilled to announce the forthcoming release of a revised, updated edition of my sports romance Playing Hurt.

Yep, revised and updated. The book even has several brand-new scenes. It’s truly been a delight to work on. I’m in the proofreading stages now.

Subscribe to my Steamy Romance Newsletter to be notified to the official release date.

Of course, we also have a new cover:

Playing Hurt Cover Final

Reading Confession

I’ll admit it: I can be a slow reader.

I mean slooooow.

Especially when I’m enjoying a book.

So often, it seems, we prize fast. If something is fast, it must be good: it’s a page-turner. Finished it in an afternoon! We even say time flies when we’re having fun.

The faster the better, we all say.

But is it, really?

I so love this quote from Barrack Obama on the value of reading:

“At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted, the ability to slow down and get perspective, along with the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes — those two things have been invaluable to me.”

This is exactly how I often feel about reading. I’ve done plenty of gobbling-down-a-whole-book-in-a-day (especially during summers at the lake). But there’s also such pleasure to be had in really spending time with a book, rather than speeding through it, gobbling up an initial impression, then moving on to the next volume. There’s joy in savoring turns of phrases. Really thinking about the characters or the overall structure. Letting passages sink in. Going back and re-reading portions.

Often, when I find a book I want to spend that much time with, well, then, that’s when I know I’ve stumbled onto something really special…

 

Where Do You Find a Novel’s Theme, Anyway? (A How-To for Young Readers)

I’ve been asked lately by a few elementary teachers and librarians to offer some advice on how to guide students through finding the theme of a book. It’s not always easy—in fact, by the time you get to the end of a book, and have sifted through the conflicts and the sub-plots, the major and minor characters and all their desires and fears and…

Yeah. Where was that theme supposed to be, anyway?

It can be a head-scratcher at times. Even to adult readers. So theme can be especially frustrating for our younger readers.

Really, though, theme isn’t an answer floating out there, separate from the rest of the book. It’s woven into the very fabric of the book. Everything in the book (and I really do mean just about everything) points to theme.

Some of the best places to start thinking about theme are:

The characters. In my MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, the main character, Auggie, is a plucky girl who sees beauty in the strangest places. Rusted pipes and broken-down cars and used-up appliances. It’s why she’s able to take the items her grandfather picks up as a trash collector and turn them into sculptures, becoming a folk artist.

The conflict. In THE JUNCTION, Auggie comes face-to-face with the House Beautification Committee, which does not in any way enjoy her sculptures. In fact, they’re going to pile on the fines if she doesn’t remove them—then blight her house if she can’t pay those fines.

The resolution. Again, in THE JUNCTION, we see Auggie deciding to sell her sculptures, freeing herself from the draconian rules of the HBC. (And, as it turns out, saving her entire neighborhood to boot.)

Okay, so clearly, there’s a beauty is in the eye of the beholder theme happening—we’ve got a girl who sees trash as art supplies, a House Beautification Committee that does not, and a resolution that involves the very sculptures the two entities are fighting over. You could also say there’s a power of the individual theme here, as Auggie uses her artwork, in the end, to stand up to the committee.

These aren’t the only solutions, either. That’s a big part of what I’ve always loved about literature. It’s not a math problem with only one right solution. The kicker is, you’ve got to be able to point to specific passages in the text itself to support your own answer. And these are three broad but really solid areas of text to start digging out theme.

HAPPY, HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Hey, guys! I wanted to take a moment to wish all of you the merriest of holidays–and an absolutely lovely new year!

It was recently brought to my attention that 2019 marks the end of a decade. And what a decade it’s been–my first book was published in 2010. Since then, I’ve published with the Big 5 and my own imprint; short stories and novellas and full-length books. By far the best part of all of it has been connecting with readers. I so enjoy hearing from you, finding out how my work has been a small part of your holidays or classrooms or vacations. I’ve loved sharing the page with all of you.

I’m certainly looking forward to 2020–I can’t wait to find out where the new decade will take us!

In the meantime, may your days taste like gingerbread, the nights sparkle like twinkle lights, and may it all ring with love and laughter.

WRITING WHEN YOUR HEAD’S NOT IN IT

Holy moly, it’s been a long time since I blogged. More than a month! This, in all honesty, is the reason why:

Gus

I had to take Gus in for his neuter. I know, I know: it’s something the vast majority of pet owners do. It’s surgery, but it’s routine. Only, Gus’s wasn’t so much. He had a testicle that didn’t descend, so I really had no idea how it would go. On occasion, if the missing testicle is in the abdomen, it can require some exploratory surgery. (!)

Of course, Little Miss Type A spent more than a month Googling random testicle facts and watching cryptorchid neuters on YouTube. Long story short, the vet did an incredible job, the testicle was easily located, and we wound up with only one incision. Gus has completely recovered, healed beautifully, and is fully back to his zoomie-running, escape artist, silly, rambunctious puppy routine.

Whew.

Once it was all over, I began to feel like I’d finally gotten my brain back.

It really is amazing how worry can hijack your own thoughts–in a way that you don’t even fully realize at the time. It’s not the only emotion that taints a writing session, either. Frustration can. Disappointment. Even uncertainty. I’m a big, BIG believer that tapping into joy is key for good writing. Now, looking back on the last few weeks, I can definitely see how worry was impacting my ability to tap into the joy and fun of writing. And how that was impacting the work.

It’s not the easiest thing to tackle, though, is it? Far easier to carve a few minutes out of the day to get some writing done. You can’t exactly just stop being worried, turn it off so you can work.

All I can say for now is that it’s definitely something I want to pay more attention to, keep track of. Kind of an early 2020 resolution…

WHEN A LITTLE THING BECOMES A BIG THING

You ever have that happen? You think of something small, something you haven’t thought of in ages, and then suddenly, it’s everywhere?

It happened to me a while back with that old saying: “Cardinals appear when angels are near.”

I was drafting the first Ruby’s Place installment, and was working my way through the scene in which a cardinal knocks Angela’s knit hat off her head, forcing her to pause, take another look at the old Ruby’s Place bar. There’s really just something about cardinals and Christmas…In the first place, they’re so strikingly beautiful, those red spots on stark white snowy backgrounds. Almost like a bright warm ray in cold, brutal times. You can’t help but smile when you see a cardinal in the snow.

The cardinal–and the old saying–made it’s way into the first Ruby’s Place manuscript, and into the sequel, I Remember You.

This year, as I was drafting the new installment (Sentimental Journey), I began to see the saying everywhere. I’m not joking. Christmas cards and notepaper…I even got this T-shirt as a gift:

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It’s almost eerie when that kind of thing happens…but pleasantly so.

BTW: I’ve put the entire Ruby’s Place series (to date) in a single download–and it’s currently discounted to $2.99

Ruby's Place Collection

You can snag a copy here.

May cardinals brighten your windowsills all winter long!