Friday, May 18, 2012

"The Sacrifice" a romantic fantasy novella by Shirley Martin

She must die! 

No, Briana couldn't bear it. The holy day of Samhain approached, when the veil between the real world and the Otherworld disappears, and demons stalk the land. To placate the gods and protect the people on the eve of Samhain, the druids choose the most beautiful woman in the land to sacrifice--to knife to death!
A seer with special powers, Briana's adoptive mother knows it is Briana the druids have chosen to sacrifice. You must run, she tells Briana, escape! Reluctant to leave all she holds dear, Briana knows she must escape and flees in the dead of night.
The druids order their most trusted enforcer to capture Briana and bring her back. Why have they chosen him? Weylyn agonizes. He has loved Briana for years. Which choice will Weylyn make--love or duty? 


        Gods, no!  Today was Samhain!  They’d never get back to their village in time!
        They plodded on, and Weylyn’s face held an expression of grim determination.  But she knew the demons would find them tonight. 
     Darkness fell.  No!  She grabbed his arm.  “Weylyn–“
     ”Don’t say it.  There is a sacred circle nearby.  We shall take refuge there, for ‘tis said the stones will grant us protection.  And the sacrifice . . .”  He shook his head.  Was he happy they would arrive too late for the sacrifice–through no fault of his–or did he feel remorse that he had failed the druids, no matter how great his effort?
   “Soon, Briana, soon we shall reach the circle of stones.” 
     The fog densed, and moisture dripped from the trees.  She clenched her hands and looked in all directions.
     He pointed ahead.  “There!  I see it.  We’ll make it to the circle in time.”  Past thick strands of evergreens, they reached the circle of stones, set on a grassy, level plot of land.  He dismounted and lifted her down carefully, so she could lean against the stones.  “See, I told you–“
     Screams and howls rent the air, screeches and the heavy thud of feet.  The earth shook, the screams getting closer. 
     “Weylyn!”  Forgetting her ankle, forgetting everything but her horror, she clung to him.
 The horse bolted, rushing off into the night. 
      Weylyn shook his head.  “No time to lose!”  He picked her up and set her across the stones, then stepped over them. 
     Strange creatures moved among the trees, bright eyes shining in the dark.  A monster approached them, closer, closer.  No!  Gods, no!  Briana screamed.  
     “Weylyn, please, what are we going to do!”   She held Weylyn fast, her heart pounding with fear, with horror, with a terror greater than any she’d known.  His heart thudded next to hers as he pressed her body to his. 
     No, no, no! 
     The demon neared them, its eyes gleaming with intensity.  The stench of rotten meat fouled the air, and it grunted as it moved with slow, plodding steps.  Shorter than they, it had a solid build, its squat body covered with fur.  Saliva dripped from its mouth.  Razor-sharp teeth glittered as it opened and closed its thick lips. 
     “Stay behind me, Briana!”  Weylyn threw off his cloak and drew his sword from the scabbard.  The demon breached the space between them, only feet away.  It grunted as it moved, swaying with each step. 
     Faint with fright, Briana threw off her cloak and tugged at one of the stones to hurl it at the demon, but they were too big for her to dislodge.  She glanced up.  “Weylyn, look!”  Another brute menaced them, then another and another. 
     Weylyn’s head turned from left to right, his body flexed to fight.  How could he defeat them?  The demons would get them, devour them.  Gods, save us!
     The earth shifted beneath them.  Briana pressed her hand to her mouth, stifling a scream.
     “Briana, hold onto me!”  They moved back together, the monster still advancing.  No matter how they moved, the ground shifted, then gave way.
     “What?  What?”  Briana screamed again.  She clung to him as they plunged down, down, down, until she thought they would fall forever.  They finally stopped, and in spite of her sore ankle, she felt as if she’d landed on feathers.
     “Well, now.”  A feminine voice greeted them. “We have company.  How nice!  We don’t get visitors often.”
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Behind the Cover Artist's Curtain: The CAF

By Michelle Lee
BWL Art Director
“And so it begins …” 

Just where does a cover begin?  To some degree, it starts in a place that I have no way to touch – within the author’s imagination.  Authors will have some kind of ideas of what their characters, settings, etc look like – and they do their best to get it across within their story.  Some authors will even have an idea on mind of what their perfect cover will end up looking like.

So the first step (that involves me) is a way for an author to get those ideas across to me, so that I can try to bring it to life.

Now in an ideal world, I would have time to read each and every story two or three times before I start working on a cover, so that I know all the ins and outs of the story.  Unfortunately, I don’t even have the time to read the story once before working on the cover.

So instead, I work from something called a cover art form, or CAF.  Basically, it is a form that author’s fill out, that takes their story and boils it down to character details, and pivotal settings/scenes.

Each publisher has their own CAF …

I am an artist who likes details.  Lots of details … and options.  I am a big fan of options.  I like it when authors suggest a couple of different ways the cover could go and still be something they are proud of.

Because, that is what ultimately I am trying to create – a cover that the author is proud to have marketing their book.

So a CAF askes for the most crucial elements of a story.  What kinds of things are those? I am including various questions from various CAF's that I have used, all of which I feel am important.

First of all, I need to know what genre line I am dealing with.  Mysteries/Suspense/Thrillers will have a lot different style of cover from a Romance.  For example, let’s look at two books by the same author.

Just by looking at the covers, you can tell which cover is for a romance … and which is not.

And despite being close in genres, a romance will often differ from a Spice line book, since the Spice line tends to be erotic romances.  Although, that is not always the case – some Spice books will still have a softer cover.  But some won’t.

In this case, I bet you can tell which is which.

Next are details of the book itself …

The full title
The author’s name
Series title, if applicable

Then we get into the details of the book itself … and different publishers use different forms/questions.  Some of them that I have worked with are:

* Tone (in other words, is it dark, humorous, colloquial): 
* Specific Genre (contemporary romance, urban fantasy, etc.): 
* Setting (time period AND location):
* Pivotal scene(s): 

* Scenes or settings that are integral to the story: 

* Give us a brief synopsis of the book: (This means, literally, a paragraph or two. The purpose is to give the artist a feel for the action and tone. No more than 150 words.)
* Provide the blurb for this book:
From there, we move on to what could easily be the longest section of the CAF, depending upon the story itself.  The section where the author has to work the hardest – because it is the most crucial, and all that I have to work from to create the cover.  Some of the various questions I have asked are:

* Mood (anything that might help set the feel of the cover):

* Colors (those you want and those you absolutely do not want)

* Objects that are part of the storyline that you might like to see on the cover:

* Main CharactersMost covers WILL have a person or couple on it.  Make sure to provide information for each pivotal character.

- Hair Color:
- Eye Color:
- Build:
- Style of Dress (give at least two examples):

- Additional Information (be sure to include any tattoos or piercing, facial hair, etc that are mentioned about the character):

* If there is something you specifically do not want on the cover state it here. This is your chance to speak up – PLEASE use it.

If asked what the most important detail is, I would have to say eye color.  Why?  Because it is the most often overlooked detail when images are selected.  I've had it happen often that an author will find an image that fits their character to a T, from the hair to the clothes.  And then come to realize that the image has blue eyes and the character has brown.

Luckily, eye color is a fairly easy fix.  If I had to suggest which to find images based on, I say go with exact hair color, and let me change the eye color.  Because hair color is a pain to change, and have look realistic.  But eyes are fairly simple.

After that, we look at fonts.  A lot can be conveyed by a font, and it is my job to make sure that each font matches the cover I created, the genre of the book, and most importantly the book itself.  For example, I wouldn’t use a loopy lasso looking font on a serious thriller.  But I might use it on a fun, and whimsical contemporary romance about a woman roping her perfect man – a cowboy.  Conversely, I might use a stark, simple font with sharp lines and pointed tips if the book were a dark vampire romance.

Now, some authors have fonts that are used on all of their books, and they like it that way.  Others don’t mind something different each time.  So that has to be taken into consideration too.  So authors normally have a chance in the CAF to weigh in on the fonts …

Generally, the last part of the CAF directs authors to look at previously created covers for their publication house, and even covers created for other publishers by the house artists, to give a suggestions of styles, colors, look and feel. 

For example, if an author says they  like this cover By Shirley Martin.

What this tells me is that they like a sexy cover with clean, bold lines.  Nothing too busy.  But still has some soft elements – namely the red silk along the side. 

What about the following cover by Rita Karnopp?  

At first glance, this is also a fairly straightforward cover, until you start to look closer.  The woman is a bold focus point, but it isn’t as simple as it seems.  The background is stark black and white, suggesting at grittiness.  You also can’t quite make out what the background is, but you can kind of see hints of rocks, trees and water, so it is outside.  Along the bottom, is a man on a horse, in silhouette.  And it is balanced by the dreamcatcher with the author’s initials in it.

So it is a relatively busy cover, with a lot to say.  If an author suggests this cover – it could be for the colors, and the play of softness and starkness.  Or it could be because of the way numerous elements of the story are blended together. 

What about when both ideas need to be blended together?  Something a little bit busy, but sexy!

 Then you have something like Ann Cory’s Unladylike Behavior.  It has a lot of elements, the castle, the pearls, the roses, and the women.  Obviously, the woman the focus, but they the cover overall is soft and sexy, and very feminine.  And notice the roses aren’t quite normal – that is because there is a silk sheet laid over them, and faded in.  The castle has mist around it, in a soft pink to match the roses.  The roses, by the way, are colored to match the lipstick of the two women.

So if an author suggests this cover, I know we are looking at soft, sexy, and yet it can convey numerous elements of the story.

I definitely like when authors mention covers that they like elements of, even if it isn’t my work.  Makes things easier …

Now if you are interested in looking at my cover portfolio, it can be found HERE.  I feel I must mention, some of my covers are for erotic romances … so some may be very sexy, and rather hot!  You’ve been warned. : )

So that, in a nutshell, a cover art form. 

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into what goes on for me in creating a cover.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fate, Kismet??

Whatever you want to call it, it turned Interior Designer, Wendy Seidel’s world upside down. From a chance meeting at the airport to Florida and back to Ohio, she can’t believe the strange circumstances that throw us together, after I  literally knocked her off her feet at the airport.

Hi, I’m Bill Johnson, and I thought I’d take a minute to talk about Wendy.
I’ll never forget my first meeting with Wendy. Yes, I literally knocked her off her feet in the airport, accidentally on purpose.  Oh, I didn’t mean to knock her over, that was an accident. I just meant to bump into her. But she darned near stopped and wham, I blasted into her.
From the minute I saw her, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. That red hair and those green eyes mesmerized me. I never went in much for red heads, too hot-tempered. But this chick hypnotized me or something.
So, there we were both hurrying to catch our plane and bam, I knocked her over. Talk about a temper. Phew, let me tell you, she could freeze a glass of water with that look and cut you to the quick with a few words.
Okay, I have to admit, getting knocked down would have put me in bad temper too, but gees, I did apologize. Not that it mattered, she was off and running lickety split. Yep, hell-bent on her mission.  So much for meeting her.
But…as luck would have it, there she was sitting at my departing gate. Well, heck, how could I resist talking to her? Not that she was much for talking. Had her nose stuck in a book and wasn’t about to take it out. At least not until I kept up my end of the conversation, which she wasn’t responding. I think I was annoying her more than anything.
Before I knew it, they made an announcement that or flight had been cancelled. So much for spending three hours trying to get to know her. At least that was my plan. I was going to con the person sitting next to her out of their seat. Instead, I had to make arrangements to stay in a hotel. Hey, maybe I’d get lucky and she’d do the same.

If you want to know what happened, you’ll have to read Designed for Love available at Amazon

“What the hell?” My carry-on bag slid across the floor and slammed into the wall. My feet slipped out from under me, I landed flat on my back, and someone fell on top of me, pinning me to the floor. The breath knocked out of me, I lay still a moment.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I finally caught my breath and pushed him off. “Everyone’s always in such a big hurry.”

“Why’d you slow down? You darned near stopped in front of me.” He stood up, brushed himself off and held out his hand to help me up. “Sorry.”

I knocked his hand away, got to my knees and stood. I didn’t need his help. Not his or anyone else’s for that matter. What I needed was to find my bag and get on to my gate.

“Look, I’m sorry. It was entirely my fault. I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry.” He held his hand out to me again, but I ignored it. “Here, let me get that for you.” He hurried to pick up my bag, but I grabbed it first.

“Look, Mister, I have a plane to catch, so excuse me if I don’t have time to chat.” I straightened up my bag, grabbed the handle and started toward my gate. Good looking in a rustic sort of way, I had to admit. Probably worked outdoors or at least spent a lot of time outside. Not that it made any difference. I didn’t have time for him. Or any man for that matter. I had a career to build, and men didn’t figure into it.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like men. I did. Even dated occasionally. Eventually I’d like to have a relationship, even get married. But relationships and marriage took time, not a priority right now. My career came first. Something about him, though.

I couldn’t resist looking back. Great. He stood watching me with a silly smirk on his face. Nice eyes, soft gray. I loved gray eyes. Maybe because my grandfather had gray eyes. He lifted his hand and waved at me. Heat burned my face, and I hurried off in the direction of the gate, looking at the signs above. Only at Gate 2. Not even close. Of course my gate was at the farthest end of the airport. Thankfully, there was plenty of time to get there.

I avoided a heavyset man, hell bent on his mission. I hated this time of year. Everyone was in such a big hurry.

To make matters worse, my butt hurt but I resisted rubbing it. Didn’t need to look like any more of an idiot. Ah, Gate 11, finally. Now I could sit down and relax, since there was still forty-five minutes before my flight. I took a book out of the side pocket of my carry-on and settled back to wait. Not that I could concentrate, anger at my boss raged inside me. Who in their right mind set up a meeting with a client right before New Years? And in Florida, no less. Obviously, Nick didn’t care that I had plans for New Year’s Eve.

So I was getting out of Ohio, big deal. Sure, my friends thought I was lucky, especially with the predicted snowstorm. Didn’t make any difference to me, I liked snow.

I glanced out a window. Already it was coming down pretty heavy, and there was still a good half hour before my flight.

Damn it, I hated flying. I could have sent the samples just as easy. What was so important they required me to personally bring them? I thought we’d settled everything before the client left. Why the sudden change? They could have at least waited until after the holidays.

Nick, my boss, promised I’d be home by New Year’s Eve. Yeah right. I knew how these things went. First this problem, than that one. I’d be lucky to be home in time for my nephew’s birthday on the sixth. Nick better not have any funny ideas. This was strictly business. I’d heard about his reputation with women. So far he hadn’t shown an interest in me, and I certainly didn’t have a problem with that. Good-looking though Nick was, nothing about him attracted me. Definitely not my type. Not that I had a type.

“Looks like we’re on the same flight,” a masculine voice said.

I looked up and almost groaned out loud. This couldn’t be happening. What were the chances we’d be on the same flight? I tried to ignore him, but something drew my eyes to his.

“Bill Johnson.” He extended his hand toward me. “I really am sorry about knocking you down.”

I shrugged and shook his hand. “No problem.” A quiver started deep in my stomach when he held my hand a bit longer than necessary. Rough, calloused hands. Does hard work. Maybe construction. I pulled my hand away and turned my attention back to my book. I hated talking to people at airports. Lord, please tell me he doesn’t have the seat next to me. I couldn’t be that unlucky, could I?

Of course I could.

Taking a peek at the ticket sticking out of his coat pocket, I groaned. Seat 16A. No way, what were the chances? I hoped he’d take the hint and leave me alone.

“Are you staying in Fort Myers?” He sat down next to me.

Figured, no such luck. I nodded. Maybe if I didn’t contribute to the conversation, he’d go away. I kept my eyes on my book but couldn’t concentrate. I had the irresistible urge to look at him, but ignored it. What was it about him?

“Visiting or business?”

I looked up from my book. He just wasn’t going to quit. “Business, no time for pleasure.” Maybe that would shut him up.

He smiled. “Everyone has time for pleasure. All work and no play...” He let the rest of the saying hang.

I put the book in front of my face. “I guess I’m a dull boy then.” Why didn’t he just let me read in peace. I couldn’t be much ruder. Some people just couldn’t take a hint.

Bill laughed. A big hearty laugh that caused people to stare. I wanted to crawl under my seat. “What’s so funny?”

“Honey, you look like anything but a boy.” His gaze took me in from top to bottom and came to rest on my breasts.

Okay, I’m well endowed and wished I had left my jacket on. Not that there was much to see through my bulky sweater, but enough. Heat rushed to my face again. Crap, why did I blush so easily? My face was probably as red as my hair. “Okay, so I don’t look like a boy. Just finishing the saying. And DON’T call me honey!” I put the book in front of my face, turned away from him, and tried to read. Lord, spare me friendly people. Especially men.

The last thing I needed was a man trying to pick me up. I wished he’d just go away. I could call airport security, but didn’t want to cause a scene. He’d done enough of that.

“Since you won’t tell me your name, I don’t know what else to call you.”

“Don’t call me anything.” I slammed my book shut, stood, and walked to the window. What more did I have to do to let him know I wasn’t interested? I stared out the window. Things didn’t look good outside.

“Full blown blizzard.” Bill’s deep voice came from behind.

I felt his breath on my neck and shivered from the warmth of it. Or was it from his nearness? Whatever it was, I didn’t like it. I looked at my watch. Still almost a half hour before take off. So far they hadn’t cancelled the flight.

As if my thoughts magically conjured it up, a voice came over the PA system. “We regret to inform you that all flights to and from Cleveland Hopkins Airport have been cancelled until further notice. New flights can be rebooked as soon as we resume our schedule. Sorry for the inconvenience. Airport shuttles are standing by to take you to a hotel. If you can’t get a room, you’re welcome to stay at the airport. Concession stands and restaurants will remain open for your convenience.

Great, just great. What more could go wrong? At least I could go home. If I could get a cab, that is. With the way it looked outside, I had a feeling most of the roads were closed, too.

I moved away from Bill and took my cell phone from my purse, got the number for the cab company from information, and punched it in. Crap, a recording. “No cabs due to weather.” Terrific. I punched in information for the number of the Sheraton Hotel. Hopefully, they still had a room. Spending the night sleeping in an airport wouldn’t improve my mood.

“Sheraton Hotel, how can I help you,” a female answered.

“Yes, I’d like a room for the night.” Please don’t tell me they’re all booked, I prayed. I didn’t care what kind of room as long as it had a bed.

“Yes, I have one room left. Two double beds. One hundred and fifty dollars.”

I let out a low whistle. A bit more than I cared to spend, but no matter. “I’ll take it.” I read my credit card number, grabbed my bag and raced to the exit while I spoke. Now to find an airport shuttle. Talk about luck, a shuttle parked just outside. I pulled the door open, and someone bumped into me.

“We have to stop meeting like this.”

I turned and looked into familiar soft, gray eyes. “Are you following me?” This was beginning to feel creepy. What was with this guy?

“Don’t flatter yourself.” Bill let out a low chuckle. “We can share a ride if you don’t mind. Give the driver a break.”

He followed me into the car. “Sheraton Hotel and...” He looked at me. “Where to?”

What were the odds he’d be going to the same hotel? This was getting scary. “Sheraton.”

“No kidding. Hey, maybe we can get together for a drink or something.”

Like I couldn’t guess what the or something was. I shook my head. Jerk. What made him think I’d even want to have a drink with him? “No thanks, I have work to do.” I looked out the window. How the driver managed to see where he was going was beyond me. All I could see was white. Thick, white, blowing snow. This was by far the worst snow storm I remembered. I just hoped it let up by morning like the weatherman promised.

Titillating preview by J.C. Kavanagh

WINNER Best Young Adult Book 2016, The Twisted Climb I've been prepping for Autumn book signings and excited to meet new and...