Saturday, November 15, 2014

Two Sides to the Cover

By Michelle Lee
BWL Art Director

On the one hand ...

As a fiction writer, you probably already know that research is vitally important.  For example, if you are focusing on a specific time period, you want to use historically accurate words.  Your characters need to feel, to the reader, like they are coming alive - and are authentic.

You polish your work, pouring all of your love and attention and determination into it, and almost grudgingly hand it over to a publisher.  And then the fun begins.

You get a cover concept back - and *gasp* the clothing isn't exactly right.  The waist of the dress is too high, the sleeves not poofy enough, or even worse, the dress isn't flaring enough at the bottom to be a ball gown.

All that research - and for what?

* * *

The other side of the story ...

A cover art form comes in, and after looking it over, the task seems almost impossible.  Finding a couple, wearing the exact clothing in the exact colors, with the perfect hair and eye color, and without modern looking manicures on the woman.

How on earth are you going to come up with a cover that perfectly encompasses all of those details, with stock art.   Especially considering you are not a historical scholar.

The answer is - you aren't.  Which means you are going to disappoint the author in some way (even if it is only a small detail).  And that is a very hard thing to accept on a day to day basis - but it is the reality of the job.

* * *

As an author, I know how important cover art is in not only branding your books, but also giving hints (at a quick glance) of what the story is all about.  I know how frustrating it can be trying to get your vision for the cover across in a two-page form.  I know the agony of waiting for the cover art to come in.  And I know the frustration when details are slightly off.

As a cover artist, I am very familiar with the hours that can be spent (and quite often just wasted) trying to find the perfect image for a cover.  Sometimes the angle is off and it won't merge well with the background, or the model has a very obvious french manicure, yet is posing in Renaissance clothing.  You want to create something both you, and the author, can be proud of ... and yet ... the images just won't cooperate.

* * *

I guess what I am trying to explain with all of this is ... the cover artist-author relationship is a lot like any other relationship.  There has to be some compromise to it.  A lot of understanding.  And the product of the relationship - the cover art - might be slightly flawed by not being perfectly accurate but it is a reflection of both the artists efforts to provide a reflection of the author's hard work and the author's work itself.  So before you get frustrated at the details, take a step back and look at the overall picture.

And ask yourself these simple questions:

* does it overall reflect the tone or feel of the story?
* is is quality and something you would be proud to have showcasing your hard work?
* is is obvious that the artist tried to meet your needs?
* will this cover help your book sell? (and will reader feel it is an accurate - within reason - reflection of the story)

If your answer is no to any of these questions, then you should feel the right to request some serious revisions to the cover, or a complete start over.

But if you answered yes to them all ... ask yourself this ... does that one little inconsistency, that one historically inaccurate detail detract from the overall cover, and is it realistically likely that a better image will be found?

* * *

If you are interested in other rambling about cover art by Michelle Lee, check out the following Inside BWL Blog Posts:
Alas Poor Images, I Cannot Find You
Fonts, Fonts, and More Fonts

and other Behind The Cover Art posts ...

* * *

Michelle Lee is a self-taught cover artist who has an opinion on pretty much everything, and a love of the natural world that often means tidbits and trivia are shared on a whim.  You can check out her portfolio at: Stardust Creations

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Rewards of Random Reading by Sheila Claydon

When I go on holiday I rarely read the books I take with me. Instead I read the books previous holiday makers have left behind. Crammed onto shelves in the hotel reception area, scattered on tables in the guest lounge, stacked beside the TV in the villa or apartment...wherever we happen to be staying there are always abandoned books. And what treasures they are. On holiday I've discovered authors I've never heard of, learned new things, been reminded of  long forgotten stories, looked at situations in a different way and, in the reading, remembered why a new book is always such a joy.
Of course reading on holiday has an added bonus because it's one of the few times it's possible to read a book  from cover to cover in an afternoon.  On my last holiday I read The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and in the process learned a whole lot more about the American Deep South in the early part of the twentieth century. By the time I finished it I was so entranced that I followed it up by listening to a podcast of the actress Whoopi Goldberg being interviewed on the UK Radio programme Desert Island Discs. Whoopi Goldberg won so many acclaims for acting in the Steven Speilberg film of The Color Purple that I wanted to find out more about her, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I did just that. Apparently she was so deeply affected when she read the story that she wrote to the author asking for a part if a film was ever made of the book. Alice Walker wrote back about two months later to tell her she had sent  the necessary paperwork to the studios. The film script for The Color Purple was then written specifically for Whoopi Goldberg. It was her first big motion picture. The rest is history.
After I'd allowed myself enough time to think about what I'd just read, I turned to something that I thought would be very different but which turned out to be linked in the strangest way. This was Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson who is a well known British author. It is a semi-fictional autobiography. I know this sounds like an enigma but I assure you it's true. To understand what I mean, however, you'll have to read it.
Like Celie in The Color Purple, Jeanette Winterson is someone who lives on the edge and who also spends much of her life searching for love as well as for a lost love. I didn't see the similarities while I was reading because  one was about a black community in the American Deep South in the 1920s while the other was set in the 1960s in a poor northern town in the UK. In both books, however, the main character was lonesome and abandoned, and immensely brave.  It was only afterwards that the similarities became clear, and that is another benefit of this random holiday reading...there is far more time to think.
There were other books too, more random choices, and while I read them an amazing thing happened. In each one of those holiday books I discovered a fact that was crucial to the novel I had just started writing.  I had an outline clear in my head and the first two chapters written but what I didn't have was the detail. I needed to research a lot of things if I was to get my facts right but it was hot and sunny and I was on holiday, so I decided to concentrate on enjoying myself and worry about the detail when I returned home. Ignoring that little voice in my head that said I should at least think about my story,  I just chose those random books and settled down to read.

I had no plan...I knew very little about them. I wasn't even sure I was going to enjoy them, but although I didn't realize it, they had a plan for me. In each book I read I discovered a nugget of information that I needed to flesh out my own story. I was also confronted by a new way of looking at a situation, something that made me reconsider how one of my characters was going to react. After two weeks of reading these random stories my research was complete without any effort on my to every writer whose book I read in that villa in the sun, thank you. And to every holiday maker who has ever left a book behind, thank you. Random reading has much to commend it.

This link will take you to Sheila Claydon's titles, including her latest release, Book 3 of her Pathways Trilogy,  Saving Katy Gray

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Writing About What You Know by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey

       I took many writing courses and bought just about every book I could find on writing when I was an aspiring writer. In the classes and in most books I was told to write about what I knew. I had to experience life before I could write about it. I also found out that to compensate for lack of knowledge many writers do months of research to get an understanding of the subject they want to write about. They learn what a lawyer would say in court or what a pilot would do in a certain situation.
       But it is the hard emotion that goes with any experience that is hard to duplicate. We have all been scared, but how many of us have felt a deep-seated fear that is immobilizing? We have all felt sadness, but how many of us have had our sadness lead to depression and suicidal thoughts? Experiencing the emotions make it almost effortless to write about them in an authoritative voice.
       Plus, living a certain lifestyle makes it easier to describe that way of life. Many writers do dredge up life’s trauma to make their writing more believable. And many authors have turned their unusual upbringing into bestselling fiction and non-fiction. Take for example, the non-fiction bestseller Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. To make up a childhood like Frank’s would be tough for someone who has not lived it.
       When I was doing my assignments for class I tried to write about what I knew but it was hard to make something exciting out of something so boringly normal. So I wrote the following poem.

What I Know

My parents never divorced, they
seldom even fought. I was not
abused, not emotionally,
physically, mentally.
I was never raped.
I was not kicked
out of the
did not
live on the
streets. I do not
smoke. I don’t do drugs.
I’ve never had a merciless,
pounding hangover. I have not
been in an accident. I have not had a
serious, debilitating, life-threatening illness.
                    I am no minority.
                    I am not disabled.
                    I have no physical
                    deformity. I have
                    not been a victim
                    of a crime, nor am
                    I a shady criminal.
     I have not been discriminated against.
              I am not a lesbian. I am not gay.
                      I am not too skinny nor am
                           I overweight. I have not
                               loved and lost; I have
                                  not lost a loved one
                                        I am not too tall
                                               or too short.
                                               do not stand
                                           out in a crowd.
                                         I have not, at all
                                  been very noticeable
                  With such an ordinary, tedious
           mundane, uneventful life, how will
I ever be able to write about what I know?

       My first published article was about an injured hawk my son and I had found alongside the highway and how we looked after it for a few days until it was able to fly away. Then I tried historical and travel articles. I progressed into travel books, writing seven about what there is to see and do along the roads of British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon, and Alaska.
       I have loved reading mysteries since I was a child so I decided to try my hand at a mystery novel. Since I knew about travel writing, I made my main character a travel writer. She gets drawn into solving murders while researching places for her travel articles.
       So my experiences have made it possible for me to write about what I know.

Books of The Travelling Detective Series boxed set:
Illegally Dead
The Only Shadow In The House
Whistler's Murder

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Have you ever noticed there is drama all around you?  Pay attention!  There are always people who wear their problems on their sleeves – as the old cliché goes!  But that’s great for us . . . listen to their passions, their dramas, their dilemmas, their successes and failures, and even their sorrows.  You can even pick up drama in newspapers, magazines, and the news.  It’s all around us . . . start jotting down notes of inspiration.

You might see an interview on TV – the guy is a sole survivor in a war-torn country.   Don’t you really want to know how he survived when no one else did?  How about a mother who takes her life . . . and that of her daughter – why?  Aren’t your story-telling feelers asking you ‘what would make her do that?  If you see a guy that is trying to survive in the desert, no modern help-just him and the elements – don’t you wonder what on earth brought him to make that decision?

You hear about a priest who leaves his devotion and suddenly marries.  Wow – doesn’t that spark your creative spirit and make you wonder why?  What would bring him to this decision?  How difficult was it?  What does his family and friends think about this?  How does this affect his life now?  Does he regret it? 

There are the numerous, horrendous killings and sad disappearances in real life . . . that could spawn hundreds of books. 

So why don’t we write about them?  Well . . . we do!  There's drama all around us and if you’re one of those smart authors – you’re finding material for your stories every time you listen to the world around you or you open your eyes – drama unfolds at every turn. 

What sets one writer out from another is their passion to write the story.  They take the ardent fervor for life and fill in the blanks that take the reader on a journey.  Sometimes it’s uplifting and other times it’s nitty-gritty and even devastating.

The drama all around us results in the birth of innumerable ideas that becomes the basis – the drama – for yet another wonderful read.  Key here is to tell your story with passion.  Your reader will believe every word as though they heard it on the news or read it in a paper or online. 

 Rita Karnopp
Author ~ Romancing the West

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Waiting for Downton Abbey by Karla Stover

Waiting for Downton Abbey, by Karla Stover

     We are eight weeks away from the next season of Downton Abbey and many viewers are hoping the eldest daughter, widow and born-to-the-manor, Lady Mary will find romance with her widower brother-in-law, Tom, the Irish Republican and the family’s former chauffeur. Tom has settled in above-the-stairs fairly well, and is accepted by most people, but in real life that was not always the case. Take Margaret Powell’s autobiography, Servants’ Hall, for example. Ms Powell worked for the Wardham family at their Redlands estate. In the book, she recounts her life as the family cook, along with the marriage of parlor maid, Rose to the son-of-the-house, Gerald. The fact that Rose insisted on maintaining her friendships with the staff after her marriage didn’t bode well.

     I’m a sucker for well-written memoirs. When I want to binge on a particular type of book, such as life-below-the-stairs, I go to Alibris and plug in the title of a book, such as Servants’ Hall. When the book comes up, there is a spot on the right side labeled,” More Books Like This.” Thus, I read Rosina Harrison’s book, Rose: My Life in Service, which led me to her biography of the Astor’s butler, Edwin Lee and that led me to Eric Horne’s What the Butler Winked At. Though pretty tame by contemporary, tell-all standards, Mr. Horne’s book was a sensation when it came out, as those above the stairs panicked for fear of what they might read about themselves.

     When Call the Midwife, a series based on Jennifer Worth’s books, started showing on PBS, I found her other books on Alibris and read them all. That’s not to say, “More Books” doesn’t sometimes go off on a bit of a tangent. It also recommended Belle de Jour: Life of an Unlikely Call Girl. Maybe the anonymous who wrote it needed a midwife.

     And now I seem to be off on my own tangent. Here I sit, reading Mollie Moran’s, Minding the Manor while I wait for Downton Abbey to start. I sit knowing full well Lady Grantham will soon be simpering over Lady Mary; Lady Mary will be swanning around, and poor Lady Edith will still be looking for a man.

                                                                 Author of A Line to Murder

Monday, November 10, 2014

Shabby Chic Birthday Card by Cheryl Wright

It was recently a crafting friend's birthday, and knowing she shares my love of cards that are vintage and/or shabby chic, I got to work.

Shabby Chic, in particular, is generally based around pastel colors such as pink, blue, mint, and soft lemon or lavender. It often includes flowers, pearls or rhinestones, ribbons, and generally contains some distressing. (Distressing is the art of making something look old, even though it's new.)

Go to this link on Pinterest for a great example of shabby chic.

I just adore this style of cardmaking, and use it a lot.

Taking into consideration my friend's style preferences, this is the card I made for her.

My friend loved her card, as I knew she would (simply because of the style).

Thanks for stopping by, and don't forget to join my Facebook page. I have a giveaway running at the moment, and I'd love for you to enter.

This month's prize is a print copy of Don't Tell, Don't Die plus a custom-made keychain.

Til next time,


My website: 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Soldier’s Breakfast by Jude Pittman

A WWII Memory, dedicated to my Uncle William (Bill) Shipton (Canadian WWII Veteran) and my daughter Major Billie Cartwright (Active US Army Reservist)

Originally published in Western People Magazine, May 1991 as Egg on His Face

Bill was in his glory. Finally after weeks of courting young Phyllis Quelch, he'd been invited home to dinner. He pressed his uniform until the creases cut and shined his shoes until he could see his reflection.

Bill wanted to be sure that the Quelches recognized him as a serious young man with his own land and big plans for the future. Once the war was over he'd be returning to his homestead in Alberta, and it was going to take some doing to convince Phyllis to give up her life in England for the rough Canadian prairies. This dinner was Bill's chance to win the Quelches approval, and when he met them at their humble cottage he flashed his brightest smile and prepared to charm them with his native Canadian wit. The Quelches were a pleasant couple slightly reserved in the manner of the British but they soon warmed to Bill and after dinner they invited he and Phyllis to join them at the neighborhood pub.

The evening passed in easy camaraderie. Bill entertained the Quelches with amusing tales of life on the Canadian wilderness, and they responded with anecdotes of English country life. By the time they started home it was raining heavily, and Mrs. Quelch insisted that it was not a fit night for Bill to bicycle back to the base. He gratefully accepted a bed on the living room sofa and was soon fast asleep.

Rising early the next morning to the smell of sizzling bacon, Bill slipped into the little kitchen to greet Mrs. Quelch.

"The top o'the mornin to ya," he quipped. "When I heard you humming away at that stove I thought for a sec I was back home with my Mum."

Smiling shyly, Mrs. Quelch poured him a cup of tea, dished up several slices of bacon and four eggs onto an old crockery plate and set it carefully on the warmer.

"That smells mighty good, ma'am," Bill said, gratefully carrying the plate to the little breakfast nook and happily digging into his breakfast. The portion was just right for his vigorous appetite, and pleasantly filled, he waited eagerly for Phyllis and her Dad to join them. When they finally gathered around the table, Bill wondered that all they ate was toast and tea, but assumed they'd adopted the modern habit of saving their appetite for the mid-day meal.

When Bill prepared to leave for the base Phyllis offered to ride part way and Bill delightedly accepted her company. They hadn't gone far though, when she stopped her bicycle and turned to him with a serious expression on her face. "Bill," she said. "Have you any idea what you've done this morning?"

"Done, why I haven't done anything at all, other than pass the time of day with your Mum and enjoy her fine breakfast."

"That's just it. You ate the entire family's ration of bacon and eggs this morning. We save our eggs all week long so on Sunday morning's we'll have enough to share at breakfast."

Well, the ground should have opened up and swallowed Bill. Never had a young man been so embarrassed. Back home in Canada--what with their own hogs and chickens--it was nothing to eat a rasher of bacon and six or seven eggs for breakfast. It hadn't even occurred to him that the plate Mrs. Quelch put on the warmer was for anyone but himself.

Bill's face flamed. He mumbled his apologies to Phyllis, bid her good day, and pedaled like a madman to the base. Wheeling in through the gates he headed straight for the mess hall. Bill had long been in the habit of offering a helping hand in the kitchen when no one else was willing, and his easy acceptance of even the meanest chores made him a favorite among the cooks. Therefore, when he reached the mess hall and tossed his knapsack in the door he was met with good natured grins.

"Fill 'er up lads," he said. "Whatever we've got to spare and don't stint the bacon and eggs. I've a debt to repay and I'll be thanking you not to make me look bad."

Next, Bill charged across the compound and descended on the warrant officer. "Sir, every month we're entitled to our ration books." he told the startled officer, "and in all these many months I've not drawn any of mine. This morning I made a colossal donkey of me, what with not knowing how hard-up these people are for food, and I'm sure in need of my ration books."

"Well soldier," the officer replied, "you're certainly entitled to them, but it'll probably take a little time for me to round them up."

"That'll be fine Sir. I've a few things to attend to and then I'll be back to pick them up."

With that Bill headed back to the kitchen, and finding the knapsack filled to overflowing, he thanked the cooks and swung the heavy knapsack onto his shoulders.

When the ration books were ready, he shoved them in his pockets, and fetched his bicycle. Then he pedaled furiously for Maidenhead and was soon knocking on the door of the cottage.

"Why Bill," Mrs. Quelch said, when she answered the door. "Whatever brings you back here this morning."

"There's a little matter I need to attend to," Bill said stepping inside the door and heading for the kitchen. "You know ma'am," he said, removing the knapsack from his shoulder. "I've never been so embarrassed in my life as when Phyllis told me I'd eaten the family's breakfast. Now, I'm hoping you'll let me makes amends."

Stunned, Mrs. Quelch's eyes widened in wonder as Bill began spilling the contents of his knapsack across the kitchen table. Then, turning to the astonished woman he reached in his pockets and pulled out the stack of ration books.

"Mrs. Quelch," he said. "I want you to know that as long as I'm around here there won't be any more breakfasts of dry toast and tea," and Phyllis, coming into the kitchen, watched in amazement as her mother burst into tears.

"You know," she told Bill later, "in 21 years I've never seen my mum cry, and I'll never forget what you've done for her today."

 Find more by Jude Pittman at

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