Friday, March 30, 2012

Cinderella: It's not just a fairy tale....

I think I know a little bit how she must have felt on that magical night! One week ago today I received word that a long-held dream had come true and just as magically, like that, my life changed course. I was a freelance writer/editor and author who six months ago had indie published her own fiction in e-book format. Now, in addition, my fiction is to be print published. I will hold in my hands an actual book and when you have loved books your whole life the way I have this is a gift, a true miracle. I am especially grateful, too, because it was the love of books and reading that inspired my desire to write. I wanted to give back, or give on, the wealth of joy that I found in stories. To me reading a story is like opening a door into another world, one I can’t experience in any other way. It is a way to explore human nature and to peer into its mind. It is a way to know myself. My big sister taught me to read. We’ve shared the love of reading our whole lives. Together with our mother we have always revered books. In life there is so much change and upheaval. For me books are the one constant, the single reliable presence. The source for light and joy. They have lifted me out of myself, provided me with inspiration, moved me to tears and to laughter. Taught me to think, helped me to discover and to question. Now there is this possibility for me to give this same gift to others through my stories, to give pleasure, to give food for thought and imagination.

Some have voiced concern that as the result of the electronic revolution, printed books will be lost to the world. Maybe, although I can’t imagine it and don’t ever want to see that happen. In any case, the art of story will never be lost. It’s woven into our DNA, threaded into the very nature of life. The universe itself tells a story.

In some of my indie book reader mail and reviews, readers have said they felt as though they were with the characters or living in the character’s heads while reading the stories. I love knowing that the world I create in a book and the people who are brought to life from the page are that vivid. I love hearing that a reader has been moved by a story, that something inside them has shifted as a result, a thought, a belief, perhaps a judgment against or a prejudice is reconsidered.  One reader said reading gave her relief from disturbing issues in her own life, that for awhile she was just lost in a different world. I wish there were a way for me to convey to every reader how much these comments mean to me or how thrilled I am for this new opportunity to reach many more readers, to put something solid into their hands … a gift with beautiful art on the cover and pages to turn.

EVIDENCE OF LIFE will be published by MIRA in April of 2013. The process is unfolding now and I have so much to learn, but it is such a joy because every day I will be doing what I love to do. Thank you to Barbara Poelle, my wonderful agent, whose guidance and insight honed the novel’s focus and thank you to Erika Imranyi, my fabulous editor at MIRA, whose enthusiasm and encouraging words have made me that much more determined to be the best writer I can possibly be. They have both inspired in me a desire to work harder, although when it is so gratifying to me, I almost can’t think of it as work.

I am planning to chronicle the journey here, from now until next April I’ll post about progress on a regular basis. I don’t want to lose the memory of one minute of this experience. I hope you’ll want to join me.

On Facebook the other day, I commented that I was so happy I caught myself skipping in the grocery store parking lot. I didn’t even care that people stared. That’s having joy. I so hope I can share that here, sprinkle it around so everyone feels the benefit. People should never be too old to skip or to dream or to have their dreams come true. They should never be too old to believe miracles can and do happen.  I know because one has happened to me.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Interview With Cover Artist Darla Tagrin: The facts & science fiction

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They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but for plenty of readers that’s how the initial connection is made and the cover for The Ninth Step would never have come together so beautifully without the right artist. I nearly gave up my search until one day I happened upon a blog post about cover art. It wasn’t information I hadn’t read a hundred times before and I was only skimming until my eye caught on a comment that had been left by an artist Darla Tagrin. She did book cover art, she said, and gave a link to one of her paintings as an example of her work. It was titled "Door Into Dreams" and the moment I clicked through and saw it, I was entranced. The painting said everything to me about my experience of books, how they have opened doors for me, how they have brought light into and out of my mind. The message as I engaged with the painting went even deeper, unfolding in layers, but that is a discussion for another post! Suffice to say that I felt intuitively that Darla and I would be able to work together on the cover for my novel.

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Within a very short time, she brought the vision I had in mind to life. She gave it color and an intensity and impact that went beyond my expectation. Plus, my cover, from an original oil painting, is a beautiful work of art that will remain unique. Of course I highly recommend her, but I’m going to step aside now so she can talk a little about who she is and how she works.

Darla, thank you so much for stopping by today. Perhaps we should begin by learning a bit about your background i.e.: When did you first know you wanted to pursue painting? Art study? Organizations you belong to. Have you always worked in oil?

I grew up in a very small town in western New York.  I always liked drawing; you can draw anything you want, any way you want; and if you do it enough you will get better at it.  No grownups needed!

We had art as part of our classes in those days, and I was lucky enough to have a very good art teacher in high school who had us all do quick figure studies of each other.  I went to a small private college in Erie, PA, and studied art and psychology (I know, strange combination.) Unfortunately, that was in the late ‘70’s when figurative art and illustration was looked down upon; I refer to that era as the “drip and splatter” period.  I didn’t learn much painting technique, but I did learn how to develop ideas into visual art.

I really started painting just after I got married. My husband Larry and I used to go to science fiction conventions, and he persuaded me to put some of my old art into the convention arts shows. Much to my surprise, it started selling! I would recommend going to one of these SF conventions for any artist or writer of science fiction/fantasy if you can; there are usually lots of workshops by professionals, and opportunities to display your art (you must rent a panel and sign up ahead of time.)

I did interior illustrations for Tomorrow magazine before it went completely online, and maps and illustrations for Carole Douglas’ Irene Adler mystery series.  (I met her and Algis Budrys, the Tomorrow editor, at SF conventions.) Those illustrations were mostly in pen and ink and scratchboard. I’ve done quite a few portraits of people and their pets, in oil and colored pencil. I like oils because you can blend and layer them, and they don’t change color when they dry as much as acrylics do. Colored pencil and scratchboard are good for detailed portraits, but they take as much time or more to do than oils.

I’ve taken lessons and workshops in painting off and on over the years.  I live near Washington, DC and there are more art groups, shows and opportunities than I can take advantage of now. I do the newsletter for our local arts group, the Gaithersburg Fine Arts Association.

Where do you go and/or what do you do for inspiration?

I go for a walk with my little digital camera, look at my art books and magazines or go to the library to look at different ones, but the best inspiration is going to a gallery or art exhibit to see other people’s art. I usually get several ideas on different ways to approach a painting. One thing to do is to look at something that you really like, try to figure out exactly what it is that you like about it, and paint that element or apply it to something different.

What draws you to the design of book covers?

I always wanted to do illustration because I loved books so much, and I have little talent for writing. It’s very satisfying to work through the themes and events in the story and translate them to a visual scene that will make someone want to read the book, but not give away the story. Just like with writing, there are a lot of underpinnings and design elements that are not obvious in the final product.

Can you describe a bit about how you like to work with an author on their project? (In my case you read the manuscript and we discussed some ideas. You did a series of sketches.) 

Usually I will read the story and do a lot of preliminary sketches, send a couple of the most successful ones to the author, editor or art department head, and make any changes that are suggested. After the sketch is approved, I do the actual painting.  Years ago, I would send the actual illustration, but now I just send a high-resolution scan. I don’t paint the lettering; I do it in Photoshop on the scanned file, or the book designer will do it.

How quickly can an author expect to have a finished cover?

Usually three or four weeks after the sketch is approved.  I prefer to have a deadline date to work to.

What about the cost? Do you have a set fee or does it vary with the individual project? 

The fee varies on what the job is; for an ebook cover, it would be about $150 (prices may change in the future!) For a printed book, the price may be more than that because the actual painting would probably have to be larger. That is for the use of the cover image for the book and publicity purposes; the actual painting and copyright to it remain with the artist.

Where can authors needing cover art reach you? Website/email address?

My web site is still under construction; you can reach me at If you send me an email, I will send you a link to the site when it is up.

I'll post the link here as well. In closing, I just want to add that Darla is a wonderful artist, thoughtful, patient and intuitive, and lovely to work with.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Buy This Book: Come Back To Me

Come Back To Me, by Melissa Foster, is a compelling portrayal of what happens when the human heart is subjected to loss and uncertainty. It is a story that proves that the language of the heart is spoken and understood in the same way the world over regardless of the hostility that is generated through our differences when it comes to matters of race, religion or culture. It is also a story that illustrates that hope is always possible.

I love the title of this book: Come Back To Me. It is what we ask, universally, of those we love when they leave us whether they are going to fulfill an obligation to their country or to pursue a dream. It is the truest test of love when we can open our hands to set the one we love free. The story begins with this request, but, ultimately, it becomes a story about courage and coming to terms. It is about being brave in the face of danger and keeping faith right in the teeth of every logical argument from every friend we have who says we’re foolish. It’s about being true to yourself and what you believe in no matter how often those beliefs are tested. Be prepared, though, for an ending that may not be quite what you expected.

For more about Melissa, visit her website.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Buy This Book: The Hurricane Lover

In part The Hurricane Lover is a story about bad, murdering weather. Weather that’s named Katrina in this case, and what happens when people, when entire cities, don’t pay attention. But it’s also about how some people get off on danger. A storm comes and they want to go out and howl. They want to hurl themselves at it and into it. While an entire city is brought to its knees by one of the most dangerous storms ever, there’s someone loose in the streets who’s getting off on it. A crazy, pathological someone who’s using it to make something and take something … like some hapless victim’s identity, even their life. Shay Hoovestahl just wants to report the weather. You know, the pretty details, like how to lash down your patio furniture so the big wind won’t blow it away. Shay’s got no idea as she does the last of her puff pieces before the lights go out what’s ahead of her when the big wind reaches its full terrifying force, the levees break, and the filthy, debris and varmint-choked gulf water rises in the city’s streets. She is as ill prepared as New Orleans and when she finds herself on the trail of this psychotic killer, she’s got to face facts: that puff just won’t cut it.

Gulf Coast climatologist Dr. Corbin Thibodeaux tried to warn her. Prior to Katrina’s landfall, he struggled to get folks to understand the massive threat Katrina posed. But few listened judging from the alarming tone of inanity and ineptitude that’s indicated in the spate of email correspondence that came down from FEMA head Michael Brown. And not even Corbin realizes the unwitting role he’s playing in abetting the killer’s plan as they play hide and seek in the churning walls of one hideous monster of a storm.

The Hurricane Lover is a taut, seductive thriller that reads like the finest in docudrama. The atmosphere is eerily real and the characters are fully and richly drawn. Relationships are poignant and compelling with an undertow of dark humor that comes on like the best of surprises. Joni Rodgers is a masterful storyteller with a gift for writing dialogue that will leave you breathless. I loved this book and highly recommend it. For more about Joni, visit her website.