Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cover Design - Through the Waters

A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of a return client--always fun. =) A couple months ago I designed a simple cover for her vintage-era novel, The Eyes of the Heart.
Embassie got back in touch with me to say she was ready to do the cover for her next book, Through the Waters.

Set in the turbulent Civil Rights movement in Alabama, Through the Waters needed a heroine on the cover, in era-appropriate clothing, and a lovely backdrop of Alabama, perhaps with Spanish moss hanging. I headed over to Shutterstock to look and quickly put together a pretty little lightbox. =)

I always try to find an image that nails, up front, the look I'm going for. Failing that...I get creative.

Creativity was necessary here. The images I could find of women in the right style of dress didn't fit the heroine's physical description. But I found two dresses I really liked, and the woman had her back to the camera, so I could tweak the rest. My first choice was this one, in purple.
I downloaded this image, deleted her background, and got to work on skin tone. The heroine is an African American, so I selected all the skin visible, increased the saturation, and darkened a bit until I got a beautiful shade of brown that matched the model Embassie provided that her character was based on.
I really liked how that looked. But Embassie said that she always either wore her hair up or in loose curls. With the way the hat was here, we got no hint of hair whatsoever. I decided to change that so found a hand-dandy photo of a girl with lovely black hair.
I chose this one solely because of the way her hair was laying over her shoulder--just waiting to become a ponytail. ;-) And voila!
I really, really liked how that looked, so I chose a background and got down to composing the cover. My first thought was this one with the lovely pinks and purples...
I put them together (though it required copying the grass over and again to get it to go down far enough), zooming the girl in to fill the whole right side.
Next, I added an Action called "Nashville," that colorizes the whole thing.
I liked the vintage-photo feel that gave it, so I went ahead and added the title and author's name.
But of course, I wanted a little extra something...and needed to add the series title too. So I chose a flourish and put it both under the title and her name. And voila, the finished version of Round 1.
I sent this to Embassie for her take, and she liked it...then asked if she could see another option. Being a wise woman, she knows that having choices can be a fabulous thing. ;-) So I went back to Shutterstock and this time chose a bright red dress on the same model for a splash of color.
Going about things just as I did with the purple dress, I deepened her skin tone to that perfect shade of brown and added the same hair.
For her background, I went with this Spanish-moss-draped branch that gave a fun peek out into a field.
Embassie had mentioned a little house that could be in the cover, so I also found a photo of a small, rundown-looking house.
Putting the house in the background and sizing it appropriately, I got this.
I liked the frame that the moss and branch provided, so I went ahead and put in the girl.
The pop of red was fun, so I went ahead and added the title, etc., again, this time framing it in that white space.
I sent it off to Embassie...who liked this one too. =) She couldn't decide between them, so of course did the logical thing and asked if we could put Woman #1 on Background #2.

And naturally, we did just that...and found our winner!

I really love how it seems like she's looking back at the house, and how the images came together so well! Embassie was thrilled too, so there have it. Through the Waters, a sure-to-be-exciting historical romance that will be coming soon!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Support

This is mostly going to be an "I'm so grateful" post. =) Because sometimes, we just need to take the time for those.

I saw a blog post last week that got me to thinking. It's about how artistic pursuits aren't silly, and begins with this young mom talking with another young mom at a playground. Stranger-mom says of her husband: "He wrote for years before we got married," she confessed, "but now we have kids and I told him to put that silliness away."

I don't know this blogger, much less the couple in question. But my writer-self ached for that husband at those words. (Same for the blogger--a post worth reading.)

I've always been a writer. And I've been so incredibly blessed to always have people around me who supported that. My parents never once told me to stop my silliness and come do something more constructive. They never once told me to keep my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds. They never once said, "Maybe you should consider doing something else with your life."

From the surprise party my family threw in 2011,
when I'd signed a contract for the Culper Ring Series
They told me I could be anything. Do anything. They smiled when I said I was working on another story. They read them and praised them. They bragged about my accomplishments. And I know even today that my mom always has some of my bookmarks in her purse, ready to talk me up and tell everyone about her daughter, the novelist.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for your endless support. Would I have had the strength to stick out this crazy-long process without you always telling me I could do anything? I'm not sure.

Then I fell in love young. David knew from the get-go that I was a writer, and that if he intended to have a life with me, he better accept that--more, I warned him early on that whoever I married would have to have a "real job" to support the family, so that I could write. I knew well it might take a while for that writing to bring in any money, but I also offered the happy thought that maybe it would take off and be our retirement plan. ;-)

David always supported my dreams. More, he rewrote his own to support mine better. He has started a publishing company for me. He has kept going in a job that he doesn't exactly love so I didn't have to go out and find other work. He reads everything I write, and he brainstorms with me when I'm stuck.

I know there are writers out there whose spouses don't support their crazy-writing-habit. Who think it's silly, or not worthwhile, or whatever. I'm so grateful to David for not being one of those. For being, instead, the kind of husband who says, "What can I do to help you get more writing done? I can take Xoe to ballet this week. I can pick up dinner. Just let me know."

I've been so blessed...and I know there are so many people out there who aren't supported like I am. And that makes me wonder how they manage to do the things they do.

How do you homeschool if your husband isn't totally on board, supporting and helping out?

How do you chase your dreams if you're surrounded by people who tell you that you can't, or you shouldn't?

How do you hold onto a good attitude if you're fighting every day just to be you?

To my younger readers who are just starting out in life, I would say this: make it clear, always, who you are and what you need in your life. Know those things that you require to be the person you want to be--whether it's an artistic pursuit, faith, sports, or whatever--and don't compromise. Don't ever think you can give up being you to get something else--the husband, the good job, whatever. Follow your calling, your dreams. And let those around you know that you need their support in that.

To my readers who are parents, I would say this: don't clip your kids' wings. Even if that thing they love makes no sense to you, have faith that God fashioned them just so, and your job, while certainly involving speaking reason and logic, is also to tell them that dreams are worth chasing--and worth working for. Help them know how to work for it.

To my readers whose parents are trying to stretch their wings once their kids are out of the house, I say this: encourage them to follow God's calling, no matter where that takes them, and rejoice in their freedom to do so. They sacrificed so much to raise you--cheer them on now, and be willing to sacrifice for them. Be proud of them, as they have been of you.

To my readers who have spouses with big dreams, I say this: be willing to step out in faith. To let them step out in faith. Big things are only ever accomplished with risk. Dreams are only ever achieved when someone dares to let go of what seems safe and steady. Respect that their desires aren't silly--not if it's part of God's calling on their life.

Don't make the people in your life have to struggle to feel like themselves in a world that wants to mold them into a box. Encourage them to break that mold. To spread their wings. To take risks. To sacrifice. Don't ever, ever be the cause of someone else giving up on something they love just because you deem it "silly." Be, instead, the person they thank in that acceptance speech. The person they never could have succeeded without.

And be grateful when they do the same for you. Because we all have those dreams. And none of us can reach them on our own.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Remember When . . . We Used Pinterest?

Are you a Pinterest lover? The craze has spread to all reaches of society, for sure. I tend to use it for very specific purposes that have little to do with recipes or decorating, and today I'm talking about them over on Go Teen Writers.

Link will be live at 6 CST!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Word of the Week - Fence

So, duh moment. Did you know that the noun fence--like, you know, the thing around your yard--is from defense? Yeah. Duh. I'd never paused to consider that, perhaps because the spelling has ended up different, but there you go! It has been a shortening of defense with the same meaning since the 14th century. Then sense of that enclosure followed in the 15th century.

It had a similar verb meaning at the same times too, with the "to sword-fight" way of defending oneself arising in the 1590s.

But the reason I looked it up was for the meaning that has a fence being someone who buys and sells stolen goods...and to fence being to sell those stolen goods. I expected it to be a pretty modern use, but no! As the verb, it's been around since 1610, and it was then applied to the person doing it right around 1700--all from the idea that it's accomplished under "the defense of secrecy."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Jealousy, Authority, and School

It's going to be interesting to see if I can pull together the seemingly-unrelated thoughts flying through my head today. ;-) Stick around for the ride and see what happens, LOL.

I'll start with a confession: I hate award season. Not Hollywood award season (which I kinda like seeing all the gowns from...), but book award season. It starts now and goes into the fall, and every other week it seems like finalists and winners to some award or another are being announced. And I'm a meanie head. Because I get so tired of seeing those lists, and not for a pretty reason. It's jealousy, pure and simple. Have I ever mentioned that I'm a competitive person? I'm SUCH a competitive person! And I know this about myself. I try to guard myself against it. For that reason, I don't even enter awards.

And yet even so, when those lists come out, in come those thought: I want to win something too! Why do I never win anything? Are those books better than mine?

Seriously, this isn't a pretty confession. See? Yucky, and I hate having those thoughts. I certainly try not to entertain them, to let them linger. Because I don't want to be that person. I don't want to walk in bitterness. I don't want to fall into the Pit of Perpetual Comparison--it ain't a nice place to be. But it's one I tend toward.

It's one a lot of us tend toward, I think. If not in accomplishments, then in looks. In possessions. In whose kids are smarter/more advanced/more polite/taller/you name it. In whose house is cutest/biggest/neatest. In whose car is newest. In who volunteers more. Who makes the healthiest meals. Who... You get the picture.

There was a time I when I thought my competitiveness was a good thing, so I didn't bother to check it--hey, it made me valedictorian, right? There was a time when I realized it was a bad thing but didn't know how to check it--after all, I can't help it, right?

Now I know better. Now I know that like all other emotions, I may not be able to help that first feeling, but I can help what I do with it. I can help what I linger on. I can help where I dwell.  Now I realize that anything that makes me bitter or depressed is something to get away from, fast...and something to rebuke.

How often do we really do that though? Which leads me (hey hey!) into authority.

Most of us are pretty content to have authority in some parts of our lives. We certainly want our kids to obey us. We want those people we supervise at work to follow our lead or listen to our instructions. We love being able to make sound decisions and follow them through.

So...why are so many of us so afraid to claim the authority in those matters we can't see? Why would we rather wallow in it when we're upset or down or in pain or angry, rather than stop, turn our hearts to God, and banish those thoughts by the power of Jesus, granted to us through the Holy Spirit?

Do we feel silly? Uncertain? I'm not sure of the answer to that. But I know that I always hesitate to let go of the negative. It's easier to wallow, and it makes us feel...right. Like we deserve to linger in that feeling. It makes us the center of attention--our own, if no one else's. It keeps our focus squarely on ourselves, and when no one else is paying attention...

But it's a trap. Seriously. You don't want that kind of attention, even from yourself. If you refuse to think it, refuse to feel sorry yourself, ask the Lord to take those thoughts away and even--gasp--banish them in the name of's pretty amazing how quickly our hearts and minds forgive. Or heal. Or feel like maybe we can do that thing that had seemed impossible five short minutes before.

We have that authority, folks. When Jesus was instructing us in it, he didn't say, "And if you say in regards to that mountain, 'Lord, will you please move it out of my way? If it's your will, I mean,' it will be cast into the sea."

What he say to do? To "say to that mountain, 'Be removed,' and it will be cast into the sea."

We have that authority. Through Him, through the Holy Spirit, we can move mountains--and that goes for the mountains within us and within our family, in our everyday lives. We have that authority, through Him, to live victorious lives completely independently of anything we win, of any acclaim. We have the authority to find joy in every circumstance.

I don't know about you, but there are still times when I issue an order to my kiddos and am kinda surprised when they listen. I mean, why should they? Who am I? Sometimes I still feel like a kid myself, though I've been at this parenting gig for a shocking 9.5 years. But they do listen. Because I'm their mother. Because I have that authority over them--it's a natural authority, and it's one I've been careful to cultivate correctly over the years.

Though it doesn't keep Rowyn from saying "I don't want to read! I don't want to do my spelling! I don't want to do my math right now!" he's saying it as he puts his butt into his chair and gets his work out. As he's getting out his pencil. He's saying it knowing full well that I'm going to reply with, "You're going to do it anyway."

But if one day I said, "Yeah, okay. Whatever. Do what you want"? What do you think that kid's going to do?

Go play. That's what.

And that's the same thing our emotions do. If we give them permission, they run rampant. If we school them, they get in line.

And now that I've successfully tied my 3 topics together, I'm going to wind this up. ;-) See, we only have 2 days left in our school year (woo hoo!), and we're all looking forward to a break from the structure. But we also all know that it does nothing to the authority. I may not be doing as much teaching over the next 3 months (still some, because that's just part of our lives--they ask questions, and we find the answers), but I'm still Mommy. I still get to say, "Time to read. Time to clean up. Time for bed."

Just like to those negative thoughts inside my own head, I get to say, "Time to go away. Time to focus on blessings. Time to praise the Lord." And you know what? Jealousy and bitterness and depression have a might hard time coexisting with praise. They're gonna flee. They might try to come back, but I can send them away again.

And keep on doing it until the good feelings catch up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Remember When . . . We Visited England?

So after flying on British Air last month and having a layover in London--for all of 40 minutes--my husband has finally jumped on my "We should totally go to England someday!" idea (which he has been denying for a decade). We're now toying with the idea of traveling there for our 15th anniversary next year. With that idea in mind, David asked me last night, "So were in England would we want to go?"


Oh gracious. I want to see every place I've written about...or plan to write about. But that kinda means going from Whitby in Yorkshire...
to The Cotswolds in Gloucestershire...
and then of course down to Brighton and Hove...
and maybe over to Land's End in Cornwall...
and I'd really love to go to Loch Morar in the Highlands...
but given that it's not even on this map...yeah. Might be over-reaching there. ;-)

To which my husband said, "So you want to see England. Just...all of England."

Yeah. Pretty much, LOL. And why wouldn't I? We've gotten rolling moors filled with bracken and heather...white chalk cliffs and a pebbly beach...beautiful dales filled with honey-colored stone houses with thatched roofs...rocky cliffs tumbling into the sea...a foggy loch with castles about.

Is it any wonder I love setting books in England? Right now I'm brainstorming another idea, for after I finish my Ladies of the Manor Series, which is where Cornwall might come in.

But surely I'm not the only one who has long dreamed of visiting different parts of England. So tell me--if you could go anywhere on the British Isles, where would it be?

In the meantime, take a look at what just arrived yesterday!!!
Makes it all seem a little more real. =)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Word of the Week - Field Trip

My kiddos on a field trip to a one room school house last year

Since someone asked me about this over the weekend, I figured, hey--already looked it up, might as well share! ;-) Especially appropriate since this is our last week of school. Oh yeah. Right about now the kids are mighty glad we didn't take a bunch of snow days! ;-)

Field trip comes from the idea of field...not as in "an open piece of land, often cultivated" (which dates from time immemorial) but from the idea of field being a place where things happen. This is a slightly newer meaning that began evolving in the 1300s. (I said slightly newer, not new, LOL.) By then it could mean a battleground. And by mid-century, a "sphere or place of related things." By the mid-1700s people would refer to field-work as anything that took one out of the office or laboratory and into the world, where things take place.

Field trip, then, is a natural extension of this meaning. It's a trip into the field, going out of the classroom and into the world where the things you've been learning about can be found. Though an actually-new phrase (from the 1950s), it has its foundation on a nicely aged idea. =)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Cover Design - Turning Point

I recently had a very interesting and new-to-me project come my way. No doubt you've seen the ebook collections out and about these days, where authors with similarly-themed books package them together and sell them digitally for one low price. These "box sets" (quotes because they're digital so not technically in a box, LOL) are a great way to try out new authors along with ones you already know you love.

And as a designer, they're super fun...and rather find an image for!

Jill Williamson contacted me about designing such a box set for her and 6 other authors of inspirational young adult novels. The genres in the set range from contemporary to fantasy to science fiction. We have both male and female protagonists. Very different themes and styles. The thing they all have in common is that they focus on a turning point in the characters' lives.

That's the title of the collection: Turning Point. And here are the front covers of the 7 books that are a part of it.

As you can see, the covers are as diverse as the styles. I certainly couldn't just take a color or image common to them all and run with that. So instead I considered that Turning Point theme. What would capture the idea of a turning point in an image? A few thoughts sprang to mind or were suggested by the authors:

~ A road
~ A crossroad sign
~ A shot of someone wearing Converse shoes, standing beside an arrow drawn onto the road
~ A gate

The authors were open to either a graphic style or a photographic style, so my options were wide open. I played with a few of these ideas, like so...

But the group agreed they wanted brighter colors, so I set that particular background aside and went on the hunt for color. I was pretty stoked when I found this one.
I liked the bright colors, and also that it was at street-level, with that road in the forefront and the horizon in the center. That left plenty of room for me to insert some teens. Going off that first image above, they liked that both genders were there but that they didn't look like a couple--some of the books have romance but some don't. They suggested perhaps even adding in a third teen.

So off I went on the hunt for teen silhouettes. I found these 3 at the beach.
Feeling confident that these two images would give the group of authors what they were looking for, I put them together.
The general idea is there in this, though the teens look more like they're floating above the road than standing on it. The solution? A shadow. To create a perfect one, I duplicated their image, flipped it, skewed and stretched it, and then faded it out to about 60% opacity.
Muuuch better, right? I even bent the shadow a bit where it went over the leaves in the foreground.

So there's the main image. Now for the font. I wanted the title to be a huge part of this design and tried several different fonts before I found one everyone liked. We ended up with Pretzel.

Looks pretty standard, right? But it has nice, thick letters, which was important to my plan. Because, you see, I wanted to turn those words so they looked like they were sitting on the road too.
I achieved this by rasterizing the font layers so I could I alter the perspective of each word. I also applied a gradient to the layer to make the words darker near the ground and lighter up higher, nearer the light source. Then, mimicking what I did with the silhouettes, I duplicated those font layers, flipped them upside down, and stretched and skewed them so they, too, have a shadow.

The only thing left for the front was the subtitle!
So there we have the front cover of the box set...but yet to be done is to make it look like a box set. ;-) I knew from the get-go that the authors would like the spine of the books to have their cover down at the bottom, and then of course the titles.

Now, in some of the box sets like this I've seen, each title is written in the same font...but I thought it would be fun to match the font used on each book's cover. Fun--but a bit of a challenge! Luckily, I've become graphic-design-minded enough that I'm always taking note of fonts and trying to identify them, so I already had mental notes on what a few of them were. A few of the authors knew what font was used on theirs. One I actually hand-drew, LOL. Otherwise, I found exact or very-near matches on

I then took that sunset-y street image to use as a background for the spines, dividing it at regular intervals. I put on the titles, the author names, and the thumbnail of each book cover. Then I flattened the image, selected each 1/2 each spine segment, and saved it as a separate file. Here's an example of one.

Then off I went to my 3D software that lets me create a box. After determining the right sizing, I built 7 books into it, adjusted the widths correctly, and put each spine onto one of the books. Here's the result! 

I had a lot of fun on this one, and my hope is that I managed to capture the personality of each book with those individualized spines, and yet draw the all together with the vague but compelling cover image...and give it little extra twist with the treatment of the title font. What do you think?

Pre-order Turning Point on Amazon!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Word of the Week - Duck

So, cute story. Way back when Xoe was just a little miniature thing (as opposed to now, when she's quickly closing the gap between our heights and wearing my shoes!!!!!), I read her the Little Quack books. In one, Little Quack is playing hide and seek with his brothers and sisters, but he can't think of a place to hide--so he hides behind Mama Duck, swimming right behind her, in her blind spot, while she finds everyone else. But she can't find him, until finally she calls out for him, and he says, "Here I am, Mama!"

Ever since I read her that book when she was two, Xoe has liked to play "duckling." She would try to hide behind me as I moved around, usually ruining her stealth with giggles...and with the fact that I'm not a duck with that particular blind spot, LOL. But she still does it--and I knew well she didn't remember why, given how long it's been since we've read Little Quack. I was telling her about the origins of that particular playful habit on Friday night, explaining that's why I call her "my little duckling" when she does it. She didn't remember the why, but Rowyn sure thought it was hilarious that his sister was acting unknowingly like a duck...and then asked why in the world we call them ducks.

I, in my wisdom, said, "I don't know. Maybe because they duck and dive under the water?"

Rowyn: "Well not always, Mommy. Only when they're eating."

Smart little fella. ;-) Anyway, naturally I went and looked it up. And happily, I was right! Duck is from the Old England ducan, which means "to duck, to dive." So the verb really did come first, and then it was applied to the waterfowl. For hundreds of years it carried that water-associated meaning only. You ducked under the water, but you didn't duck to avoid a ball flying at your head. The "to bend, stoop quickly" meaning didn't come until the 1520s--several hundred years after the "dive" meaning.