Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thirty Days Have September...

April, June, and November.  So okay, Kate won't be finished today.  It will be by the 1st week of July.  I even dreamed about it last night, something I've never done before--dreaming about a book I was working on.  But I didn't dream about the book, it was a character within the soap opera described in the book.  Weird.

I've been concerned that the soap dialog isn't very good but it's not something I can redo.  There's so much of it from the original version, I feel stuck with it.  Then this morning I watched ALL MY CHILDREN and I was shrieking at the TV the dialog was so horrible, so much worse than LIFE TO ITS FULLEST.

I wasn't good enough to write for ALL MY CHILDREN.  I was once on a conference call with a couple of their writers and Aggie Nixon, trying to do some sample breakdowns.  Afterward I was told I just wasn't clever enough to write breakdowns.  (After doing a hundred of them or whatever for THE DOCTORS when I was headwriter there.)

I'm glad I had the opportunity to work in daytime, it fulfilled a dream of mine (not one with CAREY CROSS in it, tho) but it literally took me years to overcome all the bad writing ticks I acquired in even that short a time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Disconnected Book Trailer

Finally finished it.  You stop being able to see what you're doing so I expect there are a couple glitches I can't see anymore but overall it works in a quirky sort of way.

I was careful to choose music in public domain.  Apparently it's okay here but I'm blocked in Germany.  I think I can live with that.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The So Impossible Horse

After thinking about it for a while, I decided to give Charlie a little face-lift.  When Nicki & Wynne was Nicki & Wynne, no one was interested.  When it became Summer Horse, people got a little interested.  I didn't change anything else about the text.  Just the cover and the title.  Rebuilding the Charlie cover is not in the cards since I still want to finish Kate this weekend, but after all morning, I reformatted the manuscript and tweaked the cover.

It's what Joe Konrath would do.

Friday, June 25, 2010


My agent asked me to work up a proposal for a thing, which I won't describe at the moment, so I have a lot of reading to do.

I want to finish Kate before I start anything else so I hope to complete that this weekend.  Over the intervening years, while in some ways I can see how my thinking is the same, in other ways, it's not.  It's good to know I think I'm smarter now than then.  Some elements I have issues with now about the book weren't issues to my very excellent and well-respected editors at Atheneum.  I don't know if I will ever understand that or if I will simply chalk it up to that's how things were done then.  I wonder if Jane Austen would have changed anything in Pride and Prejudice had she been able to have another pass at it.  Would she have given Mr Darcy a first name?

Here's a wonderful poster that could hardly be much better.  The one thing I think we could do without is all the text.  I'll quick Photoshop it out and we can decide which works better.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dancing On a High Wire

That's where the fun is.  (To combine two different songs)

To be uncertain is to be alive.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Good Advice For Serious Writers

This happens to be aimed at screenwriters but it's applicable to those starting out in ebookery.  I don't necessarily agree with everything, and it is about screenwriting which should be considered quite a separate exercise.  Notice the first point.  The writer entertains the reader.  Think of your reader first and foremost.

The New 10 Commandments of Screenwriting.

There  are thousands of things you can learn as a screenwriter that will be  valuable for you.  But break these commandments and your soul will be  damned to eternal amateur-damnation…
…Or maybe it’ll just be a bit more difficult to become a pro. Either  way, you’ll want to really consider these guidelines as you write or  rewrite your screenplay.

1. Entertain us…or it’s over!  Entertainment is the number one reason that people go to movies.  Every producer and agent knows that. So it should be the #1 focus of  your screenwriting. Become a master at making any character or situation  entertaining and you’ll be a writer in demand. To be blunt, if there is anything in your script that doesn’t  entertain, fix it.

2. Make EVERYTHING more interesting. The industry is filled with readers who are fed a gourmet diet of  professional screenplays. If you want yours to stand out, it has to  captivate their attention and cause them to forget that they are doing a  job. This should be an ongoing campaign of yours. Make your scenes more  interesting. Make your characters more interesting. Make your dialogue  more interesting. Make everything more interesting.

3. Give us a lead character we can’t stop following. Professional screenwriters intentionally create characters we want to  follow. They are unique, yet familiar. We can relate to them and want  to go on the journey with that character. In general, your protagonist should be the perfect person to lead us  deep into this story and the conflict that is about to occur. Don’t  settle for a good lead. Go for great.

4. Promise us something special…and deliver on it.  Somehow, you have to keep people reading until the last page. Here’s a  solution.  About 15 years ago, I read a book called “A Story Is A Promise” by  Bill Johnson. Since then, I’ve always looked at a script from the  perspective of “What is the promise you’re making to the reader/audience  and how do you keep it in a unique way?” Essentially, you are promising some major achievement by the  protagonist or some big confrontation that will happen in the 3rd Act  between protag and antag. If the promise is strong enough, we’ll read  every page to see what happens.

5. Show us deeper meaning.  Deeper meaning can be built into the plot, character, situations,  actions, and dialogue of a script. It doesn’t have to be profound, just  beneath the surface…and perceived by the audience.
Audiences and readers just don’t appreciate on-the-nose writing.  Subtext gives them a chance to interact with the film. They have an  internal experience of the story because they are interpreting what the  dialogue and actions really mean.  Because of that, it is just as important to take care of the subtext  of a story as it is to create the surface story.

6. Put your characters through hell.  Great parents take care of their children and don’t let harm come to  them. Great writers put their characters in the worst possible places to  challenge their beliefs and physical limitations.
Don’t get the two jobs mixed up. Audiences don’t go to movies to see  characters lead safe lives. They want to see your characters take risks,  experience danger, and barely escape from challenging situations.
By your final draft, your characters should hate you for all the  terrible things you did to them.

7. Free up your dialogue so you can express more character.  Beginning writers often fill their dialogue with exposition and story  details, thus reducing the amount of character and creativity that  shows up in that dialogue. Don’t do it.  Instead, put the exposition, information, and story details into the  action and situations.
For example, instead of a trainer telling a new boxer that a certain  philosophy doesn’t work, have him put the character in the boxing ring  and learn it by having his ass kicked. Now, the trainer doesn’t have to  lecture. In fact, he is free to talk about anything – breakfast,  politics, his favorite dog, etc. – because the real meaning is being  delivered through the action.  It completely frees you up so you can be much more creative with your  dialogue.

8. Turn cliches into fresh ideas.  In the film industry, a cliché is defined as “something we’ve seen  before.” If you write a script with the same plot or the same lead  characters or the same situations, people will balk at them.  Audiences want to see familiar stories told in different ways and  familiar characters with something special about them. That means that  your characters, situations, actions, and dialogue need to have  something unique to them.  Your challenge: Hunt down every cliché in your script and brainstorm  more unique ways to accomplish their purpose. Give them a twist or  unique spin or different voice. It takes a bit of work, but it  instantly improves your screenplay.

9. Give yourself permission to write **** in your first  draft and push yourself for perfection in your final draft. Not the other  way around.  Many writers try to be perfect on the first draft, thus giving  themselves writer’s block. First drafts are the time for total freedom  of expression, not criticizing your writing. You want to discover what  you can about your story, characters, etc.  On the other side, writers often send drafts to producers that aren’t  even close to ready. That’s the time to bring out your internal critic  and make sure this is a perfect draft.
The more in sync you are with your creative process, the faster  you’ll achieve perfection.

10. Rethink your script…until it is the most amazing it can  be.  This is the ultimate challenge of a professional screenwriter –  having to rethink the same script over and over until you discover the  perfect way to tell this story.  Even if you think your story or character is perfect, you should have  the skills to re-envision it in many different ways. Not only will this  help you write a better story, it will also help you work with  production companies and Studios when they request script changes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

DIY Book Covers V. The Real Thing

I was just looking at the blog and all the book covers I've done.  Go look now.  No, you.  You scroll down the right side.  Go look at the Wish You Were Here books published by Berkley.  I'll wait for you to come back.

Are they a mess or what?  That dark-haired guy looks like the actor from the sitcom starring Judith Light.  Tony Danza (had to think for a moment).  I don't remember creating a character that I described looking like that.  He looks like a street thug, a numbers runner for Sally the bookie at the Villa Amalfi restaurant backroom.  Is that blond guy who needs a haircut supposed to be Glin?  Ugh.  I suppose we were going for the normal teenager look.  I think we can consider that a fail.

Aren't my covers every bit as good, if not better,  than the WYWH books?

Since I talked about Ruth Eastman a couple days ago, I want to introduce someone who helped me through a difficult patch.  No, he doesn't know it but I had a copy of Bruce McCall's Zany Afternoons by my bed and every night I would read one section to end the day on a good note.  Years later I got a box of books from an estate sale and there was a letter from Bruce McCall in there.  That was a real thrill.  He's fabulously talented and clever.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


It was long past time to update my website, so, reluctantly, I did that today.  I use Expression Web and I can't recommend it highly enough.  That it's a Microscoff product is a mystery to me.  It works.  The help file is helpful.  It's easy to navigate (and doesn't have that stupid ribbon thing going on).  So any problems I had were due to me.
The minute you start touching links they all get screwy, so that happened.  I had a problem with the underlining of links.  I don't like that so always manage to make it go away.  On one page in the program, everything was fine, but on the web it wasn't.  I don't know how that's to be explained.  I left it. 

As I was looking at the completely inappropriate background for Disconnected I realized I could quickly whip up something in Photoshop, so I did. 

I googled this question but couldn't find a definitive answer.  It seems that background images are often gifs.  No idea why.

I think I'll do one for the Ice Cream Parlor next.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Writing Advice And Other Topics

Advice:  You're not all that and a bag of Cheetos.

Cheetos were a great invention.  Corn and cheese.  Wow.  Of course there's a lot of air in there, so you can practically eat an entire bag before you think "I should have had a sandwich".

I'm sure you want me to go back to the writing part.  So okay, briefly, because, as you might have discerned, I'm not keen on talking about writing.  Do the writing.  Don't think so highly of yourself.  You didn't create a masterpiece with your penny pencil.  And even if you did, so what?

"This writing business.  Pencils and whatnot.  Overrated if you ask me." --A.A. Milne.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ruth Eastman Rodgers


I like the green and the blue and the white.  I happen to like that combination very much, so much that I had my airplane painted with that color scheme.  No, no, I don't have the plane anymore.  It went long ago.  I became a huge fan of the illustrator Ruth Eastman this week who had a terrific eye for composition.  Oddly enough, she was of the Eastman-Kodak family so should anyone be surprised at her visual abilities.

We're not all so gifted with color and composition.  I can't draw worth a darn really, but still with all the graphics programs, we can all manage to turn out a decent cover.

What is my advice to someone who doesn't have the money to hire someone but believes they can give it a good shot?

1. Be able to easily read the title of the book.  The color of the text should contrast as much as possible with the background.  Dark/light.  Try to avoid dark blue and light blue, dark green and light green etc.  It's a little too close and won't show up that well in a thumbnail.  Cool fonts are neat, as long as they're readable.

2.  Stick with clear colors.  I've seen so many covers with dark, muddy tones.  It's very hard for the eye to discern what's going on.  It might work on traditionally published book, but digital, not so much.

3.  Try to have the cover suggest what the book is about.  This is your first meeting with a potential reader.  Give them a good and accurate impression of what's inside.  Or I suppose there is no inside anymore, technically.  What follows.  What awaits them.  Don't make the cover a barricade, let it be an open door.

4. In your desire to give information to the reader on the cover, don't give them too much.  You're working on a small space which can easily become cluttered or crowded.  You don't want to underdesign but you don't want to overdo it either.

David Belasco, the famous Broadway producer, said it must be possible to convey the idea for a project written on the back of a business card.  You should think of one image that best represents your book and go with that.
Don't be afraid to start over.  If a book can be rewritten, a cover can be rebuilt.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

In The Air

I love airplanes.  I love flying.  I adore pilots.  Flyboys.  hmmmm.

Anyway I found this neat WWI German biplane poster but it was in 2 sections.  So I used Photoshop and Corel Photo Paint to join it and restore it.  Sometimes PS is the best you can use and sometimes Corel wins hands down.
Glad I have both.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

It's Summer, I Know

And the sky is rumbling with thunder.  I'm about 1 page from the end of Kate and I'll have to be dragged to the finish line.  But I found this photo of a Washington DC street after one of last winter's snowstorms and it's so gorgeous and evocative that I had to put it here.

Now that I'm looking at it, I'm not entirely convinced the right side of the photo needs to be there at all.

What's good about the photo is also what's bad.  The streetlight is a lovely element but it's in the wrong place.  He needed to tilt the camera up just a little so our eye is lead upward and out of the picture, following the tracks in the snow and to the distant lights.  But instead we're stuck with the street under his window.  I would love to have more of the buildings on the left side and that would have been possible if he had just moved a little left.

Did I say I was a photography major in college?  I was.  We had an old warhorse of a newspaperman as the teacher and he would have said this was a failure to crop in the camera when the photo was taken.  It's really hard for some people to compose the entire image.  Now with Photoshop you can do so much, the weaknesses of the photographer can be disguised.  But if the sky isn't in the frame, there's nothing I can do about it.

It's still a lovely snapshot but it could have been a fabulous photograph.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Some time ago I found a neat landscape scene on Flicker taken in Alsace.  I kept thinking about it and finally added some elements.  My tribute to Rene Magritte.

I enjoy Photoshop now.  I must use about 5% of its capabilities.  I'm still annoyed that I have to google for help almost every day but every time I do there are always pages of hits.   I suppose there is some ego quotient involved--those who are clever enough to use PS without help and the rest of the world who isn't.

If the quick selection tool can find edges, why isn't there a color wand.  You specify the color you want to use as fill and then touch the area with the wand and the pixels are changed.  If it can do this, I have found no evidence of that.

I've been working on the Kate book.  I think I'm supposed to be on Kate's side but find I'm more on Fitch's side this time around.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What Photoshop Is Really Good At

This is a poster from 1916.  What's white now was all yellowed.  I opened it in PS and clicked on auto color or whatever, and it was instantly corrected.  It knew what to do.  How did it know what was yellow was originally white?

I'll tell you what it's not really good at and that's cropping an image.  I don't know why it's not more precise about it.  Usually I just open the image in FastStone and crop it there for accuracy.  Maybe I'm doing it wrong.  Now that I figured out you don't click the image to crop it you go to the icon.  There's probably a hot key but in all of Adobe's wisdom, this hot key business is not to be found easily on their site.  I've seen it mentioned on sites of geniuses at PS who have taken pity on the rest of us dopes and try to help us out.  My thanks go out to them.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fight With Amazon

Years ago I was contracted to write a book that seemed like a good idea but then because of my agents and the editor they brought on board, it became a catastrophe.  I have disowned that embarrassment for years.  Now Amazon won't remove it from my author page.  It's mine and it's going to stay there they've said.   "Thanks for understanding."  No, I'm not going to let them trample me (which is what this "understanding"--insert smiley face-- is all about) and smile about it. 

You wondered why I have pen names.  There you have it.

So it occurred to me that while I talked about the new cover for Impossible Charlie, I didn't post it here. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Besides The Garden, What I Did Today

It's from a WPA poster advertising a play.  I struggled with Photoshop again.  There's too much detail to easily use the quick selection wand, and using a mouse for detailed work is silly so I couldn't do exactly what I envisioned but still, it is very cute.

Life can still be good even in the most trying of times.