What’s Your Sign?

What’s Your Sign?

by Barbara Renner


Today is my daughter’s birthday. Can I get a collective “Happy Birthday, Jackie”? I won’t tell you how old she turns today because that will not only reveal her age, but her momma’s approximate age as well. Jackie was born under the sign of Cancer, a water sign that displays exceptional emotion and ultra-sensitivity. If you believe in the meanings and characteristics of the zodiac signs, then you already know this.

What do zodiac signs and horoscopes have to do with being an author? I would like to propose that writers use traits from the 12 zodiac signs to create their characters. Rather than using your best friend as the protagonist or killing off the person who bullied you in grade school, look toward the stars. All it takes is a little research on the Internet – unless you are already an astrology guru.

Man versus Woman Relationships: When writing a scene where boy meets girl, or spouses argue, or a blind date goes bad, consider using astrological traits in your descriptions. Sagittarians are curious and energetic, and they love to travel. They are optimistic, enthusiastic, and like change. A Cancer, on the other hand, is a homebody. They tend to be moody, pessimistic, and manipulative. If you pair these two personalities as husband and wife, your story could be filled with all kinds of conflict.

Love Story: Try pairing a Scorpio with a Taurus. Scorpio is the most sensual sign of the zodiac. They are extremely passionate, and intimacy is very important to them. A Taurus is patient and devoted, and they are sensitive to touch and smell. Wouldn’t those two make an interesting love scene?

Antagonists: Choosing the weaknesses of certain astrological signs could make for an interesting antagonist. An Aries personality can be impatient, moody, short-tempered, and aggressive. They are one of the most active zodiac signs and continually look for speed and competition, sometimes before thinking their actions through. A human Wile E. Coyote comes to mind.

Dystopian or Fantasy: Create an effective evil character such as President Coriolanus Snow in The Hunger Games by using Leo traits. The Leo can be arrogant, stubborn, self-centered, and inflexible. They enjoy being treated like a king or queen.

Researching the Zodiac signs can be enlightening when crafting the characters in your story. The importance of doing this is to keep their personality traits consistent. And who knows? It might be interesting to research the signs of your friends and family too.

Barbara Renner and her husband have lived in Phoenix for more than 40 years – almost natives, but not quite. As “Sun Birds,” they fly away to Minnesota to escape the summer Barbara Rennerheat – and fish. While in Minnesota, Barbara became fascinated with its state bird, the Common Loon. This prompted her to write four picture books about Lonnie the Loon – because everyone should know about loons. Since books about loons don’t sell very well in the desert, she is writing a series of picture books about Quincy the Quail. Barbara visits elementary schools as a guest author to read her books and share interesting facts about loons and quails.

Barbara is working on other children’s books and a special book about her yellow lab, Larry, called Larry’s Words of Wisdom.

Find out more about Barbara on her website, follow her on Twitter, connect on Facebook, and review her books on Good Reads.

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Quotation Marks and Punctuation’s Ultimate Insiders: Periods and Commas

Quotation Marks and Punctuation’s Ultimate Insiders: Periods and Commas

By Kathleen Watson

When you’re on a roll and the inspiration is flowing, you don’t want to stop to punctuation chartponder punctuation. Seasoned writers get their thoughts and words captured first, postponing punctuation decisions until later.

As you begin to fine-tune your copy, you might get stuck trying to remember what goes inside and what goes outside quotation marks. These tips can help.

In American English, commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks, even when quotation marks enclose a single word.

  • She repeated three times, “I was disappointed by his behavior.”
  • “Don’t keep reminding me of that fateful night,” she pleaded.
  • I refuse to sit through another “debate.”
  • The art critic described Susan’s painting as “exquisite,” and I agree.

Exclamation points and question marks can go inside or outside quotation marks, depending on whether they are part of the quoted material.

  • “Look out! There’s a car coming!” his father shrieked.
  • Don’t you dare expect me to sit through another campaign “debate”!
  • “Whey didn’t you wash the windows?” Ava asked Chad.
  • Did I hear Chad tell Ava, “I washed the windows, but it rained the next day”?
  • Did she call him a “bloviating bag of wind”?
  • Who thinks “Do you plan to get married?” is a valid interview question?

(Note the absence of a comma after thinks, because the quoted material serves as an object and is not attributed to anyone.)

Colons and semicolons go outside quotation marks unless they are part of the quoted material.

  • She emphasized the highlights of her “extreme adventure”: hiking to the floor of the Grand Canyon, climbing out the same day, and being the oldest member in her group.
  • I heard her tell the babysitter, “Remember: She’s allergic to chocolate, so don’t give her M&M’S.”
  • He might call it a “debate”; I call it a series of “talking points.”
  • Mia made her position clear: “I have a test tomorrow; I can’t go out tonight.”

Bonus Punctuation Tips

Avoid a question mark when a statement is more a directive than a query, or when it represents contemplation. Read the phrase aloud to see whether you would raise your voice at the end. And don’t count on spellcheck in these instances.

  • Will everyone without a ticket please contact the box office by Friday noon.
  • May I ask you to please return my call before 5 o’clock today.
  • I wonder if my manager thinks I deserve a raise.

When you have a quotation within a quotation, use a set of single quotation marks for that element.

She recounted the argument, telling me, “Kelly insisted, ‘That will never work.’”

Don’t forget the interrobang.

When you want to express query combined with either extreme surprise, excitement, or outrage, both the exclamation point and the question mark let you down.

grunge punctuate

In 1962, journalist-turned-advertiser Martin K. Speckter combined a question mark with an exclamation point to create the interrobang, a mark with emotional punch. Apply the same guidelines for placement when quotation marks are involved that you would with an exclamation point or question mark:

  • “What did you expect me to do?!” she screeched.
  • Can you believe she replied, “No, I’m not a Cardinals fan”?!

Please remember that these guidelines are for American English. In other parts of the world, usage will differ. You also might have different guidelines if you work with a publisher.

Punctuation marks are critical markers for readers, telling them when to pause, when to stop, when someone is speaking, and the intensity of a character’s mood.

Their placement, unlike the creative aspect of writing, is less inspiration and more memorization — or keeping a good reference book at hand. Wise writers do both.

Kathleen Watson has nearly three decades of experience as an independent business writer, serving clients in both corporate and academic settings. Her weekly blog, Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor, offers practical word and punctuation tips, as does her recently published book Grammar For People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips From The Ruthless Editor. Contact her at: Kathy@RuthlessEditor.com.

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Why I Like Being a “Pantser”

Why I Like Being a “Pantser”

by Janine R. Pestel

Yes, it’s true – I am a “pantser.” I do not make an outline when I begin a new short story, novella, or even a novel. Why? Because I haven’t “seen the movie” yet. You may seeing the book.jpgbe thinking, “What the heck is she babbling about?” Allow me to explain…

This is how my writing process works: First, I get an idea for a story. I mull it around for a while before I decide if it will be a short story, novella, or novel. Of course, sometimes I get fooled, thinking it will be one thing, but it turns out to be something else. Case in point, my novel The Bucktown Babies.

This was actually going to be a short story, but soon after I started writing, I realized it needed to be a full novel. There was just too much stuff going on in “the movie.” There’s that “movie” thing again. Don’t worry; I’ll get to that.

After I decide what form the story will take (initially), I finally sit down to write. Do I write the outline? No way! I’ll make some notes about the story and characters, but that’s about it.

Here’s where the “movie” comes in. Once I sit down and start writing, it almost feels as though I am watching a movie, and describing in words what I am seeing. For me, being a pantser and not using an outline keeps everything fresh and exciting. I think that’s because I really DON’T know what is going to happen to my characters. It’s almost like they have a life of their own. Oh, I have an idea, of course – after all, I am writing the story. But it still almost feels like they have a life of their own.

And this process has worked out pretty well for me so far. For example, in The Bucktown Babies, Father Gunter (a former priest) receives an item from another priest. In all honesty, when I wrote that particular scene, I had no idea the reason would be for that priest to give this particular item to Father Gunter. After I did some research on the demon I was using in the book, I learned that in demonology, this particular item DOES happen to have power over this particular demon. Yes, I lucked out there.

I know there are those of you who will probably read this and say, “You shouldn’t do that. You should make an outline so you know exactly where your story is going and how it will get there,” and, in a way, you would be right.

However, I happen to feel like an outline restricts me. I feel confined, almost imprisoned. Sort of like seeing the end of the movie, then watching the whole film from the beginning. Why bother? You already know what’s going to happen.

So, that’s why I like being a pantser. It’s fun and exciting, and you never know what’s going to happen next. Besides, I get to watch “the movies.” Right now, I’m watching the second Father Gunter, Demon Hunter movie, and you know what? It’s better than the first one.

Janine R. Pestel is the author of The Mons Connection and Infected and Other Short Stories as well as short Janine Pestelstories in the scifi / occult / horror genre(s) and an upcoming paranormal / occult series. Always interested in science fiction, action adventure, and comedy, Janine tried her hand at writing a book back in the 1970s but did not have the direction she needed to complete it. Now, many years later, she has the drive and direction to write a complete book. Her only regret is that it took her this long to get going. Find her on Facebook.

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Cover Design for Independent Authors

Cover Design for Independent Authors

by Vaughn Treude

If you search “cover design” online, you’ll find that many writers say “Don’t do your own covers.” They mention the many pre-made designs available for purchase and recommend using one of those. That’s fine for some folks, but I’m a control freak who can’t let that go. My novels are my babies, unique and exceptional. Each cover needs to match the story perfectly. Pre-made covers are attractive and professionally done, but they look too generic for my taste.

Ione cover 1

This is not about saving money. Any money you save has a corresponding cost in time and effort. If, like me, you have good ideas but no artistic talent, I recommend outsourcing the cover art. The art for my first two books was done by a family member, Kyle Dunbar. I gave him rough sketches of the concepts, and he brought them to life. For my second novel, Fidelio’s Automata, I wanted to show the two main characters framed by a simulated leather background to give the book an old-fashioned look. In Kyle’s conception, the characters were being chased by a giant mechanical spider. I liked it so much, I rewrote a chapter to match the art.

Though many steampunk books feature modern-looking designs, I prefer to replicate the look of the Victorian era when the stories take place. Fortunately, I have a collection of antique books old enough to be in the public domain. For our Ione D book designs, I borrowed the layout of a German hymnal circa 1910 and a teen adventure story from 1902. To manipulate the scanned cover images, I use the Gimp, an open-source alternative to Photoshop. For these books, instead of hand-drawn art, I used photographs. Arlys, my wife and coauthor, has a knack for designing steampunk costumes and getting friends and family members to model them for her. I use the resulting photographs as new artwork for the modified vintage designs.

E-books need covers, too, but only the front, and the dimensions aren’t critical. You just need to have an easily recognizable image, plus the title and author name. Amazon enforces minimum and maximum file resolutions, but not much else. A physical book requires much more careful setup. I’ve only used Lightning Source for printing, but I assume their procedure is standard. I need to specify the book’s dimensions, the page count, paper weight, and the ISBN (for the bar code.) Lightning Source sends back a template showing the boundaries of the front cover, back cover, and spine, as well as the “bleed” area. This last term refers to a design in which the image extends to the edge(s) of the cover. Because cutting a cover to size is an inexact process, the designer must extend the image at least 1/8 of an inch beyond the planned size of the cover. Use of this template allows you to make final adjustments to the cover. None of this is trivial. I put in at least 40 hours of work on each book cover, considering the e-book and paperback together.

Though the conventional wisdom discourages authors from creating their own covers, doing so can be an interesting challenge if you’re willing to put in the effort to create a quality design. It also allows you to have more control of the creative process, and/or to give work to the artists among your friends and family.

Arlys and I are proud to announce that Professor Ione D & the Epicurean Incident is now available! Epicurean Incident is the second in our series of Ione D. steampunk novels. Ione is an independent-minded young woman at the turn of the 20th century who travels the world in search of knowledge and adventure.

Vaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children nearby, made science fiction a welcome escape. After many years in software, he realized that the discipline of engineering could be applied to writing fiction. Check out Vaughn’s works at vaughntreude.com.

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Book Covers – Super Fun, or Make You Wanna Stab Your Eyes Out?

Book Covers – Super Fun, or Make You Wanna Stab Your Eyes Out?

by Cody Wagner

Now that my novel is getting closer to completion, it’s time to start thinking about my book cover. Of course, you might be thinking, Don’t you already have a book cover?

That’s a great question, Cindy!

And the answer is, yes. However, I really dislike my cover. This is in no way meant to insult my illustrator or art director. They are hyper-talented people on their own. I just don’t like how everything came together.

So it’s time to change things and get the cover I love!

To that end, I wanted to share a few tips. See, I absolutely love book covers. In fact, I spend entire evenings scrolling through cover art on the web. And there are two tips I’ve learned, things sooooo huge that even a pleb like me can see them. So, without further ado, watch out for these issues:

Obvious Composite Images

Most writers who want a photo-realistic book cover end up using stock photography. In case you’re not familiar, stock photos are pictures available online that you can pay to use. Fortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of stock photos out there, so you can usually find something fairly unique that works for your book cover. The problem arises when your cover needs to incorporate multiple images.

Say, for example, you want a cover featuring a heroine (the female hero kind, not the drug… wait, they’re spelled differently, aren’t they? Never mind!) standing in front of an old tree, while a cloudy sky looms overhead. Chances are, you may need to find three separate images: the woman, a tree, and the sky. After selecting the perfect images, your book cover artist would then merge them into one design.

The issue occurs when those images aren’t seamless. To illustrate, let’s look at this cover I book cover analysis 1found. (NOTE: I must say that the artist who did this cover has some amazing work in her portfolio, so this isn’t a knock on her! This flawed cover could be the result of any number of factors.)

This image isn’t made up of an obscene number of composite images, but there’s one glaring problem: the dog.

Look at the light from the inside of the columns and how it correctly causes the shadows of the columns to run down the steps.

Then look at the dog. First off, the style of the dog doesn’t even match the columns. That alone is troublesome. But now check out the dog’s shadow. It doesn’t correctly run down the steps. On top of that, it’s not even going the right direction in relation to the light source.

This may not be a super obvious example, but I’m glad for that. Because even the untrained eye knows something is wrong with this cover, whether or not they can point out what it is. It’s just off. That screams amateur. And, unfortunately, people associate amateur covers with amateur writing, which ultimately affects sales.

Avoid Bad Illustration

An alternate to photography is illustration, or drawn/created imagery. When the purse book cover analysis 2.jpgstrings tighten, many writers feel forced to compromise on illustrated covers. That can often lead to that ill-fated scenario where we, gulp, recruit our “talented” brother or aunt or sixteenth cousin to craft our illustrations. Unfortunately, that often leads to book covers that look like this.

Now, you might laugh at this, but I have to tell you, covers like this are WAY more common than you might think. Either budgets prevent writers from hiring professional illustrators, or authors are so tied to a design that they end up with something missing an obvious design eye.

So what’s my advice here? Well, in addition to hiring a pro, the most obvious thing is to take the tone and audience of your book into account when deciding on a cover. If I were to guess the genre from looking at this cover, I’d say it’s a children’s book. However, the title tells me that’s probably wrong.

Now, what about advice for writers with extremely tight budgets? That’s easy: go simple. I’ve seen a book cover that was solid black with a tiny white title that was FAR more compelling than the covers above. During my days in advertising, I learned the phrase “No art is better than bad art.” And that holds 100 percent true with book covers.

Fonts Are Everything

This may sound like an exaggeration, but I firmly believe that font selection is the most book cover analysis 3important part of your book cover. I think most people don’t really contemplate a font’s contribution to the cover. Instead, they think people simply need to see the name of the novel.

Not true.

For example, let’s look at this wonderful cover.

Doesn’t the font just make this cover? I absolutely love the font selection. From the word “Life” alone, you can see that, unlike the title suggests, life isn’t ordinary. It’s colorful and whimsical. I love it.

Here’s another great example.book cover analysis 4.jpg

Normally, I would recommend against using so many different fonts. However, this artist knew what he/she was doing and it results in something great. Overall, the cover is pretty simple. But the fonts wonderfully hint at heaven and hell. They really say a lot, and that’s important.

Now let’s look at a bad font choice.

Again, this might seem exaggerated, but it’s a real cover. And bad font choices are waybook cover analysis 5.jpg more common than you might think. So let’s look at what’s wrong with it.

First, it’s extremely difficult to read. The drop shadow behind it is WAY too far from the letters. Also, the odd shadow color (white) doesn’t work. Next, the font choice is terrible. Never use a font like Comic Sans. It’s one of those trope fonts that should be avoided.

Additionally, look at the number of font colors and treatments. We have blue-green on white and white on white. If there weren’t enough, the white font has a red outline. That’s way too busy.

Now let’s go a step further and look at the font choice in relation to the novel. If I were to look at the title and image, I’d guess the book is probably action-packed and violent. Well let me ask you: Is Comic Sans an action-packed and violent font? Not at all. The font selection here had nothing to do with the tone or genre of the book.

Whew! OK I’m shutting up now. But hopefully these high-level tips will help you when reviewing your book cover concepts or looking for a designer.

Cody Wagner
loves to sing, mime (not really), and write. His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at Wagner-Writer.com, or find him on Twitter (@cfjwagner), Goodreads, and Amazon.

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A Memorial Day to Remember

A Memorial Day to Remember

by Beth Kozan

Let me tell you about May 30, 1956 – the day lightning struck our neighbor, Elmer.

tractor in weather

School was out. The cotton was planted. After dinner (served at noon), Daddy had gone back to the field. About 2 p.m., a thunderstorm announced its quick approach with thunder and lightning. Daddy came back to the house on our little Ford tractor. In those days, tractors had no enclosed cab, so he returned home to stay dry. When it started to sprinkle, Nita Karen (almost 8) and Larry (almost 5) came in from the pasture where they were attempting a bareback ride on Ginger.

I was standing back from the front screen door; we all knew to stay away from the metal of the screen because of the danger of lightning! Suddenly, there was an especially close flash of lightning, followed by the instant roar of thunder. In that flat West Texas terrain when the air is humid and still, voices carry much farther than you’d think. From a half mile away, we could hear Blanche and her sons, Elmer Dean and Leon, yelling loudly, though we couldn’t make out the words. Blanche’s cry became a wail, and we realized that Elmer, who’d been plowing on his little Ford tractor, had been hit by lightning.

Mother and Daddy rushed out to our old blue ’49 Chevy pickup truck, telling me to watch Larry and Nita Karen. We kids stood at the door and the picture window and watched as the plume of dirt indicated the progress of the pickup truck on the dirt road. We knew Daddy had it floored! They stopped at the tractor: there was lots of activity, but we couldn’t tell what was happening.

What can I do to help? In all my 13 years, I hadn’t faced a more helpless feeling. I’ll call Bill and Alene. They lived just a half-mile north of the activity. Alene answered, and when I told her we thought Elmer had been struck by lightning and Mother and Daddy had gone to help, she said, “I’m home alone, but I’ll go see what I can do!” We kids watched from our window as Alene’s green and white 1956 Olds 88 kicked up the dust, just as the pickup had. It wasn’t long before we saw the Olds speed back down the dirt road, then turn east to the paved road to Sand Hill and points beyond.

We kids wouldn’t know until Mother arrived, alone in the blue pickup, that when she and Daddy got out to the accident site, Elmer Dean and Leon had loaded their dad, who was barely breathing, into the bed of their pickup truck. They were prepared to drive Elmer to the Lockney hospital about 17 miles away, the nearest one to our farms in the Harmony Community. When Alene arrived, they reasoned that the Oldsmobile would be a quicker ride, and Alene insisted Daddy drive. Elmer Dean and Leon lifted their father from the pickup to the backseat of Alene’s car. Elmer Dean knelt beside his dad, and Leon followed with his mother to Lockney in their pickup truck. Elmer was alive but unconscious when they left.

About dark, Daddy came home, having delivered the Olds to Bill and Alene’s. Bill drove Daddy home. Elmer was alive, and it looked like he would make it.

lightning struck items

The next day we drove to the Lockney hospital to see Elmer sitting up in his hospital bed, his usual cheerful self, declaring he was lucky to be alive! He showed us his straw hat with the top blown out and his melted metal watchband with the watch intact – it was a Timex, so it took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’! His work shoes had had a loose left heel, and the nails that held the heel in place were fused. Elmer recounted the path of the lightning bolt: through his hat, down the left side of his body, and out through the left heel.

We all agreed we’d witnessed a miracle!

Beth Kozan
is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Beth KozanHelping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.

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The Effective Author: Got Aha Moments?

The Effective Author: Got Aha Moments?

© 2017 Kebba Buckley Button, MS, OM. World Rights Reserved.

aha moments

Aha moments come in several forms, and they can be magnificent turning points if we choose to let them be. Sometimes we work hard to get to these realization points. And sometimes they sneak up on us, subtly building in our consciousness until we cannot ignore them any longer. Will you recognize your aha moments and make the most of them?

Sometimes we work hard for clarity on, for example, a decision point. We need to decide what college major to choose, whether or not to go back to school for an advanced degree, even for an ordination. For these decisions, we may make a very conscious, concerted effort, and we are pleased – but not surprised – when we receive the answer we need. Systematic research gets us the answer we seek, at least for the current stage of life.

Sometimes, we are not sure what exactly the questions are. So we go to group coaching, workshops, and retreats that help us sort out our thoughts and feelings. There are even retreats to help business owners sort out the best form their businesses should take. As we open up and hear about others’ processes, our questions become defined and new kinds of realizations will come. Aha!

But sometimes sudden changes in life jolt us, and we are thrust into a new time of evaluation and consciousness. We get an abrupt injection of aha moments. In a personal example: my mother passed away early this year, and although I was expecting her passing, emotions struck hard. I had none (none!) of the “five stages of grief” described by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She said most people tend to experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But, instead of those, I had floods of memories demanding to be reconciled and released. I needed time to handle family business and those floods of memories. So I took bereavement leave from every board, committee, and lunch group, including a prayer team.

Then I had my huge aha moment: my life was surprisingly overcommitted! My aha moment became my transformation moment: I needed to select carefully what I actively included in my schedule, in my life. Complete freedom washed over me. Not only could I wipe my calendar and my commitments and start fresh, but I absolutely had to do so. I became aware that this freedom to choose, while something we all have, would take some months to feel out and live forward. I gave myself complete permission to do this and I knew Mom would think it was a great decision.

A superb way to harvest and leverage any aha moments is to journal every week, even every day. Journal on your iPhone, using the Notes app. Journal on pieces of paper and toss them in your journal drawer. Embrace your stages. Write to yourself: your observations, your questions, and your realizations. You’ll be amazed at what shows up that your pen knows but you didn’t. And now you have awesome fuel for nonfiction writing, as well as character experience material in your fiction writing.

Got aha moments? Leverage them for yourself, your life, and your writing. And now you’re a more Effective Author. Happy writing!

Kebba Buckley Button
is a stress management expert and author of the award-winning Kebba booksbook, Discover the Secret Energized You, as well as the 2013 book, Peace Within: Your Peaceful Inner Core, Second Edition. Her newest book, Sacred Meditation: Embracing the Divine, is available through her office. Just email SacredMeditation@kebba.com for more info. Like this article? Buy Kebba’s books by clicking the links! Reach the writer at kebba@kebba.com. For an appointment or to ask Kebba to speak for your group: calendar@kebba.com.

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