When in Doubt, Hire a Cartoonist

Occasionally* I stall on a writing project. Let’s face it: novels are big projects. So are humor books. They take up a lot of time, a lot of brain space, and a lot of caffeine. Juggling all three for months on end gets tiring. So, when I slow down, crawling toward a finish line I can no longer see, I need something to jump-start the project.

That’s usually when I email Mike.

Mike (a.k.a. Mike Ferrin, for the uninitiated) is my cartoonist. Some people feel they need an attorney on retainer. Or an accountant. I need a cartoonist. And let me just say right now that I love being able to say I have a cartoonist.

Once I’ve emailed Mike (typically this happens around 3 a.m. in a coffee-driven, adrenaline-based panic brought on by another plot hole I’ve fallen into), I wait for him to get on board with whatever harebrained idea I’ve conjured for the book’s cover. (This takes anywhere from two minutes to two-and-a-half minutes.) Then we get started on the artwork proper. By this time I’m so wrapped up in the ideas for the cover that I’ve completely forgotten that there’s supposed to be a bunch of pages with words on them inside.

And also by this time, there is a directly inverse correlation between how much time I’m spending on the cover for the book and how much time I’m spending on the text for the book. As the time spent in Scrivener writing the book withers, the time spent in InDesign fiddling with the eyedropper tool skyrockets.

Now, I know not all of my books have cartoon covers—and therefore didn’t need Mike’s services—but I’m at a point in my career where most of my books have utilized Mike’s services. Part of that’s because he’s so much fun to procrastinate with… I mean, to work with. Yeah, that’s what I meant. Um, yeah. But part of it is that I hear people talking about branding. It sounded painful at first, till I realized what they actually meant. Turns out it doesn’t involve cattle at all. Huh.

Anyway, Mike’s cartoon artwork for six of my book covers has become part of my brand. And I wasn’t even trying to have a brand. I just wanted an artistically talented goofball to talk me down off the creative ledge. Again.

So, this is my long, drawn-out way of saying that, although I have a completed first draft for each of the next two books in the Red Ink Mysteries series, I’m plodding through editing them and not really enjoying it.

But I love working on covers, so… Mike got that late-night email a while ago and is finishing up the artwork for Charlotte’s Website. And, along the way, he entertained me, made me laugh, and got me excited about the project again.

I predict both The Tell-Tale Heart Attack and Charlotte’s Website will be available by summer 2018. And that’s due in no small part to an amazing cartoonist named Mike Ferrin. Thanks, Mike!

Charlotte-Cover-Test-HiR-FINALFRONT     TTHA-CoverTest-Feb2018-HiRes-FRONT

______

*By “occasionally,” I mean nearly every week.

 

Soon . . .

It’s almost here again. Not just Halloween—with its promise of fun-sized candy bars for weeks because I always conveniently over-purchase for our trick-or-treaters (#sorrynotsorry)—but also what I like to call NaNo Eve.
For the past 13 years, I’ve spent Halloween night watching bad horror movies (usually AMC’s Fear Fest) and prepping for the start of National Novel Writing Month in November. This will be Year 14. And, as usual, I’m so excited I can barely think of anything else. This one event, paired with my discovery of Alphasmarts back in 2004, has made November my favorite month each year.

 

So, just as I’ve done for the past 13 Halloweens, I’ll spend Tuesday night gobbling tiny Kit Kat bars and cute little Hershey miniatures, sipping coffee into the wee hours, waiting for midnight so I can start on this year’s 50,000 new words of fiction.
But, unlike the past 13 years, this time I won’t be starting a brand new project. NaNoWriMo now allows participants to work on a previous fiction project, as long as all the words written in November are new to the project. And since I have a few previous NaNo novels that aren’t quite done, this seems like the year to tie up some loose ends rather than unravel new ones.
In fact, I’m modifying even that new take on the old rules a little bit further. The past two NaNo novels have been upcoming books in my Red Ink cozy mystery series. Each one needs about 25,000 words to finish the story.
You can see where I’m going with this.
So, I’m hoping to finally see complete first drafts of both The Tell-Tale Heart Attack and Charlotte’s Website in about a month. It’s making me feel so grown-up and responsible. Pretty much new feelings for me.
And because I can’t just wing it from scratch this time, I’ll spend the next two days rereading what I have so far on both novels, so I can hit the ground running at midnight on Tuesday night. I’m nervous about doing NaNoWriMo this way, but then again, I get nervous trying out a new flavor of coffee creamer. Your mileage may vary.
Let me be clear that I’m not nervous about doing NaNoWriMo yet again on a typewriter. I’ve found it’s the best way to churn out new fiction. Been practicing on both the Selectric I and the Selectric II this past few weeks. I even bought a few new “golf balls” for each of them.
The fingers are getting itchy. I’m ready.

Rise, Ye Mighty Tent!

The mighty Author Tent for Beaver County BookFest arises skyward today on Market Street in downtown Beaver, Pa. The greatest book festival in the state kicks off tomorrow night (Sept. 8) at 7 p.m. with an all-female author panel Q&A discussing all aspects of the writing craft and business. It’s a fundraiser for a local school library, so come on out and enjoy food, beverages (adult and otherwise), and fun while helping a great cause.
 
Then, Saturday, Sept. 8, the main event runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is a free admission festival, with food vendors, other book-related retail vendors, and, of course, the more than five dozen authors inside the aforementioned big Author Tent.

 

My copies of Train of Thought: Travel Essays from a One-Track Mind showed up on my porch yesterday, and as of today it’s also available on Amazon. So now I can breathe easily. Along with copies of my four other books, I’m now officially ready for BookFest!
 
By Sunday afternoon, I’ll be ready to collapse… much like this tent will do at about the same time. Come see it while it’s still set up!
 
(top photo, credit Valentine Brkich, http://valentinebrkich.com/ )

So Let It Be Written . . .

…so let it be done.
 
And done it is. Train of Thought: Travel Essays from a One-Track Mind is being printed even as I type this. The first copies will be ready in time for Beaver County BookFest on Sept. 8–9. That’s right around when I’ll also make them available on Amazon.
 
The last week is a complete blur. Most of what I was doing the past few weeks involved getting the book ready. Because I have a long history in prepress work, I do my own interior typesetting for my books. I love it, but it takes a lot of time to build a book from scratch. Every font. Every image. Every header, every subhead. On every page. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.
 
Anyway, this past week or so is a flurry of activity where I worked at my desk, ate at my desk, and got hyped up on caffeine at my desk.
 
And let’s just say my house is full of evidence that I’ve been living at my desk. Every room. Every dirty dish. Every undusted surface. Every uncleaned bathroom. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.
 
So now, in the two weeks till BookFest, I’ll climb away from the desk and wade through the debris field known as my house, so I can tidy up a little bit. But as I look around at the state of every room in this house—plus the overgrown yard outside—all I can say is this:
 
Please, Lord, don’t let anyone visit me till sometime in 2019.

Train of Thought … right on track

Deadlines are often my mortal enemies. They hate me, and rightly so. I taunt them. I brush up against them in annoyingly familiar ways. I tell them their father was a hamster and their mother smelled of elderberries.
 
This behavior doesn’t make them go away. In fact, they seem to loom larger the more I harass them. They are angry, bitter little beasts that don’t appreciate my behavior in their presence. You see, I’m a procrastinator. Always have been. Was late for my own birth, and I’ve perfected the skill in the ensuing years. I had to run for the bus an unprecedented number of times during my school years. I had to stay up late in college the night before a paper was due. I left for work thirty seconds later than it would take the average person to get there. It’s almost like I don’t hear the clock ticking until the deadline is breathing down my neck.
 
Deadlines love this behavior. They start taking bets on me, that I’ll falter and miss the deadline this time. Sometimes they’ve thrown my self-imposed, internal deadlines at me as signs that I’ll likely miss a real deadline currently before me. But they don’t understand that I know the difference between a random, self-imposed deadline and a real, can’t-change-the-date deadline. I know because I routinely conquer the latter while allowing myself way too much slack on the former.
 
The proposed September release for my upcoming cross-country train trip book, Train of Thought, was a target date for my Indiegogo backers. I chose that month based on what seemed reasonable once I got home from my trip in mid-May. Setting the date with a month—but no specific date—gave me more than four weeks of leeway to keep that rather flexible, self-imposed deadline.
 
Meanwhile, the deadline demons know how crazy my summers are and were giggling with glee that this time they would win. What they failed to factor in was Beaver County BookFest on September 9. There was no way I was going to sit at a third BookFest table in a row with the same four books for sale. I needed a new book this year.
 
Add a real deadline I cannot change onto my self-imposed deadline and you’ve got one determined writer. Once I am up against a wall I cannot tear down, I always scale it just in time. Always. I procrastinate until the adrenaline kicks in, and then I dash ahead. The deadline demons keep forgetting that I have more than a half century of practice at this. Don’t try this at home, kids. I’m a professional.
 
They will never win.
 
I have approximately ten days to finish this book (including layout, which is already in place) in order to have physical copies here before September 9. That’s plenty of time, as long as I don’t clean the house or have a social life or get heroic with dinner prep for the next week and a half. Which is standard operating procedure around here even when I’m not on a deadline.
 
So, if you see me on social media sites at all over the next ten days, it’s only because I need to remind myself that the real world is still out there and hasn’t been nuked into oblivion by some little nutjob halfway around the world. Because that’s about the only thing that’s going to stop me from meeting this deadline.
 
Take that, deadline demons.
 
 

Beaver County BookFest!

 

It’s coming around again! The huge western Pennsylvania free book festival known as Beaver County BookFest!

Save room on your schedule for
Sat., Sept. 9, and join more than sixty authors and other vendors in downtown Beaver, Pa., for a celebration of reading and writing. Come out to this free event and bring the kids. There’s always a huge Children’s Tent with activities all day long. This year’s theme is Harry Potter—with wand-making and other fun stuff to do.
 
Our authors will be in the huge Author Tent in the heart of the festival, ready to sell and autograph their books. Come meet our authors and support the work of local creatives.
 
As an added treat, our Sept. 8 Friday night kickoff event is an author panel Q&A with Wende Dikec, Kara Knickerbocker, Pamela Hart Vines, Madhu B. Wangu … and meeeeeeee! This fundraiser benefits the library of the Sts. Peter and Paul School and admission includes yummy food and tasty treats. It’s for a good cause, so enjoy the beautiful evening with us! Go here to purchase your tickets:  TICKETS HERE!
 
I love this event, which rolls around the second weekend of September each year, and not just because they’ve made me author liaison for the past few years. It’s a great way to meet and greet other authors, as well as hundreds of local readers and book lovers. I hope to see all my local friends there this year!

Real Life Encroaches

I’ve been back from my cross-country bucket-list train trip for about a week now. Hard to tell exactly, though, because my brain hasn’t fully adjusted to having a routine again.
That’s probably because I had to make three long car trips up east of the city this first week back:
  • one to pick up the guinea pigs (and apparently guinea pigs do not appreciate being stuffed into a small plastic box and carted 50 miles in a car while “Weird Al” Yankovic music is blaring over the car speakers);
  • one to join my daughters on a house-hunting spree (which included one house where we were counting the bullet holes in the windows and matching up the trajectories of similar holes found in the dining room wall—just like an episode of CSI, yay!);
  • and one to attend a standing-room-only memorial service for the wife of my first RP pastor.
Talk about a week of ups and downs!

At home I’ve been trying to:
  • catch up on freelance work;
  • sort through 1,500 pictures and 20,000 words of notes from the trip;
  • do laundry (apparently people like to wear clean underwear around here—how rude);
  • go grocery shopping (apparently these same people appreciate eating several times per day—every day);
  • and stare at the waving fields of wheat in our backyard. Well, it’s just uncut grass, because the lawn mower Wayne ordered in early April still needs to be picked up in Calcutta—Ohio, not India (though, judging from how long it’s taking him to go get it, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not in India).

No matter what, though, I’m still organizing those trip notes and am now buckling down to turn all this raw data into Train of Thought this summer. Those of you who backed me on Indiegogo (and thank you for that!) will be glad to know that I’ll be contacting you soon about mailing addresses for hard copies of the book and email addresses for the Kindle editions.
Other than all that … I think I need a nap. One in a real bed that doesn’t convert back into a cute little seat on a train once morning hits. Having said that, I do miss someone else cooking all my meals and sometimes serving them to me in my private little room. Those rare steaks were pretty good! Maybe I’ll grill a few ribeyes this weekend … if I can find the grill amid the wheat fields.