Friday, July 30, 2010

Backstage at the Opera -- Part 5 of 5

This is part 5 of a scene from Where Love Once Lived that takes place in the green room after an opera. This is fiction, of course, but based on my experience.

She tried to make it sound like the normal thing to do, but
sometimes she wondered how she got into these situations.
“Interesting.” Tony nodded his head toward Brian. “By the look
on his face, that’s something else about you he didn’t know.”
“No reason he should,” she said.
“And your best friend?” Tony asked.
Karen smoothed her skirt with both hands. “Cathy Baker. We’re
close. We talk every day, and she’s the only person who knows all
my secrets.”
“Secrets? Did you hear that Brian? She has secrets.” He said it
with a dramatic ghostly whisper.
“I heard,” Brian said, trying to match the sound of Tony’s voice.
Tony and Brian laughed.
Karen didn’t. She wondered what they’d think if she told them
her secret right now. It wouldn’t be so funny then.
“Everyone has secrets. You’ll never know mine. That’s why they
call them secrets. Well, it’s time to go.”
Tony grabbed Karen’s hand as she started to stand. “I’m sorry. I
touched a nerve there. Don’t go.”
“No, it’s not that. I think we have stayed long enough. Brian
made dinner plans for us.”
She hadn’t convinced Tony there was nothing between them,
but she didn’t care about that now. She wanted to leave—too many
memories with these guys.
Tony stood, still holding her hand. “Okay, dear. Promise me we
can finish this conversation because I have more questions for you.
If you want another friend to share secrets with, I’m your man.
Promise we can talk?”
She pulled away from him. “I promise. It’s been a joy to see you
again. Don’t forget, I want to see your next opera. Okay?”
“I’ll make sure you get the tickets.” Tony nodded toward Brian.
“You can invite him if you want to, or bring Cathy, or your new
boyfriend. And I hope you come to the next Combine meeting.”
He kissed the air around her in a flourish and said goodbye.
Maybe he did understand about Brian and her.
She wasn’t sure why, but sometime during the meal with Brian
that followed their green room visit, Karen agreed to go to the next
Combine meeting, which was actually a meal out somewhere with
the old gang. She also agreed to go to dinner with him again next
week. She hoped he didn’t think her feelings for him had changed,
but she was curious when he told her about Matt’s new restaurant
called the Quarry.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Backstage at the Opera -- Part 4 of 5

This is part 4 of a scene from Where Love Once Lived that takes place in the green room after an opera. This is fiction, of course, but based on my experience.

There didn’t seem to be a way to keep Tony from thinking there
was a future between her and Brian.
“Alright,” she said with a grin. “I’ll remember. You have to understand
Brian and I are friends. Nothing more. I’m not expecting
him to step up, as you put it.”
“Listen,” Tony said as he let go of her hands. “He’s changed. Did
you know he’s back in church?”
“Really? I didn’t know he’d quit going to church. See, we have
no knowledge of each other for the past thirty years.”
“Well, he seems to know all about you.” Tony backed away, still
facing Karen.
Brian stood and reached for her hand. “I think we better go.
Thanks for the tickets, Tony. Enjoyed it.” He looked at Karen, almost
pleading. “We have dinner plans, and I’m sure Tony needs to
put his wig up and change.”
Karen turned to Tony. “Are we holding you up?”
She was enjoying this time with Tony and wasn’t ready to leave.
Besides, he still thought she and Brian had renewed their relationship.
She needed to clear that up before they left.
“Oh, no,” Tony said. “I have time.”
She gazed into Brian’s eyes. “Okay?” she asked.
“Would you like to join us for dinner?” Brian asked Tony.
Karen was surprised. Perhaps she was wrong about Brian wanting
to get away from Tony.
Tony smiled, white teeth shining through the dark makeup.
“Thanks, but I can’t. Cast party, you know.” He turned to Karen.
“Tell me about your daughter, Julie. Major. Boyfriends. Hobbies.
Does anyone else live at your house? Who’s your best friend? Where
do you go to church?”
He cranked out the questions so fast Karen couldn’t keep up.
“Whoa,” she said. “Too many questions. Let’s see, Julie wants to
be a teacher like her mom.”
Tony acted interested. Brian hadn’t asked her questions about
Julie. That’s not fair. She hadn’t given him an opportunity to ask
questions. Did she want him to?
“Brian tells me you do more than teach. He said you help the
children and the other teachers, using your lay ministry training
wherever you go.”
She looked at Brian with raised eyebrows. “He knows more
about me than I thought,” she said.
“Hey, you two. I’m right here.”
He acted like the little boy being ignored by his classmates, but
she knew it was all in fun.
Tony turned to Karen. “Did you hear something?”
“What?” she asked. “No. What else did you ask? Her boyfriend.
I’m not sure. She’s spending a lot of time with a guy named Glenn.
She claims he’s merely a study partner.”
“I didn’t know that,” Brian said.
“As far as hobbies, she loves sports. She’s into intramural sports
at school—different ones throughout the year. I don’t know where
she learned that. Not from me. She even went skiing over the holidays.”
“Is it just you and Julie?” Tony asked.
“Usually. Right now a young pregnant girl lives with us. A
former student of mine.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Backstage at the Opera -- Part 3 of 5

This is part 3 of a scene from Where Love Once Lived that takes place in the green room after an opera. This is fiction, of course, but based on my experience.

“Yes, of course,” she said, “the Combine. Brian, you need to
update me on the rest of the guys sometime.” She turned to Tony.
“What about you? Is this your career? Opera, I mean?”
“I wish.” Tony pulled hairpins out of his wig and put them on the
coffee table next to Brian. “You have to be able to travel to make it
in opera. See that guy over there? He has a house in Houston, but
he’s gone ten months out of the year. He’s one of the top singers
right now, and we’re lucky to get him here in Austin. I can’t go anywhere.
Dad had a heart attack, and I took over the family barbershop—
oh, that’s a boring story. Tell me, do you have any children?”
“One. Julie’s a student at UT.”
Tony pulled off his wig, and he looked strange with a hairnet on
his head. It wasn’t long before he removed the pins from the hairnet
and had it off too. He held the wig gingerly in one hand.
“I’m going to be in trouble for doing this myself, but I can
only take it for so long.” His hair was a mess, even after he brushed
through it with his free hand. “University of Texas,” Tony said. “Oh,
those were the good old days. I remember how you and Brian were
always together. Everyone in the Combine assumed you two would
marry someday. It was a match made in heaven. That’s what everyone
She watched as Brian squirmed.
“You’re quiet tonight,” she said.
His only response was a smile and a shrug, proving she was
“He’s quiet because I know what happened,” Tony said scratching
his head again. “He told us all about it when he came back to
town. We told him he deserved what he got.” He stood, still holding
his wig in one hand, and looked at Brian. “He’s sorry, Karen, dear.
Deeply sorry. You should’ve heard him at the last meeting. You must
forgive him.”
Karen looked at Brian who silently rolled his eyes as he sat on
the sofa next to Karen where Tony had been.
“I told her I was sorry,” Brian said softly.
Tony stood in front of Karen, so she grabbed his arm, wanting
to explain.
“What we had then may have seemed like a match made in
heaven, but evidently it wasn’t. I hope you don’t think we’ll ever
get back together.”
This only reminded her how deeply she loved Brian and how
much it hurt when he left her. She glanced at Brian and wondered
what it would have been like if they had stayed together.
Tony looked at Karen, grinning, and took her other hand in his.
“You still can’t lie, can you?”
“I’m not lying,” she said, half believing Tony knew what she was
Tony pulled her up from the sofa.
“Karen, you’re so sweet, so lovely. I might marry you myself if
this lug doesn’t step up soon.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Backstage at the Opera -- Part 2 of 5

This is part 2 of a scene from Where Love Once Lived that takes place in the green room after an opera. This is fiction, of course, but based on my experience.

Brian put an arm around Tony. “You surprised me too, buddy,”
he said. “Exceptional performance! I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“Yes,” Karen said. “It was an astonishing experience—the sets,
costumes, lighting, and all the people. The actors, singers, and the
orchestra, it all touches your senses in so many ways. After my experience
tonight, I’m buying season tickets.”
“Wonderful,” Tony said. “No, wait. Take my comps. I get two
freebies for each opera, and my other friends don’t care about me
enough to come see me.”
She looked at Brian. Why was he so quiet tonight? Probably letting
Tony have his spotlight. Tony seemed to be overjoyed from the performance.
She’d watched Tony on stage as the actors took their bows,
and she could tell how important the accolades were for him. The applause
had lasted forever and quickly turned into a standing ovation.
“Thanks,” Karen said. “I’ll take comps anytime.”
“Good, good, good,” Tony said. “You two can come together to
the opera. Wonderful.” He spun around in joy as if to let them know
he meant it.
She wanted to tell Tony she’d prefer to have her own ticket.
Instead, she said, “Thank you.”
“I probably won’t get another small part like this one again,”
Tony said.
“Why not?” she asked. “You’re good.”
“There aren’t enough to go around, and I’m competing with
sixteen or so other tenors in the chorus. Most of them are music
performance majors at UT and much, much younger than I am.”
“So we won’t see you again on stage?” Karen asked.
“Oh, yeah. I’ll be in the operas singing in the chorus. Just not
doing solos.”
Several people left, freeing up a sofa nearby. Tony took Karen’s
hand and walked toward it.
“So, Brian has been telling me a bit about you. He says you’re
teaching at an elementary school in South Austin.”
“That’s right,” she said. “I’ve been in Austin since college, but I
lost track of you and the old gang.”
“The Combine, you mean,” Tony said as they sat on the sofa.
Brian sat across from them on the edge of a coffee table.
Seeing Tony again was fun. She should have found him earlier.
She didn’t need Brian to keep up with their college friends. After
Brian left town, she hadn’t felt like seeing anyone and soon drifted
away from the old gang.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Backstage at the Opera -- Part 1 of 5

I've mentioned before that I sang in the Austin Lyric Opera Chorus for many years. It was a big part of my life because of the many rehearsals required each season. I met many people while in the chorus and am thankful for the friendships that began there.

This is part 1 of a scene from Where Love Once Lived that takes place in the green room after an opera. This is fiction, of course, but based on my experience.

Austin Lyric Opera’s production of the Marriage of Figaro had
received great reviews, but Karen didn’t know what to expect. She’d
never been to an opera. But by the end of the performance she had
found a new love. Brian also seemed to be amazed as they walked
silently from the auditorium to the green room to meet Tony.
The room wasn’t huge, so it seemed crowded with actors and
guests. She spotted Tony and grabbed Brian’s hand to lead the way. It
was so natural, holding his hand, but she quickly let go, not wanting
Tony to get the wrong idea about them. Tony was still in costume,
and he looked larger than life the way his eyes and facial features
were highlighted with stage makeup.
He met them halfway as they crossed the carpeted room with
paintings on every wall. Karen saw a concert piano in one corner
and a full-length mirror near the interior door. The other people in
the room, some in costume, and some not, talked and laughed, filling
the room with a murmur of sound.
Tony dramatically kissed the air on each side of her without
touching her.
“Karen, you’re more lovely than ever,” he said. “I wish I could
hug you, but I don’t want to muss your scrumptious dress with
makeup and sweat.”
He made such a face when he said muss she had to smile.
He kissed her hand before he walked around her.
“Mmm! Look at you. So radiant.” When he was facing her again,
he said, “I’ve missed seeing that smile.”
He held both hands and beamed with all his attention on her.
She had dressed up for the event, wearing a sleek, black dress with
a lightweight, shiny black coat. It was mid-January, but unusually
warm for central Texas.
Back in college, Tony was the one everyone enjoyed being
around. He had an Italian accent, which had all but disappeared,
and a European flair that was stronger.
“Hello, Tony. You still know the way to a woman’s heart—
unabashed flattery. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“I wish.” Tony made a funny face. “I just added thirty years and
forty pounds. That’s all. “Tony joined hands with Karen and Brian,
one on each side of him. “Look at this,” Tony said. “I love, love, love
seeing you two together again—the way it should be.”
“Don’t get the wrong idea,” Karen said, pulling away from both
of them. “Brian invited me to see the opera because of you.” She
shouldn’t have to explain. If Tony assumed they were back together,
that was his problem. “I’m glad he did, though, because you were
great as Antonio. I knew you were good in college, but I had no idea
you could do what you did today—the acting, the singing, all of it
was outstanding.”
“Thanks,” Tony said.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Making Your Settings Come Alive

To make your settings believable, try visualizing the location where the scene takes place. Best yet, use a photo of or a visit to a real place.

In Where Love Once Lived, I could see in my mind the places where each scene took place. Some settings were imaginary and some were real, but they were all clear to me as I moved the characters about in the scene.

There is one scene in the book where the male and female protagonists meet on the campus of the University of Texas. I'd been there often enough to easily describe the scene, but before I began writing, I went there again.

I walked along the same sidewalks described in the book and sat on the bench where my fictional characters sat. I went to the Student Union and found out Brian and Karen's favorite place to eat had been replaced by a cluster of fast food stands you find in malls and airports today. I went on a Friday and listened to the Carillon play.

I took photos and posted them on my website, not only for future readers of the book, but for me to look at as I edited.

The photo shown here is of the bench where Brian and Karen had a picnic lunch while talking about their future. To see the other photos, go to and click on the setting locations to see the photos. There are also photos taken at the State Capitol, the Cabin, Mount Bonnell, and a church in South Houston that was in my mind as I wrote about the one set in Redondo Beach, California.

Let me know what you think about setting descriptions. Have you read books that made you feel you were there with the fictional characters? What if the author is describing a place you know quite well and you find errors. Does that bug you the way it does me?

In an early version of Where Love Once Lived, I described Manor as being west of Austin instead of east. None of my writing classmates noticed. But as soon as my Austin friends read it, they all pounced on me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Naming Your Characters

Sometimes while reading a novel I get characters mixed up. Usually, it is because they have similar-sounding names.

So, while writing Where Love Once Lived, I made a special effort not to fall into that trap. It's hard enough for the reader to remember who's who. Don't confuse them more with Jane, Janis, and Joan.

I named some of my characters after real people. Friends of mine. The first started accidently. The male protagonist, Brian Donelson, was referred to as BD for much of the first draft. BD stood for bookmobile driver who didn't have a name yet. Later, I reunited with an old friend, Brian Donelson, and used his name. Since the character is likeable one, the real Brian hasn't complained.

Be careful using real names. I thought it would be fun to give the mayor of Austin my sister's name. My sister didn't agree. She said she'd rather not be associated with a character who is overly assertive and pushy, but mostly overweight. So I came up with another name, a fictional one. However, the new one has the same initials as my sister, since I needed a name I knew wouldn't conflict with other names.

Where Love Once Lived has many characters in it. To keep them straight in my mind and make sure I didn't have similar sounding names, I created a database of the names sorted my last name and first name.

If you are searching for a name, let the Social Security Administration help. See: for a list of the most popular male and female names by year. If you have an older character, don't give him or her a name that's popular with children today. Look up what was popular when the person was born. Some names are popular all through the years, but watch out for the more trendy names that come and go.

You may want to check this website: to find what a first name means. This site also provides popular name by country and other name considerations.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Watch Where You Put Your Cell Phone

Only a few people know I lost my cell phone recently. It's not something I like talking about because of the way it was lost. But, now since I've gotten beyond that feeling of loss of control (See God Works in Mysterious Ways--Again for more about that) I'm ready to confess I drove off with my cell sitting on the roof of the car.

I left the house in a hurry to get to an appointment for a photo of me to go on the back cover of Where Love Once Lived and didn't think about my phone until I got to I-35. I pulled over as safely as possible and got out of the car to check the roof. Of course it was gone. I had been driving over 60 miles per hour since turning onto Highway 195.

If I turned around to look for the phone I'd be late for the appointment. All I had to do was call the photographer and reschedule. He'd understand. Then I realized I couldn't call. I didn't have a phone. My next dumb thought was to call Celeste and ask her to look for the phone. Again, no way to call.

So, I continued to the studio and called Celeste from there. She searched the route without success.

When I got home I searched the entire route from home to Highway 195. No phone. I canceled the phone service and checked the lost and founds the next day. Finally, I decided it had been found by someone who wanted to keep it or it had landed on the highway or interstate and had been trampled to death. So, I let it go and bought a new one.

Today, I was out walking in the neighborhood and saw something that made me laugh. No, it wasn't my phone. What I saw was a handyman's pickup truck with a large drink on the hood. That's it. Next time I'll put my phone on the hood. That way I'll have a better of chance of noticing it before I drive too far.

So, that's my confession for the day. Have you ever done anything like that?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Readers Love Reunion Romances

2010 Novel & Short Story Writer's MarketWhile Where Love Once Lived is not biographical (I keep saying), there are certainly events in my own life that were similar to the events in the book. I also told you in an early post that Where Love Once Lived is not officially a romance. This I found out the hard way after working with the publisher and making changes trying to turn it into a romance. See Where Love Once Lived is NOT a Romance if you want to read the details. I'm planning a future article on the importance of knowing your genre before you start writing. I didn't.

But I did have an opportunity to reunite with an old love once in my life and I think that experience helped make the reunion between Brian and Karen in Where Love Once Lived more realistic. In the book, their friends assume the two will pick up where they left off thirty years ago.

In my case, my high school girl friend Jinx and I didn't fall madly in love when reunited as our friends thought we would. Still, we enjoyed being together because of the history we had with one another. We quickly learned we were meant to be friends, not soul mates.

If you're planning to write a novel, I suggest you buy the latest copy of Novel and Short Story Writer's Market and read the Genre Glossary.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I Selected a Cover

Thanks to all who participated in helping me pick a cover for Where Love Once Lived. Here are a few of the comments I received:


I like the blue cover better, Sid. I think it matches the other colors in the illustration better. Also, blue indicates serenity and peace and I think it works better for your book.

I like the blue with the simpler font -- it flows more where the love once on the green stands out too much -- to me. I like the red which catches your eye without being so stark. So there you go -- I may be off base in that have never had to design a book cover ! : ) Just coming from an artist view.

I'm all for the blue----

I like the all blue one the best. I particularly like the red and its meaning. You have done a great job on this.


...likes the green !

really like the Green one..brings out the people better

It is a close call; but, I think the green cover might be the better choice.

I like the green one best but the blue cover also has appeal.


Tough decision! I, too, like them both. I'd say that Cover 2 is more masculine if that means anything. Stronger color, font. Glad I don't have to make the final cut!

I like them both. You need to decide.

So, it wasn't a simple decision. But, ultimately, as some of you pointed out, it is my decision. Perhaps this is why regular publishers don't give the author much say in the cover design. What do we know about marketing?

I was talking to a representative from Barnes and Noble Bookstore while at a writing conference and he told me how important a cover is. Now, my book may not be displayed in a bookstore long, but I hope the front cover will be shown on Amazon for years.

So, all things considered, I decided to go with the blue one. Why? I don't know. It just feels right. I added my photo on the back cover, bottom left and asked them to make the title and author font on the front cover larger and bolder.

Hope you like it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Sell Your Book on Amazon

I read Sell Your Book on Amazon, Second Edition, by Brent Sampson, published in 2010 by

This book provides an insight into the many ways you can sell books on These techniques could be useful to book publishers of all sizes, but I believe the independent publisher or self publisher will benefit most. Sampson describes ways to increase sales and profits in a simple, easy to follow format.

I bought this book because I have a self-published book due out soon and I know it will be up to me to create interest in the book. Amazon is the best known online bookstore in the world and it is profitable because it helps publishers sell books. Sampson's book tells how to take advantage of the many ways Amazon can help.

Sell Your Book on Amazon describes how to set up your author center and profile. It describes how to take advantage of reviews, lists, and guides. It tells you how to automatically add your blog to Amazon.

The book also tells the reader how Amazon works and how it changes. It also tells you how you might make more profit on each sale.

Although my book is not out yet and I haven't used what I learned, I feel confident now that I can get more out of the Amazon services. The only trouble I had with the book was that there tended to be some repetition. Sampson would describe a technique in detail in an introductory summary and then again in a detail chapter.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Finders Keepers by JoAnn Carter

I read an intriguing inspirational romance recently called Finders Keepers by JoAnn Carter. It was advertised as a book, but it was about 3,000 words long so I guess it would be considered a short story. However, it was formatted like a book and separated into chapters. I found the eBook free from White Rose Publishing. I don't remember how it came to my attention initially, but the word "free" did catch my eye.

The length, or shortness, of the book surprised me, so I looked up the publisher's website and found the following in the Submission Guidelines section:

We publish romance in a variety of lengths:

Short stories range between 10,000 and 20,000 words (ebook)
Novelettes are between 20,001 and 35,000 words (ebook)
Novellas are between 35,001 and 60,000 words (ebook)
Novels are between 60,001 and 80,000 words (ebook & print)

White Rose publishes romance only and the story must be either Christian or such that it is not anti-Christian. As you can see, only novels are published in print form. The rest are digital only. I checked Amazon and found many of their eBooks available in Kindle format.

The availability of eReaders and the popularity of eBooks has made it possible for authors to publish odd-sized stories. I believe that is a good thing. The story I read, Finders Keepers, was excellent and as long as it needed to be. In the past, a story of this size would only be found in magazines or compilations of short stories.

If you have a story idea that isn't long enough for the print market, check White Rose Publishing. Or, if you're interested in some excellent reading, some of it free, some a dollar or two, check there also.

I saw a warning somewhere on the website that the free books had not been edited, but I still couldn't resist sending JoAnn Carter a few corrections. She was very gracious about it. She has a number of other excellent books available. Check them out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

God Works in Mysterious Ways--Again

I told you about going to the Writers' League of Texas Agents Conference last month. At one of the sessions I heard about how bloggers can get free books from publishers in return for reviews. One publisher mentioned in particular was Thomas Nelson. I knew this company published Christian books so I contacted them and was approved to do reviews.

When asked, I specified Christian Fiction because that would fit best with The Christian Bookmobile. However, when I checked in to request a book, the only one available to me was Fearless by Max Lucado, a non-fiction book.

While waiting for the book to be delivered, I read the sample chapters provided online (Chapters 1 and 9) and, based on what I read, found a solution to a problem I was experiencing in my life. I didn't think until later that perhaps this was another example of how God helps us in mysterious ways.

I have much to be thankful for in my life, but two recent negative incidents, both out of my control, completely overshadowed the positives. As I read Fearless, I realized I was feeling fear. Lucado writes, "...fear is unwilling to share the heart with happiness. Happiness complies and leaves." Aha, that was what was happening to me.

Continuing to read, I found the solution. "What if faith, not fear was your default reaction to threats?" Then, I understood. At that moment, my fear and feelings of being out of control went away.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On Becoming a Writer

I think about being interviewed after Where Love Once Lived comes out and one of the questions sometimes asked is "When did you first become interested in writing?"

My earliest memory of writing is when my sister, Barbara Cagle, decided we would publish a neighborhood magazine. We were living on Pete's Path in Austin at the time, so I had to be about twelve years old. She had written and produced some neighborhood plays several years before this when we lived on Josephine Street in South Austin.

But, my involvement as a writer didn't occur until the magazine phase. By publish, keep in mind that the magazine was handwritten and each copy was handwritten as well. So there wasn't a wide distribution and the magazine only last for a summer. When school started we were too busy to continue it. But I remember getting to write and I remember the encouragement from Barbara.

She also told me I had to keep a journal of all the movies I went to see. We included movie reviews in the magazine as well as news about our neighbors. I remember getting a spiral notebook and on one side I pasted the ad for the movie clipped from the newspaper. On the other side was the movie review itself. I wish I still had that spiral notebook. It was lost in a heavy rain that flooded my basement bedroom years later while I was away in the Marine Corps. I lost all my precious books in that storm, but that's a story for another time.

I had the writing bug from then on. Aptitude tests showed an interest in creative writing, but my school counselors said I should think of it as a hobby since few people made a living from writing. So, I ended up majoring in computer science and wrote for the fun of it, including a novel written about my time in the marines that was never finished.

I also wrote short stories. Only one was published, but it was a thrill to see it in print. Much of the writing I did was as a part of my jobs as a computer programmer and systems analyst. I was called on to do the reports, or apply for grants, and I learned my writing gave me a way of persuading others that I couldn't do face to face.

I published one computer book, Automated Law Office Systems, but it was short lived due to the rapid changes in computers.

I realize this would be too long an answer to the question posed at the beginning, but there you have it. And, by the way, my sister is still writing. She had a funny article published in the Sunday magazine of a Houston paper and she has placed in writing contests as well.

Thank you, Barbara.

Monday, July 12, 2010

More About Software and Writing

I told you about how I use Microsoft Excel to summarize scenes in my novels, Where Love Once Lived and Vengeance Is Mine. That made me think about how I use hidden words in Microsoft Word. At the beginning of every scene, I include the following information formatted as hidden:

• Time (day of week, date, time of day)

• Weather (temperature, rain, etc.)

• Scene number

• Scene setting

• Scene goal

• Scene conflict

If you're not familiar with hidden text, read up on it in Word Help. It can be quite useful. You'll also need to go to Word Options to turn on display and print for hidden text. If you want to see the manuscript without your notes either on screen or in print, modify the settings

Sometimes the date doesn't matter to a story. However, I included it anyway to add realism. I don't always include the year, but it helps to know the month and day. Same for weather. You can use the real weather for a particular day by looking it up online, or use some imaginary dark clouds or rain to add a mood if it helps your story.

One problem with using hidden text in this way is that when scenes are added, deleted or moved, the numbering has to be changed. However, if you do this in conjunction with the Excel scene summary I described previously you can make the change there first.

I teach Excel, plus the rest of Microsoft Office at Austin Community College, so feel free to ask if you have questions.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Let Your Computer Help Your Writing

In a recent post in The Writer's Alley, Krista Phillips talked about using software such as Microsoft's Outlook and Excel to keep track of the timeline in your novel. Her reason was to make sure you don't overlook an important event such as Independence Day as you are writing.

I used an Excel spreadsheet while writing Where Love Once Lived for a simple scene summary worksheet. The fields included:

• Chapter number

• Scene number (computed after scene 1)

• Number of pages in chapter

• Number of words in scene

• Total number of words (computed)

• Date

• Day of week (computed)

• Location

• Scene Goal

• Conflict

This worked fine for Where Love Once Lived, but when I started working on Vengeance Is Mine, I ran into trouble trying to line up events with the calendar. I had my amateur detectives finding clues hidden in a field in Massachusetts that was more than likely under five or six feet of snow at the time. As it is, they spend Christmas day in the Galveston jail. I decided I liked that and made use of it in a later scene.

To simplify change, I only enter the date of scene 1. The rest are computed. That way, I can modify the starting date until all the scenes fall into place. So, I've added a new field before Date called Days. It is the number of days from scene 1 to the current scene. With this information I can easily compute the date and day of week of the scene.

It's not easy to explain worksheets in text, so if you're interested, I'll be glad to send you a copy of what I ended up which includes the formulas.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Taking a Break From Writing

Several friends have asked why I haven't mentioned my recent trip to China in this blog. I'm not sure. But, for one thing, it's not easy to tie it in to the purposes for the Christian Bookmobile blog. At the top of every posting, you'll see:

My goal is to provide something of interest to both readers and writers who like fiction that shows the love of God without being preachy. Since my book is set in Austin, Texas, this blog also includes some of my memories about growing up in Austin before it became weird.

So, a trip to China where Celeste and I sang in five choral concerts doesn't fit the goal of the blog. In fact, I made an effort to take a vacation from working on Where Love Once Lived while on the trip. Although I had written enough articles to post one each day while we were gone, I only touched a computer once in China and that was to get better seats on the plane for our return trip.

Besides seeing most of the tourist sites in Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi'an, we rehearsed and gave concerts. The night before we sang at the Great Wall, we got together in the parking lot outside our hotel and went over the music. We had joined up with a group from Mineral Wells, Texas and it was the first time we had rehearsed the American music concert together. Another day, we rehearsed the Haydn Mass in Time of War for three hours.

The trip was wonderful. Often, the choral aspects of such trips become secondary to the singer's tourist activities. Not so, for this trip. The concerts were the highlights of the trip. The Chinese loved what we did. In one venue we were in tight quarters and an older woman stood behind me, looked over my shoulder at the music, and sang along. I shifted the music over to where she could see better and encouraged her. All those around her smiled.

By the time we reached the Shanghai Expo, most of us knew Great Gettin' Up Mornin' by heart since the words are repeated. Ryan Heller, our conductor for that part of the tour, looked pleasantly shocked when we dropped our music folders on the floor so we could clap along with the music. The audience cheered and clapped with us.

The Chinese cheered most loudly when we sang The Jasmine Flower, in Chinese. We had the words written phonetically, but we must have sounded right because the audience cheered every time we sang it.

So, you see, there's not much in here about writing. Perhaps, the only way to justify this post is to say, all writers need to take a break from time to time and do something to collect new information to write about. When you read Where Love Once Lived, for example, you'll find I've included much about a trip or two to Germany. In fact, the book was completed while in Germany. But, that's a story for another day.

This was an unusual post, so please feel free to let me know what you think about it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Where Love Once Lived Cover

I received two cover proofs from CreateSpace today. The next step is for me to choose one. I can request a third concept, but there will be an additional fee for that service. The exciting part of this is that I like both covers. That's also a problem because I can only pick one. Will you help?

Here are the descriptions of the differences provided by CreateSpace:

Cover 1 -- Both covers use the illustration provided. This one uses a blue background and a simple type treatment. The word Love is in red to represent the blood of Christ.

Cover 2 -- This concept uses a green background that matches the style of the illustration. The back cover also contains a few flower petals faintly visible. The type treatment is more prominent in this example.

The words are the same. Only the colors and the fonts vary. Which one do you like best?

Here are the words that are on the back of the cover:

She'd once loved a bookmobile driver. Memories of that time with him poured in so rapidly she caught her breath. It'd been long ago, but her heart remembered. At first she remembered the love she'd felt back then, but the good memories didn't last long. She'd gone to the bookmobile as usual that last day, but nothing was to be the same again. She went to Brian with love and exciting news. She left alone. Not just without him, but alone in the world and apart from God.

Is it ever too late to find happiness? No, says Sidney W. Frost in his inspirational Christian novel, Where Love Once Lived. Brian Donelson returns to his hometown after a thirty-year absence to win back his beloved Karen. But Karen, who has grown closer to God than he has, harbors a secret that keeps her away from Brian at all costs. While driving the local bookmobile, Brian struggles to earn her trust, even as he grapples with secrets of his own. With God’s help, can these two find happiness? Beautifully written and told with wit and grace, Where Love Once Lived is a moving love story filled with the glory of God.

Sidney W. Frost is an elder in the Presbyterian Church and a Stephen Minister. While a student at the University of Texas, he worked as a bookmobile driver for the Austin Public Library.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Promotion in the Digital Age: Dos and Don'ts From the Media

--From the Writers' League of Texas 2010 Agents Conference.

The moderator was Rusty Shelton of Phenix and Phenix Literary Publicists. The panelists were: Book editors Kimberley Jones of the Austin Chronicle and Jody Seaborn of the Austin American-Statesman, and Ed Nawotka of Publishing Perspectives.

The book editors stressed the need to emphasize how the book would be interesting to their readers. A local connection is a plus. They both said they get many books to review and currently have hundreds unread. Neither accepts self-published books as a way of cutting back on the number of books to be considered. Jody said he knows they will eventually need to take a look at self-published books, but he's not sure when that will happen. Press releases from self publishers are filtered and not read. They mentioned Lulu and iUniverse in particular.

They said a local bookstore (BookPeople, in Austin) stocks and pushes self-published books that have a local connection.

Kimberley suggested trying to get reviewed on blogs instead of newspapers since the review will be available much longer in the blog than in the paper.

In addition to the many books they receive, they get about 200 digital galleys each day. However, neither one of them reads anything unless it is printed so that they can easily make notes in the margins.

They also talked about the need to be timely, since they write for newspapers. However, if the book has been out for awhile, they may use an event date such as a book signing as a reason to write about the book. Events may help you get reviewed, or at least listed in the newspaper.

Jody said a book with an Austin or Texas back story has a better chance of mention in the paper. This was encouraging to me since Where Love Once Lived is set in Austin. However, it is self-published, so it probably won't be listed for that reason.

If you have a book to sell, let me know if any of these suggestions from the panelists help.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Celebrating Independence Day

Yesterday was the Fourth of July and I am reminded of the progress made in book publishing before and since the United States gained its independence in 1776. That seems so long ago, but there were already printing presses, books, and newspapers. According to, America's first continuously-published newspaper, the Boston News-Letter published its first issue on April 24, 1704.

The United States is a youngster compared to Asian and European countries. I have read some of the first novels published in America. James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, written in 1826, is on my iPhone eReader as I write this. I've read it several times and still enjoy it.

According The Norton Anthology of American Literature, published in 2007 and edited by Nina Baym, the first American novel is William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy published in 1789.

Think about all the great American novelists. I've read everything written by James Michener, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, and many others. James Michener lived in Austin for a time and my father was his barber during that time. Michener is buried in the same cemetary as my father. In 1993, The Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas was created with a $20 million donation from the author.

John Steinbeck also has an Austin connection. There is a collection of his papers and edited manuscripts at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

Today, technology provides a way for all of us to publish a book. I'm using CreateSpace's professional approach for Where Love Once Lived and paying extra to make my book look more like one published by the big publishing houses. However, both CreateSpace and Lulu let you create a book at little cost. You can design your own cover using software tools they provide and you can lay out your own pages and print your book for less than ten bucks. With print on demand, authors can order only the books needed. The cost doesn't change if you order one book or thousands.

We've come a long way America.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Social Media: How to Make It Work for You -- Rather Than You Working for It

--From the Writers' League of Texas 2010 Agents Conference.

The moderator was Shennandoah Diaz of Greenleaf Book Group. The panelists were: Scott Allen of BookRix, author Lynn Reardon, Jennifer Hill Robenalt of Robin Hill Media, and Rusty Shelton of Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists.

Rusty said that an author should act like a media outlet and a resource for others to use. When doing so, don't try to sell books. Provide content that others can use and you'll get your name out there. Jennifer agreed and said to talk about yourself the way you would at a party. Be real, knowledgeable, not superficial.

Be consistent about who you are and get the most out of the content you put out. Develop a following. The more followers you have, the better chance you have to get an agent. Use content in your blog that causes readers to keep reading and recommend your blog to others.

Include book reviews of books similar to yours in you blog. Review best sellers so that your reviews have a better chance of reaching more people. Most authors will want to link to you after a favorable review. Also, the author's agent and publisher will take note of you. They probably have Google Alerts set to find any information that mentions their client and their client's books.

Jennifer said to request an interview with an author for your blog. This will give you access to their publicity. Usually, all you have to do is send them questions and they'll send the answers for you to publish.

Scott said he found interviews generate more traffic than book reviews. Also, interviews take up more pages and there's more for the search engines to pick up. In addition, interviews last longer than reviews since interviews are about the author and reviews are about the book.

Rusty said to use Google Alerts to help find timely subjects for a blog. If you don't have time to do everything, the top priority is a blog and a website. After that comes Twitter followed by Facebook.

Scott said the fastest and cheapest way to get to the top of the Google search page is to have a video. Jennifer mentioned using to help prepare a video.

See Paulo Coelho on Facebook for an example of using social media to advertise yourself and your books.

Lynn said she started using social media six months before her book came out. She calls it an accidental bestseller.

Jennifer mention virtual book tours with like-minded authors. Scott said he didn't do face-to-face tours and now regrets it. He recommends doing as many book signings and speeches as possible.

Rusty said you should publish your book for e-Readers and add links at the end to get to your website and/or blog.

Scott said to look for ways to link to a charity in your blog. This generates a wider audience while doing some good for the charity.

Lynn suggested sharing a dilemma with your readers. Get them involved. Readers want to know your writing process.

One of the panelists suggested to learn more about using the media.

With Where Love Once Lived, I need to look for Christian Fiction groups in and around Austin for face-to-face meeting. I could offer to talk about my experience with CreateSpace, writing the book, and using social media for publicity.

If you have a book to sell, let me know if any of these suggestions from the panelists help.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Why It's Never Too Early to Start Thinking About PR & Marketing

--From the Writers' League of Texas 2010 Agents Conference.

The moderator was Shennandoah Diaz of Greenleaf Book Group. The panelists were: Marilyn Carter of Marilyn Carter Marketing and Communications, Lisa Lawrence of LL PR Media and Public Relations, and Jennifer Hill Robenalt of Robin Hill Media.

The panelists suggested getting ideas from other writers and publishers, especially those with books in your genre, by using Google Alerts. I use Google Alerts to see what's being said about my books, but I hadn't considered using it to get information about other, similar books. It's easy to use. Go to and click on more and then even more. From there, select Alerts and it'll be easy to figure out the rest.

Another idea I got in the session was to set up an author Facebook page. The panelists disagreed on whether to have one for each book or one for all books. After they discussed it, I decided it was best to have one for all books. This gives you a chance to sell yourself more and you don't have to get fans all over again when a new book comes out. I haven't set mine up yet, but when I do, I'll tell you more about it.

The panelists talked about the importance of videos to help sell your books. If you don't have the software to do it yourself, you may want to check out I haven't tried it yet, but I looked it over and it looks promising. The use public domain photos and music so there are no royalty payments. There is a free version and a paid version.

Another suggestion was to look for blogs in your book category and add meaningful comments on as many as possible. Keep your comments to the subject and don't try to sell yourself. The benefit will come when other readers (and the blog authors) see your name and comments and decide to check you out. I've picked up several blog followers using this technique.

Publishers still use press releases, but they are seen by the panelists as necessary evils that don't do much to increase sales. Most of the people who receive them disregard them because they know the same message was sent to many other outlets. It would be better to send a unique message and pitch to each place you want some free advertising.

Many bloggers are looking for content. You can write your own questions and answers to send them. Make each one special. Look for blogs that do virtual book tours.

If you're doing a non-fiction book, and are an expert in some field, a good place to go is You can sign up to receive queries from writers looking for expert information. You may then be quoted in a high-distribution publication along with the title of your book. I'm not sure it will be useful for fiction, but I signed up anyway.