Monday, June 29, 2015

FRESHENING YOUR WORK

If you write for a long time, you may find that you repeat yourself.  I mean, how many ways can you have your bad guy try to kill your hero and heroine?

Murder isn’t the only aspect of my stories where I try to be creative.  Yeah, a lot of my heroes are agents for Decorah Security, and a number of them are even werewolves.  Plus a lot of my heroines make their living from the arts, because those are professions I can identify with.  And as an added bonus, when murderers come at them with a knife or a gun, they’re free to pack up their paintbrushes or cameras and disappear.

One thing I try to do in my work is set my stories in interesting places.  I used Washington, DC, a lot because the city has cachet in the world of spy novels.  It also happens to be the city where I grew up, so I know it well.

Similarly, I often use Columbia, Maryland, because I live here now.  And right down the road is two-hundred-year-old Ellicott City, where the kitschy shopping street is wedged between massive cliffs leading down to the Patapsco River.  Another location I go back to again and again is Maryland’s Eastern Shore because of the colonial charm, waterman culture, and opportunities for small-town politics.



I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I don’t know as much about some of the other locations around my state.  But I had an opportunity to remedy that situation at a Blogger Bash sponsored by the Maryland Office of Tourism.  They got a number of writers together with marketing directors from some of the state’s counties and also some interesting vendors.  I knew Maryland had wineries.  In fact I picked up a brochure for the Patuxent Wine Trail, which includes wineries in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Prince George’s and Saint Mary’s counties.  And I had a nice chat with the winemaker from Big Cork Winery, which is thirty minutes west of Frederick.

Talking to the vintners has already got me thinking of a different kind of occupation for one of my heroines.  And something I didn’t know is that we’ve got a distillery, Lyon Distilling Company, in St. Michaels Maryland.  At the reception I tasted some of their wonderful rum, mixed with ginger beer.  Now I’ve got another interesting business to include in my description of St. Michaels, a location I do use frequently, although I call it St. Stephens.  One of my personal rules is that, if I’m going to murder people, I like to do it at a fictitious location.

One of the people I loved talking to at the bash was Betsy DeVore, the Director of Marketing and Digital Communications for the Hagerstown Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.
I’ve driven past Hagerstown a lot of times on my way west.  She made me want to stop there.  It might be cool to set some scenes at the Antietam National Battlefield or the Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park.



If you’re looking for interesting locations for a book, use your state’s tourism office as a resource.  The same thing goes if you’re looking for a fun day trip or overnight.

And tell me–where do you look for interesting locations to use in books–or simply to enjoy for a quick getaway?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pictures for a Book Trailer—Part One

When a writer gets ready to publish her first indie book, she’s often giddy with excitement at the control she has over the project.  Not only does she get to write the book she wants without conforming to a publisher’s many requirements, she gets to design her own cover, or hire the cover artist of her choice.  Reality sets in when she realizes she’s in for hours of searching photo sites to find the perfect hunk, clinch couple or mountain landscape for her book.

But finding the right background and models for a cover is a piece of cake compared to scoring ten or so photos to make a book trailer.

The trailer for Rx Missing, my new Decorah Security novel that comes out April 28 on amazon.com, is a perfect example:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bb_EadDHzeA

The story starts with my hero, Lieutenant Commander Mack Bradley, taking fire and bailing out of his F18 fighter jet. A very dramatic scene, but where could I get THAT photo?

The good news is that I could search Web sites where all U.S. government photos are free to the public.  The bad news is that the only picture I could find of an F18 that wasn’t too far away to see any details was on the deck of an Aircraft carrier.
                       
Here’s the picture I found:



Actually, it makes a good “danger” scene with all that smoke billowing up.  The problem is that there are also guys standing around the plane.  I eliminated two of them by cropping the photo. Since I don’t use Photoshop, I had to figure out some way to block out the guy right in front of the plane.  I did that with the picture’s caption.



After solving the plane problem, I went on to my h/h.  I needed a hero with short dark hair and a dark-haired heroine.   But I was going to need several different poses for the various scenes I wanted to illustrate, so I looked for people whose faces were obscured. I found a picture I thought would work on Canva (a site where you can compose various Web and print projects and buy inexpensive pictures).  Unfortunately, the shot I wanted had an inappropriate detail.  The heroine is holding a pregnancy test stick!
Could I get rid of that unfortunate detail—again without access to Photoshop?  Mostly, by writing over it with big white letters, and then adding a caption.



And what about the mad scientist I found to illustrate the medical thriller aspect of my plot.  I suspect the scientist I used is a woman—where my bad guy is a man. Go ahead and play the video a few times, and see if you think he’s had a sex-change operation.

I fudged something in almost every photo I used.

But my main goal was to get you interested in the book.  I just wish I had the budget to hire models and shoot the pictures myself. But then I’d still be stuck trying to find the right people.

Next time I’ll talk more about the video techniques I’m learning.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

GETTING COVERED

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00P5CNK1E/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00P5CNK1E&linkCode=as2&tag=ruthglick&linkId=ZSBFB3HURWKHSI4E


My new Decorah Security novella, Destination Wedding, has one of my favorite covers. It’s striking, sexy, evocative—perfect for the story about an heiress, Camille Norland, who’s kidnapped by a Russian mobster and taken to his private Caribbean island where he plans to marry her against her will. Nick Cassidy is desperate to rescue her, and he’s able to sneak onto the island and mingle with the wedding guests as he waits for the right moment to spirit Camille away. Once the story was finished, I started thinking about the cover.

There are lots of good things about indie publishing. For starters, you can write the book you want, making it whatever length works best for the story. And you don’t have to fight an editor to get the perfect title.

Then there’s the first thing the prospective reader will see—the cover. I thought that when I started indie publishing, it would be a snap to get illustrations I loved—rather than the hit or miss offerings my publishers—dare I say—slapped on my books. To be fair, some were really great. I will forever love the cover of my Harlequin Intrigue, More than a Man. Others made me want to weep or scream when the characters looked nothing like my hero and heroine, and the scene might as well have come from outer space as the manuscript I’d provided.

But I quickly discovered that getting it exactly right isn’t all that easy, and Destination Wedding is a nice example of what it takes. I wish I could do my own covers, but I don’t have the time to learn Photoshop and get good at using it. Instead I’ve relied heavily on Su at Earthly Charms. I like her because she listens to my concepts. Then she might steer me in a better direction when she knows what I’m thinking won’t work the way I expect.

I’ve come to the conclusion that a couple embracing is often the right way to go with romantic suspense. Or a sexy guy alone can work. But I’ve found that I can’t have only one idea in my head because it might not be possible with the photos available.

Because Destination Wedding takes place on a tropical island, I thought about using a beach setting—or possibly a jungle. However, background is the easy part. The hard part is coming up with a great looking guy or couple who fits your story. And finding him/them usually means looking at screen after screen of sexy men. (Admittedly a lot more fun than actually sitting and writing.)




I found a guy who was almost perfect for the Destination Wedding cover. He’s wearing a tuxedo shirt unbuttoned and standing a beach. He’s got a great body. But I didn’t like the wise-ass expression on his face. Which led me to ask Su, “Can we cut off the top of his head?” She sent me back a version with his brains missing, but I thought she’d gone a little too far, so she adjusted the cut to show his sensual mouth. After we took care of the face problem, I needed to find a woman who worked for the would-be bride in the story. That sent me back to the stock- photo sites, this time looking for a long-haired blond in a wedding dress. I sent Su several candidates, and she made the final choice. Luckily there was no problem about the two of them touching. As you can see, she’s standing in the background, looking out to sea, praying he’ll show up and rescue her before the wedding night.

Often my covers need a separate background. In this case, the shot of the guy on the beach cut out that step. Su put the picture together and added my name and the book title. Now if you’ll just send me URLs of great-looking guys or hot but tasteful couples embracing, the next job will be even easier.

What attracts you to a book cover? Do you want to see an embracing couple? Is a hot guy alone as good?


Saturday, September 14, 2013

JACK'S APPLE BETTY

Jack Brandt, the hero of BAD NIGHTS, my new Sourcebooks romantic suspense release, had parents who separated when he was young.  But he did have a few good memories from his childhood, including some of the desserts his mother used to make.  This Apple Betty is one of his favorites.  It’s a little like bread pudding but with more fruit than bread.  Recently Jack was lucky enough to have found the right woman, Morgan Rains, who loves cooking.

This recipe is for her, so she can surprise Jack with one of his all-time favorites, but I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.  Note that I’ve taken a lot of the calories and carbs out of the dish by using Splenda instead of sugar.  I’ve used a combination of red and Granny Smith apples, and I’ve left the skins on.  You could also peel them if you like.

Makes six to seven servings.





1 cup Splenda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
8 cups cored and cubed apples (about 8)
4 cups light bread cubes (I like to use Light Oatmeal Bread)
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

1. In a 1-cup measure, stir together the Splenda and cinnamon.

2. In a large, microwave-safe bowl, stir together the apples and Splenda mixture.  Microwave on high power for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring two or three times, until apples are partially cooked.

3.  Meanwhile, spread the bread cubes on a cookie sheet with sides.  Toast in the broiler 5 or 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until cubes are browned.  Watch the cubes carefully to make sure they don’t burn.

4.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

5.  Transfer apples and cooking juice to an 8 ½ by 11-inch baking pan.  Stir in bread cubes.  Slowly drizzle the melted butter over the mixture.  Stir to coat well.

6.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring once, until the apples are cooked through.

I serve the Betty with no-sugar-added ice cream or half and half. It will keep in the refrigerator for two or three days.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Turkey and More

As you may know, I’m married to Mr. Travel.  He loves exploring the U.S. and the world.  And I've heard him brag recently that we’ve visited the sites of five of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  I say “the sites,” because most of them—like the Colossus of Rhodes—have fallen to dust. (Or scrap merchants, in the case of the Colossus.)  We saw the Great Pyramid of Giza on August 12, 2001.  I remember the date because we had been in Nairobi the day before, after a safari in Kenya and Tanzania.  If we’d been traveling a month later, we would have been grounded and unable to return to the U.S. until the 9/11 flight ban was lifted.

My husband’s latest delight was visiting the site of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. (Another ancient wonder.)  You can no longer see it, but its parts live on as building blocks in the castle at Bodrum, Turkey.



Our visit to Turkey began peacefully enough, with walking tours of the famous sites in Sultanahmet, the old-city part of Istanbul.  We marveled at Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, Topkapi, the Mosaic Museum, the Grand Bazaar.  And my favorite was the old Basilica Cistern near the Hagia Sophia. You go down into a watery cavern, supported by columns stolen from various Roman and Greek temples.  To even out the height, one sports a giant head of Medusa at the base.

My writer friend, Patricia Rosemoor, joined us near the end of this Istanbul visit. Then we all flew to Cappadocia, a region of weird rock formations, many hollowed out as living quarters, and even an underground city—going back to the time of the Hittites.  We stayed in a cave hotel and took a balloon ride over the unique landscape. Bodrum was next, where we all climbed around the castle, admired the gardens, the statues and the view of the harbor. One highlight was the “Museum of Underwater Archaeology,” where recovered shipwrecks and the goods they carried were displayed, some from the 25th century BC.  (That date is not a typo!)


We’d planned our trip to Istanbul to take in the antiquities first, then later returned to stay at a hotel on the Bosphorus, where we could visit the Asian side of the city. But when we came back to Istanbul from Bodrum, we ran smack into the protests.  Our hotel was close to the park that the protesters want preserved. From our eighth-floor window, and also from the windows in the dining rooms, we watched police hurl tear gas and try to clear the area with water cannons.  And at 2:00 a.m. one day, tear gas seeped into our room, stinging my eyes. The violence wasn’t all on the part of the police, however. We watched protesters remove paving stones and billboards to make barricades, which we had to walk past to leave the hotel.


People have asked me, “Were you scared?” No, but the riots trapped us inside the hotel for a day. Finally we did get out for a visit to the Spice Market and took a Bosphorus cruise—being careful to get back before the evening rioting started again.

I know I’ve been a witness to history in the making.  Actually, what I saw on our return trip to Istanbul saddened me.  There’s so much to see and do in Turkey. Although we only scratched the surface, we enjoyed many unique experiences you won’t see anywhere else. We loved the ancient sites, the shopping, and a glimpse into another way of life. The people were warm and friendly.  One highlight of our trip was a home visit to a family in Cappadocia, where the mom and daughter-in-law fixed us a delicious meal, and one of the school-age boys brought us a newly-hatched chick to admire.  Another great interaction was with the man in charge of the breakfast room in our first hotel in Istanbul.  I’d bought cat food for a stray mom cat and her kittens, then found out he was sneaking them cheese.

As I traveled around, I saw a lot of people whose jobs are dependent on the tourist industry. People working for Turkish Airlines, in hotels, restaurants, bazaars, at the attractions and in the Bodrum marina. And there were scores of tourists—from the U.S. and Europe.  But I think the government’s repressive reaction to the protesters has seriously cut that source of income. I know people who have already canceled trips to Turkey. And every time I read about the unrest, I pray that the people and the authorities can come up with a peaceful resolution—quickly.  But I honestly don’t see it happening.

Maybe some year you’ll get to see the fantastic sights I saw in Turkey. But I don’t think it’s going to be soon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Research and Fun in Central America


       The next book I’m writing for Sourcebooks, BETRAYED, features a heroine from Central America, and I picked up some fantastic background material for her while on a trip to Central America a few weeks ago.  I learned about the educational system, the drug trade, health care, and political corruption.  And I watched the military men striding around with their automatic weapons at the ready.

       There’s so much to recommend this part of the world that I keep going back.  I love the people, the birds and animals and the amazing flowers.  And I especially love tramping around Mayan sites where thriving cities flourished more than fifteen hundred years ago.

       In Belize we started our trip at a zoo Harrison Ford helped establish when he was filming Mosquito Coast. All the animals there are native to Belize, including this boa constrictor I’m holding.
 

We also visited Mayan ruins in the country, including  Cahal Pech and Xunantunich.  Although the stone carvings at Xunantunich are a reconstruction, they make a very impressive presentation.  And getting there was half the fun---crossing a river on a cool ferry that the operator worked with a hand crank.

       The most jaw-dropping ruins we saw were at Tikal in Guatemala, which we had visited 19 years ago.  We loved coming back and seeing how much more of this “New York of the Mayas” that archaeologists have uncovered.  Here’s a picture Norman took from the top of temple 4, which is 212 feet tall. I climbed up the switchback staircase that’s been installed so you can get to the top relatively easily, but I hate heights; and with a whole bunch of people milling around on the narrow ledge up there, I didn’t stay long.


      Another highlight of our trip was beautiful Lake Atitlan, formed by a gigantic volcanic explosion and still ringed by volcanoes that belch smoke and ash.  Our hotel was right on the water, and we took a boat trip from their dock to several villages where we visited a weaving cooperative and a street market. As we motored into one village, we saw how the level of the lake is rising, swallowing trees and buildings along the shore.

     
And here are vegetables at the indoor market in a village called Chichicastenango.  


       Our next stop was Antigua, a World Heritage city, where we stayed for three days, exploring the cobblestone streets, the ruins, the markets, and several museums, like the Mayan music museum.



       One of the highlights of the trip was an abbreviated Mayan ceremony, where we purified ourselves with bunches of rue and cast colored candles into a fire in a metal cauldron.  It was the dry season, but as we tossed blue candles symbolizing water into the fire, a light rain began to fall.


  Here’s an Antigua street scene near our hotel.


 I loved the macaws at the entrance to Copan. 



The carved stelae inside the ancient site are spectacular.


And here’s a replica of the temple that archaeologists found underneath another temple–so that the coloration on the exterior was preserved. 


And look at Norman providing a perch for some parrots.


       We had a fantastic time exploring Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. In fact we liked it so much that we’re planning another trip in January–to two of the places we liked best, Antigua and Lake Atitlan.

       Do you like to travel.  And if so–what’s your favorite destination?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

New Look for my Blog


With the help of the incomparable Paula Graves, and a power assist from the ever-talented Norman Glick, I’ve got a new look for my blog. And if you rush over to www.freepartay.com , you can get a copy of two of my Decorah Security stories for FREE (today only!) on Amazon. And when you get to the free ParTay, you’ll see a lot of other authors you will want to buy.

I’ve heard disputes about giving away books on Amazon. Some authors think that it works as great publicity. Others think that so many free books mean readers will just wait until a book goes free. I’ve had On Edge and Ambushed free yesterday and today, and I’m getting a lot of sales for my other books at the same time. Going free has worked for me as my primary publicity tool. Every time I do it, I get increased sales. What do you think about free books as publicity? Are there too many? If you’re an author, has it worked for you?

I’ve put my books free through Kindle Select. I know there are authors who also have a book “permafree” by having Amazon price-match free books in other venues. Which do you think works better?

And, by the way, how do you like the new look for the blog?