Monday, June 29, 2015


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, is a perfect example:

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.