Cover Reveal (sort of)

When I first published Her House Divided, I made my own cover. It was really artsy-fartsy, and I was really proud of it.

Of course,  I realize now that it was awful. Just like my formatting was awful. And my spacing. And some of the punctuation. And the fact that I called my main character by the wrong name every once in a while. And . . . well, let’s just be kind and say that my first foray into self-publishing was a learning experience. And oh, boy, did I have a lot to learn.

People have been really nice about helping me. I just can’t get over the number of wonderful authors, artists, and other publishing professionals who have reached out to offer the kind of guidance I have really needed throughout the process.

One of the first to help me was cover artist Jessica Richardson with CoverBistro. She offered me a great deal and made up a new cover for me that really gave my book a much more professional look. There was no question about my going back to her when I needed a cover for His Heart Aflame — and yes, she will be designing the cover for Their Love Rekindled.

I recently turned to Jessica again with some questions about updating my covers to tie them together and make them look more like a series, and I am thrilled with the results. I want to show them off and get some feedback. Tell me, what do you think of the changes?

Old Cover
Old Cover
New Cover
New Cover

But wait, there’s more!

Old Cover
Old Cover
New cover
New cover

Subtle changes, but gorgeous, right?

Sneak Peek: His Heart Aflame

When published my first book ten months ago, I had very little idea what I was doing.  It was definitely an impulsive decision to self-publish through Amazon rather than submit it to a traditional publisher.  And let’s be honest; I was aiming for Harlequin but sort of got in a huff after participating in their So You Think You Can Write contest.  I wasn’t sure whether to be mad at them or disappointed in myself, so instead I self-published with absolutely no plans for marketing or promotion.

I’ve learned an awful lot during those ten months, but the next few days are going to show whether I’ve learned enough to make a difference or not.  My newest effort is scheduled for release in five days, and I am so keyed up about it that I may not sleep between now and then.

I’m pretty much guaranteed to eat mass quantities of chocolate.

There will probably be wine involved as well.

Aw, hell, forget the “probably.”  We all know there’s going to be wine involved.

At any rate, His Heart Aflame will be available on Saturday, December 20 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, CreateSpace, and iBooks.  It’s available for pre-order right now, and Her House Divided, Book #1 in my Beach Haven series, is now available at all of those same outlets.

Just to tempt you all just a little bit (and maybe to pat myself on the back just a tad), I’d like to share Chapter One right here in my blog.  Please enjoy!

Chapter One

Sean Jackson knew better than to drive in this condition. He was an experienced First Responder who had worked more than his fair share of accident scenes created by idiots who didn’t think they were too tired to drive. He knew first-hand that driving tired could be just as dangerous as driving drunk, but here he was, tired beyond all belief, driving his exhausted self home down a dark stretch of road and calling himself every name in the book.

He opened the window to let in the fresh air and a few drops of rain, and turned up the volume of the vintage Lynyrd Skynyrd he always played when he was exhausted after a fire call. Just a few more miles, and he’d be home safely. A few more miles, and he’d be able to take a long, hot shower and fall into his nice soft bed for at least a few hours.

Until it was time to go to work, or until some idiot started another grass fire.

He groaned out loud. Normally, he could handle the pressure of a full-time job and his work as a volunteer firefighter. But there had been a rash of grass fires over the past few weeks that had pushed him to the point where he just wasn’t sure how much longer he could continue doing both. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept more than two or three hours at a stretch.

Sean wished he had a cup of coffee in the truck with him. He was beyond the point where caffeine was going to do him any good, but at least the warmth and steam would help keep his eyes open. He blinked rapidly and cleared his throat, ready to start singing along with Gimme Three Steps until he realized that he was too tired to remember the words.

He was just going to have to pull over on the shoulder and sleep it off right there in the front seat. That was all there was to it. He was just too damned exhausted to drive those last few miles. All he had to do was round the curve on County Road 388, where the shoulder widened out and gave a nice smooth spot to park and—

The woman came out of nowhere.

He had a split second to take in the fact that she wore something white that seemed to glow in his headlights. He caught a glimpse of a pale face and wide terrified eyes, and then he was spinning out of control on the wet pavement as he jerked the wheel to the left. He pumped the brakes and swore, not sure if he was angrier at himself for driving when his reflexes were this slow, or at that stupid woman for running down a dark country road at four o’clock in the morning.

He wasn’t sleepy any more.

He finally fought the truck to a stop on the wrong side of the road, facing the opposite direction. He sat there for a moment, breathing deeply.

There had been no thud. He hadn’t hit the woman. At least, he didn’t think he had. Sean jumped out and ran around front to examine the front of his truck. No new dents, no blood, no sign of any kind of impact. He hadn’t hurt anyone.

But where was she? He reached under the seat for his flashlight and Detroit Tigers baseball cap. Pulling the hat brim down low to keep the rain out of his eyes, he ventured into the darkness and aimed the light towards the woods.

“Miss?” he called. “Are you hurt? Do you need help?”

Silence.

“I can help you. I’m with the Beach Haven Fire Department. Miss?”

He thought he heard something behind him, but it was just the metallic clang of raindrops hitting his truck. Really could have used this rain an hour ago to help put out the grass fire, he thought. Not doing me much good now.

He crossed the road and peered intently into the trees. He did not want to go in there. It wasn’t exactly a jungle wilderness full of dangerous beasts, but he didn’t care to come up against beasts of the non-dangerous sort in the wee hours of the morning on a lonely country road. Still, it was his responsibility to look for the woman, damn it.

The very stupid woman who enjoyed running out in front of moving vehicles on dark rainy nights. He had a few choice words for her when he found her.

If he found her. “Come on, help a guy out here,” he shouted. “It’s wet and I’m tired and I just want to go home. I’m not in the mood for Hide and Seek.” The smell of smoke and sweat arose from his clothes as the rain soaked through to his skin, and the tap-tap-tap of his headache was quickly becoming more of a bang-bang-bang against the inside of his skull.

He skidded down the slight incline from the shoulder of the road into the trees. Damn, it was dark. No moon, no stars, just heavy clouds and too many trees bursting with an abundance of late-spring leaves. The flashlight beam seemed pitifully insignificant, swallowed up by the night.

Ahead of him, a pair of tiny yellow eyes glittered his light. He swallowed and forced himself to take another step, nearly jumping out of his skin when his shirt caught on a tree branch.

Sean took a deep breath and told himself to calm down. You’ve been in the woods in the dark before, he scolded himself. Camping, hunting — hell, the whole department was out here just a couple months ago looking for body parts after that train/pedestrian accident. This is nothing compared to that. Man up.

Determined, he pushed aside a pine branch, only to have it slip out of his grasp and give him a wet slap in the face.

Okay, time to re-think this. He was basically getting his butt handed to him by the wet, dark woods, and he was armed with a flashlight and a lifelong familiarity with the area. Was it really possible that a woman in a big, bulky dress was slipping around silently in these same woods without a light? He shined the light around again, looking for flashes of white or pieces of fabric caught on the same kind of branches that had torn his t-shirt, but saw nothing. He then stood perfectly still and listened.

Nothing but rain hitting the leaves with increasing intensity.

There is no one else out here, he realized.

Which meant one of two things: Either the mystery woman had vanished into thin air, or he had imagined her. Neither answer really appealed to him, but he decided that he’d rather solve the mystery from somewhere safe and warm. And preferably dry. He turned and slogged his way back through the trees and scrambled back up the incline to the road.

He was surprised to see the tailgate of his truck hanging open. That was strange; he remembered shoving his gear bag in there under the tonneau cover when they’d cleared the scene, but he could have sworn he’d latched it. He shined the light inside to satisfy himself that his things were still there, nodding when he saw the vague outlines of his belongings, and slammed it shut before climbing back into the seat.

Damn, he was tired. So tired that he’d driven all this way with his tailgate hanging open, which could have cost him his all of the gear and tools he kept stowed in the back of his truck. So tired that he had imagined seeing a strange woman in white running down a lonely country road in the middle of the night.

I wouldn’t be this tired if I did this full-time, he thought. Sure, the pros worked several days in a row, but they got to go off-duty afterward. They didn’t have to work two jobs, either. And full-time professional firefighters seemed to earn a certain degree of respect that volunteers just didn’t get. Sean thought about the interview he’d gone to earlier in the week in a Grand Rapids suburb and wondered for the hundredth time what he would do if they actually offered him the job.

One thing he knew for sure: no full-time fire department was going to hire him if they knew he was seeing imaginary women on rainy country roads.

He had to have imagined her. He so wiped out that he was hallucinating. That was the only possible explanation. It certainly made more sense than some crazy lady running around in a white dress in the middle of the night and then disappearing without a trace. It made more sense, but it wasn’t comforting to realize that he had almost wrecked his truck over a fatigue-induced hallucination.

Get a grip, Jackson. Go home, get some rest, and don’t ever mention this to anyone.

Right. He put the truck in gear, turned it around, and cranked up the volume just as Sweet Home Alabama started. It was enough to get him home, where he pulled into his attached garage and stumbled toward the door to his home. He knew he should hang his wet gear and make a few phone calls to let people know he was going to be late for work, but he just didn’t care.

He stepped out of his boots on his way through the door and started shucking wet clothes on his way to the bedroom. All thoughts of taking a shower were gone, replaced by visions of a soft pillow and a comfortable bed. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a little voice was trying to remind him that he stunk, and that his bedding was going to stink, too; he firmly told the annoying little voice to shut the hell up and collapsed face-down on top of the quilted comforter.

Sure was a pretty hallucination, he thought, and then he was out.

Squirrel!

One of the hardest things about writing is making myself write the right things. I am easily distracted anyway; most of the time I am like the squirrel-crazed dogs in the movie Up.  But when it comes to finishing my next book, it’s a completely different kind of distraction.

I love chatting with other writers in the KDP forums.  I enjoy working with my friends at Fanfiction.net, and on a writers’ page on Facebook.  Writers are so much fun to play with!  Of course, we are also sensitive and creative people, so there is always drama.  Always.  Whether arguing about the idiot writer who called a reviewer at home and then had the audacity to accuse the reviewer of stalking, or lambasting the moron who uses a writer’s forum to whine about how hard her personal life is, there is always something going on to keep the blood pumping and the fingers flying across the keyboard.

There is my blog, which has been far more fun than I ever expected it to be.  I really never thought anyone would care about my random musings on life, the universe and Toblerone.   But every “like” is like a pat on the head, and getting my blog Freshly Pressed again has made me realize just exactly how much of an attention-whore I really am.  In some ways, I have come to enjoy blogging even more than I enjoy creating my fictional characters and stories!

But the strangest distraction is the unexplainable surge of story ideas exploding in my brain right now.  It’s as if the more I write, the more I have to write about, and I struggle every day to narrow my focus down to the one project I really have to finish.

His Heart Aflame 1 print

His Heart Aflame is the sequel to Her House Divided, and it is kicking my butt.  So many people asked about the character of Sean Jackson that I just knew he had to get his own story.  He was my favorite character anyway, and often threatened to take over Her House Divided.  I really didn’t have a choice.  In His Heart Aflame, he’s naked by Chapter Two, and rolling around on the beach with Maggie by Chapter Nine, although he does put clothes on between the two chapters.  I adore these characters, and I just can’t type fast enough to tell their story.

But somewhere in the back of my mind . . .

I still want to write a Young Adult series someday, something along the lines of The Three Investigators or Trixie Belden.  Teenagers solving mysteries and facing dangerous adventures, solving puzzles and capturing bad guys.  Something for young readers that doesn’t involve dystopian societies or vampire lovers with glittery butts.

Suddenly, I have this great idea for a mystery involving a lost family treasure and an antique pump organ like the one I inherited from my grandfather.   I look at the empty, overgrown house next door to my new home, and I just know I have to write about kids figuring out why it’s been empty all these years.  I watch a group of local kids depart for the annual bicycle trip to Mackinac Island, and almost lose my mind thinking about all of the wonderful adventures I could write about kids on a similar trip!

I think about the time-travel story I’ve wanted to write for years, or the missing-child story that popped into my brain, fully-formed, the first time I heard Peter Case wail Walk in The Woods.

There’s another project I’ve been dying to work on.  I want to write about my car accident, but with an upbeat twist to it.  I don’t want to focus on the accident itself, but on the humor that got me through the months and years that followed.  Instead of yammering on about pain and nightmares, I want to talk about taking victory laps around the living room on my walker to celebrate every time I managed to pee alone.  I want it to be inspirational, but most of all, I want it to make people smile.

A few weeks ago, I weeded through a year and a half’s worth of blogs and picked out all of the posts that I thought were the funniest.  All of the ones that made me smile when I wrote them and then again when I read them.  I put them all together into a collection and called it Have a Goode One, and put it on Amazon, where I sold exactly two copies.

One to my sister.

The other to my friend Christina.

Thanks, girls.

Last week, I formatted it for CreateSpace and sent it out into the world as a paperback.

And  . . . now, I have to tell the rest of my ideas to shut up and wait their turn.  I left Sean and Maggie naked on the beach, but he doesn’t know her secret yet.  There’s an arsonist in Beach Haven, and poor Sean still has to make the biggest decision of his life.  I just can’t leave them hanging like that.

Somewhere amidst all of that chaos, I have a job to go to, kids to take care of, a house to maintain, Toblerone to eat. Some days, I really thank God for my esspresso machine and steady supply of high-powered caffeine.

Most days, I just thank Him for this incredible chance to live the life I’ve always dreamed of.  Oh, not the part where I’m fat and divorced, with neck pain and aching feet, and bills I can’t pay.  The other part.

The part where people ask, “what do you do?” and I say, “I’m a writer.” That part.

Now, excuse me; I’ve got to get back to Sean and Maggie.