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A Peek Behind the Curtain   17 comments

This week’s Blog Hop is about what goes on behind the scenes of writing our novels.

Check out what my fellow hoppers have going on behind their curtains.


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Writing novels is what I do besides working for a living. I am an administrator for the State of Alaska and that’s enough said about that.

Currently, I am chief cook and bottle washer of this publishing shindig. Like any entrepreneur, I have to decide where to spend my money … if I have any money … and where I can save money by doing things myself.

I stink at marketing, so I’m scraping my pennies together to let someone else do that, to the extent I can afford it.

I largely rely on beta readers and my family to edit my manuscripts. I hope one day to pay for an editor, but I’m not there yet.

Front Cover RedI create my own covers. I’m not really an artist, though I got a B in art class in college. My daughter is an actual artist and she insisted I give this a go, so I did. There are lots of options for cover design these days. You can pay a good cover designer hundreds of dollars, but I’m not there yet. You can use Amazon’s cover design program … but I don’t recommend it. You can buy an off-the-shelf cover image that allows you to input text, but then you are likely to run across other books with the exact same cover.

I decided to be brave and really do my own. First, I have to admit, I have typography experience. I trained as a journalist and typography was part of the advertising class I took. I worked for a time creating ads for he local newspaper before I moved into reporting and my skills have always been used in my jobs since. That ability is a great advantage and one reason my daughter thought I could do this.

Front Cover LAWKI no windowI use to create my images and Publisher to do the typography. I believe Canva works well too, though I am less familiar. Either way, I don’t recommend doing typography (text) in an art program. Create the image and then suck it over into Publisher or similar to do the text. It’s just an overall better result.

My book covers are always based on something in the book the cover represents. The moon plays a prominent part in The Willow Branch. The forest plays a primary setting in Mirklin Wood. In Life As We Knew, the idea of facing nuclear Armageddon with just a barn to shelter is drives home my point that our country is woefully unprepared.

Because I’m not really an artist, I use a collage method to create the images I produce. I buy stock images or take the photographs myself (or sometimes my husband does). Government websites (especially in the very picturesque state of Alaska) are often filled with images that are legally considered public domain.

Willow Branch Blue White Recreation allows you to set the canvas to any size you want. Since my cover will eventually be a 5.5 x 8.5 print image, that’s my basis. Just as an artist would put gesso on a canvas, I pick a base color to fill in the entire canvas. Often this is the color of the sky, but in Objects in View, it’s the  color of the pavement. I then select the images I want to arrange on the canvas. I like to work in 500 pixel definition so that I am assured that my images won’t be blurry. I never want a cover of mine to look pretty much like someone else’s, so I am usually just taking parts of an image, just as you do with a collage.

So, for example, The Willow Branch started with a rectangle of deep midnight blue for the sky. The mountains are actually two different photos of two different mountain ranges found on the Alaska DOT website. The moon came from NASA. The foreground of the image is from a photo my husband took while flying above the Brooks Range cloud cover. Using’s tool, I cropped out the parts of each photo I didn’t want. I saved these in separate files, so I would have to reinvent the wheel if something went awry.. I then layered the mountains to provide the illusion of depth. In you can adjust the size of the image, which helps a lot with perspective.

The moon was a fun process because it looked very earthy – you know, the Face — but Daermad is not Earth, so I had to play with the image until the Face disappeared.  I had to decide whether to have it peek from behind the mountains or in full view in the mountain pass. The decision to make it full view then required that I adjust my light levels so the moon seemed to light the night. At the last, I placed the foreground image to provide yet another layer to the art composition.

Willow Branch Full CoverOnce I got my cover image just like I wanted it, I ran it through the rendering tool to create an oil painting effect, flattened the image so it becomes a single image, then saved it, creating a JPEG version of it. I brought that over into Publisher to work on the typography. The created art work becomes the front cover image. I also used a fuzzy version of a portion of the image to wrap the full cover. For a really simple cover like The Willow Branch, I used a single font color for the typography on the front cover. Other covers vary.

And, I want them to  vary. Although there may be similarities within a series, I ultimately want my covers to differ from one another to provide distinctiveness and flavor to my books.

So, now you know one thing that goes on in my private world. I wonder what Rebecca Lovell has going on behind her curtain.



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The Open Book Blog Hop is talking Leap Year on Leap Day. Check it out or, better yet, join in.

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Posted February 28, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in #openbook, Uncategorized

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My fellow blog hoppers and I are sharing some of our favorite links with readers this week.

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Posted February 21, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in #openbook

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This week’s blog hop is talking about Valentine’s Day. Join us and tell us what you think of this holiday.

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Posted February 14, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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7 Questions with PJ MacLayne   5 comments

Hey, PJ MacLayne, let’s have a mini-interview.

First, before we get started, if this interests others, join the Open Book Blog Hop.

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Which marketing technique do you favor for your books?

I don’t believe I’ve conquered marketing. I’ve tried blog tours, posting on Facebook readers groups, spreading the word on other social media, and a variety of paid advertising channels. Out of all of them, I’ve had the best luck with Robin Reads. I know there are some bigger companies for advertising, but my budget isn’t there yet.


How do you find inspiration for your novels?

Most of my stories start from dreams. I don’t remember my dreams very often, but when I do, I dream some pretty crazy things. However, some of the minor characters that appeared in Wolves’ Pawn have been bugging me to write their stories. That’s where Wolves’ Knight came from. In the back of my mind, I’m working on a third book for the Free Wolves series. But it’s going to have to wait until I finish two other writing projects.


Self-publish or small publisher? Which one is best?

I won’t say what’s best. I decided to self-publish because I’m old and I don’t want to wait to have my book published. By self-publishing, I can move my projects along at (mostly) my own pace. Plus, I wanted to write stories my way and not based on what someone else wanted in a storyline. I can write what I want to.


What are you working on at the moment?

I’m actively working on two different projects right now. The first is the third book in the Oak Grove Mysteries. It’s tentatively titled “The Baron’s Cufflinks.” Harmony Duprie is back and in trouble again. The other project is a short story for a group anthology of beach stories.


Which 3 songs would you take with you to a remote Alaskan cabin?

Only three? That’s going to be tough. We’ll start with an easy one—Elton John’s Love Lies Bleeding/Funeral for a Friend. Then I’ll go with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Final pick? Annie’s Other Song by John Denver.


Name one of your possessions that you cannot do without.

I had to think long and hard about this. I have a lot I can do without. But there are three things I’d hate to lose. The first is my wedding ring. I hope to still be wearing it when I die. Beyond that, I have two things to pick from. I have a flash drive where I backup all my writing projects, either in progress or completed. I want to hang onto that. The other is the proof copy of my first book. I remember the feeling when I held that for the first time. It can’t be replaced.


Do you believe in an afterlife?

Interesting question. Simple answer is yes. What that will look like, I haven’t got a clue. I don’t believe we’ll all be floating around on the clouds wearing sheets and playing harps. Wouldn’t that be boring? I don’t even know if we’ll have physical bodies. What I think is we will have a sense of happiness and love. Because isn’t that what we all hope for either in this life or the next? Isn’t that heaven?


Check out PJ MacLayne’s books. I’ve said this before — romance with adventure and danger is a great combination.

Posted February 1, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in #openbook

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Writer’s Prep   4 comments

Do you ever read a book and ask yourself “How did the author come up with this?” I do and so do some of my fellow authors, so come join us as we answer our readers’ curiosity.
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I could choose either of my two series to discuss, but I chose Transportation Project because of an Amazon review.

I started writing Life As We Knew It as a “relief” story while I was editing The Willow Branch. I always have at least one “relief” project in the wings behind my main project because it prevents writer’s block, but LAWKI had a life before it had that name or even the plot it ended up with.


Front Cover LAWKI no windowTransformation Project (and Life As We Knew It, Book 1) is a compilation of several stories that had been kicking around on my hard drive or in my psyche for many years.

I had long wanted to do a story centered around my Mom’s hometown in North Dakota and some of the people I know there, particularly an arm of the family who are deaf, thus Poppy Lufgren, who was originally a male, and Alex, the hearing brother who raised her. I had a half-dozen false starts with a story focused on them. Maybe a small town in North Dakota just didn’t hold my attention or I couldn’t quite capture the essence of Deaf culture.

I strongly believe that the United States would act badly and disastrously if hit by a widespread act of terrorism. I see what our government has done so far (driving people out of their homes with their hands up while looking for the Boston bombers, for example) and I am pessimistic about the future. I see the huge national debt as very dangerous. I also see the reliance Americans have on technology as problematic. I don’t know how to say that in a normal life scenario without sounding like I’m preaching, but in an apocalyptic, I can show those beliefs in action and hopefully make them entertaining.

During the run-up to the 2008 Presidential elections, we were Sarah Palin fans. She was very popular in Alaska and nobody can argue with her record here, despite the questionable behavior afterward. Alaska’s government is currently being funded by the non-Permanent Fund savings she put aside during her brief tenure as governor. Thank you, Sarah, for looking ahead to $36 a barrel oil when it was at $98 a barrel. Not many Alaskans foresaw that inevitability.

On a 10-hour no-radio road trip, my then-teenage daughter and I collaborated on a verbal story that featured a Palin-esque politician trying to get away from an assassination attempt with the help of a mercenary — Shane Delaney — who was based on some 20-something action actor my daughter found attractive. It was a thought-experiment on “what would it actually take to fundamentally change the United States of America?” We chose my mom’s North Dakota hometown as our destination because it’s sort of near Chicago where the story began. By Alaskan-standards Los Angeles is also near Chicago. When we got Shane and the politician to Nowhere, North Dakota, they were helped by Alex — who is based upon a cousin of ours — the only hearing man in a deaf family (on the side that isn’t related to us) who raised his little sister after his parents died. In our cobbled-together story, Alex, Poppy and Shane were siblings and Alex was a bit peeved to have been left with the responsibility of raising a little sister while Shane just sent home money — that was Brad’s contribution.

The election ended and so did the story, except that I really liked some of the characters and the basic idea and I wasn’t really ready to let go of that question of “What would it take to transform the culture of the United States?” I tried drafting it and it didn’t take long to realize that we had “written” ourselves into a corner. Nowhere, North Dakota is nowhere near anything else. There are no big cities near it by Lower 48 standards. There’s no interstate. There’s just a lot of really flat country, barns and sunflower fields. The Palin-esque character had been my daughter’s creation and she didn’t really talk to me, so I had no source of tension for the story.

It hung out on my hard drive until I read William Forstchen’s One Second After and I knew I wanted to use terrorism and its affects on a small town in a book. Originally I used EMP and much of the rough draft was written under that premise. The town moved south into Kansas because Forstchen suggested that would be the hardest hit place and Kansas really is a crossroads of sorts with I70 and having been the navel of the aviation world. When a friend gifted me with American Hiroshima by Hugh Cort, I decided to make a change to a nuclear scenario because I really wanted to explore black flag ideas and I felt my book might be too evocative of Forstchen’s book.

I tried all sorts of different ways to get Shane, who started out as a mercenary, to have some connection to the attacks, but the character wouldn’t allow it. When I wrote the Rigby storyline, it seemed ridiculous that he would ever show up in Emmaus, Kansas, if he didn’t know anyone there. And, then my pastor’s son was arrested, tried and convicted of plotting acts of terrorism (yes, really! Google Francis Schaeffer Cox) and the back story of Shane grew from that. It gave me a reason to connect Rigby to the town and to Shane, but it also provides the source material for future storylines in the series because Anders McAuliff is brother to the imprisoned militia leader.

What sort of research do you need to write a book like Life As We Knew It? Apparently my life brings accidental research opportunities to me. I’m the only writer I know who is friends with the wife and parents of a convicted terrorist. I knew almost nothing about suitcase nukes when I started. My concept of nuclear attack survivability was a mixture of ideas from The Day After, War Day and a 24 scenario. The book shows my evolved understanding of how suitcase nukes differ from ICBMs. I didn’t know a lot about Midwestern farming. My mom left North Dakota in 1942 and the closest thing to farming I’d ever done on visits was milking a goat (which I learned in Alaska) and pitching hay (which I think was more entertaining for my cousins than helpful). I spent a weekend at a friend’s farm in Alaska and watched a lot of utube videos. I didn’t know much about the interstate system (grew up in Alaska, yo?).  I’ve now spent a lot of time on Google Street View. One course of research led to other courses of research. I knew a fair amount about guns, having grown up in the gun-culture of Alaska, but I’d never been a semi-auto girl until I started researching what sort of gun Shane would carry. Kansas being the navel of the old airplane world was an opportunity I (being from another big airplane state) couldn’t let go that will have huge impacts later in the series. Again, I grew up in a flying state, but I had to research GA airplanes. PTSD, which Shane suffers from, found its way into the story because of a disturbing story a friend told me about how Vietnam still haunts him. Although I worked in a social service agency for 15 years, I still needed to do some research on PTSD — its causes, its symptoms and its treatments. Creating a Middle Eastern country allowed me to not be tied to a real world timeline and required that I research countries in that area to provide myself with a back story that I may never share with readers. Yes, writers — good writers — do that all the time. Carl the schizophrenic is a compilation of several clients I knew in my 15 years of employment at a mental health agency, but I did some research in addition because I am not a professional social worker (I worked in administration). Jacob is based on a couple of older gentlemen I know from Fairbanks and his personality and life philosophy comes from the radio show Patriot’s Lament, but I also had to research what anacho-capitalists believe to give him some depth.

I rarely develop characters. They present themselves to me to tell me their story and I write it down. Sometimes I can guide the plot and the characters will cooperate, but most of my characters will not do things that are out-of-character, no matter how much I want them to. I loved the Delaney family from the original story, but Alex wouldn’t insinuate himself into the town’s business and I couldn’t get any of his relatives to become hearing so that Shane would have an excuse to be involved in town decisions. This is where Sarah Palin re-entered the story. She was mayor of Wasilla before she was governor of Alaska and whenever I played with her part of the story, when I wanted to still keep her doppleganger in it, I kept coming back to that leadership role. Nobody is more involved in town decisions than the mayor. Rob is a compilation of higher-level managers at work and a friend who owns a feed store in Alaska. He’s smart, he’s been a good manager of his town — and what I’m going to do with his character is going to surprise people.

Remember, it’s called Transformation Project. I’m not just dropping bombs and saying the world will struggle to return to normal and then it does. That story’s been done and I want to do something different. I’m fundamentally transforming the United States as we know it … eventually, over several books.

Kelly Williams is discussing this topic over on her Blue Honor blog. While you’re checking out what she has to say, check out her books. Isn’t that a gorgeous cover above?

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Have you ever read a book and wondered how the author came up with that idea? I tell you a little about the process that went into Life As We Knew It. Join me on the Open Book Blog Hop.

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Posted January 24, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in #openbook

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What the *$%(^&^)?

Yup! The Open Book Blog Hop is talking about swearing.

What do you think? Do we do it too much? Too little? Is it a good thing or a bad one? Do you just wish you could wash Colin Farrell’s mouth out with some Ajax?

Join us for the discussion.

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Stay Tuned for the Blog Hop   2 comments

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With the holidays behind us, we turn our attention to … reality television.

Do you love it? Hate it? Why?

You can join my fellow blog hoppers and I if you want.

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Banner1This week we’re discussing our favorite Christmas music. Anyone caring to join us —

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Posted December 14, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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