The cover image for A Good Community. (Purchased from istock;photo)
Sorry for the delay in getting this post up. Dan and I had to go to a funeral for the mother of a friend. While social media and websites and blogging are good activities, other things are more important. This was one of them.
Now for the good news.
We’re getting close to releasing A Good Community: Saint Maggie Book 5. I’m putting final touches on the manuscript and my designer Erin Vieth Brochu is working on the cover design.
Making decisions about this kind of stuff is difficult. It’s very nutsy-boltsy. I sent Erin all sorts of information about the story including thematic info: school, children, race, community, etc. Then she and I searched for appropriate images. We settled on a sketch circa the mid-1800s that features a schoolhouse with children gathered outside.
There were a couple of other images – photographs – that featured vintage school desks, chalkboards, and schoolhouses that Erin, Dan, and I liked. However, Dan pointed out that the overarching theme had to do with community as well as with Maggie’s struggle to push Blaineton into being a better (a good) community. He thought the children playing together picked up that theme more effectively than a photo of a series of desks or a schoolhouse.
Now we’re working on the design: image and cover color, how the title and my name will appear on the cover, and what the back cover will look like.
I also have written and polished the dreaded blurb. This how it reads at the moment.
Maggie Beatty Blaine Smith has a big heart and happily welcomes “down on their luck” boarders into her house. Maggie, who is white, also lives and works with friends Nate and Emily Johnson, who are black. Once Maggie ran a boarding house that sat directly on the Blaineton town square, where she and her household were clearly visible to all. Not surprisingly, the town folk wrinkled their noses at her establishment and saw her as an eccentric do-gooder.
But now it is 1864 and the members of her household are more prosperous. They have moved to the edge of Blaineton and into the spacious confines of Greybeal House. At last, Maggie is free to pursue her loving, welcoming lifestyle without having to face the town’s disapproval.
Then Mary and Addie, two orphaned girls of color, show up. Upon learning that the girls need an education, Maggie and Emily decide to enroll them in the Blaineton School. But there’s a problem: the school will not take black pupils and there is little in the way of education available for children of color.
True to form, the two women take matters into their own hands and start a school of their own, not just for Mary and Addie, but for all of Blaineton’s black children. However, as word spreads about the school, things start spinning out of control until a controversy threatens to blow Blaineton apart.
Maggie is called to stand a speak. Will she be able to bring her little town back together?
I still hate writing the blurb. *sigh*
Anyway, stay tuned. I sense a cover reveal coming our way!
As an author, there comes a point when I rather abruptly realize that my book is almost done. It’s sort of a “wait a minute… is this thing really done” moment.
I’ve been working on A Good Community for over two years now, and I think it’s kind of like being pregnant. Okay, there’s no morning sickness – except for that sick feeling all authors get in the pit of their stomachs when they have an anxiety attack. We also might gain weight (stress-eating from anxiety) and we probably are all moody as all get out.
For those of you who do not write for publication, allow me to describe it to you.
First, you write the initial draft, also known as the “first draft.” As you finish it, you probably think that it’s great, amazing, even brilliant.
And then you read it.
And you realize that it sucks.
I’m serious. As you read your own work, you’re thinking, “who wrote this junk?” So you grab a pen or fire up your laptop and go to work.
Welcome to what we like to call “revision.”
You don’t revise your book once. No way.
And when you no longer can stand it and begin referring to your beloved creation as “this stupid thing,” it’s time to bring on the editors or, if you can’t afford editors, the beta readers.
After a while, the editors/beta readers return your work. You cringe a bit, and then make changes.
After that, you read your manuscript again and maybe do a bit more polishing.
But you’re not done yet. Not by along shot.
Now you have to create a cover, a spine, and a back cover. You can do this yourself by purchasing an image and doing your own layout. Or you can hire a designer to do it for you. I hired a designer I know, Erin Vieth Brochu, to help me this time.
Of course, it’s not all just a pretty picture and some nice layout and fonts. The back cover of your book requires on more thing, [Insert ominous chord on the organ here]
Gollum GIF by Nora Phoenix
Yes, the blurb. That short description of your book that you hope will entice readers to buy the dang thing. To write it, you have to be part author and part advertising exec. So you put your thinking cap on and try to summarize your 100,000+ word baby in a way that would make someone actually want to read it.
Did you do it? Terrific!
Is it any good?
No? Rewrite it until it is as good as you can get it.
Now, you’re done. Right?
Now you need to purchase an ISBN (an International Standard Book Number) so your book can be sold in stores and online.
You also might want to copyright your baby. Because there are bad people out there, so you might as well protect it.
Now you’re finally ready to upload it to a site for publication and printing. Choose your poison: Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Lulu, IngramSpark, and on and on.
Or you can try to entice a traditional publisher or a hybrid publisher to agree to publish your manuscript (in which case some of the above activities might be reduced… or not).
You also can try to get an agent. But I think the deal goes like this, or used to go like this: To get an agent, you need to be traditionally published. To be traditionally published, you need to have an agent. It’s kind of a Catch-22 situation, but it has been done, and if you really want to take that route, go for it.
Did I mention that this whole writing a book for publication thing also costs money for editors, book designers, ISBNs, copyright, and some charges for publishing, depending upon what you decide to do?
Ah, but in the end, you will have a beautiful, new baby book to show the world.
You’re not done yet. Still.
You need to market your baby and publicize it. Of course, you can hire someone to help you with this, which means more money; or you can get yourself all over social media and try hit local radio and TV and…
Yikes! Why am I suddenly depressed?
The truth is I would like my books to bring in enough to supplement my IRA and Social Security when I retire. However, it’s realistic to assume that I’ll never be a fabulously wealthy and famous author.
Here’s more truth: I write because it’s what I do. When I was a kid, I knew I liked to tell stories. Somewhere around the age of 8 or 9, I realized that I could put words on paper and tell stories of my own, rather than simply write stuff for school.
I genuinely love to write. And I love to read, although I wish I had more time for that.
Most authors I know feel this way, too. They write because they love it. In fact, in some ways, we need to write.
As my sister Diane once told me, “If you don’t write, Janet, you’ll go crazy.”
I think she’s write… I mean, right.
The title of this blog makes it sound as if I’m actually on the road selling books all the time. Full disclosure: I’m not. I work 25-30 hours a week as Assistant Minister/Director of Christian Education/Communications Director for First United Methodist Church, Somerville, NJ. And although I try to hit local book festivals, this past year, as you may have noticed from previous posts, has been tough and I had to let things slide a bit.
But I’m ready to start up again, and tomorrow, October 5, I’ll be in Collingswood, NJ at the Collingswood Book Festival from 10:00-4:00 p.m. with my Saint Maggie series in tow. Follow the link to see details about the event.
As you can see from the photos above, my car (which I like to call “Mini Me”) is packed and I’m ready to go.
I’ve been to Collingswood several times previously and it is a big deal. The event closes down Haddon Avenue to traffic. It becomes a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare filled with tables and authors and readings and kids’ activities and food vendors and BOOKS! Lots and lots of books.
So, what’s your pleasure? Science fiction? Romance? Paranormal? Mystery? Children’s literature? Literary fiction? Poetry? Historical fiction? Cross-genre? It will be there. Trust me.
This is your chance to browse books, chat with authors, and indulge your book addiction (if you have one) or purchase some early holiday gifts.
As an author, I find that the event is a long, but a fun day. It gives me the opportunity to chat to readers and other folks who are just passing by. I get to talk about how amazing Maggie and my other characters are; how their stories, although set in the 1860s, still resonate today; and the power that kindness and generosity can have during difficult times.
If you want to find stories that will uplift you with characters living in an earlier era who are relatable, likeable, and fallible (yep, they mess up just like the rest of us), please check any out my Saint Maggie books.
Better yet, come to Collingswood tomorrow and chat with me. I’ll be in booth #91.
Have a wonderful weekend.
P.S. I hope to get a chance to slip away from my booth and take some photos so I can post them later!
In my last post, I neglected to thank SAVE Animal Shelter in Montgomery, New Jersey for bringing Vida, my new dog, into my life. They are wonderful! If you love animals, I strongly suggest that you donate either some money or time or both to your local animal shelter. Or better yet, adopt a furry friend.
In last Friday’s post, I revealed that I am terrible at naming my dogs. So, you may wonder, given this obvious shortcoming, how on earth I name my characters.
The truth is, for me, it is much easier than naming a pupster! Over the years I have tended to name my characters based on several criteria.
Character or function.
For my leading female, I wanted an old fashioned, steady name and “Maggie” came to mind. She had to be relatable, an everyday kind of woman but one who has an extraordinary dedication to living by the law of love, something which includes kindness, generosity, mercy, and justice.
For my leading male, I wanted to juxtapose Maggie’s qualities with humor and edginess. I also saw that her paramour needed to be a harbinger – a prophet who points to the 20th century. Eli Smith’s full name “Elijah Amos” combines two prophets from the Hebrew scriptures: the great prophet Elijah, and the minor prophet Amos, who was concerned with social justice. Wow! It’s quite a load to put on a guy like Eli, but as his story goes, his mother saw that her baby boy was capable of great things.
Frances, or “Frankie,” is Maggie’s youngest daughter with her first husband, John Blaine. I named this young woman after Frances Willard, president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union during the last 1800’s. Willard also fought tirelessly to better the lives of women. Her nickname was Frankie, and it fit my feisty, redheaded young woman who also is called to become a pastor.
As for Lydia, Maggie’s oldest daughter with John Blaine, I wanted a name that indicated a steady, serious, young woman with an interest in medicine. Interestingly, while I was writing Walk by Faith, Lydia suddenly acquired a nickname, “Liddy.” My characters did that, not me. It happens in a scene where aspiring doctor Lydia is examining Nate, who has been beaten by thugs. “My left side hurts when I breathe, Liddy.” Actually, as I was checking this out in my novels, this came as a revelation, as I thought Frankie gave her that nickname. Nate, in his moment of pain, told me something I didn’t know! (This kind of thing isn’t unusual. Anyone who writes fiction will tell you that characters, once developed, can and will do things on their own according to their own natures.)
I called Maggie’s best friend “Emily” because the name felt a bit old-fashioned, loyal, and had a touch of a smile in it. As you may or may not have noticed, Emily is stern (especially when it comes to manners and things religious), a devoted but honest friend, and surprisingly humorous.
Emily’s husband ended up as “Nathaniel,” or “Nate” for short. Nathaniel is a variant of Nathanael, one of Jesus’ followers in the Greek Scriptures (or New Testament) who in the Gospel of John recognizes Jesus as the “Son of God.” Biblical names were common in the 19th century and I have plenty of them in my books. But I also liked “Nate,” which is a solid and no-nonsense moniker. It fit a man who is a carpenter and wheelwright by trade, not to mention honest and dedicated to making the USA a better place for his children.
Another thing that influences a character’s name is ethnicity. The predominant European immigrants to New Jersey tended to be English, Scots, Dutch, Swedes, Germans, and Finns. In Warren County in western New Jersey, Dutch and English tended to predominate, although other groups moved west, too. In my books, therefore, are English, Dutch, or Scots names such as Blaine, Beatty, Moore, Morrison, Opdyke, Coopernall, Van Curen, and so on. When the story shifts in the second and third books to Gettysburg, we see characters with German names because that is a group that settled there in large numbers: Augustus Schultz, Beate Schultz, and Adela Edler.
But times are changing in the 1860s, and other people from other places are entering Maggie’s world, people like James “Grandpa” O’Reilly and the Brennan sisters, all from Ireland.
I often will go online to peruse lists of ethnic names, both surnames and first names, to give my characters, but I also have plundered my own family’s surnames. My family tree has people in it named Coopernall, Morrison, Lape, and Frost. I had my DNA tested about a year ago. I’m so European (mainly from Ireland and the British Isles) that it’s ridiculous.
While most of the African American characters in the series have English-sounding names, there is one character who chose a last name of her own, and that is Matilda. She is a freedom seeker from Virginia, who emancipated herself and her daughter Chloe from a plantation. Rather than take the name of the plantation or the man who owned it, Matilda gave herself her own name: “Strong.” It suits her. She is a strong woman, escaping to the North, making a new life for herself and her daughter, and hoping that someday she will be reunited with her husband and sons.
There is another dynamic when it comes to naming. Some religious groups tend to have particular surnames. An example of this is the Society of Friends (Quakers). Since Eli comes from the Friends, people in his family are named Smith and Millhouse, common Quaker surnames.
So that’s it. I may struggle to find a name for my pets but ask me to name a character and I go forth and conquer. Actually… maybe my Vida is lucky. I mean, I could have named her “Lady Long-Legs of Tennessee,” or “Lady Houdini Hound,” or something much worse!
See you Friday!
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder