Books, Books, and More Books

by Mandy Broughton

This Friday and Saturday, Lone Star College, Kingwood Campus, is hosting a book festival. When I say book festival, I’m talking over 150 authors! From the brochures, it looks to be an exciting event for the entire family. Books, music, animals–real animal, not just the authors–will all be on hand.

Friday starts with keynote speaker, Larry Dierker. Sports fans–you won’t be disappointed by the rest of Friday’s lineup. While yours truly and fellow Space City Scriber, Monica Shaughnessy, will be sitting on a Friday afternoon panel, my eyes are on the football stars that will be found elsewhere. Dan Pastorini and Jackie Sherrill are hosting a panel, “Aggies and Oilers: God and Football in Texas.” Wow! This should draw a huge crowd from our little southeast portion of Texas.

Saturday is a full day of children’s authors and events for all our future readers. What could be more fun than a petting zoo and books? More books!

And some of us (read Monica) got a really cool poster to promo the event.

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If you’re in the Houston area, we’d love to see you there. Monica and I are Friday at 3 p.m. in the music wing. Stop by and say hello.

Striving for the best–Superbowl Sunday

by Mandy Broughton

So the Superbowl happened yesterday. I thought I’d write on the commercials. But I found them lacking. And I won’t even mention the creepy chimera that I believe was the worst commercial of all. I will insert my favorite Superbowl commercial of all time. I haven’t found one to top this gem yet.

End Commercial break.

Two elite teams battled, one came out on top. The one not on top faces endless speculations of “what-ifs” or “should-haves.” The winner becomes known for brilliant strategy and cunning planning. The loser must defend “what were you thinking?” And the dreaded “everyone knows you should have done this instead of that!”

Congratulations to the Denver Broncos. Kudos to head coach, Gary Kubiak. Two thumbs up to defense guru, Wade Phillips. And, from someone not much older than Peyton Manning himself, tip of my hat to a job well done.

I like the Carolina Panthers. I think they had an incredible season. Only two losses. The Panthers join a short list, only ten other teams, to have such a near-perfect season.

I could quote cliche after cliche about how losses lead to learning. But I won’t. I will quote my fencing coach. He likes to say, “when a kid wins, it’s because of a talented kid. When a kid loses, it’s because of bad coaching.” I like the deeper meaning of this message. Parents, kids, athletes, everyone, they love to bask in their own greatness and deflect failure as being caused by others. Maybe it’s not right but it is normal.

Professional football players, or any elite athlete, stir my interest. Talent plays a role, yes, but there must be more. We’ve seen too many talented players fail because they were found lacking. Self-discipline? Work ethic? Maybe even good coaching?

But what separates the hard-working talented player from the elite? Genetics? Earl Campbell, former running back and my favorite football player of all time, had incredible power and, obviously, fast twitch muscles. Bum Phillips, former head coach of the Houston Oilers, was asked about Earl Campbell’s inability to finish a one-mile run. He famously said, “when it’s first and a mile, I won’t give it to him.” Earl Campbell had the genetics.

But it’s not just genetics. Hard work. Discipline. And something more. Earl Campbell said it wasn’t acceptable for just one person to tackle him. In fact, he said it was girly if four, five, or six men didn’t bring him down. Elite athletes come to win. Participation trophies are a disgrace. Losing is painful. It is about winning. The pain. The hard work. The sacrifice. It all becomes instantly better with the W. No, that’s not it. There’s something more, those with the fierce “I must WIN” nature ingrained in them. I’m not talking about something bad. But something that drives them to be the best. Like a dying man crawling towards the life-saving water or a mother who pushes all reason aside, battling larger and fiercer foes, in order to save her offspring. It is a hunger. A drive. A healthy dose of competitiveness. Competition.

And speaking of competitiveness, I’d like to finish with my favorite clip from Superbowl L (yes, I believe they should have kept the Roman numerals). Peyton Manning’s family was excited to see him seal up the victory. Except maybe his brother. Another elite quarterback with two Superbowl rings. And now his older brother has two Superbowl rings. I have no criticism of Eli. All I see is two very competitive men. And one just realized he has to go out and win a third Superbowl to beat his brother. You gotta love competition.

How about you, dear reader? What were your takeaways from yesterday’s game?

Imaginary friends and writing

by Mandy Broughton

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My daughter had an imaginary friend. My daughter treated her as a real friend. So real that it was six months before I realized she didn’t exist. Imagine my surprise when I asked the preschool teachers to point out Olivia to me and they told me, “there’s no Olivia in this class.” Turns out there wasn’t an Olivia in any classes at the school. I know, I checked.

Best friends. Olivia was quite the trouble-maker. I’d hear all about these wild parties my daughter and Olivia would throw while I slept blissfully through the night. I said more than once I was glad Olivia was good at cleaning up the house after a wild night of partying.

Olivia’s mom was quite the rebel too. I was informed one day that Olivia’s mom was thrown in jail for speeding. I found myself arguing with a three year old on whether or not her imaginary friend’s mother was thrown in jail for speeding. Sheesh!

I decided to research children and imaginary friends. I never had any. As a child, I was perfectly content to sit and read in my room all day. Friends–real or imaginary–would disturb that peace.

Imaginary friends are what we would expect from highly creative people. Active imagination. Intelligent. Creative. Verbal. What I did not expect was that many adults had imaginary friends. What?! Are these people in need of a mental health professional? Maybe, but mostly they are creative adults. And it turns out many of those creative adults are authors.

As a writer, I know I have proper characterization when I dream about my characters. I can hear what they say in certain situations. I know how they’d act when problems arise. Fictional characters should not be shooting gallery ducks forced to respond in a certain way when a crisis occurs.* Characters should be organic, growing as the story progresses. They should feel more real than some real-life celebrities we watch and follow in the news.

As a writer, have you ever needed a character to act a certain way and she just wouldn’t? She’s supposed to be angry but she’s acting all quirky and sarcastic on the page. Or two characters start flirting with each other and they’re not supposed to even like each other. Happens to me all the time. My characters have taken over the pages of my manuscripts. And many of them are completely unrepentant for derailing my plot. I guess I’ve developed imaginary friends as an adult. Maybe I’m a late bloomer.

So tell me, dear writers, how do you know when you’ve achieved proper characterization? Do you hear voices in your head? Do you dream about them? Do you mock-up a fake Facebook page and imagine what they’d post? I mostly argue with mine.

Back to work on this first work week of the New Year. I hope the New Year brings plenty of good books, lots of writing, and great friendships–real and imaginary!

Oh, and I can’t forget, as a longtime, die-hard University of Houston Cougar alumni and fan… oDPuclxr.jpgCongratulations on winning the Peach Bowl. GO COOGS!

 

*My editor once told me my characters were like shooting gallery ducks, they were cardboard and went back and forth like I was shooting at them.

 

Writing a novel is like laying an egg

by Mandy Broughton

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Two months ago I bought some backyard chickens.

Bear with me, I’ll get to the writing part.

I’m a city girl and I know nothing about chickens. So I did my research. I watched on YouTube, read in dozens of books, and listened to my Dad (“they poop a lot, you don’t want chickens”). But dreams of fresh eggs called my name, so I purchased two, four-month-old production reds.

And then one got sick. So off to do more research. And phone calls. And more YouTube videos. Amazingly enough, everyone is an expert on chicken care on the internet.

Kind of like writing–how many expert blogs are there on the writing craft? Publication? Marketing? Do you see where I’m leading?

They got over whatever it was that they had, and start to eat. A lot. And Dad was right, they poop. A lot. Every morning I anxiously await my fresh eggs. I search the wooded area they like to hang out in during the day. Nothing. But I keep feeding them. More and more chicken feed. And my compost bin is bursting full. But still no eggs.

Kind of like writing–you write and write and write and never seem to see any results from all the effort. But you keep on writing. Maybe one day!

And then one day, I see it. It must be an egg!

My novel is almost done. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m on word 59,998 of a 60,000 word novel.

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Uhm, no. This is not the egg I was looking for.

What have I written? Did I even use a plot? Do I have any idea what my main character is doing? Obviously, not.

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Alas, it was a plastic Easter egg leftover from a hunt. Imagine my disappointment! Fresh egg? No, empty shell.

Kind of like writing–I have one 60,000 word novel that will never see the light of day. No two words are even remotely in the right place. No amount of editing will ever fix this manuscript.

And then another month goes by. I’m faithfully feeding the piggies chickies. One day turns into another. My kids keep asking, “what if they never lay eggs?” My husband starts muttering things like, “drumsticks, gravy, mashed potatoes.”

Has your family and friends abandoned you on your writing quest? Are you all alone in this endeavor? Maybe, but you keep plugging away. There is a story wanting to be told. Maybe today will be the day, it is told.

And yesterday morning, one hen was really loud. She was yakking up a storm. I followed her.

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I made a note of where she was. I left her alone and waited patiently. I tried to contain my excitement.

Kind of like writing–I finished writing my first novel. The editing went well. The editor helped me with major rework but it looked like a real book. It read like a real book. Patience. I can’t rush the process. No shortcuts. No cutting corners. Patience.

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Yes, those are two real live chicken eggs. They were smaller than I expected. But, as my daughter reminded me, the first eggs are usually the smallest. One scrambled for the kids. One over-easy for me. YUM! Finally, eggs! I had visions of two eggs a day for the next year. For the next three years. Mounds and mounds of fresh eggs.

My novel is done. It’s for sale. It’s smaller than I expected but it’s doing well. I’m selling books! I’m an author. I have visions of high ranks, big bank deposits, and a dozen more books doing just as well.

I go out this morning to check for eggs. Nothing. I go out again. Nothing. I go out again. One egg. What happened to my two eggs a day? One egg? Really?

Kind of like writing–I finally finish book two in the series and it does not do as well as book one. Why is that? I think it’s a better story. I’ve worked harder on it. I think I wrote it when I was a better writer. But, no, it doesn’t do as well. It just lays there selling precious few.

In the end, how is writing a novel like laying an egg? Well, maybe if you add all the right ingredients; hard work, good plot, exciting characters, phenomenal editing, you might end up with something that sells. Or not. You can’t force it. You can only provide the right conditions. Just like those hens of mine. I feed them. Give them water. Provide them with a safe environment. Give them treats (boy, that feed store clerk saw me coming, “mealworms are a great treat”). One laid an egg two days in a row. One didn’t. I can lament over the fact I only got one egg instead of two. Or I can get to work on the next day. Good feed. Plenty of water. Safe environment. Another mealworm or two. Maybe tomorrow will be two eggs.

My third book (The Cat’s Last Meow) is my best seller. Followed by my first book (Cream Cape and the Case of the Missing Hamster). Still. Imagine that. Think on that while I eat some scrambled eggs for supper.

Happy writing!

“Are you going to waste your entire vacation reading a book?”

by Mandy Broughton

Yes, my can’t-sit-still-for-two-seconds husband asked me that once. And my answer was, “of course.”

So in honor of summer vacation, July, and readers everywhere, I thought I’d post a few books I’ve been “wasting” on my summer vacation.

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles Book 1) by Marissa Meyer

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I love old ideas in new packages. And I think that Marissa Meyer has brilliantly reworked Cinderella into a futuristic society. Cyborgs, evil-moon-altered-human residents, and a wicked foster mother. Come on, what’s not to love? The ending—which makes you want to read book two, Scarlet.

Yes, read all three and I’m anxiously awaiting book four, Winter. Snow White sounds deliciously insane, which always makes for a fun, albeit in a psychotic kind of way, character.

The only complaint about the series is that with more characters added, it becomes more complex with various POV. But, hey, it’s a fun read. It’s so good that I abandoned my long-standing rule of NEVER reading the second book in a YA series.

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles Book 2) is an emotional roller-coaster about Scarlet and bad-boy Wolf. Don’t worry, Cinder is also in the story.

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Cress (The Lunar Chronicles Book 3) is different from the other two but still fun. I loved the development of Captain Carswell Thorne and Cress’s character was perfect for a girl locked in an orbiting satellite for years.

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And Winter (The Lunar Chronicles Book 4) will be out November 10. UGH!

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Broken Time by Emily Davenport

This is an old one (so old, I can’t find a good image of the cover). I pulled out another Emily Devenport book (Eggheads) re-read it and then decided to try Broken Time. I enjoyed both stories. They aren’t hard-hitting sci-fi but they are fun. She writes the book in a non-linear fashion, much akin to Connie Willis in Blackout and All Clear.

Siggy is the custodian in charge of mopping the floors on Monster Row in a Criminal Insane Asylum. Emily Devenport weaves interesting characters and I found myself not able to put the book down.

My only criticism would be sometimes she tells versus shows. But it is not enough to detract from the book.

Finally, I leave you with my old stand-bys, Dick Francis. Horses. Murder. What else could you want? Except more horses and more, I mean less, murder.

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Tallow-ho! I hope you have fun wasting away the rest of your summer reading!

My top 10 list of summer fun

by Mandy Broughton

Summer is my absolute favorite season. I thought I’d list my family’s top 10 favorite activities to do this sunny time of year.

  1. SWIM

We will only swim in swimming pools, lakes, and oceans. Okay, truth be told, the kids will splash around with a sprinkler and a mud hole as well.

Fun idea: each summer my sister-in-law and her neighbors band together and rent an inflatable water slide for the kids to enjoy. Why wait for a party? Let everyone join in and get one together.

  1. READ

We love to go to the library and bookstore. We’re constantly on the search for new books but we love to reread old favorites. I’m currently in the middle of Sir Authur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. It’s not related to Jurassic Park but, hey, dinosaurs.

Fun idea: take a favorite series and reread it backwards. Love Harry Potter? Start with book 7 and read each book in descending order. It’s interesting what new things we can find even with our familiar standbys.

  1. MOVIES

Who doesn’t love movies? The kids and I try to hit the movie theater regularly. Many theaters have free shows or discounted kid shows. And, of course, new ones are always coming out. We loved The Avengers: Age of Ultron!

Fun idea: take the time to watch old classics with the family. For the first time, my kids watched Apollo 13, Jurassic Park, and Tremors (I LOVE TREMORS). Go even older with serious classics, That Darn Cat, Forbidden Planet, and The Blob (Steve McQueen). They want to watch Jaws but I think I’ll save that for wintertime.

  1. TV shows

Netflix. Need I say more? Psych. The Adventure of Lois and Clark. Smallville. Watch an entire series in one week. What a great time to be alive!

Fun idea: watch a show on mute and do your best Mystery Science Theater (MST3K) voiceover. I’m in the lead—we watched US men’s volleyball and my commentary was MUCH better than any ole sports expert.

  1. Make a list

Summer is the time to do projects, clean house, remodel, or just be lazy. Sometimes we need the rest. Make a list—but then feel free to adjust it or ignore it.

Fun idea: make a list of fun things to do with the family. Take in a sports game. Eat a hot dog at the park. When was the last time you used a swing set?

Well, I know my list says top 10 but, hey, it’s summertime, there’s fun to be had. I’ll finish this list later!

Cheers!

A Fantasy Interview: Almost as good as fantasy baseball–

by Mandy Broughton

Last Friday, Houston Writers Guild launched its new anthology, Tides of Impossibility. This collection of fantasy short stories is written by some of the field’s up-and-coming stars. And everyone knows what happens when I hear about a book launch–I find myself a new person to interview. After a flurry of emails, I was able to hunt down speak with one of the editors, C. Stuart Hardwick.

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Mandy Broughton: I’m always curious how editors are chosen. Kyle Russell selected you as a co-editor on the Tides of Impossibility Fantasy Anthology. Is it true that when you gave Kyle a sample of your editing style, you used a gallon bucket of red paint versus a red pen? And you told him the tears of writers fuel you like Dilithium crystals do the Enterprise?

C. Stuart Hardwick: That’s a vile rumor started by the guy Kyle pays to clean out our buckets! Actually, editing an anthology is as much about time and energy as line editing. You spend a lot of time with each story, and you want it to be as pleasant as possible. Kyle and I had worked together promoting the scifi anthology, so we knew we had compatible tastes and temperaments. The guild has done a lot for me, so I was eager to give back. The rest was easy.

MB: Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Hmm. I see distinct lines separating science fiction, fantasy, and horror, mostly determined on the basis if the story contains robots, magicians, or men in hockey masks. You write mostly science-fiction, but as an editor for a fantasy anthology, what do you see the differences among the three genres?

CSH: That sums it up rather well. It’s principally a topical difference, though fantasy readers are a bit more into world building, and horror of course has its own take on tension and pacing, and each follows its own tropes and conventions. But beneath all that, stories are about people, and the best are about interesting people in interesting circumstances changing in interesting ways. That’s what we tried to put into Tides.

I’ve found that the more I work in the field, the less I feel tied to any one sub-genre. If you asked me to recommend three books right now, they’d be Andy Weir’s The Martian, Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides, and Randy Henderson’s debut, Finn Fancy Necromancy. That’s one hard scifi and two fantasy, and all thoroughly enjoyable. What really drew me to scifi was how readily it skirts reality to act as a foil or lens through which we can view ourselves. But storytelling is more than social commentary. Space opera like Star Wars is arguably really fantasy with a technological aesthetic, and many of my perennial favorites, from Groundhog Day to SyFy’s Warehouse 13, are fantasies that I enjoy for the character arcs as mush as the plot conceit, which is why I think Robert Heinlein has the right idea in championing “speculative fiction” as an umbrella term.. 

MB: [An aside: Warehouse 13 BRILLIANT!] Okay, speaking of speculative fiction, umbrellas, and the great Robert Heinlein, you have been rubbing elbows with the top echelon of science-fiction. Tell us about your awards and publications.

CSH: I was fortunate enough to win the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest last year, and they flew me to LA for a week long workshop taught by Tim Powers and Dave Farland. I got to meet a whole slew of scifi legends, from Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven to Nancy Kress and Nina Kiriki Hoffman. I dined with Starlog founder, Kerry O’Quinn, shared pizza with Robert J Sawyer, and spent the evening of my birthday standing out on Hollywood Boulevard watching the lunar eclipse with my awesome new writer friends.

I was also a finalist for the Jim Baen Memorial award and a semifinalist for the BSFA’s James White award, and I’m tremendously proud of making those lists. WotF, though, really lit the fire for me. It’s oddly humbling to be welcomed by such an array of luminaries who tell you in no uncertain terms, that while you have the ability, making it or not is still a long slog of hard work and perseverance.

MB: Is it true when Orson Scott Card asked you for your autograph that you told him to get to the end of the line with the rest of the losers?

CSH: Nooo. I think when Orson stepped up, I may have giggled like a little girl while I tried and failed to think up something memorable to write. Ender’s Game is once of my absolute favorites. And Orson was wearing sneakers with his suit, the devil.

MB: Sneakers with his suit, I like that almost as much as I love Ender’s Game. In your bio, you’ve mentioned that you’ve worn a cape. Readers want to know, when wearing the cape, who do you most resemble Bela Lugosi, Snidely Whipslash, or Batman?

CSH: Lugosi, of course. I was in a college production of Dracula. I’ve been told I have a light foot-step. That experience was very valuable, as my Van Helsing was always loosing his place in the script, and I found that you don’t get stage fright if you have something outside yourself to worry about. The image on my website landing page is of me sharing that advice on stage at the Ebell theater in LA.

MB: Anything else you’ve like to share?

CSH: Yes, Everyone check out Galaxy’s Edge magazine, issue 14., where my story appears along with those of Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Nancy Kress, David Brin, and Alan Dean Foster, among others. Galaxy’s Edge is edited by the inestimable Mike Resnick and filled with scifi and unique and quirky fantasy far afield of the traditional fae and dragon fare My story, Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow, is a good example, about an elemental spirit that learns about love and loss as the copper it’s trapped in is passed down through human history.

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MB: I do believe May, 2015 is when your story will appear. Everyone check it out, it’ll be on the final exam. Thanks again, Stuart. Great work on the anthology. I’m looking forward to the release of Tides of Impossibility.

CSH: Me too. It’s has quite a variety and some really compelling worlds and characters. I know everyone will find something to their liking.

MB: Artemis Greenleaf has an excellent story in the collection as well a humorous piece from yours truly. That’s it. I hope everyone enjoys. **looks around** Hmm, I believe Stuart still has my pen I loaned him last Friday at the signing…

TOI

St. Patrick’s Day Post

by Mandy Broughton

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I usually focus my posts on writing and helps thereof. But today, I thought I would embrace my reader side and ye ole St. Patrick.

St. Patrick was an interesting fellow. Tons have been written and said about him and I won’t rehash it here (do I hear sighs of relief?). But I thought I would share a favorite video and a good book.

The best video about St. Patrick comes from the theologically-sound vegetables, VeggieTales.

But what about the reader part? Steven Lawhead wrote an interesting book called Patrick Son of Ireland. It’s not terribly accurate historically (can you say “literary license”) but it’s still a good book. And check out some of Mr. Lawhead’s other books. I enjoyed The King Raven Trilogy: a Robin Hood adventure. And Empyrion, Mr. Lawhead’s foray into science-fiction, was the first book I ever read by him. I loved it.

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I hoped you enjoyed the video. Find a good book and read it. And I hope you are wearing green.

Have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Covering Your Trail

By Mandy Broughton

Cover art is a reader’s first experience with a book. Will it entice her to pick it up and give it a glance? Or will it cause her to chunk it across the room? [Full disclosure: I have ripped the cover off of two different books and shredded them because they were so bad. But the books were good.]

I love to design covers. Selecting art, placing and manipulating it, and finally the reveal. I love the satisfaction of a job well done. What could be better? [A bestseller? The love and envy of other writers? The adulation of adoring admirers? An excellent alliteration? But I digress—]

Writing is fun—ultimately a job—but still fun. But designing cover art—that’s where I get to let myself go wild. I can’t draw but I do think I have an eye for balance. And that discerning eye made me want to write a post on designing covers.

Here are a few ideas on what to look for in a cover. Tell me if you agree, disagree, or if I’ve left something out.

Organized vs Disorganized

Is the cover planned, organized chaos, or just Chaos with a capital C? A jumbled cover is fine—it can work—but there must be a method to the splattering we are looking at. Randomness is only our friend when selecting subjects for experiments, not in our covers. Think of a bomb: a placed charge can move rock so the road can be built. But throwing TNT willy-nilly on the hillside will rarely result in a benefit to the driving community.

Complexity vs Crowded

I like minimalist covers. That’s a personal preference. Simple lines, smoothness, those are soothing and invite me in. An overcrowded cover gives me a headache. It reminds me of my house and how I need to clean. I want to enjoy a book, not be reminded of housework.

Flow vs Splat

Where do my eyes want to go? To the authors name? The title? Am I looking at the woman swimming for her life and ultimately to the shark underneath her? The shark just wants a small snack before breakfast. He’s so misunderstood. [Jaws a great cover even forty years later.]

Symmetry vs Hot Mess

Balance. Even if it is a full and busy cover, there must be balance. Think of Star Wars: “In the time of greatest despair [often when I design], a child shall be born [hmm—a cover?] who will destroy the Sith [all bad covers] and bring balance to the Force [an excellent cover].

Appeal vs Avant-Garde

Avant-Garde is trendy. It can work on a cover but always remember the readers. When appealing to a large group, try to get what most people prefer. Think of ice cream flavors: more people like vanilla over Marbled Cream Cheese Brownie, Southern Peach Cobbler, or Birthday Cake. Vanilla ice cream may not be the first choice but, for many people, it is in the top three. There’s a reason the latter flavors are flavors of the month while vanilla is always available.

So tell me dear readers… what do you look for in a cover? What are some of your favorites?

Wishes from Space City Scribes

Happy Hanukkah!

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Celebrating the Festival of Lights and the Maccabees successfully throwing off the yoke of oppression. Eight days the Temple lights burned, even though there was only enough oil for one day’s lighting. It showed that GOD is sufficient.

Merry Christmas!

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Celebrating the birth of Jesus,

Immanuel, meaning GOD with us.

I hope St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) found you all well.

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with no pieces of coal in your stockings.

And Happy New Year!

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May your year be full of laughter, hard work, and health with fewer broken bulbs.