I NEED THAT CHERRY SCENTED HIGHLIGHTER!

by Ellen Leventhal

 

BackTo-School-Kids-At-Desk-Lead-In[1]

I admit it. I’m a Back to School geek. I kind of get into all the Back to School hoopla. The ads, the sales, all of it. It may be the middle of August and 100 degrees, but it’s still Back to School Season.

Back to School time is like New Year’s. The beginning of the school year is filled with possibilities. But to be honest, that’s not the reason I like this season. The real reason lies at Office Max and teacher supply stores. My name is Ellen, and I am a school supply junkie. I started young. I began hoarding pens and pencils in elementary school. My habit got worse as I went through school. By the time I was a student teacher, I found that I couldn’t be trusted with loose supplies. They ended up in my possession, and I could never remember how they got there. As I reflect, I now wonder if I went into education just for the supplies.

At first,  pencils and blue ball point pens were my supplies of choice. When that didn’t do it for me anymore, I moved up to bigger things. Gel pens and highlighters. I couldn’t resist the colors. Now I’ve added sticky notes. Not just the yellow kind. Oh no, I have sticky notes in every color. And pens to match each note.

I’ve always had a problem. When I think back on my life, I realize what an impact the school supply aisle had on me. Cue the dreamlike music…

Elementary School: My feet really hurt in these new shoes, but I get to sharpen all those yellow number two pencils. I wonder if the president of Crayola got my fan letter. A crayon sharpener right in the box! Brilliant!

Junior High: I hope that boy will notice me. I’m sure he likes my brand new pink eraser and Beatles notebook. And those girls must be pretty jealous of my Herman’s Hermits’ pencils and note pads.

High School: I love my blue notebook and college lined paper. The separators with multi-colored tabs are the best money can buy. I think that boy is pretty impressed too. He looked at me when I clicked my Bic. I think I’ll write his name on my notebook.

College: This may be the real thing. We go school supply shopping together. We spend hours at the store enabling each other and then go back to the dorm and look at our stash. Sigh.

Post College: I’m the teacher now, and that boy is still shopping with me. He’s kicked his habit, but he still enables me. Do I really need two attendance books and highlighters of every color? Sure. You just never know. Oh, and look at those stamps I need!

Fast forward many years to a recent conversation.

Me: Honey, my house flooded, so I won’t be able to tutor you there for a while.

Student: Did all our markers and highlighters get ruined?

Me: Yes.

We both wept just a little.

Wishing everyone a wonderful school year filled with happiness, success, and cherry scented highlighters.

A Picture May Spark a Thousand Words

by Artemis Greenleaf

Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees. – Marcel Proust

Jenny_wireframe_071315

What happens when your imaginary friends stop talking to you?

If you’re a writer, it is the dreaded “writer’s block,” that feeling of looking at a blank sheet – paper or screen – and finding that the only thing that comes to mind is the item you forgot when you were at the grocery store yesterday, or perhaps that song that you haven’t heard in years, and never liked anyway, that’s been stuck in your head for the past three days.

Of course, you can get up and take a walk, do yoga, or make another cup of coffee. Those things might help. Sometimes taking a hot shower is all that is needed to wash away the blockages and get the creative juices flowing.

But here’s another suggestion. If you really want to get into your characters and get them talking to you again, draw them. Draw things in their world. Paint the villains they face. What does your main character’s bedroom look like? What color is her kitchen? What kind of music does your main character listen to when he’s working out? Does he go to the gym or do it at home? What does that look like? It’s okay if the drawings aren’t perfect. It’s fine if the paintings are so cringe-worthy that you’d never show them to anyone. But the more you do, the better you will get at it. If you spend some time making a trailer for your book, it means you will spend a lot of time looking at (or creating) images/videos that you find evocative of the feelings and situations your characters are in. You will also be looking for music that sets the tone of at least the current scene, if not the entire work. Listen to it. Listen to it while you’re drawing/painting/sculpting.

Sometimes I draw with pencils, but mostly, I use a 3D modelling and rendering package called Blender and PhotoShop (I have a Creative Cloud subscription). Blender does have quite a steep learning curve (but there are tons of video tutorials out there to get you going). If PhotoShop CC or even Elements isn’t in your budget, Gimp or Paint.Net might work for you. Besides getting you back on track with your characters, there are added benefits to learning a new skill: 1) you have a new skill! Congratulations; and 2) it keeps your brain sharp, and may help ward off dementia as you get older.

Jenny_closeup_071315

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?