My husband

My husband isn’t like the men in those romantic comedies we women like to watch.

He doesn’t send flowers and balloons to my office or give me little gifts just because. He doesn’t whisk me off on elaborate dates or nights on the town. He doesn’t plan big vacations or surprise me with plane tickets to some romantic destination. He doesn’t take it upon himself to make the house spotless when he notices that it’s dirty. He doesn’t welcome me home with a foot rub or a full bathtub or a three course dinner. He doesn’t willingly jump through a thousand hoops to make me happy. He doesn’t have the power to read my mind and know exactly what I mean when I’m being cryptic. He doesn’t humiliate himself for me or change the way he thinks to best suit my needs or allow me to be the one who’s always right.

It’s just not in his nature. And you know what? That’s okay.

Because he’s real.

He works hard at a job he doesn’t particularly like because he knows it provides for our needs right now. He fixes things that break so that we don’t have to hire someone else to do it. He talks me up when I don’t think too much of myself, and knows what to say to get me to stop stressing out. He supports my dreams and cheers me on through every endeavor. He listens to me talk until I’m all talked out. He isn’t afraid of my tears and will hold me for as long as I want. He isn’t afraid to be open and honest and vulnerable with me. He laughs at my mistakes, but doesn’t make me feel stupid for making them. His infectious sense of adventure and child-like trust in our God challenges me. He pushes me to try new things, dig deep, and find out things about myself that I didn’t know before. In my Sunday best or in Batman pajamas, he thinks I’m beautiful either way. He knows the value of my love and trust, and would never do anything to betray them. He’s always willing to help, to be my safety blanket, to walk with me through whatever comes our way.

And really, what more could I ask for?

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The end of the semester

Final grades have been officially entered. I received A’s in all my classes (Intro to Poetry, Intro to Horror, and Literature and Film).

Intro to Poetry and Into to Horror were challenging, as I knew they would be. Neither come naturally to me but I discovered that I could create both, after much study and practice. I personally think my horror pieces are better than my poems, but I’m still proud of the fact that I can write them now. I feel more rounded as a writer, and I’m really thankful for my teachers. They helped make these classes interesting for me, despite the challenges. They encouraged me, told me where I could improve, gave me good advice, and provided books I could continue learning from even after the classes were over.

Literature and Film was just fun. I got to watch movies and read stories that are considered classics but I’d never willingly read or watch on my own (Jaws, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King and it’s adaptation The Shawshank Redemption, The Body by Stephen King and it’s adaption Stand By Me.) I feel more cultured as a movie geek having watched these. For the final project, we were allowed to choose a book and movie adaption to analyze. I chose The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien and it’s partial adaptation The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It was the easiest, most enjoyable final project I’ve ever had to do.

Despite all the fun and the growth I’ve experienced this semester, I’m relieved to be done. With the completion of Literature and Film, I gained the last few credits I needed in order to be done with my Associates in Arts. After four years and five months of balancing school and work, I can finally say I have a degree. I’ll be getting my diploma in the mail in ten business days. It might not seem like much when compared to other kids my age who stayed home, had the freedom to just go to school, and are now finishing up their bachelor’s degrees. But it’s a big deal to me. I’m done with something I set out to do a long time ago. That feels good.

These last few classes I’m taking in the summer and in the fall are for an Academic Certificate in Creative Writing (an associates in Creative Writing.) After that, the sky’s the limit. I could transfer to a university and get a bachelors and/or masters in Creative Writing if I wanted to. I think I’m going to take a break. I haven’t taken a real break since I started college. A part of me is a little nervous. If, for example, a great job within a publishing company is brought to my attention and I’m disqualified because of my lack of education, will I have the strength to go back to school? Will I have the willpower? Or am I shooting myself in the foot by not pursuing higher education now, while I’ve got the momentum? I’m trying not to worry about it, though. Too often I feel as if I choose to do what I think I have to do. In the area of school, I believe it’s time to do what I want to do. Besides, my husband and I are already saddled with his school debt. I don’t think we could handle paying off any more school loans with the jobs we currently have. In the future, who knows?

I’m looking forward to devoting more time to my writing and expanding my contacts in the publishing world. I’m really looking forward to not having to worry about homework!

Here’s to the future and all it’s possibilities!

An excerpt

Prologue (The Andromeda’s Ghost) :

 

Kylee stared at her reflection in the compact mirror, trying and failing to suppress her horror. Her dark hair had been braided and twisted into three buns along the back of her head (one behind each ear and one at the nape of her neck) with only one long curl trailing down her shoulder. Makeup had been caked onto her face to supposedly make her look older than her twenty-one years. She looked like an escort drowning in white lace and chiffon. She gave her mother a miserable look.

The queen snatched the compact from her daughter and tossed it at one of the ladies in waiting. “The doors will be opening any minute. Lower your veil now. No one needs to see you pouting like a child.” Her raven black hair was piled on the top of her head to make her look taller. Her makeup was even more exaggerated than Kylee’s, although, if makeup was meant to make one look older Kylee wasn’t sure why her mother had bothered wearing any. The dress the queen wore was made of red satin with pearl embellishments and sported a plunging neckline. If this had been the first time the queen had tried to prove she still looked thirty-years-old, Kylee might have been embarrassed. Sadly, it was not.

Kylee tugged the veil into place as one of the guards opened the door to the large hover craft. He extended a hand to help her climb out, for which she was grateful. Her wedding dress was ridiculously large and heavy.

The venue was just about the only thing Kylee’s mother had gotten right. An enormous cathedral sat on a slightly elevated plateau toward the outskirts of the jungle. It had tall towers, archways, and the traditional stain glass windows of a medieval cathedral from 20th century earth. It was one of the few of its kind in New Sol. Kylee gazed up at the artistically designed structure barely visible through the layers of tulle covering her face, and smiled for the first time in months. She’d wanted to get married here since she was nine years old.

Grief smothered her moment of joy. It’s the wrong man.

The queen fluttered about her daughter, fluffing the already too-fluffy skirt of her gown, swatting away the occasional insect, and muttering, “Stand up straight, my dear. That’s right. You’re so beautiful when you exercise good posture. Hands clasped before you…Perfect. Now, nod ever so graciously at the camera and proceed.”

Kylee found the camera hovering over the heads of the thousands of guests crowded around the cathedral’s entrance. She obeyed her mother and began the long walk across the lawn. She knew Taren wouldn’t be there but she still looked for him, desperate for a glimpse of black curls or oak brown eyes or a dimpled chin. Her mother and ladies in waiting trailed behind her, smiling and waving. An armored guard stood on either side of her.

Not long ago, Taren stood dutifully at her side during grand, obnoxious events like these. He would murmur lame knock-knock jokes out of the corner of his mouth to keep her smile genuine for the crowds. Sometimes he would cup her elbow and stay a step ahead to shield her from the cameras when she was too upset to face them. The more she thought about him, the sadder she became, but she couldn’t help it. He should be here.

She stumbled. A collective gasp rang through the crowd.

One of her guards took her by the arm. “Are you well, Princess?”

She nodded, perhaps a little too hastily, and continued her walk. But yet again, maybe he shouldn’t be here. Going through with this was painful enough for her. If she had to see the look on Taren’s face when she said, “I do,” she might’ve broken down on national television.

The doors to the cathedral loomed before her, blocked the sun for a moment, and then she was inside. The walls had been modified to mirror the scenery outside. She could still see the tangles of green jungle stretching out below and the grassy floor of the plateau. The only differences between the exterior and the interior were the drop in temperature and the seemingly magical appearance of chairs. Yet more people stood here, smiling and ogling and whispering and sighing and throwing her envious looks. There were quite a few more Mer-people within the cathedral than there were outside. An archway heavy laden with pink hydrangeas and ivy waited for her at the end of the aisle, along with her groom.

Kylee swallowed hard and lifted her chin when she saw her father. He wore his traditional general’s uniform, medals, and ceremonial sword. Even with the inserts in his boots, he was barely taller than she was. He looked deathly pale; his almond-shaped eyes were sad. He mutely held his elbow out to her, still powerless to oppose his wife and the demands of their almost-enemies. Kylee felt the familiar rush of frustration before accepting his arm. What good was there in being the king if he could still be overruled?

A hush fell over the audience and then the music began to play. Ten, twenty, thirty steps later, she stood before her fiancé. He was built like a pampered prince with undeveloped muscle beneath his tuxedo and waxy, green skin. Gills cut across both sides of his neck and scaly frills grew behind each ear. His glassy black eyes stared at her, unblinking. He extended a hand with a slight bow of his head; his fingers were webbed. Kylee couldn’t help but stare. Could he speak English? Was he kind? Was he expecting her to carry his children?

Kylee’s grip on her father tightened as the floor tilted beneath her feet. She’d always wanted to be a mother, but the thought of giving birth to tadpoles made her stomach turn. But she could feel the focus of that flying camera like a light blazing through a magnifying glass and aimed at the back of her head. The whole world was watching, waiting for her to continue the ceremony. She took a deep breath and reached out to him with a trembling hand.

The sound of an explosion made her twist around in alarm. Through the open doors of the cathedral, she watched her mother’s hovercraft erupt in a ball of fire. The floor shook from the blast, causing the cathedral’s walls to flicker in and out of existence. Chaos followed. The guests jumped from their chairs and ran to where they assumed the nearest exits were. They encountered invisible walls instead. The guards masquerading as attendees tried to calm those nearest to them with little success. The armored guards rushed outside to investigate the cause of the explosion, only to be thrown off their feet by a second blast which destroyed yet another hovercraft. Kylee was torn away from her father by the desperate throng. The second earthquake from the blast sent her looking for shelter. She fell back against the wall. Her fiancé, mother, and personal guards wrestled through the people running in every direction, trying to get to their princess.

All she could hear was white static. She blinked at the fire consuming the two hovercrafts in the distance and gaped the herd of frantic people as if in a stupor. What in the world was going on? Someone touched her shoulder. She spun around to see Taren standing beside her. He was dressed in a tux for the occasion. He could have passed for a guest. Her former bodyguard lifted the veil away from her face, cupped her cheek, and pressed his lips against hers.

He flashed her a crazy grin once they parted. “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

“You know you just started a war between my father’s kingdom and the Mer-people, right?” Kylee sputtered.

Taren squinted at the burning hunks of machinery in the distance. “I set the bombs under your mother’s hovercrafts. If anything, it appears the Mer-people are waging war against your father.”

Kylee let out a hysterical laugh before she threw her arms around him. “Thanks for waiting until my mother was out of the car.”

“Oh, it wasn’t easy. Believe me,” he said with a chuckle.

The sight of the Mer-prince sprinting toward them with murderous rage twisting his face made Kylee shove Taren out of the way. She received a punch to the face that was probably meant for the back of Taren’s head. Stumbling back, she slapped a hand over her aching mouth and blinked away tears.

The Mer-prince gaped at her in horror. “I’m sorry!”

Taren tackled him into the archway. “You bastard!” The wood collapsed, sending hydrangea petals and leaves of ivy everywhere. The men wrestled, but it was obvious who had been trained in hand-to-hand combat. Taren quickly gained the upper hand.

“Kylee Wen Dao!” her mother screeched from somewhere behind her.

The princess half turned, hand still over her mouth. Through a sliver of a gap between people, Kylee could see her furious mother marching toward her, hair undone, makeup ruined, dress torn. It was the angriest and most disheveled she’d ever seen her mother look. The rebellious child in her rejoiced. Kylee gripped Taren’s shoulder before he could continue to beat up the Mer-prince.

“If you have an escape plan, now would be the time to share it.”

He nodded somewhat grimly at the prince before rising. Then he took her hand and expertly zigzagged them through the crowd. She didn’t know when he’d taken the time to memorize the locations of the camouflaged exits and she didn’t ask. She knew they were outside when the temperature changed. A cargo cruiser waited in the shade of some trees toward the bottom of the plateau. She grinned at the man leading her by the hand, memory after memory flashing through her mind.

Taren sitting at his usual chair on the terrace, calmly cleaning his blaster gun while explaining his reasons for not telling the queen about her daughter’s alter ego, the Golden Mare, champion racer of the underground.

Taren laughing a full belly laugh when Kylee asked for his opinion on her god-awful painting.

Taren lying in a hospital bed, battered and bruised, after surviving a bomb blast that had been meant for the princess.

Taren wearing a white tux and holding out his hand during her birthday ball, asking for the first dance.

Taren pressing her up against the wall and kissing her with enough passion to make her head spin.

Taren bowing stiffly after the queen had fired him. “Good bye, Princess. It was an honor serving you.”

The dress tore while she ran down the steep decline. Kylee hefted up the heavy skirt with her free hand and picked up the pace. Then her veil ripped away from the clips keeping it attached to her head. Kylee couldn’t have cared less. Once at the bottom of the plateau, she let go of Taren’s hand so that he could press the button that would lower the cargo ramp.

“The Mer-king’s ships will be waiting for us as soon as we leave the atmosphere.” Taren winked over his shoulder at her. “Are you ready for one last race, Golden Mare?”

Kylee laughed and kicked off her shoes. “You better believe it.” She reached for her tiara as she followed him into the space ship, wanting nothing more than to chuck it into the jungle. But she paused when she caught her reflection in the diamonds.

“If you do this, you’ll never be able to come back,” her mother’s voice hissed at the back of her mind.

Kylee took a deep breath, suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. Racing in the underground and falling in love with the youngest bodyguard to graduate from the Guard Institute had been the only acts of rebellion she’d had the courage to do. And those had been committed after twenty years of trying to please her unappeasable mother. But there had been no leniency upon the discovery of these two secrets. The queen had put her daughter on an even shorter leash, organized this marriage, and banished Taren from the palace grounds within a week.

Tears made Kylee’s eyes burn. Was there ever a time when you loved me? You were so focused on turning me into what you believed would be the perfect daughter and princess. Did you ever wonder who I really was? Were you ever the least bit curious?

“Kylee.”

She turned to face him. Taren’s eyes flickered to the tiara in her hands before landing on her face. The wind tousled his hair as a sad smile made his lips curl.

“It’s a part of you whether you leave it behind or not.”

She glanced down at the symbol that had always set her apart from the rest of the world, the metallic piece of headwear her mother never let her leave the palace without. She knelt by the edge of the ramp and gingerly placed the tiara in the grass. Yes, she would always have royal blood running through her veins, but she was done playing the part of the perfect princess.

The diamonds reflected the sun as the cargo cruiser made its ascent. Kylee turned her head skyward and didn’t look back.

Two kinds of people

People are frustrating.

They cut you off at the intersection. They slow down on the freeway to stare at the van that’s stranded on the side of the road, creating unnecessary traffic. They tell other people your secrets. They post rude and angry things on their social media sites. They argue about things that aren’t that important. They demean you and your beliefs. They ignore and sometimes brush away your advice, even though you care so deeply about them. They betray you and then come crawling back when they need help. They say hurtful things in a flippant and oblivious manner. They text constantly when they’re supposed to be hanging out with you. They interrupt every event by forcing all those involved to take a picture. They throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want, even though they’re adults and they’re supposed to be mature. They disrespect people of authority. They ignore their children and complain about their parents. They give into their child’s demands and do everything for them. They give you unwanted and sometimes awkward advice. They poke around your private matters and try to fix things for you…

But people are also really great.

They notice you’re having a rough day and cut you some slack when you snap or make a mistake. They reach out to you with a random, encouraging text even though it’s been ages since you’ve spoken. They force you to go out and have fun when you’re down in the dumps. They chat with you for hours about books and movies and characters who don’t exist. They stay up late to cry and pray with you when your world is falling apart. They hold you when you cry and cheer you on when you’re discouraged and work hard beside you and celebrate your successes with you. They give you flowers and cards and balloons when it’s your birthday, even though you were trying to keep it a secret. They acknowledge your hard work with a smile or a thank-you. They love you unconditionally and make you feel important when you don’t think too highly of yourself.

People are flawed, complicated, unfinished, searching, wielders of unimaginable power; the power to influence. Think before you act. Listen before you speak. What kind of person will you be? How will you influence the lives around you?

Concerning book covers

Inspired by She Latitude’s recent post Top Ten Book Cover Turn Offs (https://shelatitude.com/2017/05/02/top-ten-book-cover-turn-offs/), I’ve decided to write a post about my own experience creating book covers.

Since the day I decided to get serious about my writing and try to get my works published, I’ve wanted to do it the traditional way. I’m insecure about my abilities to sell my own product, so getting an agent and a publishing company to help me do the work has always been appealing. But the more query letter rejects I got, the more discouraged I became. I did my research; I must have read at least twenty articles on the pros and cons of self-publishing and self-publishing versus traditional publishing. I even chatted with some self-published authors through Facebook about their experience with self-publishing. It’s a lot of work, they all said, but it’s worth it! Why? Because the author gets to have complete and total creative freedom, they get to keep all the rights to their work, they get all the money when their books sell, and they don’t have to deal with the middle man or rejection letters.

Sounds perfect, right? Just what I’ve always wanted. But there’s a catch. A huge one. The self-published author has to pay for the publication of their novel. Now, there are websites and softwares designed to help with formatting, editing, getting an ISBN number, getting the book copyrighted, and creating a cover. There are smallish companies willing to do the same things for you, even freelancers who are willing to help. For a fee, of course. I’m not bashing these people; they’re talented and want to make a living off what they do. I totally get that. That’s what the self-published author is trying to do too! But for me, a young adult who is earning two dollars above minimum wage, has to pay for bills, rent, groceries, gas, tuition, school books, and is saving up for a car, and is trying to keep money in the savings account, and is still wearing the same clothes and shoes she bought two years ago, the thought of paying to publish a book is overwhelming. (That’s not to say I’m poor or anything. My husband works too and all our needs are met. We just have priorities and a budget that don’t include publishing my books.)

Anyway, I eventually decided that I should stick to traditional publishing. At least for now. But during the time when I was debating publishing my own book, I did even more research on ways to create spectacular but cheap book covers. The cover of a book is the first thing I look at when browsing through a bookstore or library. If the cover attracts my attention, I read the blurb. If the blurb grabs me too, I’m definitely buying/check out the book. That’s why the blurb and the cover are so stinkin’ important. They have to be engaging, unique, and good enough representations of the content of the book in order to get a reader to take a chance. The book itself could be amazing and a perfect fit for em, but if the cover picture quality is bad or if the picture itself is overly dramatic or tells me absolutely nothing about the book itself, I’m not going to read it. Sad, right? But true.

Knowing all of this, I looked for websites and free photo editing programs online that I might be able to experiment with. I stumbled upon Canva.com thanks to a fellow writer in one of my writer’s forums. Canva has a free version and a membership with a fee, but unlike similar creative websites, Canva actually offers you a variety of stuff for their free members. It offers stock photos, fonts, layouts, icons, background textures, frames, illustrations, and it even gives the option of uploading your own pictures to the site. (Many sites offer “variety” to their free members; Canva is, so far, the only one I’ve seen that actually delivers.) The site doesn’t only give you the option to create book covers either. You can create social media images, presentations, blog post images, professional-looking letterheads, magazine pages, certificates, desktop wallpapers, and album covers. With this site, and online picture editors like Befunky and Autodesk Pixlr, I’ve been able to create some pretty cool-looking book covers for some of my own books.

Free stock photos arranged and overlapped through the photo editors, uploaded into Canva, with some different filters applied, some cool fonts added, and presto! (Canva didn’t have all the photos I needed to create these covers so I went on Google Images, Pexels, and Pixabay.)

 

Asta and the Barbarians

 

For Asta and the Barbarians, the era or time period I was trying to imitate was similar to 19th century England. When looking for the pictures that best resembled the three main characters of the story, I made sure the clothing they were wearing was older and close to the style used in that time period. I didn’t know how much of each picture I was going to use but I was careful anyway, just in case I decided to use the whole body shot. The ship picture in the background was the trickiest. In the story, these characters are “blessed” with certain abilities; the mark of the “blessed” is golden eyes. I couldn’t apply a golden hue to the eyes of these characters (not without it being totally obvious that the gold was fake) so I found a background picture of a sunset with gold and orange hues instead. That way, the gold is still a prominent part of the book cover. That and the sunset makes it a tad bit more dramatic and pretty, no?

 

I Dare You to Love Me

 

I Dare You to Love Me was trickier. I couldn’t find a girl with dark curly hair and bright green eyes who looked just serious enough and just sad enough to resemble the picture of the female lead that I had in my head. Iris is grieving the loss of her father. She’s short-tempered, independent, and would do anything to protect her family. But she also has that fourteen-year-old girl inside of her that yearns for the freedom to be vulnerable without coming across as weak. The picture I ended up with was the closest match to what I wanted so I went with that. The locket and the beach are both significant in the book, so I knew right away that I needed to feature them on the cover. I hoped the locket especially would entice some sense of curiosity.

 

In the Dark.png

 

In the Dark was harder still. This is a paranormal/urban fantasy involving werewolves, the mafia, and a kidnapping. It was easy enough to find the images I wanted to use (you have to use a full moon for a werewolf story). Lindsay spends most of the book worrying about the safety of her brother (the one who was kidnapped) and wondering about her feelings for the male lead (Wayne, guy with the silver eyes). The picture of this blonde woman, I thought, had the perfect combination of worry and thoughtfulness. Wayne was the easiest picture to find; most male models have that brooding look down. It was the arrangement of all these photos that I had trouble with. The full moon picture with the silvery blue clouds was beautiful and breathtaking on its own. But inserting the two main characters in there without the lines of silver and blue obscuring their faces proved problematic. (If you check out the excerpt of the story I have on my website here, you’ll see that there is a similar image on it’s page but that one has wolves in it. I wanted to keep the wolves for this book cover, but I just ran out of room.) Eventually, after much fiddling, I ended up with the final result.

(Right about now, some of you are wondering, “What is the point of all this? You just said you weren’t going to self-publish your books. Why are you putting so much time and effort into making covers for them?” The answer is simple: social media promotion. I’m trying to build my readership through my social media accounts, and I need an image to post with the quote/reader’s review/comment. My books may not be published yet but, with the help of writer’s forums, I can post content there and herd traffic to those sites through social media. Like when browsing through the bookstore or library, readers scrolling through book promotion sites or their homepages are going to stop and take a second look if they stumble upon an amazing book cover.)

 

 

The Sentinel's Test.png

 

The Sentinel’s Test was by far the hardest cover I’ve made. It took me hours to find the right pictures to convey the magical aspects of this story. (The main character is a faerie elemental who can control fire and she lives on an island filled with other magical creatures.) I knew I wanted the girl to have her back turned like this, but I couldn’t seem to find a red headed girl in this pose. I ended up finding a close up of a red head’s hair just after it was cut, and had to combine that picture with a picture of a blond with her back turned. Once the pictures were merged and the extra parts erased, it was only a matter of finding the right kind of wings and the balls of fire. (In the book, the main character’s wings appear to be made out of smoke, but this was the closest I could get to that.) Despite it all, I’m very pleased with the result.

So what’s the point?

As She Latitude so eloquently pointed out in her post, there are a lot of book cover turn-offs today. Why? I have no idea. With the rise of self-published authors who have complete creative control of what their books look and sound like, shouldn’t there be a rise in unique book covers as well? It takes time and work, but making a unique, good quality, eye-catching cover is totally doable. If I can do it, without formal education or photo editing knowledge, others can most certainly do it! I’d say it’s high time we start a new trend of book covers that actually cater to the audiences we’re writing for and represent the overall themes of our stories. Who’s with me?