Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Which Cover Works?

The current cover, circa 2012

I was so pleased with the covers I commissioned for the “Phoebe” trilogy I just finished that I took a look at the rest of my books with a new eye. Back in the old days, six or seven years ago, when ebooks were still pretty new and finding freelancers who had good skill sets for book design was more difficult, I had some covers commissioned that I thought in the end were all right but not wonderful.

This first cover to the left is one of them. I like the image a lot, but I’ve never liked the type treatment. And these days, it’s design best practices to have some kind of tag line on the cover that gives readers a third hint (after the image and the title) of what’s in the book.

Maybe, I thought last week, it was time to redo these old covers.

Betting on Hope is set in Las Vegas. Hope, our heroine, holds her family (sister, mother, niece) together with a lick and a prayer. And then to her shock, she finds out that her father, a professional card player, lost their ranch—the family home and her sister’s livelihood—in a poker game.

Cover 1

Cover 2

A child prodigy poker player herself, Hope had given up the game long ago after too many betrayals by her father. But when the family is given thirty days to move out, she decides to try to win the place back from the east coast Mob boss who won it.

She enlists the professional players from her past to help her brush up her game. They introduce her to the hero and his daughter. The Mob boss brings his moll to Vegas and then the wife shows up. Not to mention, the Russians. Hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

Cover 3

Cover 4

There’s a lot of poker playing in the book, and a lot of the reviews on Amazon think the story is “about” gambling. When I wrote it, I thought the book was about what family is and means. I read thirteen (count ’em! Thirteen!) books about Texas Hold ’em, the game Hope plays, and by the time I was finished reading those books, I’d decided that people who play poker professionally can benefit from luck, but they must have skill to win consistently, which is what makes professional card players not the same as gamblers, who rely solely on luck, unless they cheat.

Cover 5

But as we learned at McDaniel, the book you write is only half the experience. The reader brings the other half.

I mention all this by way of pointing out that some of these covers are more about card playing, and some of the covers de-emphasize this aspect. But I’m interested in what cover best reveals the story.

I have my favorites. What do you think?


Kay: Revision—Harder Than It Seems

photo by DoubleDebtSingleWoman.com

I’ve been in the throes of revision for some time (and will be for some time to come). Recently, I was stuck on something my development editor told me to do: shorten the first three chapters by combining them in two. When I looked at the material, I saw she was right that the chapters were too long, and I deleted without qualms about 3,000 words—one-third of the material the editor thought needed to go. But how to combine the chapters? What else had to be cut? I didn’t see a way.

Enter Jilly. She read the pages and offered some great suggestions. When I looked at her comments, all I could think was, why didn’t I see that?

Revision is hard, maybe harder than writing the first draft. Continue reading

Kay: The Indie Paradox

I’ve been struggling this past week about what it means to be a writer and how much time and treasure a person should sink into the process. Let me explain.

Several years ago, the company for which I freelanced forwarded a request to me from a person who was looking for editorial help on his fiction project. He’s a nice guy, my contact said, who has a story to tell.

The writer told me he’d written a draft, but it needed more work and he wasn’t sure how to go about it. It was 216 pages.

I asked him what he wanted me to do. A line or content edit? Write the transitions? Shape it? Continue reading

Kay: What’s onYour Shelf? I’ve got “The Devastating Boys”

Here’s my last installment (probably, anyway) of my personal Books of Summer. I’ve been cleaning off book shelves while I recover from surgery, and it’s been interesting for me to see what I’ve held onto unread for years, sometimes decades.

This week I polished off The Devastating Boys, a short story collection by Elizabeth Taylor. This Elizabeth Taylor is not the American movie star and beauty queen of the mid-twentieth century. The Elizabeth Taylor of The Devastating Boys is a well-respected but largely unknown English novelist. Kingsley Amis described her as “one of the best English novelists born in this century.” Here’s a link to an uninspiring Wikipedia bio and an insightful critique of her writing and times in The Atlantic.

I’d read Taylor’s In a Summer Season a while back, and I didn’t finish it. I thought it had dated too much, I couldn’t empathize with the characters, and I wasn’t in sync with the satire. So I was skeptical about this collection of short stories. Continue reading

Kay: Ladies, Slip the Leash!

Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

How does this picture make you feel? It depresses me.

It’s a photo of the wives of the G7 leaders, currently meeting in France. (I don’t know who the dude is on the right, but I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that he’s an aide. Although he looks a little bit like Justin Trudeau.)

So the First Ladies and Dude are watching a performance by Basque dancers, although the First Ladies don’t look like they’re enjoying it much. They got dragged to a bunch of stuff on this cultural tour, including an inspection of the locally grown peppers, which they ate at dinner. I bet inspecting those peppers was a lot of fun. However, they did go to a wine tasting, so maybe they copped a few bottles for the hotel room later. Continue reading

Kay: What’s onYour Shelf? I’ve Got “A Dog’s Ransom”

I’ve been catching up on reading as I recover from surgery, and I picked this book to read next because I like mysteries and our Lady friend Marie mentioned that she’d read a Patricia Highsmith. I thought I’d see how A Dog’s Ransom, the book I have, holds up.

First, let me say: Patricia Highsmith. This woman can write psychological horror really well. She wrote Strangers on a Train, which was made into an Alfred Hitchcock film (two strangers on a train agree to murder each other’s’ wives) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (a man takes over another’s identity). I haven’t read all her books, but I’ve read these two, and they are both very unsettling. Random acts spin slowly out of control, events spiral downward without anyone able to stop them, bad things happen to good people, the crooks go unpunished—it’s like that, on Every. Single. Page. Continue reading

Kay: What’s onYour Shelf? I’ve Got “Sleep No More” and “One Night Stands and Lost Weekends”

I’m continuing my pursuit of tidier (and ultimately empty) shelves—reading and then passing along the books in my office—and I’ve shot through two anthologies of short crime fiction by two well-known writers.

The first, a short (194 pages) collection called Sleep No More by P.D. James, is just terrific. I’m not a huge fan of the short story; it always seems to me that characterization can suffer with the shorter length. But James (whose novel-length detective protagonist is Adam Dalgliesh) has really nailed these. Dalgliesh does not appear in any of these stories; each presents a new set of characters who, remarkably, might get found out, but often get away with murder.

My favorite story, I think, is the longest one (maybe because it’s also the most amusing): “The Murder of Santa Claus.” It’s a rather satiric nod to the old-fashioned, country house Christmas story, where the characters eat goose, pull crackers, and sit before the fire, drinking sherry. Here’s how it starts: Continue reading