Tuesday, April 26, 2016

by guest author,  Annie Douglass Lima

Worldbuilding is so important for authors – and I don’t just mean those who are creating an exotic alien world. Even stories that take place in more realistic locations deserve careful worldbuilding so that our characters can live their lives in locations that make sense.

I have found that the best way I can make my settings believable is through careful research. Yes, research, even for fiction set in a place that doesn’t exist! That’s because any set of characters living in any location must do activities similar to those we know on earth. If they do it believably, it strengthens the culture and location the author has built for her story.

My fantasy series The Annals of Alasia takes place in a non-magical world similar to medieval Europe, so many details about the world had to be similar to ours. For Prince of Alasia, I researched horse training. For In the Enemy’s Service, I looked up medicinal herbs and their uses. For Prince of Malorn, I learned all about wilderness survival: edible plants, starting a fire without matches, and even how raw beetle grubs taste (like a small piece of cooked fat, if anyone’s wondering). 

Believable character action requires research
My action and adventure series The Krillonian Chronicles takes place in an alternate world that is almost exactly like ours today. For both The Collar and the Cavvarach and The Gladiator and the Guard, I had to find out what kinds of mechanical problems a fifteen-year-old pickup truck might encounter and what their symptoms would be (and how much it would cost to fix them). I also needed to learn what tool would be most convenient to cut a metal collar off a person’s neck without hurting him, and what kind of diet professional athletes recommend. 

By far the topic I’ve spent the most time researching for any of my books has been martial arts. Since I’m not a martial artist myself, that was a particular challenge for me. Both of these last two books involve cavvara shil, a martial art I made up. Obviously, the fact that I created it doesn’t mean athletes should be able to ignore the laws of physics or perform moves that would be impossible for humans. I spent many long hours reading books and articles, examining pictures, and watching video clips of a variety of martial arts and specific moves performed in them. I consulted with real martial artists and later asked two of them to beta read my completed manuscript to make sure everything was believable. As I wrote, I was careful to make sure that my characters worked out, practiced, and competed the way professional martial artists really do – of course with variations to allow for the fact that they fight with a cavvarach (sword-like weapon with a hook halfway down the blade) as well as their feet. And it worked! Numerous reviewers have mentioned that cavvara shil is not only exciting but realistic, and one even mentioned that she looked it up to see if it really existed and to find out where she could watch a tournament.

Whatever your novel is about and whatever your characters do, there will be readers out there who have background knowledge about all of those details. Even those who don’t will probably have an instinctive feeling that some of the information is “off”, if you haven’t made sure it’s accurate. Our characters’ situations need to be realistic, whether they actually live in a real place or not. Otherwise, it won’t matter how vividly you describe your alien setting, no one will be able to picture your characters having actual lives in a world that makes sense.

photo credit: clarita at morguefile.com


The Gladiator and the Guard, a young adult action and adventure novel, is now available for purchase! This is the second book in the Krillonian Chronicles, sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach


About Book 1: 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?



What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).  

Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with "have a rack"), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

 
And now, The Gladiator and the Guard, with another awesome cover by the talented Jack Lin!

 
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?





Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published twelve books (two YA action and adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, and five anthologies of her students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.


Connect with the Author online:
Tuesday, April 26, 2016 Laurel Garver
by guest author,  Annie Douglass Lima

Worldbuilding is so important for authors – and I don’t just mean those who are creating an exotic alien world. Even stories that take place in more realistic locations deserve careful worldbuilding so that our characters can live their lives in locations that make sense.

I have found that the best way I can make my settings believable is through careful research. Yes, research, even for fiction set in a place that doesn’t exist! That’s because any set of characters living in any location must do activities similar to those we know on earth. If they do it believably, it strengthens the culture and location the author has built for her story.

My fantasy series The Annals of Alasia takes place in a non-magical world similar to medieval Europe, so many details about the world had to be similar to ours. For Prince of Alasia, I researched horse training. For In the Enemy’s Service, I looked up medicinal herbs and their uses. For Prince of Malorn, I learned all about wilderness survival: edible plants, starting a fire without matches, and even how raw beetle grubs taste (like a small piece of cooked fat, if anyone’s wondering). 

Believable character action requires research
My action and adventure series The Krillonian Chronicles takes place in an alternate world that is almost exactly like ours today. For both The Collar and the Cavvarach and The Gladiator and the Guard, I had to find out what kinds of mechanical problems a fifteen-year-old pickup truck might encounter and what their symptoms would be (and how much it would cost to fix them). I also needed to learn what tool would be most convenient to cut a metal collar off a person’s neck without hurting him, and what kind of diet professional athletes recommend. 

By far the topic I’ve spent the most time researching for any of my books has been martial arts. Since I’m not a martial artist myself, that was a particular challenge for me. Both of these last two books involve cavvara shil, a martial art I made up. Obviously, the fact that I created it doesn’t mean athletes should be able to ignore the laws of physics or perform moves that would be impossible for humans. I spent many long hours reading books and articles, examining pictures, and watching video clips of a variety of martial arts and specific moves performed in them. I consulted with real martial artists and later asked two of them to beta read my completed manuscript to make sure everything was believable. As I wrote, I was careful to make sure that my characters worked out, practiced, and competed the way professional martial artists really do – of course with variations to allow for the fact that they fight with a cavvarach (sword-like weapon with a hook halfway down the blade) as well as their feet. And it worked! Numerous reviewers have mentioned that cavvara shil is not only exciting but realistic, and one even mentioned that she looked it up to see if it really existed and to find out where she could watch a tournament.

Whatever your novel is about and whatever your characters do, there will be readers out there who have background knowledge about all of those details. Even those who don’t will probably have an instinctive feeling that some of the information is “off”, if you haven’t made sure it’s accurate. Our characters’ situations need to be realistic, whether they actually live in a real place or not. Otherwise, it won’t matter how vividly you describe your alien setting, no one will be able to picture your characters having actual lives in a world that makes sense.

photo credit: clarita at morguefile.com


The Gladiator and the Guard, a young adult action and adventure novel, is now available for purchase! This is the second book in the Krillonian Chronicles, sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach


About Book 1: 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?



What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).  

Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with "have a rack"), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

 
And now, The Gladiator and the Guard, with another awesome cover by the talented Jack Lin!

 
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?





Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published twelve books (two YA action and adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, and five anthologies of her students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.


Connect with the Author online:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Chapter 1
In Paris, art seeps into your feet and drips from your fingertips. Dark-eyed buskers in berets squeeze out sweet accordion songs, and the birds trill along. The air tastes like crème brûlée; the light is melted butter. Or so I’ve heard. In two weeks, I’ll find out for myself.

I can see it all now: In the golden mornings, Mum and I will set up matching easels on the banks of the Seine and paint side-by-side. She’ll be too excited to sleep till noon, too inspired to stare blankly at the wall. Her sadness will fall away like a too-heavy coat, and she’ll once again fill canvas after canvas with works of aching beauty. 

We’ll while away the hot afternoons in the Louvre, communing with the masters. Finally meet some of her long-lost French relatives. Wear goofy hats and stuff ourselves with pastries and laugh like we haven’t in ages. Every day will be a chick-flick montage of joie de vivre.

Or is it joyeux de vivre? Theo would know.

“Theo? Thebes?” I shake my boyfriend, who snoozes beside me on the couch with his school tie loosely askew and notebook open in his lap. When he doesn’t react, I stroke his left forearm. He swats at me with an oar-calloused hand, mutters, “Stalin… Churchill…Roosevelt.”

He must be in bad shape if he’s dreaming history notes. “Never mind. Just rest.”

I’m not exactly the most diligent study buddy either. It’s hard to focus when I’m two finals from freedom. Two finals till I can shop for my France wardrobe, till I can dedicate maximum brain space to merci, s’il vous plaît, and three thousand other phrases that will keep me from looking like a lazy américaine

I pull out my highlighter and mark my top three café picks near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Summer 2009, just published in March. I wonder if these places serve iced decaf lattes. Or is iced coffee a gauche American concoction? Yet another thing to ask Theo.

His sleeping face pinches. I reach to touch his cheek, then stop. Facing finals right after two weekend crew regattas in a row has already made him totally stressed and exhausted. I’m probably stressing him more by talking nonstop about my trip. For him, it means five long weeks apart. We’ll Skype every day and muddle through somehow. The painful separation will be totally worth it when Paris works its magic and Mum’s back to normal.

The kitchen phone jangles and I guiltily stuff my Paris guidebook under a couch cushion. Theo stirs, but doesn’t shift enough to free my hair from under his sleep-heavy head.

Why isn’t Mum answering? Is she napping again?

With a swift tug, I free my hair. The hefty textbook I’m supposed to be studying slides off my lap and thuds to the floor. I sprint to the kitchen, reaching the phone on the tenth ring.

“Mrs. Deane? Mrs. Grace Tilman Deane?” A woman asks.

“Just a sec. I’ll get her.”

I carry the handset through the apartment to the spare bedroom we use as a studio and gingerly knock on the door. No answer. Is Mum hiding or deep in another epic zone-out? Since she left her stressful Madison Avenue advertising job for art school, thanks to a foundation started in my late father’s memory, Mum should be having the time of her life. Art was the passion she couldn’t pursue when she was young for a lot of stupid reasons. But now that she’s actually living her lost dream, paint seems to dry on her palettes more than her canvases.

I press my ear to the door and hear only the low hum of the air conditioning. When I peek inside, our husky-mix Rhys raises his head, perks his ears, gives a fangy yawn. On the easel above him sits a white canvas with a single red stripe down the center. Beside the easel is an empty stool. What the heck? Did she go back to bed?

I stare at the phone a moment. Chances are it’s just some stupid survey or courtesy call. Nothing worth waking Mum for.

I clear my throat and mimic Mum’s smoky alto. “Hello?”

“Mrs. Deane? This is Nurse Lowman from North Penn Health System. In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania? It’s about your father. Daniel Tilman?”

Good Lord, now what? Poppa hasn’t gone berserk on another doctor, has he? You’d think the time he got hauled off by security would have shamed him into changing his ways. Mum should let them press charges this time. Poppa might finally get a clue about how big a jerk he is.

I deliver the standard Mum line: “My apologies. How can I assist?”

“There’s been an accident, Mrs. Deane. Your father…his condition is needing surgery and we have to get your approval to proceed.”

My guts drop seven stories. I wouldn’t be surprised to find them out on Columbus, pancake-flattened and dimpled with taxi tire marks. “Poppa’s had an accident?” I squeak.

“This isn’t Mrs. Deane, is it?” Her tone is so cold, my wet tongue would stick to it.

“Sorry, it’s…Danielle, the daughter, I mean Mr. Tilman’s granddaughter. I’m sorry about pretending to be my mother. I thought you were a telemarketer and Mum’s not feeling well. Since I’m family, too, it wouldn’t be against HIPAA regulations for you to tell me what happened, and I can let her know, right?”

“I’m afraid not, Danielle. I have to speak to your actual mother.”

Crap. It must be bad. Really bad.

“Um, okay. I’ll, ah, go find her.” I cover the mouthpiece and head to the master bedroom.

In the phone, I can distantly hear the nurse crack up and tell her medical cronies, “Get a load of this: I’ve got some kid from New York on the phone who knows about HIPAA regulations! City kids! Gawd. She’s probably been playing the stock market since kindergarten.”

I’d love to give this bumpkin nurse chick a piece of my mind. Tell her that the adult world finds some of us young and makes us grow up fast, whether we’re ready or not.

But I don’t say this, because my persistent knocks are getting no response from Mum at all. As I step into her dark bedroom, I’m surprised by a strange, sour smell. I pat her bed, expecting to feel the warm hump of a leg. Instead, I touch something thick and sticky. Blood? I bring my hand to my nose. Ugh. Spoiled milk.

I switch on the bedside lamp and find a toppled Stonyfield ice cream tub that’s left a gooey puddle on her silk bedspread. Okay, it’s organic, but still. The woman’s a gym addict. Grabbing a tissue to clean the goo off my fingers, I see a worse sign: Mum’s cell phone is on the dresser. But Mum is gone.

I take a deep breath, then uncover the mouthpiece of the phone. “Um…” I tell the nurse, “I think we might need to call you back.”
*  *  *
Seeing the empty key hook by the front door sucks the air right out of me. Dear God, no. I crush the paper scrap with the hospital’s number in a trembling fist. For all I know, Poppa will be dead in minutes if they don’t operate. But without Mum’s approval, they legally can’t.

I cannot believe Mum left Theo and me alone in the apartment. She usually checks on us every ten minutes like clockwork, bugging us with questions or roping Theo into chores like opening jars or pulling things off high shelves. It’s like she has this bizarre fear that we’re going to rip each other’s clothes off at any moment and make me the next teen pregnancy statistic.

Well, she can’t have gone far — probably just to the little market on Columbus to pick up dinner ingredients. Surely she’ll be back any minute. I should call the front desk and ask the doorman if he saw her go out. Theo could hold down the fort while I look for her.

Gosh, I can just picture her standing in line at Rico’s, looking for all the world like a bohemian free spirit in her snug t-shirt, paint-spattered jeans, strappy sandals, gobs of gypsy jewelry, hair in long, loose layers. She’ll glance up from her basket of Thai basil and coconut milk, see my face and just know. Know that I’m about to hurl a bomb at her. Know that trouble’s found her yet again, like it always does.

How can I tell her? How? It’s only been a year and a half since Dad’s car crash and the month of ICU agony before he was snatched from us. How can she possibly cope with Poppa right now? He’s as fatherly to her as a lion is to a gazelle.

I just wish I could make this all go away.

I look at the hospital number in my hand again, and my mouth goes as dry as a day-old croissant. What if Poppa and his car—? There’s no ice on the roads, but a couch could tumble off a truck, or a rogue deer leap out of the woods and straight through his windshield. Poppa could have massive bleeding on the brain right now — pressure building like floodwaters behind a levee, flattening everything. Cells, synapses, ganglion crushed, dying, dead. I’ve seen it before.

My grand Paris dream starts to pull away, a face in a taxi window. Off toward Midtown. Off to find a more worthy recipient.

Who can help me stop this taxi from driving away with my dream?

A homeless drug addict steps in front of the taxi in my mind and it stops. The coked-up guy stands there, fists on hips, chin jutted out, dark eyes flashing, as if daring the driver to flatten him in his frayed cords and Nietzsche T-shirt. Uncle David?

He winks at me, then in a blink transforms from his old stoner self into the bald, flannel-shirted craftsman I now know and love. Of course. If there’s anyone who can help me sort out what to do about Poppa, it’s Mum’s younger brother, the prodigal son. 

I carry the phone to my bedroom, hit four on speed dial.
Chapter 2
“Ah-yup,” Uncle David says, another weird Maine expression that’s crept into his speech. A table saw whines in the background. The tone changes as the blade tastes wood, gearing up to a horrific shriek like someone being tortured. A woman with serious lung capacity. A shot-putter. One of those beefy opera singers.

I close my bedroom door, shout, “Hey! It’s Dani. Could you go to your office maybe?”

“Hey niece o’mine, what’d ya say? Keegan’s ripping boards and I can’t hear squat. I better go to my office.” He shouts something to his assistant and gradually the heinous squealing fades. “A’right. Office. Shoot.”

“I need your help right away. Some hospital called saying Poppa’s been in an accident and they want to operate immediately and they need approval from Mum, but she’s not here and I don’t know where she went or exactly how long she’ll be gone or anything, and the nurse lady who called wouldn’t give me any details at all but it must be pretty bad if they have to operate. I’m seriously freaking out. Could you please, please, please call the hospital and see if you can find out what the heck is going on and give them the okay to operate?”

“Whoa. Accident? What kind of accident? Car accident?”

Images of crumpled fenders, broken glass, thick smoke, and charred car remains click through my mind in rapid succession. Not again, Lord. Please, not again. I wobble, sink onto my bed. “I—. I don’t know,” I choke.

“Sorry, I’m just in shock. I mean, after your dad…” he gives a low whistle. “Gracie’s been through this kind of hell one too many times. Give me that number. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks,” I wipe my eyes and give him the nurse’s name and number. “What should I do now? Mum could be back any time. She’s gonna just curl up and die when she finds out.”

“Well…” he drawls, “I reckon there might be, you know, divine providence in her missing that call. It’s about time I had a go at being the responsible kid. Don’t you worry, and don’t say nothing. Got it?”

“You want me to lie to Mum?”

“I’d like to spare Sis some grief for a change, so let’s keep this between us for now. No guarantees it’ll work, but it’s worth a shot. Go back to what you were doing and just be normal.”

I snort. “This should be good. I’ve got two finals tomorrow.”

“I’m real sorry, Dani. Go study and try not to worry too much. God’s watching over you and Gracie. He won’t let you be tested beyond what you can bear, as the Good Book says.”
*  *  *
Just be normal, Uncle David said. Right. I’ve got exams, a dying grandparent, a missing mother. My dream summer hanging in the balance. Well, not so much a dream as a nightmare-chaser. An antidote to the poison that’s been building inside of Mum.

I plod back to the living room. My throat aches even more when I see Theo’s face tipped onto a couch cushion, muscles slack in peaceful sleep. If Mum and I don’t get to Paris, then what? Mum becomes even more sad, more sick? Breaks down? Goes to the hospital and I go where? To freaking Maine with Uncle David? I’d rather sleep on park benches.

I kneel at Theo’s feet and shovel papers back into my history binder. My face’s reflection in his polished school shoes is stretched like a limp, useless noodle.

How could Uncle David say we’re not being tested beyond what we can bear? Jeez. Mum and I are still trying to recover from losing Dad. Do we never get to settle into normal? Real normal, not pretend normal. Not resigned normal.

Church words flood my mind and push back the rising tide of self-pity. What Uncle David said is only half-true. Part of the story. There’s more to that passage — a promise: “When you are tested, he will provide a way out, so that you can bear up under it.”

Right. There is a way out. My uncle will handle this. He’ll get Poppa the care he needs and everything will be fine. Mum can stay at a safe distance and just…send him a get well card. We’ll head to Paris as planned and leave our worries behind.

I pile my binder and textbook on the far end of the couch, untuck my shirt again, twist my pleated skirt askew, and sink into the cushions beside my boyfriend. Theo registers my return by dropping his head back on my shoulder and draping his warm arm across me.

I pull History: Modern to Contemporary onto my lap and pretend to be engrossed in the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, the Iron Curtain falling, the Cold War blowing in. But I can’t stop my hands from trembling as I turn the pages. I practice French phrases in my head, but quelle heure est-il? sounds vaguely like “kill or steal” and I picture Parisian police descending on me for asking the time. I open my mental sketch book and let strokes flow over the whiteness, but the virtual charcoal stick crumbles in my inner grasp.

All right, God, I want to trust you here, but what the heck are you doing? How will Mum ever believe you aren’t out to get her? She needs to be healed, not drawn into Poppa’s world and his hateful words: she’s “uppity,” “useless,” “a waste of space” with “no use for a soul.” I know you expect me to be still, Lord, and believe you’re going to fix this. Can’t you give me something to hold onto before I tear out my own hair?

Theo grunts in his sleep, nuzzles against my collarbone, his whiskers scritching across cotton. I rest my cheek on the back of his head and breathe in the familiar scent of his scalp, his musky vanilla cologne. My anxious mind stops flailing and I sink into memories of our last rooftop picnic.

We nestled on a tattered afghan, my spine curled against Theo’s chest, blanketed from the chilly spring air by his toasty arms. The sun sank behind the buildings and distant windows lit up, one by one. In awed silence we sat, listening to whirring HVAC units and the distant hum and honk of traffic below. I could not imagine a more perfect peace than this.

But soon the roof access door banged open. Mum appeared in her paint-spattered smock, bringing us a bag of Chinese takeout. Theo jumped to his feet to make space for her on the blanket, but she backed away, shaking her head. She stared at the sparkling Manhattan skyline for a moment and her shoulders sagged under some invisible weight. Then, without a word, she turned and disappeared down the stairs.

In her overworked fog — or whatever was making her so droopy — Mum had forgotten to send up normal silverware. So Theo and I cracked apart the cheap chopsticks from the bottom of the bag and fed each other sloppy clumps of Chinese chicken and shrimp. Between bites, we talked about the years to come — him studying psychology, me, art. Living with our families and commuting to college here in the city to save money.

“I’ll save as much of my inheritance as I can,” I said, “so we can get a place of our own.”

Theo prodded his Lo-mein, his ears turning pink. “I take it you plan a wedding in there somewhere,” he said, more to the noodles than to me. “Shacking up doesn’t seem your style.”

“Yours either.”

“I think my family would be more supportive of that than me getting married at twenty.”

I swallowed hard. “That’s just two years from now. You think….”

“Can we pull it off? I don’t know, Dee. We’re just day­dreaming here, right?”

Were we? It felt so tantalizingly possible. I could picture us brushing our teeth at a dinky apartment sink, barefoot and sleep rumpled. 

“We’d have my trust fund and I could learn Web design. Mum has tons of business contacts — plenty to keep us fed and housed while you do med school and then your psychiatry residency.”

“Web design? Uh-uh. These hands?” He grasped my wrists and lifted my palms to eye level. 

“They’re meant to make masterpieces, not code HTML.”

“I can still draw and paint on the side. Heck, I’d rather be a janitor and be with you, than have gallery shows without you.”

“I don’t deserve you.” He pulled me close and kissed me. Soy sauce and spice.


WOOF! WO-WOOF! WOOF!

Rhys’s barking snaps me out of my reverie. As he nudges open the studio and bolts for the front door, my heart becomes a thumping drum again. It’s Mum. She’s back.

I get my nose out of Theo’s sweet-smelling hair and rivet my attention on the textbook in my lap. 

Theo rolls away from me, onto his other side, but he doesn’t wake.

Here goes. Act One of Just Be Normal. Places everyone. Aaand, action!

Mum shuffles in, sorting a pile of mail, while Rhys runs circles around her. Instead of her usual strappy sandals, she’s wearing ratty slippers, the once-white chenille now gray and frayed. Her hair is tangled and there’s a coffee ring on the leg of her jeans. Yikes.

“Hey.” Her voice is limp and breathy. “How’s the studying going?”

“Great. Super stimulating. Right, Theo?”

Mum thumbs through a magazine and absently pats Rhys’s head. She still hasn’t noticed snooze boy.

“Yeah, definitely,” I say in a pitiful imitation of Theo’s bass voice. “Once we dropped some acid, the ’60s came alive for us.”

“What?” Mum’s gaze drifts up and she takes in the scene. “He’s asleep again?”

“Of course. He’s used to crew practice at dawn. When four p.m. comes, he’s out. I swear you could set clocks by it.”

“Another early bird.” Mum’s chin puckers beneath her downturned mouth — her missing Dad expression. He woke at six every day, annoyingly chipper.

Her eyes roam. I turn to see what’s caught her attention. On the wall behind me is a snapshot from my parents’ engagement day, shot by a Japanese tourist Dad pressed into service, so the story goes. Dad’s on one knee at Mum’s feet in a grassy spot among English castle ruins. She cradles his face in her hands as if it were pure gold. 

Gold turned to dust.

Don’t go there. Don’t let Mum go there, either.

“I suppose you told Sleeping Beauty where you went?” I say.

“He said you were in the bathroom, and I thought I’d be right back. But the condo association president cornered me in the mailroom. What an exhausting motor mouth. I could use a nap.”
Another nap? No, no, no. Come on, brain. Think upbeat. Think perky.

“So!” I chirp, “What came in the mail? Anything good?”

Mum flips through the pile again. She frowns and waves a lime-green postcard at me — an RSVP card for my seventeenth birthday bash, held weeks ago. “This came from Poppa Tilman. I don’t know why he bothered after all this time.”

All the blood in my head drops to my toes. If I weren’t already sitting, I’d swoon. Why did that have to come today, of all days?

I stuff my shaking hands under my thighs. “M-maybe it, uh, got lost in the mail.”

“I don’t think so. There’s a note on the back: ‘Sorry I missed your party, pumpkin. I’m not coping well with paper at the moment. Those infernal women your mother keeps sending can’t work with my system or stay out of my business. But don’t worry your pretty head none. I ordered something special that’s due to ship any day now.’ I should have known his silence about the invitation wasn’t something so simple as rudeness.”

“You think he fired another maid?”

“Obviously. Not that he’d bother telling me about it. In my memory, Pop’s jealously guarded system is to keep every last thing and make piles to the ceiling. I’m surprised the contents of his house haven’t spontaneously combusted, they’re packed in so tight.”

The cordless phone rings from the far end table, just out of reach. Mum picks it up and checks the caller ID. “Ah, it’s David. I’ll take this in the studio. Why don’t you ask Theo to stay for dinner? I’m sure he’ll perk up with a little food.”

I say “okay” to Mum’s departing back and reach to Rhys for comfort. Stroking his fluffy neck slows my galloping heart. “Oh, Rhysie, I hope Uncle David’s just making small talk and he’ll ask for me soon, that he won’t tell her anything. For now, I guess we need to play normal. Lay down, boy.” He settles at my feet with a grunt of protest.

I reach for Theo’s shoulder and give him a little shake. Then a harder one. “Thebes?”

He lifts his heavy head off of me. His hazel eyes flutter open, more gold than green in the afternoon light. He groans. “Oh, Dani, I did it again, didn’t I? Jeez, I’m sorry. I’m just so tired all the time. Maybe I need to start drinking coffee like you do.”

I smile. “It would stunt your growth.”

“Little late for that, don’t you think?” He leans back, stretching, and his firm stomach peeks between his shirt hem and the waistband of his khakis. I look away and sit on my hands again before my hormones get the better of me.

“Mum wants to know if you can stay for supper.”

“Yeah?” he says, poking me in the ribs. “What about you?” Poke. “Do you want me?” Poke, poke, poke. “To stay?”

“Not if you’re gonna be a bully.”

Moi?” He strikes a Miss Piggy pose.

Non, ta jument méchante, qui ronfle comme un os endormi.”

Theo roars with laughter. “My evil what? Mare? Who snores like a sleepy bone?”

“I meant twin. Ju-something…else.”

“Ah. Jumeau méchant. Evil twin. And I do not snore. Especially not like a bone.”

I roll my eyes. “Bear. I wanted to say bear.”

Ours, not os. Bien? Dis-le et répète, Danielle.”

You say it. Repeat. Oh, brother.

I tip my head side to side as I chant, “Ours, ours, ours, ours, ours. Happy?”

“Come on, babe, cheer up. Your grammar’s quite good. You used the feminine adjective with jument, which was great, even if it wasn’t the noun you wanted.”

“I’m never gonna get this. Parisians will bludgeon me with baguettes for crimes against the mother tongue.”

“You are getting it. You’re brave enough to try making jokes in another language, which is pretty complicated. Honestly, you’ve picked up in six months what it took me three years to learn. Of course, I didn’t have a patient instructor completely dedicated to my success.”

“Come on, Thebes. You’ve got to be bored out of your mind teaching a dunce like me.”

“You are way too hard on yourself. So you made a mistake. Big deal. Who doesn’t? Heck, I’m learning here, too. Remember the flashcard fiasco?”

“I’d rather not.” Theo pounding the wall, purple-faced; me hunkered in a distant corner, utterly stunned by his rare flare of temper — not a scene I care to replay. Ever.

“Well, me neither. That was totally my bad. But I learned from it, right? I’ve had quite the adventure developing my cutting-edge teaching techniques.”

I snort.

“Yeah? You doubt me? I’m deeply insulted.”

“What’s so cutting edge about, ‘Dis-le et répète’?”

“How do you think you learned to draw? Practice. Years of filling sketch pads until your scribbles became art. Anyone who thinks they can get some new skill without practice is an idiot. So once we get through finals, we will répèter, en français every day, until you go. Très bien?” 

Mum strides into the living room clenching the phone. I can almost smell the fury pulsing out of her like fumes from a hot engine.

Pas bien. Mal. Très, très mal.

“There’s been a change of plans,” she says.

========

For more information and buy links, visit my Books page. 

Monday, April 25, 2016 Laurel Garver
Chapter 1
In Paris, art seeps into your feet and drips from your fingertips. Dark-eyed buskers in berets squeeze out sweet accordion songs, and the birds trill along. The air tastes like crème brûlée; the light is melted butter. Or so I’ve heard. In two weeks, I’ll find out for myself.

I can see it all now: In the golden mornings, Mum and I will set up matching easels on the banks of the Seine and paint side-by-side. She’ll be too excited to sleep till noon, too inspired to stare blankly at the wall. Her sadness will fall away like a too-heavy coat, and she’ll once again fill canvas after canvas with works of aching beauty. 

We’ll while away the hot afternoons in the Louvre, communing with the masters. Finally meet some of her long-lost French relatives. Wear goofy hats and stuff ourselves with pastries and laugh like we haven’t in ages. Every day will be a chick-flick montage of joie de vivre.

Or is it joyeux de vivre? Theo would know.

“Theo? Thebes?” I shake my boyfriend, who snoozes beside me on the couch with his school tie loosely askew and notebook open in his lap. When he doesn’t react, I stroke his left forearm. He swats at me with an oar-calloused hand, mutters, “Stalin… Churchill…Roosevelt.”

He must be in bad shape if he’s dreaming history notes. “Never mind. Just rest.”

I’m not exactly the most diligent study buddy either. It’s hard to focus when I’m two finals from freedom. Two finals till I can shop for my France wardrobe, till I can dedicate maximum brain space to merci, s’il vous plaît, and three thousand other phrases that will keep me from looking like a lazy américaine

I pull out my highlighter and mark my top three café picks near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Summer 2009, just published in March. I wonder if these places serve iced decaf lattes. Or is iced coffee a gauche American concoction? Yet another thing to ask Theo.

His sleeping face pinches. I reach to touch his cheek, then stop. Facing finals right after two weekend crew regattas in a row has already made him totally stressed and exhausted. I’m probably stressing him more by talking nonstop about my trip. For him, it means five long weeks apart. We’ll Skype every day and muddle through somehow. The painful separation will be totally worth it when Paris works its magic and Mum’s back to normal.

The kitchen phone jangles and I guiltily stuff my Paris guidebook under a couch cushion. Theo stirs, but doesn’t shift enough to free my hair from under his sleep-heavy head.

Why isn’t Mum answering? Is she napping again?

With a swift tug, I free my hair. The hefty textbook I’m supposed to be studying slides off my lap and thuds to the floor. I sprint to the kitchen, reaching the phone on the tenth ring.

“Mrs. Deane? Mrs. Grace Tilman Deane?” A woman asks.

“Just a sec. I’ll get her.”

I carry the handset through the apartment to the spare bedroom we use as a studio and gingerly knock on the door. No answer. Is Mum hiding or deep in another epic zone-out? Since she left her stressful Madison Avenue advertising job for art school, thanks to a foundation started in my late father’s memory, Mum should be having the time of her life. Art was the passion she couldn’t pursue when she was young for a lot of stupid reasons. But now that she’s actually living her lost dream, paint seems to dry on her palettes more than her canvases.

I press my ear to the door and hear only the low hum of the air conditioning. When I peek inside, our husky-mix Rhys raises his head, perks his ears, gives a fangy yawn. On the easel above him sits a white canvas with a single red stripe down the center. Beside the easel is an empty stool. What the heck? Did she go back to bed?

I stare at the phone a moment. Chances are it’s just some stupid survey or courtesy call. Nothing worth waking Mum for.

I clear my throat and mimic Mum’s smoky alto. “Hello?”

“Mrs. Deane? This is Nurse Lowman from North Penn Health System. In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania? It’s about your father. Daniel Tilman?”

Good Lord, now what? Poppa hasn’t gone berserk on another doctor, has he? You’d think the time he got hauled off by security would have shamed him into changing his ways. Mum should let them press charges this time. Poppa might finally get a clue about how big a jerk he is.

I deliver the standard Mum line: “My apologies. How can I assist?”

“There’s been an accident, Mrs. Deane. Your father…his condition is needing surgery and we have to get your approval to proceed.”

My guts drop seven stories. I wouldn’t be surprised to find them out on Columbus, pancake-flattened and dimpled with taxi tire marks. “Poppa’s had an accident?” I squeak.

“This isn’t Mrs. Deane, is it?” Her tone is so cold, my wet tongue would stick to it.

“Sorry, it’s…Danielle, the daughter, I mean Mr. Tilman’s granddaughter. I’m sorry about pretending to be my mother. I thought you were a telemarketer and Mum’s not feeling well. Since I’m family, too, it wouldn’t be against HIPAA regulations for you to tell me what happened, and I can let her know, right?”

“I’m afraid not, Danielle. I have to speak to your actual mother.”

Crap. It must be bad. Really bad.

“Um, okay. I’ll, ah, go find her.” I cover the mouthpiece and head to the master bedroom.

In the phone, I can distantly hear the nurse crack up and tell her medical cronies, “Get a load of this: I’ve got some kid from New York on the phone who knows about HIPAA regulations! City kids! Gawd. She’s probably been playing the stock market since kindergarten.”

I’d love to give this bumpkin nurse chick a piece of my mind. Tell her that the adult world finds some of us young and makes us grow up fast, whether we’re ready or not.

But I don’t say this, because my persistent knocks are getting no response from Mum at all. As I step into her dark bedroom, I’m surprised by a strange, sour smell. I pat her bed, expecting to feel the warm hump of a leg. Instead, I touch something thick and sticky. Blood? I bring my hand to my nose. Ugh. Spoiled milk.

I switch on the bedside lamp and find a toppled Stonyfield ice cream tub that’s left a gooey puddle on her silk bedspread. Okay, it’s organic, but still. The woman’s a gym addict. Grabbing a tissue to clean the goo off my fingers, I see a worse sign: Mum’s cell phone is on the dresser. But Mum is gone.

I take a deep breath, then uncover the mouthpiece of the phone. “Um…” I tell the nurse, “I think we might need to call you back.”
*  *  *
Seeing the empty key hook by the front door sucks the air right out of me. Dear God, no. I crush the paper scrap with the hospital’s number in a trembling fist. For all I know, Poppa will be dead in minutes if they don’t operate. But without Mum’s approval, they legally can’t.

I cannot believe Mum left Theo and me alone in the apartment. She usually checks on us every ten minutes like clockwork, bugging us with questions or roping Theo into chores like opening jars or pulling things off high shelves. It’s like she has this bizarre fear that we’re going to rip each other’s clothes off at any moment and make me the next teen pregnancy statistic.

Well, she can’t have gone far — probably just to the little market on Columbus to pick up dinner ingredients. Surely she’ll be back any minute. I should call the front desk and ask the doorman if he saw her go out. Theo could hold down the fort while I look for her.

Gosh, I can just picture her standing in line at Rico’s, looking for all the world like a bohemian free spirit in her snug t-shirt, paint-spattered jeans, strappy sandals, gobs of gypsy jewelry, hair in long, loose layers. She’ll glance up from her basket of Thai basil and coconut milk, see my face and just know. Know that I’m about to hurl a bomb at her. Know that trouble’s found her yet again, like it always does.

How can I tell her? How? It’s only been a year and a half since Dad’s car crash and the month of ICU agony before he was snatched from us. How can she possibly cope with Poppa right now? He’s as fatherly to her as a lion is to a gazelle.

I just wish I could make this all go away.

I look at the hospital number in my hand again, and my mouth goes as dry as a day-old croissant. What if Poppa and his car—? There’s no ice on the roads, but a couch could tumble off a truck, or a rogue deer leap out of the woods and straight through his windshield. Poppa could have massive bleeding on the brain right now — pressure building like floodwaters behind a levee, flattening everything. Cells, synapses, ganglion crushed, dying, dead. I’ve seen it before.

My grand Paris dream starts to pull away, a face in a taxi window. Off toward Midtown. Off to find a more worthy recipient.

Who can help me stop this taxi from driving away with my dream?

A homeless drug addict steps in front of the taxi in my mind and it stops. The coked-up guy stands there, fists on hips, chin jutted out, dark eyes flashing, as if daring the driver to flatten him in his frayed cords and Nietzsche T-shirt. Uncle David?

He winks at me, then in a blink transforms from his old stoner self into the bald, flannel-shirted craftsman I now know and love. Of course. If there’s anyone who can help me sort out what to do about Poppa, it’s Mum’s younger brother, the prodigal son. 

I carry the phone to my bedroom, hit four on speed dial.
Chapter 2
“Ah-yup,” Uncle David says, another weird Maine expression that’s crept into his speech. A table saw whines in the background. The tone changes as the blade tastes wood, gearing up to a horrific shriek like someone being tortured. A woman with serious lung capacity. A shot-putter. One of those beefy opera singers.

I close my bedroom door, shout, “Hey! It’s Dani. Could you go to your office maybe?”

“Hey niece o’mine, what’d ya say? Keegan’s ripping boards and I can’t hear squat. I better go to my office.” He shouts something to his assistant and gradually the heinous squealing fades. “A’right. Office. Shoot.”

“I need your help right away. Some hospital called saying Poppa’s been in an accident and they want to operate immediately and they need approval from Mum, but she’s not here and I don’t know where she went or exactly how long she’ll be gone or anything, and the nurse lady who called wouldn’t give me any details at all but it must be pretty bad if they have to operate. I’m seriously freaking out. Could you please, please, please call the hospital and see if you can find out what the heck is going on and give them the okay to operate?”

“Whoa. Accident? What kind of accident? Car accident?”

Images of crumpled fenders, broken glass, thick smoke, and charred car remains click through my mind in rapid succession. Not again, Lord. Please, not again. I wobble, sink onto my bed. “I—. I don’t know,” I choke.

“Sorry, I’m just in shock. I mean, after your dad…” he gives a low whistle. “Gracie’s been through this kind of hell one too many times. Give me that number. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks,” I wipe my eyes and give him the nurse’s name and number. “What should I do now? Mum could be back any time. She’s gonna just curl up and die when she finds out.”

“Well…” he drawls, “I reckon there might be, you know, divine providence in her missing that call. It’s about time I had a go at being the responsible kid. Don’t you worry, and don’t say nothing. Got it?”

“You want me to lie to Mum?”

“I’d like to spare Sis some grief for a change, so let’s keep this between us for now. No guarantees it’ll work, but it’s worth a shot. Go back to what you were doing and just be normal.”

I snort. “This should be good. I’ve got two finals tomorrow.”

“I’m real sorry, Dani. Go study and try not to worry too much. God’s watching over you and Gracie. He won’t let you be tested beyond what you can bear, as the Good Book says.”
*  *  *
Just be normal, Uncle David said. Right. I’ve got exams, a dying grandparent, a missing mother. My dream summer hanging in the balance. Well, not so much a dream as a nightmare-chaser. An antidote to the poison that’s been building inside of Mum.

I plod back to the living room. My throat aches even more when I see Theo’s face tipped onto a couch cushion, muscles slack in peaceful sleep. If Mum and I don’t get to Paris, then what? Mum becomes even more sad, more sick? Breaks down? Goes to the hospital and I go where? To freaking Maine with Uncle David? I’d rather sleep on park benches.

I kneel at Theo’s feet and shovel papers back into my history binder. My face’s reflection in his polished school shoes is stretched like a limp, useless noodle.

How could Uncle David say we’re not being tested beyond what we can bear? Jeez. Mum and I are still trying to recover from losing Dad. Do we never get to settle into normal? Real normal, not pretend normal. Not resigned normal.

Church words flood my mind and push back the rising tide of self-pity. What Uncle David said is only half-true. Part of the story. There’s more to that passage — a promise: “When you are tested, he will provide a way out, so that you can bear up under it.”

Right. There is a way out. My uncle will handle this. He’ll get Poppa the care he needs and everything will be fine. Mum can stay at a safe distance and just…send him a get well card. We’ll head to Paris as planned and leave our worries behind.

I pile my binder and textbook on the far end of the couch, untuck my shirt again, twist my pleated skirt askew, and sink into the cushions beside my boyfriend. Theo registers my return by dropping his head back on my shoulder and draping his warm arm across me.

I pull History: Modern to Contemporary onto my lap and pretend to be engrossed in the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, the Iron Curtain falling, the Cold War blowing in. But I can’t stop my hands from trembling as I turn the pages. I practice French phrases in my head, but quelle heure est-il? sounds vaguely like “kill or steal” and I picture Parisian police descending on me for asking the time. I open my mental sketch book and let strokes flow over the whiteness, but the virtual charcoal stick crumbles in my inner grasp.

All right, God, I want to trust you here, but what the heck are you doing? How will Mum ever believe you aren’t out to get her? She needs to be healed, not drawn into Poppa’s world and his hateful words: she’s “uppity,” “useless,” “a waste of space” with “no use for a soul.” I know you expect me to be still, Lord, and believe you’re going to fix this. Can’t you give me something to hold onto before I tear out my own hair?

Theo grunts in his sleep, nuzzles against my collarbone, his whiskers scritching across cotton. I rest my cheek on the back of his head and breathe in the familiar scent of his scalp, his musky vanilla cologne. My anxious mind stops flailing and I sink into memories of our last rooftop picnic.

We nestled on a tattered afghan, my spine curled against Theo’s chest, blanketed from the chilly spring air by his toasty arms. The sun sank behind the buildings and distant windows lit up, one by one. In awed silence we sat, listening to whirring HVAC units and the distant hum and honk of traffic below. I could not imagine a more perfect peace than this.

But soon the roof access door banged open. Mum appeared in her paint-spattered smock, bringing us a bag of Chinese takeout. Theo jumped to his feet to make space for her on the blanket, but she backed away, shaking her head. She stared at the sparkling Manhattan skyline for a moment and her shoulders sagged under some invisible weight. Then, without a word, she turned and disappeared down the stairs.

In her overworked fog — or whatever was making her so droopy — Mum had forgotten to send up normal silverware. So Theo and I cracked apart the cheap chopsticks from the bottom of the bag and fed each other sloppy clumps of Chinese chicken and shrimp. Between bites, we talked about the years to come — him studying psychology, me, art. Living with our families and commuting to college here in the city to save money.

“I’ll save as much of my inheritance as I can,” I said, “so we can get a place of our own.”

Theo prodded his Lo-mein, his ears turning pink. “I take it you plan a wedding in there somewhere,” he said, more to the noodles than to me. “Shacking up doesn’t seem your style.”

“Yours either.”

“I think my family would be more supportive of that than me getting married at twenty.”

I swallowed hard. “That’s just two years from now. You think….”

“Can we pull it off? I don’t know, Dee. We’re just day­dreaming here, right?”

Were we? It felt so tantalizingly possible. I could picture us brushing our teeth at a dinky apartment sink, barefoot and sleep rumpled. 

“We’d have my trust fund and I could learn Web design. Mum has tons of business contacts — plenty to keep us fed and housed while you do med school and then your psychiatry residency.”

“Web design? Uh-uh. These hands?” He grasped my wrists and lifted my palms to eye level. 

“They’re meant to make masterpieces, not code HTML.”

“I can still draw and paint on the side. Heck, I’d rather be a janitor and be with you, than have gallery shows without you.”

“I don’t deserve you.” He pulled me close and kissed me. Soy sauce and spice.


WOOF! WO-WOOF! WOOF!

Rhys’s barking snaps me out of my reverie. As he nudges open the studio and bolts for the front door, my heart becomes a thumping drum again. It’s Mum. She’s back.

I get my nose out of Theo’s sweet-smelling hair and rivet my attention on the textbook in my lap. 

Theo rolls away from me, onto his other side, but he doesn’t wake.

Here goes. Act One of Just Be Normal. Places everyone. Aaand, action!

Mum shuffles in, sorting a pile of mail, while Rhys runs circles around her. Instead of her usual strappy sandals, she’s wearing ratty slippers, the once-white chenille now gray and frayed. Her hair is tangled and there’s a coffee ring on the leg of her jeans. Yikes.

“Hey.” Her voice is limp and breathy. “How’s the studying going?”

“Great. Super stimulating. Right, Theo?”

Mum thumbs through a magazine and absently pats Rhys’s head. She still hasn’t noticed snooze boy.

“Yeah, definitely,” I say in a pitiful imitation of Theo’s bass voice. “Once we dropped some acid, the ’60s came alive for us.”

“What?” Mum’s gaze drifts up and she takes in the scene. “He’s asleep again?”

“Of course. He’s used to crew practice at dawn. When four p.m. comes, he’s out. I swear you could set clocks by it.”

“Another early bird.” Mum’s chin puckers beneath her downturned mouth — her missing Dad expression. He woke at six every day, annoyingly chipper.

Her eyes roam. I turn to see what’s caught her attention. On the wall behind me is a snapshot from my parents’ engagement day, shot by a Japanese tourist Dad pressed into service, so the story goes. Dad’s on one knee at Mum’s feet in a grassy spot among English castle ruins. She cradles his face in her hands as if it were pure gold. 

Gold turned to dust.

Don’t go there. Don’t let Mum go there, either.

“I suppose you told Sleeping Beauty where you went?” I say.

“He said you were in the bathroom, and I thought I’d be right back. But the condo association president cornered me in the mailroom. What an exhausting motor mouth. I could use a nap.”
Another nap? No, no, no. Come on, brain. Think upbeat. Think perky.

“So!” I chirp, “What came in the mail? Anything good?”

Mum flips through the pile again. She frowns and waves a lime-green postcard at me — an RSVP card for my seventeenth birthday bash, held weeks ago. “This came from Poppa Tilman. I don’t know why he bothered after all this time.”

All the blood in my head drops to my toes. If I weren’t already sitting, I’d swoon. Why did that have to come today, of all days?

I stuff my shaking hands under my thighs. “M-maybe it, uh, got lost in the mail.”

“I don’t think so. There’s a note on the back: ‘Sorry I missed your party, pumpkin. I’m not coping well with paper at the moment. Those infernal women your mother keeps sending can’t work with my system or stay out of my business. But don’t worry your pretty head none. I ordered something special that’s due to ship any day now.’ I should have known his silence about the invitation wasn’t something so simple as rudeness.”

“You think he fired another maid?”

“Obviously. Not that he’d bother telling me about it. In my memory, Pop’s jealously guarded system is to keep every last thing and make piles to the ceiling. I’m surprised the contents of his house haven’t spontaneously combusted, they’re packed in so tight.”

The cordless phone rings from the far end table, just out of reach. Mum picks it up and checks the caller ID. “Ah, it’s David. I’ll take this in the studio. Why don’t you ask Theo to stay for dinner? I’m sure he’ll perk up with a little food.”

I say “okay” to Mum’s departing back and reach to Rhys for comfort. Stroking his fluffy neck slows my galloping heart. “Oh, Rhysie, I hope Uncle David’s just making small talk and he’ll ask for me soon, that he won’t tell her anything. For now, I guess we need to play normal. Lay down, boy.” He settles at my feet with a grunt of protest.

I reach for Theo’s shoulder and give him a little shake. Then a harder one. “Thebes?”

He lifts his heavy head off of me. His hazel eyes flutter open, more gold than green in the afternoon light. He groans. “Oh, Dani, I did it again, didn’t I? Jeez, I’m sorry. I’m just so tired all the time. Maybe I need to start drinking coffee like you do.”

I smile. “It would stunt your growth.”

“Little late for that, don’t you think?” He leans back, stretching, and his firm stomach peeks between his shirt hem and the waistband of his khakis. I look away and sit on my hands again before my hormones get the better of me.

“Mum wants to know if you can stay for supper.”

“Yeah?” he says, poking me in the ribs. “What about you?” Poke. “Do you want me?” Poke, poke, poke. “To stay?”

“Not if you’re gonna be a bully.”

Moi?” He strikes a Miss Piggy pose.

Non, ta jument méchante, qui ronfle comme un os endormi.”

Theo roars with laughter. “My evil what? Mare? Who snores like a sleepy bone?”

“I meant twin. Ju-something…else.”

“Ah. Jumeau méchant. Evil twin. And I do not snore. Especially not like a bone.”

I roll my eyes. “Bear. I wanted to say bear.”

Ours, not os. Bien? Dis-le et répète, Danielle.”

You say it. Repeat. Oh, brother.

I tip my head side to side as I chant, “Ours, ours, ours, ours, ours. Happy?”

“Come on, babe, cheer up. Your grammar’s quite good. You used the feminine adjective with jument, which was great, even if it wasn’t the noun you wanted.”

“I’m never gonna get this. Parisians will bludgeon me with baguettes for crimes against the mother tongue.”

“You are getting it. You’re brave enough to try making jokes in another language, which is pretty complicated. Honestly, you’ve picked up in six months what it took me three years to learn. Of course, I didn’t have a patient instructor completely dedicated to my success.”

“Come on, Thebes. You’ve got to be bored out of your mind teaching a dunce like me.”

“You are way too hard on yourself. So you made a mistake. Big deal. Who doesn’t? Heck, I’m learning here, too. Remember the flashcard fiasco?”

“I’d rather not.” Theo pounding the wall, purple-faced; me hunkered in a distant corner, utterly stunned by his rare flare of temper — not a scene I care to replay. Ever.

“Well, me neither. That was totally my bad. But I learned from it, right? I’ve had quite the adventure developing my cutting-edge teaching techniques.”

I snort.

“Yeah? You doubt me? I’m deeply insulted.”

“What’s so cutting edge about, ‘Dis-le et répète’?”

“How do you think you learned to draw? Practice. Years of filling sketch pads until your scribbles became art. Anyone who thinks they can get some new skill without practice is an idiot. So once we get through finals, we will répèter, en français every day, until you go. Très bien?” 

Mum strides into the living room clenching the phone. I can almost smell the fury pulsing out of her like fumes from a hot engine.

Pas bien. Mal. Très, très mal.

“There’s been a change of plans,” she says.

========

For more information and buy links, visit my Books page. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

I have a confession to make. When it comes to my writing, I can be a bit ADD. Sometimes I can hunker down with one project and give it my all for months at a time, and sometimes a great tangential idea worms its way into my head and demands my attention.

Photo by JessicaGale at morguefile.com
Blogging seems to exacerbate this tendency in me. Some issue will come up in my drafting or revising or editing or marketing, I'll blog it and think Hey, this would be a great nonfiction chapter or start of a whole new book. I have five such book ideas on my hard drive at the moment. Five. I keep adding to them in fits and starts.

Emotions in the Wild: A Writer's Observation Journal was once one of these great ideas that I knew would take a lot of steady work to complete (BTW, have you seen the new cover design?). But I did complete it. What worked for that project was how very structured it was. Composing it required identifying key emotions, developing observation exercises for each, and seeking evocative quotes to open each section. Having the structure made it easier to ping-pong among these tasks as mood and energy directed and still progress.

A big takeaway from that project, which took about six weeks to complete, from concept to launch, was to begin fun, end challenging. Overcoming initial inertia is the most difficult part of writing, so dive in with what's easy, fun, or grabbing your imagination. Then, switch to the parts that are challenging: hard, un-fun, and not grabbing your imagination. Because you can, to use a cycling metaphor, "draft off" of that earlier effort like it's another cyclist breaking through the wind resistance for you so you can keep up your speed with less expenditure of energy.

Journaling is a super helpful tool for juggling projects, too. Last summer, when I had the added issues of kid at home from school and an elderly parent needing a lot of help, I kept a couple of running lists. One was of goals I'd set for myself, some with deadlines, some without. The other was where I simply reported what I'd done that day in moving toward each goal, and talked to myself about where I was blocked, where I needed to do more research, where I had doubts or worried about a particular project or section of it.

If you tend to be an internal processor like me, journaling like this can be a powerful self-help tool. It requires you to begin articulating problems instead of just holding them in your head where they drain your energy (see The Need for Emotional Processing for more on this concept). Talking yourself through an issue can take you farther toward finding a solution. Continuing to circle back to those stuck places and brainstorming will, with time, get you unstuck.

Keeping running lists and journaling becomes a kind of reward system, too. You can look back at the items crossed off (I am a fan of using strikethough in Word document lists) and see progress. That sense of accomplishment will give you a hit of dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical, research says.

Do you tend to juggle multiple projects? What helps you steadily make progress?
Thursday, April 21, 2016 Laurel Garver
I have a confession to make. When it comes to my writing, I can be a bit ADD. Sometimes I can hunker down with one project and give it my all for months at a time, and sometimes a great tangential idea worms its way into my head and demands my attention.

Photo by JessicaGale at morguefile.com
Blogging seems to exacerbate this tendency in me. Some issue will come up in my drafting or revising or editing or marketing, I'll blog it and think Hey, this would be a great nonfiction chapter or start of a whole new book. I have five such book ideas on my hard drive at the moment. Five. I keep adding to them in fits and starts.

Emotions in the Wild: A Writer's Observation Journal was once one of these great ideas that I knew would take a lot of steady work to complete (BTW, have you seen the new cover design?). But I did complete it. What worked for that project was how very structured it was. Composing it required identifying key emotions, developing observation exercises for each, and seeking evocative quotes to open each section. Having the structure made it easier to ping-pong among these tasks as mood and energy directed and still progress.

A big takeaway from that project, which took about six weeks to complete, from concept to launch, was to begin fun, end challenging. Overcoming initial inertia is the most difficult part of writing, so dive in with what's easy, fun, or grabbing your imagination. Then, switch to the parts that are challenging: hard, un-fun, and not grabbing your imagination. Because you can, to use a cycling metaphor, "draft off" of that earlier effort like it's another cyclist breaking through the wind resistance for you so you can keep up your speed with less expenditure of energy.

Journaling is a super helpful tool for juggling projects, too. Last summer, when I had the added issues of kid at home from school and an elderly parent needing a lot of help, I kept a couple of running lists. One was of goals I'd set for myself, some with deadlines, some without. The other was where I simply reported what I'd done that day in moving toward each goal, and talked to myself about where I was blocked, where I needed to do more research, where I had doubts or worried about a particular project or section of it.

If you tend to be an internal processor like me, journaling like this can be a powerful self-help tool. It requires you to begin articulating problems instead of just holding them in your head where they drain your energy (see The Need for Emotional Processing for more on this concept). Talking yourself through an issue can take you farther toward finding a solution. Continuing to circle back to those stuck places and brainstorming will, with time, get you unstuck.

Keeping running lists and journaling becomes a kind of reward system, too. You can look back at the items crossed off (I am a fan of using strikethough in Word document lists) and see progress. That sense of accomplishment will give you a hit of dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical, research says.

Do you tend to juggle multiple projects? What helps you steadily make progress?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

If you take a look at my handy-dandy profile over on the right, you'll see that I've shifted my schedule to posting on Thursdays. I ended up needing to do so last week, and it fit into my week so much better. So check this space tomorrow!

And if you've never before joined the Twitter party that is One Line Wednesday (#1linewed), come on over to Twitter, search the hashtag and join in. This week's theme is "nod." Share a snippet (or two) from your work in progress on the theme, and cheer on others who have done so by liking and retweeting their snippets. The themes help us ferret out overuse of some words in part. And the party is a great way to meet new Twitter peeps.

Have a great day, all!
Wednesday, April 20, 2016 Laurel Garver
If you take a look at my handy-dandy profile over on the right, you'll see that I've shifted my schedule to posting on Thursdays. I ended up needing to do so last week, and it fit into my week so much better. So check this space tomorrow!

And if you've never before joined the Twitter party that is One Line Wednesday (#1linewed), come on over to Twitter, search the hashtag and join in. This week's theme is "nod." Share a snippet (or two) from your work in progress on the theme, and cheer on others who have done so by liking and retweeting their snippets. The themes help us ferret out overuse of some words in part. And the party is a great way to meet new Twitter peeps.

Have a great day, all!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

I was a somewhat late adopter of Twitter, in part because the fast and short nature of posting intimidated me. I'm more of a slow and deep thinker, and at first I thought adding a Twitter feed to my life would make my head explode.

But as I shifted gears to indie publishing, I realized I needed this site to reach a wider audience. Blog reading was on the wane, and I'd heard so many positive things about Twitter, I knew I had to get a grip on my fear and jump in.

My early attempts were half-hearted I admit, but in the past year I've gradually experimented and reached out and basically doubled my follower base. If you are still trying to get your footing on Twitter, this post is for you. If you're feeling meh about using Twitter, this post is for you. If you're a mega guru, maybe you have some wisdom to share in the comments, so please stick around!

Develop a vision 

What do you want your Twitter presence to be? This precedes all other considerations. How vulnerable will you be about your personal life in this forum? Will your persona be mostly serious, mostly silly, mostly enthusiastic, mostly wise, mostly curious, mostly pious, mostly arty, mostly visual? Which parts of yourself will help you reach and connect with your "tribe"? Your tribe is the group where your passions and enthusiasms are shared and supported and cheered on.

Consider the kinds of projects have you written and ones you plan to write. Now imagine your ideal reader. What are his or her interests? Which parts of  yourself do you think this reader will most want to know?

Communicate your vision

Choose your photo, banner image and color scheme to undergird the communication of vision. The visual look might mirror your blog or website, it might echo your book covers. But you don't want a lot of dark and heavy if you write romantic comedy, any more than you want light and fluffy images if you write thrillers. Look at Twitter profiles of others in your genre and emulate those who communicate well a message you also want to communicate.

Side note: If you're especially stumped about picking a color scheme, you might find it helpful to read up a bit on the psychology of color. It's how I landed on plum and tan as part of my branding; the first related to wisdom, creativity and spirituality, the other with warmth and being down-to-earth. Here are a couple of useful articles on the topic:
The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding
Color Psychology

Build your description from your vision: that sense of yourself and your work. Think keywords and allusions. Here's my description: "Urban Christ follower, incurable Anglophile, Ravenclaw. Pro grammar wrangler for hire. My writing explores how faith grows in dark places #CR4U"  Describing your thematic approach is more inviting than listing book titles, I've found--readers and writers are more drawn to a vision than a product name.

As you might guess, I am frequently found and followed by others in my faith tradition, by Harry Potter fans, by other writers, by other editors, by other city dwellers, by other lovers of British culture, and by members of Clean Indie Reads, a Facebook indie author collective, which uses the hashtag CR4U (clean reads for you).

Who you follow, what you tweet, and what you retweet and like--all these things should be guided by your vision. These actions also communicate your vision.

My published work so far has been in diverse genres--Christian fiction, poetry, and nonfiction writing resources. I hope to continue producing work like this and building a following for it. My Christian fiction is quite niche, so that takes the most concerted effort to seek a tribe. The writing resources are more broad. But as you might guess, writing religious work means I'd be unwise to follow just anyone on Twitter. There are are few kinds of accounts I avoid following back if they approach me first--erotica and gore-horror writers, pottymouths, inappropriate photo-posters, political all the time, cranky/agenda-driven zealots, bot accounts, click-farm sales pitch accounts,

You need to know your no-go areas and be thoughtful about it, or you'll find your garbage following takes all the joy out of the platform. For the most part, not following back followers who don't interest you is enough. In the case of inappropriate photo-posters, I tend to block accounts. The pottymoths and erotica and gore folks I tend to simply mute. (Click the sunshine icon next to the follow button in your followers list, and these options will appear in a drop-down menu).

Find your tribe

This is honestly fairly easy to do on Twitter. It is its most powerful feature in my mind. Start by following any writer friends, beta readers, critique partners, and fellow bloggers. Follow your favorite authors and organizations, especially local ones.

Cannibalize their friend lists. Okay, let me put that in a more positive way--check out their follower lists, likely to be full of people who share interests and will be similarly awesome, and follow them. I also find it helpful to RT their pinned tweets or like something they posted recently. It's a way of saying "Hi, you look fantastic, Let's be friends" in a less sycophantic way.

Do keyword searches for things that are part of your vision. Maybe it's your genre. Maybe it's a particular fandom (Star Wars or Sherlock; things like that). Maybe it's a geographic region you live in or write about. Follow away. Retweet and like.

Remember on the keyword searches to look not only at "top" tweets, but also click the next category, "live" where fresh content will be popping up. Folks with tiny followings who may be wonderful friends are likely hiding in there. The top stories are the ones that have had a lot of RTs and likes. They might be worth following if only for a time to find more of your tribe.

Hunt for hashtags popular in your tribe. #YA or #teenreads, for example, will help you find those who love young adult books--reading and writing them.

Join one of the weekly work-in-progress sharing parties like #2bittues (two bit Tuesday) or #1linewed (one-line Wednesday). Look up the hashtag and you will find instructions to participate. This is a really fun way to share small snippets of your writing and find readers who like your style--and for you to find writers whose style you admire.

Post a variety of content

Getting followers and keeping them also requires you to keep putting out content yourself. If you have been blogging for any length of time, you likely have some ready-made content that is eminently tweet-able. For the most part, age doesn't matter either. Your good post about hiring a cover designer in 2013 is just as helpful today.

Pimp your books--but only occasionally. If possible, link not only to your sales page, but also to interviews you've given about it, old blog-tour posts, and really great reviews posted online. Your "buy my book" pleas are better received when they aren't pushy but rather inviting to target readers. Creating photo memes with quotes can be a nice change of pace for getting the word out. Have a variety. Pin a new one to your page (click the ellipsis icon at the bottom of a post and chose "pin to your profile page") every week or so. Keep it fresh!

Share parts of yourself that relate to your vision. Be sincere. I have posted about finishing drafts, about choir practices, about cool things going on in my city, about parenting. These posts might not get a lot of retweets, but they are an important part of building a genuine following.

Share inspiring quotes. You can find them on Goodreads, on BrainyQuote on Quote Garden. Be sure to properly attribute them!

Add useful hashtags in moderation. Some that will help your tweets be found by other writers include #writing #amwriting #writetip #writingtips #amediting #books #amreading. Limit yourself to one to three. More than that just looks spammy and desperate.

Engage with others

Aside from following and following back (with care--remember your vision!), it's essential that you interact with your followers. Twitter gives the impression that it is a 100% live stream, but that isn't the case. It is moderated like Facebook is. Those you don't interact with much stop showing up in your feed--and you in theirs! So make an effort to pop back through your followers list periodically and like or retweet content from folks you haven't seen in your feed recently.

If you love someone's blog post shared on Twitter, add a comment before retweeting, like "I so agree with this" or "fantastic!" or "wonderfully helpful!" Your follower will know you aren't simply automating your sharing, but that you actually engaged. Attention is the currency of Twitter, Share yours liberally.

Ask questions and follow up. This can be a powerful way to deepen the relationships you have, and for your followers' followers to discover you.

Express gratitude to those who share your content. I tend to take a batch approach so that my feed isn't too noisy. It also helps my followers find cool people to follow when I acknowledge them.

A note about automation

I have found it really useful to sit down weekly with Hootsuite and automate some of my Twitter activity. Hootsuite makes it really easy. And you may find it useful to experiment with which times of day your followers are most likely to engage with your content.

Variety is essential with automating. If you post only one kind of thing, it will seem spammy. Share your historic blog posts with news articles with inspiring quotes with memes for your books.

Don't go overboard, posting every five minutes, which you could feasibly do on Hootsuite. Use it to keep some fresh content appearing daily. Two to six automated posts, spread from your waking to sleeping hours, is plenty. Feel free to experiment with hours you aren't awake to engage with folks in other time zones.

Importantly, don't let automation be the only Twitter presence you have. Live retweet others. Live share items. Thank people. Ask questions.

Do you use Twitter much in your capacity as a writer or author? What tips would you add?
Thursday, April 14, 2016 Laurel Garver
I was a somewhat late adopter of Twitter, in part because the fast and short nature of posting intimidated me. I'm more of a slow and deep thinker, and at first I thought adding a Twitter feed to my life would make my head explode.

But as I shifted gears to indie publishing, I realized I needed this site to reach a wider audience. Blog reading was on the wane, and I'd heard so many positive things about Twitter, I knew I had to get a grip on my fear and jump in.

My early attempts were half-hearted I admit, but in the past year I've gradually experimented and reached out and basically doubled my follower base. If you are still trying to get your footing on Twitter, this post is for you. If you're feeling meh about using Twitter, this post is for you. If you're a mega guru, maybe you have some wisdom to share in the comments, so please stick around!

Develop a vision 

What do you want your Twitter presence to be? This precedes all other considerations. How vulnerable will you be about your personal life in this forum? Will your persona be mostly serious, mostly silly, mostly enthusiastic, mostly wise, mostly curious, mostly pious, mostly arty, mostly visual? Which parts of yourself will help you reach and connect with your "tribe"? Your tribe is the group where your passions and enthusiasms are shared and supported and cheered on.

Consider the kinds of projects have you written and ones you plan to write. Now imagine your ideal reader. What are his or her interests? Which parts of  yourself do you think this reader will most want to know?

Communicate your vision

Choose your photo, banner image and color scheme to undergird the communication of vision. The visual look might mirror your blog or website, it might echo your book covers. But you don't want a lot of dark and heavy if you write romantic comedy, any more than you want light and fluffy images if you write thrillers. Look at Twitter profiles of others in your genre and emulate those who communicate well a message you also want to communicate.

Side note: If you're especially stumped about picking a color scheme, you might find it helpful to read up a bit on the psychology of color. It's how I landed on plum and tan as part of my branding; the first related to wisdom, creativity and spirituality, the other with warmth and being down-to-earth. Here are a couple of useful articles on the topic:
The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding
Color Psychology

Build your description from your vision: that sense of yourself and your work. Think keywords and allusions. Here's my description: "Urban Christ follower, incurable Anglophile, Ravenclaw. Pro grammar wrangler for hire. My writing explores how faith grows in dark places #CR4U"  Describing your thematic approach is more inviting than listing book titles, I've found--readers and writers are more drawn to a vision than a product name.

As you might guess, I am frequently found and followed by others in my faith tradition, by Harry Potter fans, by other writers, by other editors, by other city dwellers, by other lovers of British culture, and by members of Clean Indie Reads, a Facebook indie author collective, which uses the hashtag CR4U (clean reads for you).

Who you follow, what you tweet, and what you retweet and like--all these things should be guided by your vision. These actions also communicate your vision.

My published work so far has been in diverse genres--Christian fiction, poetry, and nonfiction writing resources. I hope to continue producing work like this and building a following for it. My Christian fiction is quite niche, so that takes the most concerted effort to seek a tribe. The writing resources are more broad. But as you might guess, writing religious work means I'd be unwise to follow just anyone on Twitter. There are are few kinds of accounts I avoid following back if they approach me first--erotica and gore-horror writers, pottymouths, inappropriate photo-posters, political all the time, cranky/agenda-driven zealots, bot accounts, click-farm sales pitch accounts,

You need to know your no-go areas and be thoughtful about it, or you'll find your garbage following takes all the joy out of the platform. For the most part, not following back followers who don't interest you is enough. In the case of inappropriate photo-posters, I tend to block accounts. The pottymoths and erotica and gore folks I tend to simply mute. (Click the sunshine icon next to the follow button in your followers list, and these options will appear in a drop-down menu).

Find your tribe

This is honestly fairly easy to do on Twitter. It is its most powerful feature in my mind. Start by following any writer friends, beta readers, critique partners, and fellow bloggers. Follow your favorite authors and organizations, especially local ones.

Cannibalize their friend lists. Okay, let me put that in a more positive way--check out their follower lists, likely to be full of people who share interests and will be similarly awesome, and follow them. I also find it helpful to RT their pinned tweets or like something they posted recently. It's a way of saying "Hi, you look fantastic, Let's be friends" in a less sycophantic way.

Do keyword searches for things that are part of your vision. Maybe it's your genre. Maybe it's a particular fandom (Star Wars or Sherlock; things like that). Maybe it's a geographic region you live in or write about. Follow away. Retweet and like.

Remember on the keyword searches to look not only at "top" tweets, but also click the next category, "live" where fresh content will be popping up. Folks with tiny followings who may be wonderful friends are likely hiding in there. The top stories are the ones that have had a lot of RTs and likes. They might be worth following if only for a time to find more of your tribe.

Hunt for hashtags popular in your tribe. #YA or #teenreads, for example, will help you find those who love young adult books--reading and writing them.

Join one of the weekly work-in-progress sharing parties like #2bittues (two bit Tuesday) or #1linewed (one-line Wednesday). Look up the hashtag and you will find instructions to participate. This is a really fun way to share small snippets of your writing and find readers who like your style--and for you to find writers whose style you admire.

Post a variety of content

Getting followers and keeping them also requires you to keep putting out content yourself. If you have been blogging for any length of time, you likely have some ready-made content that is eminently tweet-able. For the most part, age doesn't matter either. Your good post about hiring a cover designer in 2013 is just as helpful today.

Pimp your books--but only occasionally. If possible, link not only to your sales page, but also to interviews you've given about it, old blog-tour posts, and really great reviews posted online. Your "buy my book" pleas are better received when they aren't pushy but rather inviting to target readers. Creating photo memes with quotes can be a nice change of pace for getting the word out. Have a variety. Pin a new one to your page (click the ellipsis icon at the bottom of a post and chose "pin to your profile page") every week or so. Keep it fresh!

Share parts of yourself that relate to your vision. Be sincere. I have posted about finishing drafts, about choir practices, about cool things going on in my city, about parenting. These posts might not get a lot of retweets, but they are an important part of building a genuine following.

Share inspiring quotes. You can find them on Goodreads, on BrainyQuote on Quote Garden. Be sure to properly attribute them!

Add useful hashtags in moderation. Some that will help your tweets be found by other writers include #writing #amwriting #writetip #writingtips #amediting #books #amreading. Limit yourself to one to three. More than that just looks spammy and desperate.

Engage with others

Aside from following and following back (with care--remember your vision!), it's essential that you interact with your followers. Twitter gives the impression that it is a 100% live stream, but that isn't the case. It is moderated like Facebook is. Those you don't interact with much stop showing up in your feed--and you in theirs! So make an effort to pop back through your followers list periodically and like or retweet content from folks you haven't seen in your feed recently.

If you love someone's blog post shared on Twitter, add a comment before retweeting, like "I so agree with this" or "fantastic!" or "wonderfully helpful!" Your follower will know you aren't simply automating your sharing, but that you actually engaged. Attention is the currency of Twitter, Share yours liberally.

Ask questions and follow up. This can be a powerful way to deepen the relationships you have, and for your followers' followers to discover you.

Express gratitude to those who share your content. I tend to take a batch approach so that my feed isn't too noisy. It also helps my followers find cool people to follow when I acknowledge them.

A note about automation

I have found it really useful to sit down weekly with Hootsuite and automate some of my Twitter activity. Hootsuite makes it really easy. And you may find it useful to experiment with which times of day your followers are most likely to engage with your content.

Variety is essential with automating. If you post only one kind of thing, it will seem spammy. Share your historic blog posts with news articles with inspiring quotes with memes for your books.

Don't go overboard, posting every five minutes, which you could feasibly do on Hootsuite. Use it to keep some fresh content appearing daily. Two to six automated posts, spread from your waking to sleeping hours, is plenty. Feel free to experiment with hours you aren't awake to engage with folks in other time zones.

Importantly, don't let automation be the only Twitter presence you have. Live retweet others. Live share items. Thank people. Ask questions.

Do you use Twitter much in your capacity as a writer or author? What tips would you add?

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

This book has been such a long time coming, I'm feeling a strange mix of ecstatic and terrified to share it with you, my lovely readers. Without further ado, here's a sneak peek:

Coming May 2016




Paris, the City of Lights. To Dani Deane, it’s the Promised Land. There, her widowed mother’s depression will vanish and she will no longer fear losing her only parent, her arty New York life, or her devoted boyfriend.

But shortly before their Paris getaway, Dani’s tyrannical grandfather falls ill, pulling them to rural Pennsylvania to deal with his hoarder horror of a house. Among the piles, Dani finds disturbing truths that could make Mum completely unravel. Desperate to protect her from pain and escape to Paris, Dani hatches an plan with the flirtatious neighbor boy that only threatens the relationships she most wants to save. 

Why would God block all paths to Paris? Could real hope for healing be as close as a box tucked in the rafters?

Genre:  Contemporary YA / Christian fiction


Add it on Goodreads


I like to think of  Almost There as a companion story to Never Gone more than strictly a sequel; you don't need to read the prequel to understand it. It picks up 18 months after Never Gone, the summer after Dani's junior year.  Prepare for hose battles, a roadkill journal, toasted-marshmallow flavored kisses, and a rain-soaked rendezvous with the wrong guy. 

I will begin releasing sample chapters on Wattpad over the next few weeks. Please follow me there @LaurelGarver for more sneak peeks.  

What's new with you? 
Wednesday, April 06, 2016 Laurel Garver
This book has been such a long time coming, I'm feeling a strange mix of ecstatic and terrified to share it with you, my lovely readers. Without further ado, here's a sneak peek:

Coming May 2016




Paris, the City of Lights. To Dani Deane, it’s the Promised Land. There, her widowed mother’s depression will vanish and she will no longer fear losing her only parent, her arty New York life, or her devoted boyfriend.

But shortly before their Paris getaway, Dani’s tyrannical grandfather falls ill, pulling them to rural Pennsylvania to deal with his hoarder horror of a house. Among the piles, Dani finds disturbing truths that could make Mum completely unravel. Desperate to protect her from pain and escape to Paris, Dani hatches an plan with the flirtatious neighbor boy that only threatens the relationships she most wants to save. 

Why would God block all paths to Paris? Could real hope for healing be as close as a box tucked in the rafters?

Genre:  Contemporary YA / Christian fiction


Add it on Goodreads


I like to think of  Almost There as a companion story to Never Gone more than strictly a sequel; you don't need to read the prequel to understand it. It picks up 18 months after Never Gone, the summer after Dani's junior year.  Prepare for hose battles, a roadkill journal, toasted-marshmallow flavored kisses, and a rain-soaked rendezvous with the wrong guy. 

I will begin releasing sample chapters on Wattpad over the next few weeks. Please follow me there @LaurelGarver for more sneak peeks.  

What's new with you?