Monday, July 30, 2012

Get By With Little Help With My Friends

I love to read. That should come as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog. Books make me happy (maybe a little too happy because I have too many of them). There is something relaxing and refreshing about reading a good book. A feeling I’d love to repeat as often as possible.

I have to admit, however, since Borders closed, I have found that my book reading has become a lot more hesitant. Hesitant in that sometimes I just don’t know what’s good. There are many new books out there. I would like to be fairly certain that a book is worth my time to it before I invest in it. And yes, I know I can read sample chapters of books online, but there was something about going into Borders, browsing the shelves and seeing what struck my fancy. Borders was my primary way of finding good books.

Okay. Borders sob story is over. 

But having said that, I had to develop a new way of selecting books. Actually, it’s not really a new way. For me, it’s the best way: relational word of mouth. I have found that I rely on the other readers in my life to help me select books.

Some of you might be thinking, what about book reviews? I would say that is the last method I use to select a book (funny because I write them reviews). I use reviews to tip the scale in favor or against. For instance, when I’m browsing books, the back cover blurb is the most important thing to me. If I already familiar with the author and the blurb hooks me, I’ll get the book (Sometimes, if I really like an author, I just buy the book without even reading the blurb).

Now if I like what I see on the back cover, but I don’t know the author, I will read the first chapter. If I like the first chapter, I’m sold. If I’m still on the fence after reading the first chapter, then I’ll check the reviews. I check the one star reviews first and then the four star reviews. I find five star reviews the least helpful because their normally gushy love fests proclaiming the wonderfulness of the book without giving any concrete evidence why.

But, if one of my reader friends recommends a book, depending on who the friend is, I skip that whole process. I’ll get the book sight unseen. For instance, a woman in my knitting group was reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. I asked her if it was good and clean, and since we’ve know each other for over a year now, I knew she understood what I meant by “clean.” She said yes because it’s told from the perspective of a child. That was enough for me. I added to my list of books to read (it’s a long list, trust me).

I would love to go back to the days of hanging out in Borders for hours, browsing for books, but those days are gone. Now, I get by with a little help from my friends.

How do you select books? What is your preferred method? How much to do book reviews from strangers weigh in your decision to buy a book? How much does recommendations from friends influence you?

Friday, July 27, 2012

My Life In Stitches: Scared-y Cat Knitter, pt 1

Last week, I had an interesting conversation with my eleven-year-old son. He was told how one night he was so tired that he went to bed without finishing his prayers. I asked him what normally prayed about, and to my surprise, I found out that he has an extensive prayer list. His list is so long because he’s scared of a lot of things and his overactive imagination doesn’t help. I talked him through some of his fears (“Baby, there are no cobras in Maryland so I don’t think one is going to come out of the toilet.”) and we were able to remove some of those things from his prayer list.

As I thought about our talk, I thought it might be good to do a little confessing myself. I had ridiculous fears of certain knitting techniques. I used to be a scardy-cat knitter. And sadly, the more I knit, the more I realize how ridiculous those fears are. Here are the first three things on my list of things I used to be scared of:

Take It Or Leaf It Cowl
Lace. I love lace knitting now, but at first, I was terrified to try it. I kept putting lace patterns in my favorites on Ravelry, but I never believed that I could do it. Lace seemed to complicated, mainly because I didn’t understand it. Once I tried it, I was hooked. I think I like knitting lace the best. Project(s) that broke my fears: Take It or Leaf It Cowl by Marilyn Porter and Lace Leaf Hat by Laura Todd.
Lace Leaf Hat

Anything other than shawls. My husband, who knits also, had made two sweaters before I attempted my first. When I read sweater patterns, they seemed so complicated. I decided to try a sweater KAL with my knitting group, Bridget by Courtney Kelley, and quickly bailed. I ended up trying the Shalom sweater and found it wasn’t as complicated as I thought. Project that broke my fears: Shalom Sweater by Meghan McFarlane.

Knitting in the round. Two things scared me about knitting in the round: not being about to count the rounds and twisting the cast on as I joined the round. The latter turned out to be my real problem, which is easily solved by laying the cast on flat and joining. Once I faced my fears, it didn’t take me long to master and fall in love with knitting in the round. Project that broke my fears: Infinitude Scarf by Jeni Chase.

I have more scared-y cat knitting to share next post and a few things I'm still scared of. What knitting techniques are you afraid of? Come, confess. It's good for the soul.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Update and Meet My Audience, Part 2

The big day is in two weeks! My novel Love Simplified will be published on August 6th. I'm so excited. For all of you who have sent your congratulations and offered your support, thank you. As the anticipation builds, I have a few fun posts planned (like a preview of the first chapter), so stay tuned. 

Today's post you get to hear from my audience in person...well as in person as she can be in a blog post. Meet Linda Sothern!

Linda, my audience
I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC. Being close to the nation’s capital awakened a love of history in me. Monuments, museums and landmarks were in my backyard. Every summer, my mother would take me and my siblings to various points of interest in the city. Not only would we learn new things, she expected us to write an essay or give an oral report about what new things we encountered. Our unofficial homeschooling aided our public school education. I was Salutatorian in my high school class, made dean’s list in undergrad and graduated summa cum laude from seminary.  
I am a pew baby. I’ve been in church all my life. When people ask when did I get saved, I unconventionally reply, “At 2, 14 and it finally stuck at 21”. My mother led all of her children in the sinner’s prayer at 2 and baptized us in the bathtub. When I was 14, a revivalist visited my church. I was spiritually stirred up to be a better Christian and recommitted my life. All through high school, I remembered this dedication. Then, I went to the cesspool of sin that is college. I became a blazon heathen for about 3 years. At 21, like the prodigal son, I returned to my Father’s house.
My love of books developed early. I was born with a disease called Sarcoidosis. However, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 10. I wasn’t very athletic as I had fluid buildup in my lungs and developed arthritis. Sometimes, I lost the ability to walk. I couldn’t always go outside and play and for awhile, I was quarantined from my siblings. Reading was my escape. I could go anywhere, be anyone and avoid the doldrums of my existence. I read encyclopedias and dictionaries for fun. My family calls me the “Queen of Worthless Information.” I read anything I could get my hands on, history, biographies, fiction, and reference.
My favorite genre is probably fiction followed closely by biographies/autobiographies. I love a good story. The more compelling the better. Fiction allows me to incorporate many of my interests. I can read historical fiction to connect with times past. Futuristic, fantasy or sci-fi addresses my love of imaginary worlds and concepts. Chick lit gives me a good clean romance fix. Ethnic literature allows me to enjoy other cultures. Biographies/autobiographies turn the humdrum existence of people great and small into fantastic accounts. People and time periods that I have no association with are opened up to me.     
I’m not sure I have a favorite book. I love so many. I do have favorite authors. William Shakespeare and Jane Austen are my favorite historical writers. Steven James, Claudia Mair Burney, Kaye Dacus and Linda Windsor are some of my favorite contemporary authors. I read and reread their works several times a year.

Writers, how well do you know your readers? Readers, what authors do you believe targeted you as their audience?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Meet My Audience, Part 1

Linda, my audience.
One of the first things I learned when I got serious about writing for publication (hard to believe that was seven years ago) is you have to know your audience. It’s a piece of advice that is repeated over and over and worth following. It is the mark of a newbie or immature writer to think that everyone is going to enjoy your writing (but that’s nothing several rejections can’t fix).

I can’t say I was one of those people that thought that everyone was going to fall head over heels in love with every word I penned. But I must admit, it took me a little time to define my audience. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write exclusively for African-American Christian women or not. Seemed like a logical assumption since I am African-American. I wasn’t sure of the age of my audience at first. I started with my own age, and now that seven years have passed and I am…ahem…a little older, I realized that I would have to broaden my range. And not to mention all of the other considerations I had to face when narrowing down my specific audience.

But God divinely answered all my audience questions by sending a wonderful woman into my life: Linda Sothern. Linda and I met in 2005 in a young adult ministry my husband and I headed. She impressed me immediately with her administration skills and the fact that she read as much as, if not more, than I did. We talked about books often and found we had similar tastes in books. It was so bad that she started calling me her "book wife."

I had mentioned to Linda that I was a writer and asked her to edit some of my writings. And that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Linda has been my champion for many years and I’m grateful. She also my motivation and is not afraid to call me and threaten me when I’m not writing and is a great brainstorming partner. And she charges me a very reasonable rate for her services: I pay her in hugs (I used to pay her in baked goods, but we had to end that program).

Most of all, Linda has helped me define my audience: educated, culturally and socially conscious Christian women, age 25-40, who enjoy diversity in literature.  You’ll get to hear from Linda herself in part two of this post. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

My Life in Stitches: Designing and Knitting Groups

I've made progress on my Spectra!

My life has been really crazy these days. With my novel coming out, most of my time has been spent prepping for that huge event. I’ve spent very little time knitting. I still have four projects on my needles (boo), but my Spectra looks to be the first off the needles. Good thing since I've joined the Westknits Mystery KAL, Rockefeller. But I have a good reason for not making any progress on my knitting.

I’ve decided to try my hand at designing knitwear. I’ve been dreaming of designing for a couple of years, but honestly, I just didn’t feel brave enough or experienced enough to try. Yes, I started knitting in my childhood, but 20+ years passed before I picked it up again in 2008. I am a fast learner, but I felt like I wasn’t qualified as a knitter.

So I decided to bank on my design experience. Since basic art principals are the foundation of other kinds of design (architecture, interior, graphic design), I figured it might provide a good foundation for knitwear design. Besides, I’m not planning to do anything too complicated. That’s not my style. Simple and clean is my preference.

Of course, since I’ve started working on the design, I’ve found four patterns that are similar to my idea. My husband keeps assuring me that my design is different enough from the others for me to continue. Still, I worry about my pattern being too similar and have been looking for ways to change it. I know I shouldn’t be too worried because my design is not identical to any of the ones I found, but I am worried that it isn’t different enough for knitters to purchase it.

In other knitting news, I’ve joined another knitting group, Woodmore Knitters at Wegmans. I’d never been to the Woodmore Wegmans, so it was a double treat. This makes my fourth knitting group (Knitting in Alexandria, Collingwood Knitters, and Wounded Warrior Knitters). One of the things I’ve noticed is the dynamic of the group can be so similar.

For instance, every group has the social person who doesn’t really knit during meetings. In one, it’s Renae. In another, it’s Susan. Another, Belinda. These are the people who talk to everyone in the room but spend very little time working on their project. The social person always makes people feel welcome and loved. So shout out to my social knitters.

Any social knitters out there?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Flip the Book Over

Yesterday, I posted the cover art for my novel, Love Simplified. I love the repsonses I've gotten, all positive. But one person's comments made me realize I'd forgotten something.

Becca Whitham posted, "I love it! And it tempts me to turn it over and see what it's about, so you have accomplished your first purpose." I smiled when I read her comment (thanks, Becca), but then I realized I forgot to include the back cover blurb for the book. DUH.

Here is the back cover blurb (Just imagine you're flipping the book over):

Tempest Day is an expert on helping others find love through her Connection Parties matchmaking service and the methods outlined in her bestselling book, Love Simplified. She’s one step away from becoming a celebrity matchmaker, the pinnacle of her career dreams.

But when a seemingly simple interview on the nation’s most popular daytime television show takes an ugly turn, Tempest is forced to admit a secret she’s carried for years: She’s never been in love. The fallout is immediate and severe. So severe that the only way to fix the damage is to use her own methods on a reality TV show…a show highlighting her non-existent love life!

Tempest soon discovers that love is anything but simple. The show and its cranky but handsome associate producer, Lance Moretti, challenges all that Tempest thought she knew about relationships, even her relationship with God. What starts as a desperate attempt to repair her reputation turns into Tempest’s biggest love connection ever.

Terri J. Haynes holds a certificate in Creative Writing, an Associate’s Degree in Religious Studies and a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Theology. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, a 2010 Genesis Finalist and a 2012 Genesis Semi-Finalist. She is an Army wife with three children and lives in Maryland.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Here It Is...Cover Art for Love Simplifed

And here it is. The cover of my novel, Love Simplified.

I must admit that this was a challenging undertaking. Not because it was beyond my skill set. I have been designing covers for over five years now. When working with a client, I normally have guidelines, even with clients that allow me release my full creative abilities with little input. Not only that, I have to adhere to certain guidelines that come along with being a graphic artist.

For instance, I have to create, first and foremost, a great piece of art. The baseline function of art is beauty. Yes, the things I design have purpose, but it must be at its core, appealing and engaging artwork.  Another guideline is purpose and audience. I have to consider who the author’s audience is and what kind of cover catches that audience's attention.

Also, I have to try and adhere to industry “standards” in cover art. That’s not to say that there is a set rule on cover art must look like, but there are some common features to certain genres. For instance, romance normally has pictures of couples. Women’s fiction books often have one or no people on their covers or vector-based drawings on the cover. Thrillers and normally done in dark colors, unless it’s a cozy. And there are so many more considerations that go into creating cover art.

Since I know all that already, it should have been easy for me right? NOT!

The fact that this cover is for my book, my baby, I threw all that knowledge out the window. In the early drafts, I didn’t consider audience or purpose. I just created what I liked. Right around draft 8, something clicked and I remembered all the rules. So after 14 drafts, I finally came up with something that I liked.

But that brought on another problem…the problem of revision. As a writer and a graphic designer, I love to revise. I love tweaking my works, adding subtle improvements and pushing myself to create something really spectacular. I could revise forever, and thus the problem. Normally, my clients or the contract I have with them decides when a project is finished. But when I’m the client, I could have kept revising until kingdom come. Also, I haven’t been completely delivered from being a closet perfectionist, so it was hard to me to stop tweaking and count the cover as done.

So after much revising, and my husband telling me to stop stressing myself, I settled on a cover. I can’t say I’m not tempted to take it through another round of revisions (read: kill perfectionism). What do you think of my cover?

PS: I spent an hour tweaking the line "A Tempest Day Production." When I finished, it was well after midnight. Bad girl, Terri!

Friday, July 6, 2012

My Life in Stitches: Yarn That Doesn't Count

My entire yarn stash.
Isn't it cute?
My knitting life has been a little slow lately. So slow that I asked my seventeen year-old daughter what I should blog about. She said, “You can blog about how much yarn you have.” Yeah, that’s a subject to blog about.

I don’t have a huge stash. I have four 16-quart bins and two 25-quart bins. It’s sorted by weight for the most part. My most recent yarn purchases are in bags sitting around the bins, including my birthday yarn.  It would seem like a lot, but it’s not because half of it doesn’t count. Why doesn’t it count, you ask? Because when yarn purchases fall into certain categories, it doesn’t count towards stash building. Those purchases are “special.”

Here is my unofficial list of yarn that doesn’t count:
  • Holiday yarn. That includes birthday, anniversary, Mother’s day, and Christmas yarn
  • Travel yarn. Any knitter worth his or her salt has already mapped out the directions to the nearest yarn shop before they even leave for vacation. And besides, vacation destination shops often carry brands of yarn that your LYS doesn’t carry. Consider those purchases as broadening your cultural experiences.
  • Sale yarn. Absolutely doesn’t count! It’s on sale for crying out loud.
  • Special events yarn. This includes yarn festivals (for me it’s Maryland Sheep and Wool). This also includes yarn purchased at Vogue Knitting Live, Stitches events and any other knitting getaway.
  • Gift/Gift Card yarn. Any yarn you don’t pay for doesn’t count.
  • KAL (Knit-a-long) and test knits. For the sake of building community during a KAL, the guilt of buying more yarn is waved. And as for test knits, most knitter test knit for friends or people they admire. Why not buy yarn in their honor, too?
  • “Not enough” yarn purchases. Most of us have lived through the horror of starting a project and then realizing more yarn was needed than what was purchased. You can’t just leave your UFOs (UnFinished Objects) floating in limbo. You have to quickly go and more before the dye lot is gone. Besides, no one wants to be in Raverly purgatory, having to search other people’s stashes for the right dye lot and praying they’ll sell it to you. 
Got more additions for yarn that doesn’t count? 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tea & Read: Nick of Time

Title: Nick of Time
Author: Tim Downs
Rating: Spend several days sleepy (five stars)

Sometimes a get a stroke of genius. I would like to think that my idea to read four books in the Bug Man series at once was a sign of my genius. Unfortunately, I think it was just a matter of timing.  I received a copy of Nick of Time for review and realized that I hadn’t read the three books in the series (First the Dead, Less than Dead and Ends of the Earth). I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, Chop Shop and Shoofly Pie. I must admit this was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had in a long time. I spent a week in Bug Man-land and loved every minute of it. Genius.

Now I must admit, this is one of the grossest book series I’ve read in a long time. If they were a movie, I don’t think I could watch them. They come with a high, built-in gag-factor. Dr. Nick Polchak is a forensic entomologist…cringe worthy. But the way the author, Tim Downs, portrays Nick and his work, the books were a delight. I love how Downs took such a gross subject and sucked me into that world.

Now this isn’t the kind of series where you need to read the books in order to enjoy them, but it certainly helps. Nick of Time starts with a startling revelation, Dr. Nick Polochak, the crankiest, socially awkward person you’ll ever meet, is getting married (to get the full gist of his social awkwardness, read the whole series). But of course, being the focused and stubborn, he gets a little sidetracked by an investigation.

I love the characters in this book. Nick Polochak is fascinating. His single-minded drive made me wonder if I appeared as weird as he does. And that was a big apart of his appeal. Many people would love to do and say some of the things Nick does but are too afraid of the repercussions. I love Nick’s get-to-the-point attitude.

I also love the way the plot unfolded. Downs does a great job of pacing and flow (especially since I read four of his books at a time). Downs is a solid writer and I loved the fact that the quality remained the same through all four books. Another great thing about this series is that it keeps you guessing until the end. I really don’t like it when I figure out who the antagonist is in the middle of the book. And talk about a surprise ending…you won’t be disappointed.

If you always dreamed of reading four books in a row by the same author, these books are a great place to start!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Big Announcement!

Young writer in the making!
I wrote my first “book” at age 6. Although I don’t remember what the book was about, I do remember that I did all the illustrations, cut pieces of paper for the pages and stapled them together. And then I “published” it by sharing it with my sister Michelle and my father.

Humble beginnings, but even then my desire was to share my stories with the world. I wanted to give readers a memorable experience and help them escape the stress of the world on the wings of my words. Even then I understood that my process of writing wasn’t complete until I shared my stories.

As far as my desire to be a storyteller, not much has changed all these years later. I still want to give people a memorable reading experience. I still want to share my stories. Fortunately, now I don’t have to cut up and staple pieces of paper to do so. Even though I’m much older than 6, I feel the little kid excitement of sharing one of my stories with the world.

I am pleased to announce that I will be releasing my first novel, Love Simplified, on August 6, 2012. It will be available on Amazon Kindle, Smashwords and Nook.

The decision and the journey to becoming an indie author has been a sobering experience. I have prayed and contemplated this move for a long time and felt like God gave me the green light to move forward. Am I nervous? Of course. Do I realize how much work goes into this kind of venture? Yes. I’ve been researching for almost a year. Also, I have helped others become independent authors, helping with the layout, pricing and marketing of their books. Am I excited? A big, resounding yes!

What’s next on this journey? Watch this blog for updates. Also, check out my author page on Facebook. As the time draws nearer, I will be featuring interviews, give-aways and some other very cool announcements.

Thank you for taking this journey with me.