Does the Cover Compel You to Buy?

Mary Montague Sikes is an award-winning author, freelance writer, photographer, artist, and teacher who loves to travel, especially to glamorous tropical locations. Because Monti‘s settings include exotic destinations like Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad, the Bahamas, and St. Martin, her publisher, Oak Tree Books, created the Passenger to Paradise series for her novels. Her most recent research trips carried her to Los Cabos on the western coast of Mexico, to Yellowstone National Park, and to Carmel-by-the-Sea in California. Inspired by the Ansel Adams-type scenery, she took hundreds of photographs during those trips. Her published work includes four novels, a “how to” book, a coffee table book, an anthology, and hundreds of feature newspaper and magazine articles.

The Fredericksburg, Virginia native has presented workshops on promotion and marketing, painting, and writing to state and national conventions as well as to many local writers’ and artists’ groups. Her paintings are exhibited widely in Virginia and are in private and public collections in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. Her art work is represented by Prince George Art and Frame in Williamsburg. She maintains a studio and a gallery at Petersburg Regional Art Center. Sikes holds a BA in psychology from the University of Mary Washington and a MFA in painting from Virginia Commonwealth University.

www.marymontaguesikes.com

http://marymontaguesikes.blogspot.com/

http://otpblog.blogspot.com/

http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#/profile.php?ref=profile&id=1020636841

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What invites you as a reader to pick out a book and buy it? Does the cover draw you in? Or is it the blurb on the back that entices you to want to read the book?

Those thoughts come to mind as I look at the cover and the back of my recently-released book, Night Watch. I love the cover, but I wonder if readers will like it as much as I do.

Because my novels usually have an exotic setting, my publisher—Oak Tree Books—has created the Passenger to Paradise series for them. The series has its own logo—the silhouette of a woman with her roller bag. It’s the perfect logo for my books because I’ve spent many an hour pulling my roller bag through distant airports.

Night Watch is an adventure/romance set in Trinidad and is based on a series of experiences I actually had when my husband and I visited that island a few years ago. Before we left I had visions of a glamorous escapade like Bogart and Bergman in the movie Casablanca experienced.  Foolish me, I even wore heels and a white linen suit to live the part.

As I wrote Night Watch, it was fun reliving the trip to Trinidad. Of course, we didn’t face the dangers my characters face, but we had some pretty exciting and harrowing adventures on the island.

My books usually include a paranormal touch, and this one does as well. But, it’s up to the reader to decide, in the end, if my heroine actually had a paranormal relationship with the past.

I would love to hear how covers influence the books readers buy. I would also like to know from readers of Night Watch what you think about the heroine’s experience.

Choose-Your-Own Niche Cozy Recipe

A guide to writing cozy mysteries—reprinted from DorothyL with permission from the author, Suzanne Fleischauer.  Thanks for a great laugh, Suzanne!

DO-IT-YOURSELF COZY

Instructions:  Choose one (or more, it doesn’t really matter) from each set of {bracketed} choices.

Our heroine, {Amanda/ Nutmeg/ Kate/ Margaret Mary/ Monongahela} Tyler, an attractive and spunky [Warning: these attributes are compulsory and not subject to choice, except that ‘impulsive’ may be substituted for ‘spunky’] {young/ 30-something/ middle-aged/ retired }woman has just moved {back to her hometown/ out of the big city/ to England/ to Indian country/ to the Arctic Circle}. She is leaving her career as a {banker/ professor/ forger/ snake handler/ nun} in order to escape {the memory of her recently failed love affair/ the hectic pressure of her profession/ the mob/ unwarranted allegations of wrongdoing/ constant reminders of that job-related incident that will be alluded to but not explained for another 150 pages}. She plans to put her old life behind her and focus on a) the true calling she had felt as a child but never pursued – {type design/ druidic rituals/ Morris dancing/ upholstery/ tying balloon animals/ training as a dominatrix} – OR – b) taking over the {craft store/ restaurant/ bookstore} she has inherited from an aged female relative she was always fond of but seldom saw.

Despite abandoning her previous means of support, she has no apparent problems making ends meet. Sadly, she does have problems fitting into her new setting and gaining acceptance from the community, thanks to {the reckless high school past she can’t live down/ her residence in the mansion that once belonged to the now-impoverished local gentry/ her father’s residence in the insane asylum/ her incredible hotness causing rampant jealousy/ the town’s antipathy to latex and-or Morris dancing/ her peculiar
name}.

Matters are further complicated by her simultaneous attraction/repulsion to Dougal MacDougal, the local {policeman/ sheriff/ priest/ jewel thief turned security consultant/ tabloid journalist/ vampire}, and by her fretting over the {availability/ appropriateness/ discomfort} of high heels. Tyler is immediately drawn to Dougal because he is unbelievably {sexy/ sexy/ sexy/ sexy} and fortunately available despite the perfection of his form. For his part, Dougal {has been nursing a longtime crush for her/ feels an improper lust for her from the moment he sees her/ seemingly rejects her and all that she stands for/ would like to see her in handcuffs/ smolders in a way that is difficult to interpret (unless he’s the vampire and out in the sun)}.

Continue reading

Book Review: The Affinity Bridge: A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation by George Mann

The Affinity Bridge: A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation
George Mann
Tor Books, 2009
ISBN 0765323206
Hardcover

The Affinity Bridge is a mystery set in a steampunk version of Victorian London.  Airships, steam-driven cabs, and clockwork automatons are transforming society.  Queen Victoria is kept alive on a primitive life-support system.  London is experiencing a plague that transforms its victims into zombies.  But some things never change.  Crimes are still being committed and it is up to Agent of the Queen, Sir Maurice Newbury and new assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes to solve them.

In this particular adventure, Newbury and Hobbes’ first, the Crown calls on them to solve the mystery of a airship crash and its missing pilot.  At the same time, they are attempting to track down a mysterious glowing policeman accused of a series of strangulations.

Pros

1.  Zombies!
2. The ending of the book is one long action-packed chase. Very exciting.
3. The two mysteries are wrapped up nicely by the end of the book. There is a subplot, involving a third mystery, that is obviously left unsolved for a future book.

Cons

1. The author spends the entire book telling me how I should react and feel about the characters and events that   occur, instead of SHOWING me.
2. The pacing of the book is somewhat uneven. The end of the book was very exciting. The first half of the book drags. Nothing really happens for long sections of the book.

Conclusion

Very uneven.  I’m hoping that as the series progresses that the author loses his death grip on his characters and trusts his audience to figure out the meaning and motivations of his characters without the author’s constant omnipotent presence.

Reviewed by Jennifer Hancock, April 2010.

The Truth of Fiction

Sunny Frazier has been publishing both fiction and nonfiction since 1972. She is a Navy veteran, earned a BA in Journalism, and wrote for a newspaper before joining the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department. During her 17 year career in law enforcement, 11 of them were spent working with an undercover narcotics team.

Frazier is also an amateur astrologer. She has been involved in astrology for 40 years.

Her short mystery fiction has won over 30 awards and trophies, as well as publication in mystery magazines and law enforcement magazines. Her first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association. Where Angels Fear came out in April, 2009.

Frazier is a member of the Central Coast Chapter of Sisters in Crime, as well as the Public Safety Writers Association. She currently resides in Lemoore, CA.

sunny69@comcast.net

http://www.sunnyfrazier.com


When I worked for the Sheriff’s Department in Fresno, I created a saying and put it on a rolling banner as a screen saver: “A Writer Reinvents the Truth.”

This was never more accurate than when I wrote my first book, Fools Rush In. I took the first case I worked as a secretary for an undercover narcotics team and fictionalized it to include a kidnapping, two murders and a budding romance.

I was invited to speak to a book club three hours away on the Pacific coast.  Summer means 100+  degree weather for days on end in the Central Valley of California. Any excuse for a trip to the coast is a good one.

What was different about this event was that the detective I wrote about, “Wolfe” in my book, came with me. His mother was hosting the event at her house. She wanted her friends to meet her son just to prove he wasn’t the cad I made him out to be in the novel.

Thirty-two women filled the living room, everyone anxious to meet “the author.” An 11” X 14” black and white photo of “Wolfe” greeted them at the front door. It was from his undercover days, and he bore a striking resemblance to Charlie Manson.

The detective surprised me by compiling a photo album of all the characters in my book. Everything I’d written about, from the members of the meth gang to the heroin hype kit that nearly killed my heroine, was there for show-and-tell.

The ladies had read the book and quoted from passages I barely remembered. They used the fictional names of the characters while asking the detective questions. It was a little confusing for him, but he’d read the book as well. It had jogged his memory of details of the 1991 case. I was amazed by how much of the story I had retained while writing the book and how close my descriptions were of the drug dealer’s compound. Seeing the photos brought back those memories.

Fictionalizing true events requires a writer to pick details that will make the story “real” to the reader, but it also means leaving details out. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it can lose readers. The drug dealer I wrote about believed he was the reincarnation of the god Thor. There was no way that piece of trivia would show up in my novel!

The relationship between “Wolfe” and Christy was NOT the status of the detective and myself.  My writing group insisted on a romantic relationship gone sour, so that’s what I wrote. The storyline and tension became stronger. I’m not sure how the detective’s wife felt about it, but we assured her it was fiction.

When life gives writers great material, it’s important to deliver a novel that is entertaining but also opens up the reader’s world. The characters have to come alive, the dialog has to ring true. But, unlike reality, it is the writer’s job to elevate the story to more than just a re-telling of events. Fictionalization means bringing in the author’s unique and subjective viewpoint, a landscape of words to help readers find truth in their own lives.

Book Review: Old Maid's Puzzle by Terri Thayer

Old Maid’s Puzzle (Quilting Mysteries #2)
Terri Thayer
Midnight Ink, 2008
ISBN 0738712183
Trade Paperback

I admit it – I’m a fabric junkie and a quilting addict. I don’t know how it happened, nor do I know if it was a subtle or quick transformation. All I know is that I have vague memories of being normal and then the realization that I want to own every piece of fabric and I want it all NOW !  So, it’s not too hard to understand that I also gravitate toward books and magazines with a quilting theme.

There are literally hundreds of variations of quilt blocks and they are all named.  So when I laid eyes on Old Maid’s Puzzle at the office of my favorite book supplier, I recognized the title as a quilt block before I even realized it is a mystery novel (another of my addictions !). It was a must have, must read for me.

I found the very first chapter to be a strange introduction to a quilting mystery: although not yet named, Dewey Pellicano, the book’s protagonist, is with Buster Healy, police detective, and her love interest. The reader is informed of Buster’s refusal to have sex because he feels that he and Dewey need to get to know each other better.  This  issue continues to come up from time to time but is an issue that I feel adds nothing to the story.

On to the “good part” and what makes this a “quilting mystery”. Dewey has inherited from her mother a quilt shop, Quilter Paradiso, along with some of her mother’s employees.  Unfortunately, Dewey did not inherit any sewing or quilting genes. As if trying to run a quilt shop while trying to learn how to quilt isn’t bad enough, there’s the problem employee, Kym, who also happens to be Dewey’s sister in law. And did I mention the dead body in the alley behind the shop ? Already in a shaky financial situation, a murder scares away customers and threatens to further erode the shop’s bottom line. Dewey can only hope that the 20th Anniversary Sale and Quilter Paradiso being on national TV will bring in the customers. Still, there’s a murder to be solved and Dewey is up to the challenge.

There is certainly a diverse group of characters who comprise Old Maid’s Puzzle and specifically  Quilter Paradiso, however, Kym is noteworthy due to her ongoing efforts to sabotage Dewey. Since Kym is family, Dewey feels an obligation toward her but I kept thinking I would never tolerate her behavior and I kept wondering why Dewey didn’t fire her (as I would have !). There are also sad parts, such as when we learn more about the dead man and how he had been stealing from one of the older quilters and selling her possessions on ebay.

This was a fun book for me to read. As a quilter herself, Terri Thayer knows the quilting lingo and the mention of fat quarters, redwork, batiks, Just Quilts (the fictional version of a real TV quilting show) and so many other quilting expressions, made me smile. But don’t be intimidated if you don’t sew or quilt, this book is a quick read and has broad appeal for any mystery lover.

Reviewed by Jean Tribull Harris, April 2010.

Book Review: Old Maid’s Puzzle by Terri Thayer

Old Maid’s Puzzle (Quilting Mysteries #2)
Terri Thayer
Midnight Ink, 2008
ISBN 0738712183
Trade Paperback

I admit it – I’m a fabric junkie and a quilting addict. I don’t know how it happened, nor do I know if it was a subtle or quick transformation. All I know is that I have vague memories of being normal and then the realization that I want to own every piece of fabric and I want it all NOW !  So, it’s not too hard to understand that I also gravitate toward books and magazines with a quilting theme.

There are literally hundreds of variations of quilt blocks and they are all named.  So when I laid eyes on Old Maid’s Puzzle at the office of my favorite book supplier, I recognized the title as a quilt block before I even realized it is a mystery novel (another of my addictions !). It was a must have, must read for me.

I found the very first chapter to be a strange introduction to a quilting mystery: although not yet named, Dewey Pellicano, the book’s protagonist, is with Buster Healy, police detective, and her love interest. The reader is informed of Buster’s refusal to have sex because he feels that he and Dewey need to get to know each other better.  This  issue continues to come up from time to time but is an issue that I feel adds nothing to the story.

On to the “good part” and what makes this a “quilting mystery”. Dewey has inherited from her mother a quilt shop, Quilter Paradiso, along with some of her mother’s employees.  Unfortunately, Dewey did not inherit any sewing or quilting genes. As if trying to run a quilt shop while trying to learn how to quilt isn’t bad enough, there’s the problem employee, Kym, who also happens to be Dewey’s sister in law. And did I mention the dead body in the alley behind the shop ? Already in a shaky financial situation, a murder scares away customers and threatens to further erode the shop’s bottom line. Dewey can only hope that the 20th Anniversary Sale and Quilter Paradiso being on national TV will bring in the customers. Still, there’s a murder to be solved and Dewey is up to the challenge.

There is certainly a diverse group of characters who comprise Old Maid’s Puzzle and specifically  Quilter Paradiso, however, Kym is noteworthy due to her ongoing efforts to sabotage Dewey. Since Kym is family, Dewey feels an obligation toward her but I kept thinking I would never tolerate her behavior and I kept wondering why Dewey didn’t fire her (as I would have !). There are also sad parts, such as when we learn more about the dead man and how he had been stealing from one of the older quilters and selling her possessions on ebay.

This was a fun book for me to read. As a quilter herself, Terri Thayer knows the quilting lingo and the mention of fat quarters, redwork, batiks, Just Quilts (the fictional version of a real TV quilting show) and so many other quilting expressions, made me smile. But don’t be intimidated if you don’t sew or quilt, this book is a quick read and has broad appeal for any mystery lover.

Reviewed by Jean Tribull Harris, April 2010.

A Different Kind of Theft

Not too long ago, a post came up on a yahoo group I’m a member of about a woman who was “stealing” from a bookstore with her iPhone.  She was taking pictures of the pages of a book with her cellphone and, when she was observed doing this, the woman looked up guiltily and said, “I guess technically this is plagiarism, huh?” And the man said, “No. It’s not plagiarism. It’s theft.” Then he explained to her that even though she wasn’t physically carrying the object out of the store, she was still stealing something someone else had created without paying for it.   I thought that was pretty amazing. Good for him! (As told by by author L.D. Harkrader.)

Then someone else in the group said that he was “trying to figure out what the thief was stealing with her Iphone. She could not copy every page of a novel; she’d be there all day. So I am wondering if she has not taken the advice to read ack pgs., dedication pgs, etc to learn who the agent and editor on the book might be; she may well be an author in search of an agent or editor dealing with the kind of book she has written – and I have done this myself only with a notepad not a camera. I mean to give her the benefit of a doubt…..”  (As commented by author Robert W. Walker.)

And that got me to thinking about similar incidents we had in the store. This happens more often than you might think.  I caught a couple of twenty-somethings doing this once but it wasn’t for any such “worthy” purpose.  It was a book with funny pictures and, as they were laughing uproariously, they were using the cellphone to send pictures of the pictures to their friends rather than spend the $10 for the book and then pass it around.  Needless to say, I was not amused and I put a stop to it.  I’m sorry to say they did not seem to “get” that what they were doing was wrong or harmful to the store.  I suspect they never came back because I embarrassed them but ask me if I cared.

Another time, we found a man taking pictures of pages of a short story in an anthology.  Turned out the author was a friend but this guy didn’t want to have to buy the whole book.  And, by the way, this was an anthology that included several local authors so he wasn’t even willing to buy the book to show support for fellow citizens, much less his friend.

Still another time, a woman was taking pictures of covers to send to her editor as examples of covers she liked.  That didn’t bother me so much since she could have found most, if not all, of the images online and she wasn’t stealing content.  Also, she had the grace to ask for permission.

Continue reading