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So there I was, putting the finishing touches on my revisions, when the carrier John Stennis came steaming home.

Stennis going to Bremerton

Welcome home, Navy guys! This closeup gives you a perspective of its size. Note the 200-car Washington  State Ferry in the background:

carrier detail

In fact, seeing how tiny and vulnerable the people on deck look was the inspiration for the mishap in one of my books.

Barkis took it in stride…

Barkis & carrier

But the show wasn’t over. Along came a shiny new yacht, with a helocopter hovering overhead, apparently filming or photographing it.

helo & yacht

I put up a slide show of the whole business. And here I thought living on the water was supposed to impart a zen-like calm….

It’s the sweetest (and most affordable) jewelry shop on the Web. You might not know you need a Gargoyle Cell Phone charm (which can also work as a zipper pull), but you do. bird cell phone charm

Or–for the knitters among us, and I know there are hundreds of you–adorable stitch markers.

Earrings? Of course!

Willa, the jewelry maker, is a woman of many talents

“The things I make are meant to be worn and enjoyed for their beauty, but many of them also contain charms or semi-precious stones that have meanings beyond mere adornment. They are talismans, amulets, lucky charms. Charms with intent. Intentional charms.”

You’re going to love her site.

A lot of you knew what yesterday’s list of phrases had in common–though not necessarily coined by Shakespeare, all of those phrases can be found in the Bard’s work. Take a bow. This is from one of my ultimate favorite sites on the Web–The Phrase Finder: Shakespeare in Love

“Shakespeare contributed more phrases to the English language than the Bible or any other work–and many more than any other individual.”

 Pop Quiz: What do these phrases have in common? Post your speculation here and I’ll post the answer tomorrow. bee & flower

  • A dish fit for the gods
  • A foregone conclusion
  • A sorry sight
  • As dead as a doornail
  • As good luck would have it
  • At one fell swoop
  • Exceedingly well read
  • Fair play
  • Fancy free
  • Foul play
  • Good riddance
  • Heart’s content
  • High time
  • In a pickle
  • Like the Dickens
  • My bad
  • Primrose path
  • Rhyme nor reason
  • Send him packing
  • Set your teeth on edge
  • Stiffen the sinews
  • Too much of a good thing
  • Vanish into thin air
  • Wear your heart on your sleeve
  • Wild goose chase
  • Woe is me

My book is not done. Does the universe even care?

cell phone self portrait

“When you go to court, you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who couldn’t figure out how to get out of jury duty.”

–Norm Crosby

A first for me–this is a video review of my novel. Can such things be?

Judging by the page views on my previous cover art post, it’s a topic of interest. Here is my 9780778326175_fireside_fc. My friend Karen posted a question about cover art on my web site message board.

“Why doesn’t an author have more input? ….it’s YOUR work and I would think…the author would know best. “I’ve passed over books that had terrible covers on them before…only to have them sent by a book review club that I belong to. Authors and books that I NEVER would have read because of a cover…were GREAT! So? What’s the mindset?”

I gave a talk at a library recently, and we touched on this in the Q&A. Covers matter to readers. We writers might wish that it’s all about story and voice and our unique view of the world, but readers are quick to say that reading a book is about more than words on a page. And so often, the writer’s preference isn’t the best choice for the book. One case in point is the Lakeshore Chronicles covers. I favored a really contemporary, more graphic look for the books, but my publisher kept coming back with this peaceful, nostalgic retro scene. And they were right. The look fits the books, and it draws the eye of the reader most likely to enjoy this type of story.

Sometimes the writer isn’t always the best judge of what her book should look like. I’m not saying she shouldn’t get to voice her opinion, but ultimately, it’s a packaging and marketing issue. I’m not a marketer. There are things I understand about marketing, but I feel better knowing it’s being handled by professionals.

On the other hand, authors can be really influential–and boy, can Hummingbirdthey ever be right. A famous example is the great LaVyrle Spencer, so hugely popular in her time that she was able to influence her cover designs. She wanted to be rid of the embracing-couple look on her books, because she knew that what went on in the bedroom between her characters was not the most important element of the story. It rarely is in romance novels, despite what critics (most of whom have never read one) like to think. [Note: My own books average around 400 printed pages. The sex scenes take up maybe five pages of that. ]

You could see LaVyrle’s covers change Hummingbird reprintas her popularity grew. She went from a classic bodice-ripper look to covers completely dominated by her name, which was the main selling point, anyway. Ultimately, Hummingbird reprintLaVyrle’s publisher found a great look by giving her a bouquet of flowers, with the illustration of the couple on the inside. These were among the first “step-back” covers and readers loved them–a romantic outer cover on the outside and a picture of the characters on the inside. LaVyrle has always been one of the smartest authors in the business.

The degree to which the author is involved in her cover design process varies a lot. Some of us have “cover consultation” specified in our contracts. However, “consultation” can mean anything from major input to simply receiving a picture in e-mail and being asked, “How do you like this?”

An author might be granted the right of “cover approval” in her contract. This might sound desirable, but do you really want to take ultimate responsibility for book design? In my case, no, not anymore than I want an art director telling me how to write my book.

I can think of one writer who would probably disagree with that–James Bernard Frost, a first-time novelist, who caused a bit of a kerfluffle when he publicly and vociferously objected to his cover art. It so happens that his publisher, in my opinion, creates some of the best artwork in the business. According to his blog, he was so hugely unhappy with the art that he took matters into his own hands.

original artre-designed coverauthor's version

The original version (above, left) was beautiful and evocative. I might have picked it up, but according to the author’s blog, he didn’t care for it. I understand that every author has a vision in his or her head of what the finished book will look like. In my case (and apparently in this author’s as well), it’s a collage of images from the story. Well, guess what? These images don’t always add up to the perfect cover. Sometimes, you have to allow that, in a crowded market, a single, stark image will make your book stand out. If that image doesn’t literally nail the book’s content, so what? That is not the goal. The goal is to get the book into the hands of the reader most likely to enjoy your book.

The second version of the Frost book, created in response to the author’s objections to the first, didn’t appeal to me, but I might not be the reader for this kind of book. Finally, the clearly frustrated author had an illustrator create a sticker to cover up the publisher’s art. I wonder how that’s working for him. The tagline of his blog says “The life and opinions of an agentless novelist.” Agentless? Maybe that’s a clue. My literary agent has extremely good judgment when it comes to things like cover art.

On the other hand, this author’s blog post about the whole kerfluffle shows passion and commitment on his part. In the hopes that this dramatic flair will come through in his fiction, I submitted a patron purchase request for his book to my local library.

To read a series of articles with in-depth information about book covers, please visit author Laura Resnick’s web site and click on the link to “A book by its cover.”

[COMING UP: How does a good book wind up with a bad cover? Check back for more in a future post.]

In further news about my apparel, 5000 sailors saw me in my jammies when an aircraft carrier went by my house.


It’s pretty common to see a carrier in this part of the world, but I also live in a spot where the carrier can see


Which is a tad disconcerting when you are standing in your yard, blinking at the dawn, having been awakened by an insistent puppy with a very small bladder.

A passing aircraft carrier is surprisingly quiet, even surrounded by tugs and Coast Guard vessels. It glides by, barely leaving a wake, and on a very still morning at about, say 5:30a.m., sound easily carries across the water.

But I still think Navy guys are hot.

…take a class from Field’s End. Registration starts tomorrow. Fall Writing Classes from Field’s End 

Bainbridge Island, WA – Registration opens August 15 for three Fall 2007 writing classes from Field’s End, named “Best Writers’ Community 2006” by Seattle Weekly.  On tap are a college entrance essay class, an historical writing class, and a class on new forms in creative nonfiction. 


For the college bound student, Marian Merkel will teach “Who I Am: Writing the Personal Essay for College Applications.” New York Times best-selling author Susan Wiggs will facilitate the class. This is an opportunity for motivated high school students to examine the college essay from the standpoint of writing craft and then create an essay that truly represents who they are. Participants will learn how to find their voice and write about their dreams and goals with emotion, specific imagery, and self-awareness.  The class will be limited to 12 students and cost $80.  It meets Tuesdays September 25 and October 2 from 7-9:00 p.m. at the Kallgren Room, Bainbridge Commons.  Pre-registration is essential. No on-site registration will be permitted. 


Instructor Marian Merkel has guided high school students to select the appropriate university and helped them write their personal essays for more than a decade.  She has had many years experience as a speech writer for local government officials.  Merkel holds degrees from Whitman College and Yale University.  Award-winning novelist Susan Wiggs, facilitator for this class, holds an MA from Harvard University, taught for eleven years in public and private schools, and has served on the Harvard Schools Committee.  For the past five years, Wiggs has mentored students in their college application process.


Award-winner Kathleen Alcalá will teach “Bringing History Alive in Fiction” on Monday evenings October 15, 22, 29 and November 5, 12, and 19 from 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. at the Bainbridge Public Library, 1270 Madison Avenue North, Bainbridge Island.  The class costs $240 and is limited to 15 students.  Writers of all levels are welcome.


The timeless appeal of a beautifully imagined historical novel is one readers of all ages find irresistible. This six-week course will focus on shaping historical research and source materials into fiction that appeals to the modern audience. The facts and sensory details of history help evoke a vivid sense of time and place, but it is the emotional development of characters that brings fiction to life. Participants will explore the balance of keeping characters true to their historical period while also establishing commonalities with the contemporary reader.


Alcalá is the author of the recent essay collection, The Desert Remembers My Name: On Family and Writing, a short story collection, Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist, and three novels: Spirits of the Ordinary, The Flower in the Skull, and Treasures in Heaven.  Her work has received the Western States Book Award, the governor’s Writers Award, a Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Award, and a Washington State Book Award.  A co-founder and contributing editor to The Raven Chronicles, she is currently serving on the board of Richard Hugo House.  Alcalá’s work has been included in several anthologies and a conversation with her was included in Multicultural American – Conversations with Contemporary Authors, recently published by Nibir K. Ghosh. 


“Writing the Literary Collage” will feature popular writing instructor and award-winning author Priscilla Long.  This class will meet on Wednesday October 10, 17, 24, and 31 at the Kallgren Room, Bainbridge Commons, from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.  The class will be limited to 12 students and cost $200. 


The collage and its first cousin, the abecedarian, are marvelous forms of creative nonfiction that suit a wide variety of subject matters. In this nonfiction class students will scrutinize models of the form, and each will write one as well. In the process participants will work intensely on craft skills (language as sound, sophisticated sentencing, etc.),  honing observational skills to make writing more keenly observant and deeply insightful. 

 Priscilla Long is an award-winning poet, short story writer, journalist and master writing teacher.  In 2006, Priscilla Long was honored with a National Magazine Award for best feature writing for her work, “Genome Tome: Twenty-three Ways of Looking at Our Ancestors” (The American Scholar: Science Matters.  Summer 2005).  Her work has appeared in The American Scholar, Raven Chronicles, First Intensity, American Letters & Commentary, among many others. She serves as Senior Editor of the online encyclopedia of Washington state history,  Long is author of Where the Sun Never Shines: a History of America’s Bloody Coal Industry.  Among Long’s many awards is The Journal’s Creative Nonfiction Prize, the Richard Hugo House Founder’s Award, and a Seattle Arts Commission award. She holds an MFA from the University of Washington. 

Registration materials for the Fall 2007 Writing Classes may be found online at and at the Bainbridge Public Library, 1270 Madison Ave. N, Bainbridge Island.  Pre-registration for each class is essential. Questions? Ask the Field’s End Registrar: 


Tuition assistance is available through the Jack Olsen (Memorial) Tuition Assistance Fund. Apply for tuition assistance through the class registration form. 


Field’s End, founded in 2002 by PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author David Guterson, among others, exists to inspire writers and nurture the written word.  Field’s End sponsors writing classes, the free monthly Writers’ Roundtable on the third Tuesday of the month at the Bainbridge Public Library, lectures and special events, and the third annual Writers’ Conference, “Writing in the Garden of the Gods,” to be held on April 26, 2008 at Kiana Lodge, Poulsbo.  Information about Field’s End’s programs may be found at


# # #

 Writing Classes at Field’s End

Registration opens August 15 for Field’s End Fall 2007 Writing Classes.  “Who I Am: Writing the Personal Essay for College Applications,” with Marian Merkel, “Bringing History Alive in Fiction” with Kathleen Alcalá, and “Writing the Literary Collage” with Priscilla Long.  Details and registration materials available online at or at the Bainbridge Public Library.  Pre-registration essential. 

Last month, I lost one of my oldest and dearest writing friends. I found comfort in the words Alice herself wrote in Devoted, her first published novel. This is from the final page:

…Owen felt again a hint of the peace that had descended on him in the church when he committed himself to Christ and his people’s cause.

He still had no assurance of anything, not tomorrow or his springtime, but he had found his heart and his life. However long he lived, he would take that assurance with him.

Even if his road brought him soon into the shadow of death, he would carry that achievement , that peace with him into darkness and beyond. To whatever God waited there.

Devoted by Alice Borchardt (1995)  Here’s a detail of a memory collage I made to give to Alice’s husband:Alice

Wishing peace and love to all.

Join me on Facebook. You won’t be sorry.

I tend to spontaneously give stuff away to readers and libraries. Join the fun here. Really.

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August 2007