Interview Across a Breakfast Table: My New Book’s Cover Design

It’s Friday.  I’m eating a soft-boiled egg.  It must be time for Chris and I to do our almost-every-week interview.  Today I ask him about expectations at author school visits.  Here’s his question for me:


Chris: What three things do you like best about the cover of your new book?


1.) The way the photo illustration — through body language, facial expressions, hairstyles and shoes — perfectly captures the different personalities of my three identical triplet main characters.

2) The colors, fonts, and the way “Revenge” pops out — hinting at all the shenanigans in the story.

3) The everything.

Interview Across a Breakfast Table: Deadlines – or Why I Wish I Were a Time Lord

My husband Chris Barton and I continue our interrogations of each other over bran cereal. Today we focus on the final stages of writing a book. I ask him about forgetting what he wrote and he asks me about the dreaded d-word…

Chris: As you’ve written more books, have deadlines gotten easier?

Me: You’d think they would have, but no. Not really. With each new project I swear to myself that I will manage it better, thereby making deadlines go more smoothly. But no matter how well I plan, things happen, stress builds, and that end date ends up looming like a radioactive cloud.  There still comes a day (or seven) where I’m at the computer constantly, wearing dirty clothes, eating a 3 pm lunch of ice cream straight out of a container – with a fork because none of the spoons are clean.

Deadlines for first drafts or major revisions are particularly crazy-making because I’m so far into the world of the story and barely maintaining in the real world. There’s the Jenny realm with its “normal” routine of meals, sleep, and chores, overlaid with kid schedules and other job tasks. Then there’s the book’s realm with all of its demands, and a completely different standard of time. It gets to a point where it’s near impossible to exist in and track the needs of both worlds. To do so would require a TARDIS.

It’s difficult to explain. I can only say that it becomes futile to stick to a  x-words/chapters-a-day plan, because I can’t measure the progress I make in the book realm by real world time. I might spend two hours perfecting a vital paragraph or compose a near-perfect chapter in 20 minutes. Thus, I have the deadline in one realm and the story in a completely different universe and I am the Billy Pilgrim bringing them together. This process is bound to make me a little, well … weird.  At least for a while.

I will say that I have gotten better at managing my emotions and expectations. If it’s a first draft deadline or early revision, I remind myself that I don’t need to be a perfectionist about the writing just yet – there will be editing passes to come that don’t require me to hop dimensions, when I can sit squarely in my time and be a word stickler.

Also, my loved ones have adapted and don’t find my transformation into Scary Deadline Lady quite so traumatic anymore.

Also, I married a brilliant author who understands and knows how to help.


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Interview Across a Breakfast Table: My First Kiss

My weekly interview with husband and fellow writer Chris Barton continues. In today’s blog posts, Chris and I answer the same question.  But he started it.

Chris: So, I’m inspired by Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (about which I’ll say no more because I know you haven’t read it yet), and I was wondering what you remember most about your first kiss.

Me:  My first kiss occurred when I was in fifth grade. I was “going with” a guy, and he’d hinted that we were leading up to such a moment.

When I’d moved to Texas two years earlier, a different guy had asked me to “go with” him and my reply had been “Go where?”   He seemed flummoxed and said, “No! GO WITH me. ”  Again I asked where, and at that point I guess he felt I wasn’t worth it — being too stupid to figure out what he meant — so he asked some other girl who said “Yes.”

By fifth grade, at the seasoned age of almost-eleven, I understood what “go with” meant.  Sorta.  But I was a bit mystified as to what it all entailed. Basically we talked on the phone now and then  and passed a lot of notes and tried to sit together at assemblies or music class. But then he asked me to go to the high school homecoming game with him, and I could tell that meant something significant.

I met him at the game and we sat with his older brother for a while not talking. He and I had not talked before, but this was a new sort of not talking. This was a nervous, leading-up-to-something not talking.  And then he asked if I wanted to go down and get a soda.

As soon as we got underneath the bleachers, he beckoned me to a spot behind the bathrooms.  I followed and the next thing I knew, he was kissing me.  I was too distracted by bathroom smell, the ankle-deep trash, and the worry that I was doing it all wrong to truly enjoy it.  Basically my mind was going “Wow. I’m kissing. I’m being kissed! Eew, what is my foot stepping on?”

After a while we returned to our seats and still didn’t talk much. I kept trying to convince myself that something truly remarkable and romantic had happened. Meanwhile he rooted for our home team — who lost, if memory serves.

He did not transform into a prince.  I did not wake up from an evil spell.  My lips were sore and I had gum on my sneaker.  Two weeks later, we broke up.

First kisses are memorable, but the truly magical ones are the first ones (and second ones, and third…) that you share with the right person.  That’s the stuff of fairy tales — even if you stand in garbage.


Interview Across a Breakfast Table: a Name by Any Other Name…

Chris and I are back to quizzing each other. Today we are feeling a little silly, so I’ve asked him to make up a word and he wants me to make up a name…

Chris: What would your name be when run through any of the many name-generators available on the Internet?

Me: I love these sites — perhaps more than I should. And because I have a few different versions of my name that I can plug in, I always run it until I find the perfect pseudonym.  Here are my favorites:

The Hobbit name generator dubbed me Marigold Bracegirdle of Hardbottle.

My Hunger Games name is Eustacia Flamsteed.

My Jedi name is  Zieje Teaus of the planet Zyrtec.

On the Secret Agent Codename generator, I got “Cherry Blossom.” (Come on! I really thought I’d get something a little cooler and tougher sounding.)

My pirate name is Sea Monkey Nancy.

My Mafia name is Legless Ruth Delucci.

My vampire name is Vampire Avalon the Chicken Sucker.

My luchador name is Roboto Numero Uno.

And I love this “Find Your Sloth Name” generator, from which translates my married name to “Chewie the Cross-Eyed Messiah.”

Chewie says, “Enjoy your weekend!”


Interview Across a Breakfast Table: What Makes a Good Author Photo?

Another post in the series between me and Chris Barton

Chris: What makes a good author photo?

Me: You’re asking me because you know I’ve been thinking about this, right?  I am about to do a new author photo shoot – first one in years – so I’ve been pondering this very question.

I’m tempted to answer “A good-looking author” and be done. But that is too glib, even for me. Besides, it isn’t true.

I guess, to me, what makes a good author headshot is authenticity. It should look like the author. That sounds like a “duh” statement, but I’ve seen photos of people I know – or met people after seeing their photo – and felt that the headshot didn’t accurately capture them. This is one reason why I really need new photos. My old ones don’t look like me anymore. My face has new lines. I’ve put on a few more pounds. I wear my hair differently.

If there are rules, one big one would be that author photos should not resemble mugshots. For two reasons: A) Security checks are pretty standard with educators and event organizers, and it might hurt your career if you look like you were just yanked out of a holding cell. And B) You want the photo to reveal your own singular charm. The object is to present your personality, not just your face. Thus, a line-’em-up-and-shoot type of photo session is only good for embarrassing 7th grade yearbook portraits. Better to take the time to relax and be yourself, allowing your photographer to capture your true essence. (Of course, if you have a second career as a petty thief or write memoirs about your all-night benders, the mugshot photo might work in your favor.)

Similarly, I feel author photos should not resemble shopping mall glamour shots. Go easy on makeup, hairspray, leather and lace. Please no come-hither looks or paint-spattered denim. As much as I want to look like a beauty pageant contestant, I also know that – even if photography could make it possible – such a photo would mislead my readers.

I guess the number one rule of an author photo is to be you. If you smile a lot, smile. If you are quiet and somewhat brooding, brood away. As a reader, I always love getting a glimpse of the author on a back cover. By the end of a good book, I often feel as if I’m pals with the author, and a good photo can only enhance that sense.

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