Stepping Into The Time Machine plus Cover Reveal

What do you have hidden in your closet?

Pam and I have been writing together as ‘Ellie Campbell’ for so long that sometimes even we forget we ever did things differently.  Recently we rediscovered some of the 140 short stories we each had published in those early years and decided – huge shock – we actually found them really entertaining.  So much so that we decided to gather some of them up into a collection.  Between world travels, multiple changes of first stone age-style word processors, then computers, plus my inability to hold on to copies or the actual magazines, many are probably lost for good, but we managed to come up with twenty funny, romantic, twisty or reflective short tales, soon to be released as Love, Lies And Other Deceptions.   It wasn’t easy to pick a cover to reflect so many diverse themes, but our talented designer Andrew Brown came up with the following. And here it is – ta-da, drum roll, please.

For us, part of the fascination was remembering the two people and the mindset that created those stories.  As mentioned in an earlier blog I started writing in my twenties, working in London publishing and living the muddled chaotic single life so hilariously described in Bridget Jones Diary.  Pam was the mother of three small children when she took the creative writing class that launched her.  We both had very different themes and topics, many reflecting our interests and lifestyles at the time.  Looking over them was was like stepping into a time machine. Now that we are… cough, cough, cough… quite a few years older, would we – could we even? – write anything similar?  Personally, I hardly know that earlier me.  I can see she was cynical, moody, sometimes romantically hopeful, sometimes despairing – and inevitably attracted to every possible variety of emotionally-unavailable womanizer, but I don’t think I could totally recreate her world viewpoint from my happily married self.  (I also suspect she might have been a wee bit more intelligent than I am now but that’s another story.)

Then again don’t we all have similar experiences when revisiting our early work?  Sometimes you look back on things and find it hard to believe you ever wrote that story, painted that picture, or took that photograph. Sometimes it shows how far you’ve moved on.  But then not only do you, the artist, change but also the way you feel about it can change with each viewing.  We’re all familiar with the awful creative roller coaster – one minute loving the work in progress, the next seeing only the flaws and deciding it might be time to give up writing for good because you’re obviously hopeless.  And then coming back again after some blessed time has passed and being amazed to find some merit in there after all.  The successful are those who can see through the illusions and persevere anyway but I bet many of us have an unfinished manuscript in our closet somewhere that we discarded in disgust.  Perhaps rightfully so, perhaps… well, who knows?

Anyway, Love, Lies and Deceptions will be available on Amazon any day now and we’re super excited. And yes, we intentionally omitted to specify which of the two sisters wrote which story.  We thought it would be more fun to leave the readers guessing and maybe to answer that question we’re always asked – does writing together mean you lose your original ‘voice’?  We don’t think so but perhaps in the end the stories tell the tale.

What’s in a book cover?

How important is your book cover? Well, crucial enough that publishers will change their entire design if a chain store buyer doesn’t find a jacket visually appealing. And yes, even as a tiny rectangle on an Amazon page, it has to stand out, conveying the tone and genre to attract the right readers. Now that’s a big ask!

Of course publishers have teams of experts leading the design process. Great if you love the result. Not so good as a writer if you’re unhappy with the way your book is presented, whereas indie authors have the sometimes daunting pleasure of total control. Obviously the first step is to hire a professional designer but it’s still you, the writer, assuming final responsibility.

Ellie Campbell has gone through both experiences, traditional and indie, and we’re still learning. So just for fun we thought we’d show you some of our book covers, old and new.

       

Left is the original Arrow cover. Originally we liked it. Later we decided it seemed too juvenile and we really hated that it was so easy to miss in a WH Smith promotional stand of Summer Reads – even with two of us desperately searching.

By the time we commissioned the second version (right) we’d already decided to continue some elements of Looking For La La, our first indie book cover. Hence the photo cover with the bride looking over the fence. We feel she’s possibly a bit too angry – a real bridezilla – but again it gets across the humour aspect.

The next cover is the Arrow one for When Good Friends Go Bad. I don’t think Arrow knew what to do with us at this stage but they were trying for a more grown up look. A few years on we reverted the rights and our designer came up with the one on the right, again following the theme we started with Looking For La La (cover shown below). Comments, anyone?

   dfw-ec-tcac-cover-large  

Above, we have the three covers for our ‘Crouch End Confidential’ mystery series, Looking For La La, To Catch A Creeper and Meddling With Murder. Looking For La La was the first ever cover we commissioned and we were thrilled with the response. I honestly think we wouldn’t have got nearly as many blog posts or reviews without it. We had no idea the novel would inspire sequels but then, of course, we had to come up with follow-up designs using the same or similar girl. We particularly like Meddling With Murder, so colourful and cute!

        

The next pair are interesting because we recently decided we didn’t care for the old cover of Million Dollar Question and just commissioned a new one. Although the paparazzi do feature in the story, we felt the guy in black gave the wrong impression – he looks too sinister for what’s quite a funny romantic book. Or maybe as if he’s about to deliver a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray. We like the new cover much better.

And then we have the cover for our just released box set of what is now the Crouch End Confidential series. We wanted it to have a ‘box’ look but also show the three spines. We came up with the idea of a file folder with polaroids pinned on it and the big red “confidential” stamp. Although in translation, the designer changed the file folder to an envelope, still we think we get the point across.

Anyway, as always, we’re curious to find out others’ experiences. What do you feel makes a book stand out? Ever have a cover you particularly hated or that you felt actually hurt sales? Or one that you loved above all others? And how do you feel about photo covers versus graphic?

Cleaning out the Clutter

Cleaning out the Clutter

pants

It’s 2017 and after last week’s resolutions, it’s in with the new and out with the old – clutter that is. Pam’s clearing out her underwear drawer and has just discovered she owns 51 pairs of knickers (aka panties in the U.S.A.). She has no idea how it got so out of hand but clearly some of those must be past their sell-by date!

The slogan for decluttering seems to be ‘If it’s not useful and you don’t love it, throw it out’. If I truly obeyed that I’m not sure I’d have any clothes left and days like today when I’m feeding horses in a foot of Colorado snow who cares if my sweaters are old and baggy?

But our bulging wardsugar-in-the-snowrobes makes me think of the editing process and someof those huge unwieldy first drafts in our early collaboration. Pam and I have definitely got better at chopping away unnecessary pages, paragraphs and all those extra adjectives that tend to obscure rather than enhance the story. It’s a useful metaphor for life too. Now the crazy holiday season is over it’sa good time of year to take a mental step back from all the busyness to see what’s really valuable and what it might be better to let go.

Meanwhile, just as daunting, I’ve been tackling the thousands of old and unread messages in my two email inboxes. Why two emails? Well, my Yahoo account grew so overwhelming that ages ago I signed up for a second service, under the illusion that using this new exclusive address I could start afresh, be organized and not skip over anything that looked boring or leave opened messages to choke up my inbox. Hah!

So the last few evenings, I’ve been hard at it, sorting into folders any message about writing, money, or whatever, that migunsubscribeht be important to save. Every email I open I’ve been putting the address in the search box to gather others by the same sender and am either filing or deleting in bulk. I identified a huge amount of junk by searching for ‘unsubscribe’, ‘no-reply’, ‘opt-out’ or likely words like ‘student loan’, ‘mortgage’. There’s also that trick of changing the sort option to see what rises to the top and a very clever app called Unroll Me which safely unsubscribes or rolls up the daily new subscriptions that appear in my inbox. In the process of organizing, I’ve found a frightening amount of things that were overlooked – dinner invitations, questions needing an urgent answer two years ago.

More entertainingly, Pam and I have finally got it together (one of last year’s writing resolutions) to produce a kindle box set of three of our novels, Looking for La La, To Catch a Creeper and Meddling with Murder entitled Crouch End Confidential.dfw-ec-cec-boxset-midThis will be published mid-January and we can’t wait to see it out there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go and purge my office. Makes me shudder when I think of what might be hidden in some of the filing baskets accumulating on my desk…

The Not Too Perfect Heroine

When I was fresh out of high school, my mother made an interesting observation about a friend of minee_o_vento_levou_-_rhett_e_scarlett. ‘Trouble with Kathy,’ she said, ‘she’s just too perfect.’ Now Kathy was a truly lovely person, sort of girl who taught Sunday school, made friends with homeless people, considered a glass of wine a walk on the wild side and discovered all kinds of intimate details about people I’d known for years and never bothered to ask. And she was popular – I’ve no idea, in fact, why she was hanging out with me. But would I want her as a heroine?  Maybe, if I was writing a certain kind of romance. Then again, possibly not. After all, wouldn’t most of us want to be or spend time with Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind rather than the saintly Melanie Wilkes?  Yes, Scarlett’s selfish, wilful, and likely to steal your boyfriend but you can’t help but admire her beauty, her spirit and her resilient courage. the_girl_on_the_trainBut how to create characters with enough interesting failings to add depth and complexity without alienating the reader completely? Marian Keyes, Jane Green, Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella are masters of the art. Their books cover some serious issues – alcoholism, abuse, overeating, romantic obsession, rampant consumerism – but their heroines’ multiple insecurities and very real problems are balanced by an ability to keep you gonegirl4laughing through the misery which is what makes them ‘chicklit’ rather than Oprah Winfrey’s Pick Of The Week. And then there are those recent bestselling thrillers: Girl On A Train and Gone Girl. While most of us would shun the company of an alcoholic stalker or a psychopathic murderer, look how cleverly Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn use their unreliable narrators to suck us in, getting us totally absorbed in the story before we realize exactly who we’re dealing with and by then, it’s too late, we absolutely have to turn the next page.

Anyway when Pam and I were crafting out our chicklit romance, Million Dollar Question – the tale of two women, one who loses a fortune, one who unexpectedly acquires huge wealth – we struggled with the whole flawed vs likeable character issue. 3D Million Dollar QuestionWe wanted Olivia, the hedge fund trader, to be a ruthless, ambitious, money-focused counterpart to Rosie, the downtrodden self-sacrificing single mother, still pining over her philandering ex-husband. But therein was the challenge. Olivia had to be imperfect enough that the reader would somewhat enjoy her come-uppance but still find her sympathetic and Rosie couldn’t be so pathetic that said reader would end up despising her and flinging the book against the wall. In each draft we piled on redeeming qualities, showing Olivia’s intelligence, quick wit, the insecurities that made her so uptight and stressed about her career. And then we turned Rosie into an incorrigible optimist, the sunny sort of character who thinks there’s always a silver lining in every thundercloud, even as rainwater is cascading down her neck.  Did we succeed in balancing out their obvious shortcomings? Well, if you’re interested, you can find out for yourself as Million Dollar Question goes on a 99cent/pence promotion this week in UK and US.

Meanwhile it would be interesting to find out how other writers deal with similar dilemmas. We all know that characters take on a life of their own. Have you ever had a protagonist that just refused to become who you wanted them to be?  Or that you couldn’t get yourself to love no matter how much you tried to shower them with delightful qualities like the Good Fairies in Sleeping Beauty?  And who are your favorite ‘bad girls’ in fiction?

Competition: We’re giving away free copies of Million Dollar Question to the first five readers at Take Five Authors who follow us on our  Bookbub page and email us at chicklitsisters@gmail.com with the word done!

Balance in the life of a writer: how do you achieve it?

I was atphoto-of-balance a party once where a well-established mystery novelist told me she was lucky if she managed to write for an hour or two a day, the bulk of her schedule being consumed with book promotions, Twitter, Facebook, newletters, her blog. Seems we’re all performing the same high-wire act. Without a social media presence, without Bookbub, 99 cent promotions, Goodreads competitions, mailing lists, and all that ongoing effort, chances are that even the best-crafted novel will languish, lost and crying out unnoticed, in the wasteland of Amazon’s millions of fiction books. Well, boo-hoo, I can almost hear you say. After all, this isn’t high school English – no hoary old professor is forcing us to come up with the next Ellie Campbell book. And juggling time is nothing new for writers. Most of the literary greats had to fit in their artistic endeavours with full-time jobs, squeezing precious hours out of the early dawn or burning the midnight oil.

But still I wistfully think – wouldn’t it be nice to get a sense of balance? And have a life beyond the laptop? Are we all being forced to multi-task way beyond our natural capacity, checking our emails while sitting on the toilet while brushing our teeth? Lifting your nose from your mesmerizing screen only to discover six hours have vasalesnished, the husband has walked in the door and dinner is still a frozen chicken and a bag of groceries lying unpacked on the counter along with the breakfast dishes. We all have responsibilities shrieking for our attention: children, elderly parents, pets that need feeding or walking, even horses, (some of us). We have bodies that ought to be exercised more, friends that are feeling neglected, the guilty sense that however we spend our precious time, there is so much out there being left undone.

Recently I decided to tackle the exercise element. Being hopelessly disorganised and blaming Google for half my woes, I turned to the enemy for help. Yes, there are apps, endless apps for every need — Schedule Planner, Lose It, Map My Dog Walk – but to motivate me out of my swivel chair, I needed something simple and fun. Pokemon Go sounded promising but I hate those ugly little blighters and I’d probably fall in a ditch. So I downloaded Zombies, Run. Now I’m not just walking the dog, I’m listening to a story while looking for clues to save mankind as well as evading the heavy breathing shuffling footsteps coming up behind me and gaining supplies to build my township. Unfortunately, I’ve had to switch off the Zombie Chase feature until my cracked rib heals — I tripped on a pavement after all — but still I am getting out there daily and enjoying it!

Next I want to tackle The Walk, from the same developers, Six To Start, which throws you into an espionage story starting in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands and walks you the length of the British Isles, using your phone’s GPS to map your progress. Oh, and for that messy house? Tody promises to get your cleaning organized, UFYH offers some foul-mouthed random challenges, Home Routine lists your morning, afternoon and evening tasks, dividing the house into manageable zones and Epic Win allows you to be a warrior princess, unlocking a fantasy game as you accumulate points by completing your to-do list.

If you can’t escape this hi-tech age, join it, right? Will any of this actually make a difference? Too early to tell but if has anyone knows of another method that can turn a procrastinating dreamer into a fully-functioning Superwoman, pass it along in the comments – please, pretty please!!!

tightrope-walker-1314832