Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Education


I'm an educator. A home educator, if we're being precise. Every day at 9 o'clock my kids bounce out to the kitchen table, open their books, and say, "Come on, Mama, you're going to be late. Start reading."

Every day, I read to them. We read the Bible. We read history. We read literature, poetry, and listen to music. We spend a whole semester studying a particular subject in science--this year was botany and marine biology, next year will be flying creatures and anatomy. We're learning Ancient Greek. We're learning about the orchestra. We're studying our favorite artists and making our own masterpieces. We've got fraction to decimal conversions going on right now, grammar and mechanics, writing, and reading.

And you know what else we've got a lot of? Play. I consider that, too, a vital part of the home-education experience.

I was in high school when I decided I was going to homeschool. I'd been leaning that way for a while (Wouldn't it be awesome to stay home with my kids, write books, and homeschool them? They could totally direct their own education from the desk beside mine when they're 5. Ahem.), despite the fact that I excelled at public school.

I could memorize like nobody's business. I learned quickly and could spit it back out nearly perfectly. I could take a test--boy, could I take a test! I could, and did, focus on grades and hit them out of the park. I was valedictorian. I took college classes during my last several years of high school.

But one of my most vivid memories from my junior year is when, in Algebra II, I was performing all the functions I was supposed to perform, but I had no clue why I was doing it. I was doing the math but not understanding the math. Getting the right answers, but I couldn't tell you why. And suddenly that bothered me. So as the teacher came around to check on us, I asked her. I asked her for the reasons, I asked her for what was behind the formulas. And do you know what she told me?

"I'm sorry, Roseanna. I don't have time to talk to you about that. You understand well enough to get the right answers, which is all that matters right now. I have to focus on the kids who don't."

That, right there, was when I decided that my kids weren't going to public school. That their questions--the questions that matter, the questions that can lead to proficiency and love of a subject, the questions that can lead to innovation--wouldn't be brushed off by well-meaning but overworked teachers who have to prepare their students above all for tests.

There are many reasons people choose to homeschool, and for many of my friends, it's more of a faith reason. They want to integrate faith and study of the Lord into everything. They want to keep their kids from the evils penetrating public schools. And I'm not saying that doesn't matter to me--schools can be scary places when you hear about some of the things kids are asking other kids to do at ridiculously early ages! And yes, I want to protect my kids from some of that while simultaneously teaching them strength of character to resist it when they're older. Certainly I want to teach them about God and faith.

But for me, it's more than the faith aspect. I made my decision to homeschool because I firmly believe that I can give them a better education at home than they'd get in a classroom. We don't always move at the same pace--my kindergartener sure wasn't reading as early as my niece in the public schools, though boy howdy could he do math in his head!--but we pursue things in ways that I know will be rewarding. We explore and discover and seek out answers together. We talk about what we're reading, guaranteeing that it really sticks.

Do we test? Sure. But after a few math tests where my daughter cried if she missed one answer, I decided that she was far too much like me to do things the same old way, LOL. I decided that what was more important in life than a percentage score was figuring out how to correct her mistakes. So I would mark things wrong...and then tell her to fix them. That means she has to figure out where she made an error. It means she has to figure out how to correct it. Then I'll recheck, and give her half a point if she got it right.

I love educating my children. It's not without its challenges and frustrating days, but the rewards so outweigh the drawbacks for us. I get to be there for each new discovery. I get to make sure that their school time is filled with learning, not with fluff or needless worksheets or filling the time until the bell rings. And then I get to send them out of the kitchen to be kids--no hours of homework after hours of school. They're outside studying each new plant that comes up and recording it in their homemade garden charts (not an assignment! They did that all on their own!). They're pouring over dinosaur books. They're building. They're playing school with their toys. They're writing stories and doing digital design and building gravity-defying train tracks. They're being kids.

I'm not saying kids can't end up doing the same things in public schools, or private schools, on their own. Great kids are going to be great kids anywhere, and great parents are going to encourage their kids anywhere. But the environment doesn't foster it. Trust me, I know--I was one of those kids who did it on her own, and that is what I remember most clearly from my school days. Where I had to fill in my own gaps. I remember those days when I had to teach half the class because they didn't understand the teacher. I remember when I taught my history teacher things I learned in my reading. I remember putting plays together on the playground. I remember earning $10 from a teacher who said he'd pay anyone who ever caught one of his mistakes. I remember what I did, on my own, more than I remember what they taught me for that test.

Will I always, absolutely homeschool? I can't say for sure. Life changes, callings change. That could change someday too. But right now, this is what I'm supposed to be doing. This is how I'm equipping my kids. I know I'm giving them a firm foundation, and I know that I'm helping them stand on their own, think for themselves, and learn to be responsible individuals. And you know one of the other things I love, which is a big "Ha!" to all those who say, "But how do they get socialization?"

Whenever I enrolled my daughter in ballet, within 2 weeks, the teacher came up to me and said, "Is she homeschooled? I can tell. She's focused, she listens, and she's so polite." This is a common refrain, one I've heard everywhere from that ballet teacher to a public school teacher we happened across in the play area at Chick-Fil-A, who was impressed with how nicely and considerately my kids were playing with hers.

I homeschool because I know firsthand the failings of public school education. I homeschool because I want my kids to learn at their own pace. I homeschool because I want them to have plenty of time for play and discovery while they're still young enough to enjoy it. I homeschool because I don't want them losing that childhood innocence too soon--and I know what middle school and high school were like when I was there, and so far as I can tell, it's only gotten worse.

Is it for everyone? Nope. Absolutely not. But I've spoken to a few people lately who want to homeschool but whose families are telling them, "You can't. You shouldn't." So this is for them. We can. We should, if we feel strongly about it.

And we can know that our kids are getting the opportunity to stay kids a little longer in some ways...and learning how to be adults a lot faster in others. We can know that they're getting more than lessons in how to take tests--we can know that they're getting what really matters: an education.

We can be educators.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cover Design - Grace Be a Lady






Last week I found myself in the unprecedented position of finalizing 11 projects all at once--one for a series of 8 books, so I was producing the final full covers all at once, a contemporary, a box set, and this one.

I was having a grand time. =) I'll be sharing a bit about many of those soon, but I thought I'd start with this Western romance, solely because it's the last one I was working on, LOL.

It's my first Western cover--that's right, the first cowboy I've ever put on a cover! And I was pretty happy to learn that the heroine should be wearing a ball gown. Love pretty-dress covers. Love them. =D But it occurred to me as I crafted Heather Blanton's Grace that y'all might be surprised to realize that the heroine you see on the cover is actually made of 3 models. Namely, these three.


I started my search at www.PeriodImages.com, because I knew they had some lovely dress photos. And knowing that Grace had strawberry blond hair and needed an 1890s dress with a bustle, leg-o-mutton sleeves (that's seriously what they're called) and that it should be purple, I set about browsing. This one drew my eye. The dress was gold, but I knew I could change that. Her hair was right, though. And the dress was fairly true to the styling of the day. I'd have to lengthen the sleeve, but otherwise...not bad!
As it turned out, the model herself didn't fit Heather's image of Grace, and she wanted one with the girl looking happier...which didn't exist in this series of photos. So I figured, eh, we'll just find a new face, no biggie, LOL. But first, I had to make the dress lavender. And it also needed to be lower cut--a crucial plot point. So I deleted all we didn't need and changed the color.
Coming along just fine, right? As it happens, I was working on this while watching TV with my husband, and he piped in with some nice commentary as I was working. Like, at this stage, "Agh! She's headless! You're so cruel!"

Roseanna said, "Mm hm." And went to www.Shutterstock.com to look for a picture of a blond with her hair up. As usual, I searched for brides, this time in profile to get the right angle of the body. While hockey continued on the TV, I paged through the options. Pretty soon I had snagged this lovely lady.
The angle looked really close, so I dropped her into my file, deleted what I didn't want showing, and earned a "Whoa!" from my husband. Who leaned over my shoulder to say, "You just put those together. And they work. And it took you, like, three seconds."

Oh yeah. I'm that good. ;-)

Feedback from Heather and the fans she showed early versions of the cover showed me some things that needed changed, though. I decided to tilt her head down. I half-lowered her eyes. Made the sleeve smaller. And then the tricky part--she needed more of a, ahem, chest. Both models I'd been using were rather, er, flat. The dress I could reshape with my oh-so-clever Photoshop skills. But Grace herself...well, I went back to Shutterstock. And that's where she comes in:
This happy bride had more of what I was looking for in that department. So yes. I copied her chest and pasted it onto the existing image, LOL. And hey, the result was pretty good!

Being happy with Grace, I then turned to cowboys. I found an image that was promising of a guy in a duster.
His face wasn't right, so I actually put a new one in, LOL, but based solely on his outfit, there was promise...but Heather had another cover with a cowboy in a duster, so I kept looking. I ended up at iStock, where I found this gunslinger.
Not that I wanted the guy reaching for a gun on the cover, but he was half-behind Grace, so no biggie there. The bigger problem was that he was kinda missing his legs...so I had to fix that for him. Here's an early version of the cover that had him behind her, on their background.

Early viewers agreed that they liked them...but that it looked like he was staring at her tushie, LOL. So I ended up tilting his head back the other direction.
No more staring at her tushie. ;-)

Now for the background! You can see in the early cover above what I was going for. We needed Wyoming mountains for sure, and after looking at Heather's covers for her current series, I decided to continue with the drama in them that comes of bold skies. So I started with this one:
Which was the correct perspective for behind my people...but the color in the sky didn't really end up on the page once the photo was enlarged to fit behind them. So I also found this one.
The mountains and sky were perfect on this, but the foreground was all wrong. So, you know me. I combined them.
Not that it was quite as simple as it might sound, LOL. I selected the mountains and sky from the second photo, put it overtop the first one, copied the treeline from the first to overlap those mountains...and decided the building looked funny peeking out from behind them, so I also used the Clone Stamp tool to borrow the texture from the grass and put it over the building to make it disappear. The new image was still too short, so I also just duplicated it and brought it down lower on the page, hence why you see identical patches in this photo...which wouldn't be visible behind the figures. So that means we have this.
At this stage I'd also added a purple layer at the bottom, faded out, just to set off the eventual title

Overall, I really liked this, and so did Heather. Another slight change we made here was widening the cowboy so he wasn't so rail-thin. To do that I quite simply widened the image, all but his head, which stayed the same. Just gave him a couple more inches of girth. =)

So then. Time for the words! This can sometimes be aggravatingly tricky, finding the perfect fonts. As you can see in that early cover I posted above, my first thought was an elegant script. But Heather wanted something more blocky and bold, so I eventually found that ParmaPetit gave me what I was looking for--a bold, rather standard serif font, but with a bit of a flair here and there.
Just a few things missing then--Heather had a tag line for this one that she wanted on the cover: Think like a lady. Act like a man. I also had to incorporate that. She'd mentioned she was okay with pretty flourishes behind or setting off the title (in our discussion of fonts), so I found this one.
I took just the top part, put it just behind and under the title, and then added a purple block at the bottom where the tagline would go.
The only thing missing now was the series title! It was rather long: Love and War in Johnson County. So I split it up, put that flourish behind it again, and made the book number large but at a lower opacity behind it.
And there we have it! Heather's name went onto the top, and voila! My first Western romance cover with a cowboy. =)
















Monday, April 20, 2015

Winners from the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt!

The Grand Prize winners have been announced!

Grand Prize: Shay Teague
Purple Prize: Kristine Klein
Pink Prize: Dana McCall Michael

And now, the winner of my bonus prize of A Soft Breath of Wind is...

Bianca Rachele Gibson!

Bianca, I'm sending you an email now!

Congrats to all our winners, and thanks so much to everyone for making this hunt a HUGE success!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt - Stop # 17 (Purple Team)




Hello, and welcome to Stop #17 of the Purple Team's loop of the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt!

Not sure what I'm talking about? Learn all about the hunt here: http://lisatawnbergren.com/2015/04/the-christian-fiction-spring-scavenger-hunt-basics/

If you haven't already, be sure to check out the other stops, beginning HERE, gather the clues at each stop, and be entered to win some fantastic prizes. A full list of stops can be found at the link above, and the other team (Pink) begins Here.


The Hunt begins at NOON Mountain time on April 16 and ends at midnight Mountain on April 19, 2015, so you have a long weekend to complete all 32 stops and maximize your chances at prizes!

The prizes are numerous and awesome! Lots of free books, Kindles, and more! There are 2 loops, so you can try for either or both, and if you complete both, you can be entered for the grand prize! Check out the prizes!

Many of the authors are hosting bonus giveaways--including me! Find the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a copy of A Soft Breath of Wind, winner's choice of format (signed paperback or digital)!

You'll find my post on Missy Tippens's site, and I'm excited to be hosting Lisa T. Bergren!

Lisa T. Bergren has certainly written a lot of books—nearly fifty!!—and her latest is a dystopian series called Remnants (SEASON OF WONDER and SEASON OF FIRE). Think, “Hunger Games with hope.” Her goal is to make every reader think about the gifts they’ve been given and how those might be best utilized to change our world. Sounds good to me!

With this newly published dystopian/romance/spiritual suspense series, on top of her best-selling God Gave Us…picture book series (which just showed up on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list between Clive Cussler and Dr. Seuss!), she’s getting more attention…and more inquiries from aspiring writers. So she decided to share this, below…


HOW TO GET PUBLISHED
By Lisa T. Bergren 

I love hearing from readers after they read my books—when you read my books, we sorta become friends. Lots of aspiring writers contact me. About reviewing their manuscripts (which I can’t). About publishing advice. About having coffee together, “if I have the time”… And I get it. After twenty-plus years in the biz, I’ve finally hit that place where I seem like I’ve ARRIVED. Like I have THE ANSWERS for writers.

And the good news? I have some of them.
But the bad news? I don’t have them all. (Do we EVER??)

Twenty-five years ago, when I was first starting out, or even twenty years ago, when I had a few books under my belt, I looked to those ahead of me and wondered why they had it “so easy.” Why they seemed to publish stuff that I could never get away with publishing…What they knew. How they had possibly MADE IT when I couldn’t quite seem to get there. Now that I’m a consistently working, mid-list writer, “making it,” I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far.

1)    Read. Read like crazy. Read a ton of the books that most closely resemble what you’d like to write.

2)    Outline your favorite book you’ve read in the last year in the genre that you’d like to write in. Figure out what the author did right, chapter by chapter, by dissecting what happened with both the plot and characterization. Write notes on the pages. Underline. Star sections. Take special note of nuances that make it a stand-out: Fabbo dialogue? Incredible romantic tension? Fascinating, unique plot? Locale or description? Details? What WAS it that made that book SING? Summarize, chapter by chapter.

3)    Now do the same with another book in the same genre. Maybe one that was a bestseller, if the one you chose above, was a closet-favorite, but never really seemed to sell. What do you think the differences are?

4)    Read WRITER’S DIGEST. Go to the library and read back issues. They usually have a fiction column every month (and other writing pathways too). It’s how I learned the basics for $15 a year.

5)    Establish a basic web site, along with a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account and begin building your author platform, posting anything you’re willing to share about your life, your writing, and the genre you love to read/write. Don’t just market—strive to establish good social media relationships with real dialogue and sharing.

6)    Go to a writer’s conference. Faculty should predominately be published authors or publishing professionals who are making a tangible “go” at this business (Google most to make sure), and relate to the publishing market you hope to get into. Attend your first conference with an open mind, ready to learn all you can, putting little pressure on yourself. Don’t go in thinking THIS IS IT. Go in thinking I’M FACT-FINDING. Find out where you are in the process, whether you’re just beginning to learn (which is fine!) or ready to submit to editors and agents or somewhere in between. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t have SOMETHING ready Year One to talk about (a proposal/pitch). Just consider your Year One pitch your “straw man,” so you’re not crushed if an editor or agent doesn’t bite. Be brave enough to say, “You didn’t seem all that excited about what I said about my book/wrote. Can you tell me why?” Note: For most people, publishing is a long-term process.

7)    Return to the conference the following year. I promise you’ll feel way more comfortable and confident both years you attend if you just press into the learning curve then return to be more assertive on the pitch-front; you’ll gain PLENTY from both experiences to make it worthwhile.

8)    Follow up with any contacts. Keep writing. Start a new book if you’re done with the last. Maybe it’s book #2 or book #10 that is your winner.

9)    Research self-publishing. But don’t leap into that unless you have no other option and you’re fully convinced it’s the way you should go. It’s its own investment. (And its own post-full of information.)

10)    Keep writing. And reading. Outline a new book that’s your current favorite. See how it inspires you to improve your own writing.

11)     Join a critique group. Now, I don’t recommend this lightly, since I’ve never taken part in the same. But I’ve heard good things about some and bad things about others. The only critique group I’d ever invest in would have to have similarly-dedicated writers, ready to give me constructive criticism with the goal to help me get published, not compete with me. That’s a pretty special group. If you can find it, go with it. If you can’t, don’t sweat it. Hallmarks of a good group would incorporate people who are (a) investing in writers’ conferences and resources; (b) making discernible writing progress; (c) getting better at the craft; (d) giving you feedback that both encourages and challenges you to improve. Anything else? Meh. Just carry on solo. You’re better off writing a hundred new pages and rewriting and rewriting, than spending time with a fruitless group. Don’t be afraid to cut ties with a sinking dock so you can sail away, even with a patched-together sail.

Go, Writer, go. There is ALWAYS room for a fresh, new voice. Tell the story on your heart. Write it and don’t stop.  If I can do it, so can you. I’m not overly smart or savvy. I’m not overly dedicated. I just kept at it, until I had a manuscript together. And then I edited, and edited, and once upon a time, I got the chance to give it to someone with publishing power, and my fairy tale came true.

Yours might too.



Lisa Tawn Bergren is the bestselling author of nearly fifty books in all genres—from children’s picture books to teen fiction to women’s nonfiction—and can’t quite believe she’s been so blessed to see them all get into print. Still, she sees her job as work, and tries her best to just get the next thousand words down, day by day, until the next manuscript comes together. She lives with her husband, Tim, a duck maker (RMrustic.com), her three teen children, and a little, white, fluffy dog named Talisker Beatrice, in Colorado Springs. For more info, find her at LisaBergren.com, Facebook.com/LisaTawnBergren and @LisaTBergren.

You can find Lisa’s books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, CBD, or at your local bookstore.



THE SCAVENGER HUNT SKINNY:
Thanks for stopping by on the hunt! Before you go, make sure you WRITE DOWN THESE CLUES:
Secret Word(s): ~ Jim Rohn
Secret Number: 16, because that's my kids' ages added together
Got ‘em down?? Great! Your next stop is #18, Lisa T. Bergren's site.

Bonus Giveaway of A Soft Breath of Wind!
a Rafflecopter giveaway