Friday, September 1, 2017

It's Not You, It's Me: Five Reasons We Choose to Date That Book

Shopping for a book is a little like Tinder, isn't it? Before we swipe right invest our hard-earned money and all those hours, the book has to look good and the profile needs to promise worthy entertainment. Authors spend years, sometimes decades, writing, editing, and revising a book. But it only takes a few seconds for a reader to say yeah or nay. 

Someone recently posed a question in a readers' group about what influences members to choose a book. The answers varied from reader to reader, but came down to five considerations that moved folks from simply looking at a cover, to shelling out hard-earned dollars. Most noticeably, although a factor in the buying decision, price didn't make the the top five. 

1. COVER.  I can't describe exactly why a cover beckons because it varies tremendously. All I know is that something hits me in a sweet spot, urges me to look closer. It might be as simple as a gorgeous font or as complex as the hidden message behind intriguing images in the cover art. But it always starts with the cover.  Which is why I am over-the-moon THRILLED with the striking cover that Kensington came up with for my debut novel, THIS I KNOW. Yeah, it's my baby and all mothers think their babies are beautiful, but come on, just look at it. Sigh

2. TITLE. If I'm intrigued by a book cover, I study the title, roll it around on my tongue. Is it clunky? Is it mysterious? Does it hint at my favorite themes? A bad title can ruin a good book. Conversely, a good title can sometimes trick me. Whoa. This sounds really good! Only to find out twenty bucks later that the title was the best line in the book. I happen to be fond of three-word titles. The Last Suppers. Bird by Bird. Out of Africa. Running With Scissors. Over The Plain Houses. Okay that last one is four words but it's a damn fine title and the writing is simply stunning. 

3. DESCRIPTION. I'm drawn to stories about community--the places we live, the families we're born into, and the tribes we gravitate toward. I prefer hometown settings peopled with recognizable characters from the grocery store, a neighborhood cafe or noisy schoolyard; books that explore the bigger questions of one's purpose, and the overlapping consequences of our choices, good and bad. If the description hints at a balance of humor, even better. It probably makes sense that these are also the kinds of stories I like to write.

4. BLURBS/REVIEWS. I don't buy a book because I think I'll agree with the reviewers who've written them, but I can often tell if a blurb is authentic. You can't fake genuine, organic enthusiasm. There's nothing more satisfying than seeing how geeked an author is for another author's work. 

5. THE FIRST PAGE. I always save reading the first page for last. Those first few words are ultimately the deciding factor  when it comes to whether or not I will read a book. More important than the cover, the title, the description, and the blurbs combined. Because for me, it always comes down to voice. From that very first sentence I know if I'm going to keep reading the next and the next and the next. Even if I'm hooked by the characters and story, I need to be convinced that this particular author is the only one to tell it.

You might imagine how scary it is to think about potential readers of my debut novel moving past the title, the cover, the description and the blurbs of my book and opening to that very first page. So I'm going to take a deep breath and give you a sneak-peek, right here, right now. What follows is the first two sentences from my eleven-year-old protagonist, Grace Marie Carter, in THIS I KNOW.

I make people nervous, even Daddy. Especially Daddy...

If those sentences sound like something you'd definitely keep reading, answer one or both questions below in the comments here or on my FaceBook page to be entered into a giveaway for an ARC (Advance Review Copy) of THIS I KNOW when it becomes available next month.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

I Only Know What I Don't Know

When the eye becomes the heart, the heart becomes the eye. -- Wasif Ali Wasif

Grace, the young protagonist in my upcoming novel THIS I KNOW could be described as clairvoyant, empathic, psychic or simply mischievous, depending on which character you ask. She senses things that have happened, intuits events that are about to occur, and enjoys deep conversations with her deceased twin. 

I like to think of myself as a balanced individual situated midway on the wide spectrum between woo-woo-hookey-doo and black-and-white certitude. As a veteran massage therapist and left-behind flower child living in California I definitely fit the New Age profile, but I don't necessarily subscribe to esoteric ideas steeped in seductive promises of self-actualization. I am, however, very curious about such things. So much so that intuition, telepathy, the afterlife, alternative medicine, and Eastern philosophy are recurrent themes woven into my stories. 

Like young Grace, I was raised in a conservative Christian family. And also like her, I began to question everything I'd been taught as I came of age. Over time my spiritual beliefs have evolved significantly. More than once in my life I've experienced a supernatural event that I couldn't completely defend with logic and reason. One that stands out occurred when I attended massage school. The students were taking turns practicing techniques on each other. I called the the instructor over because I was concerned about a young girl crying a couple of tables away from my massage partner and me. I couldn't understand why this child was in our classroom. The instructor was incredulous, "That's not a girl; don't you recognize Barbara?" The "girl" I saw was a fifty-year-old classmate. I later learned that her massage had apparently triggered repressed memories of abuse from her childhood. 

Maybe the room was dark and I imagined I saw a child. Maybe the pitiful sobs made her look like a little girl. Or maybe there's no logical explanation for why I saw a child in the face of a woman remembering abuse by her father when she was only twelve. I've had other inexplicable experiences as maybe some of you have. Is it wild imagination that drives these stories? Or could it be that there are some things we just can't understand? I don't have all the answers, but I really enjoy exploring them through the lens of my characters. I hope you will too.  #ThisIKnow 

***MARK YOUR CALENDAR!*** Timed to coincide with National Sister's Day, August 6, 2017 is the COVER REVEAL date for my debut novel THIS I KNOW (Spring/2018).  Follow me on Facebook to be one of the first to see this stunning depiction of my precocious young Grace Carter in all her glory. 

From the publisher: "Set in a small Midwest town in the late 1960s and helmed by an unforgettable young protagonist—compassionate, uncannily wise Grace—This I Know is a luminous coming-of-age story from an astonishing new voice." 

Advance Praise for Eldonna Edwards and This I Know
“Simply magical writing. Eldonna Edwards is a true storyteller. She tossed me straight into her book and there I stayed until the last word on the last page.” --Cathy Lamb, author of No Place I’d Rather Be
"In THIS I KNOW, Eldonna Edwards has crafted a compelling allegorical tale about the fear of otherness in this coming-of-age tale set in the late 1960's and early 1970's in midwestern America. Readers of all ages will find an unlikely hero in 11-year-old Grace Marie Carter, who was born with a type of clairvoyance she calls the "Knowing" - as she bravely forges her own path in a world that is constantly trying to silence her voice." --Amy ImpellizzeriAward-winning Author of Secrets of Worry Dolls and The Truth About Thea



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Nevertheless, She Persisted

The sky is not my limit. I am. --T. F. Hodge

A couple years ago this nasturtium crawled across our yard, into the neighbor's yard, and over their walking path. Sadly, the gardeners cut it down. Not to be deterred, the plant snaked into the foundation, twined up a basement wall, and found its way back to the light through a tiny crack in the siding. From my window the plant appeared to be floating like one of those gurus who levitate above the ground. But this isn't an illusion.  This flower succeeded simply because it persisted. It was not in its nature to give up.

Eighteen years ago I started a novel about a psychic little girl born into an Evangelical Christian family who is shunned for her intuitive gifts. I queried and found an agent who liked my other, more contemporary work-in-progress better. She shopped it around but she didn't sell it and eventually stopped communicating. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. But I was facing other challenges and my writing suddenly took a back seat to Life. I got sidetracked by a divorce, a move, my busy massage practice and being a single parent.

Both of my earlier manuscripts languished in a desk drawer for several years. I continued to facilitate journaling workshops but it wasn't until I donated a kidney to a stranger that I fully returned to writing, publishing a memoir in 2014 about my experience as a living donorLost in Transplantation did pretty well for an unknown self-published author but relating one's experience in book form is a lot different than creating setting, characters and story from scratch. I wrote the memoir to educate people about living donation.

Writing a novel is a whole 'nother ballgame with different rules, a different audience, and a much more competitive playing ground. This plant, though. Just look at it. Somebody cut it down and it defied that somebody in ways that confounded and amazed me.  The more I stared at it, the more I wanted to be like it. I eventually found the courage to show my original ms to my editor/beau. And then I held my breath while he read it, knowing he would be kind but he'd also be brutally honest. 

Turns out he loved it. And he worked with me to make it even better. Several months later I queried a list of reputable agents and in December of 2015, signed with one who sold the ms in a 2-book deal. THIS I KNOW releases around Mother's Day of 2018, a timely coincidence for a story with a mother who features prominently in this emotional story of a family torn apart by fear and judgment but ultimately, the redemption of acceptance and forgiveness. 

A few weeks ago my publisher sent me a sneak-peak at the cover and I admit that I succumbed to shiver-me-timbers of joy when I saw my protagonist captured on the cover image. Grace Carter is no longer a figment of my imagination. My precocious little redhead now belongs to the world. Coincidentally, I just finished the next book and sent it to my agent for notes. Now the process starts all over with a new cast of characters, a distinct landscape, and a very different story. The work doesn't get easier but for the most part, fear and self-doubt have transformed into anticipation and optimism.

My point is that persistence pays off.  To those of you struggling with uncertainty or who feel like quitting: Don't. Why choose to stunt your creative pursuits with self-limiting beliefs? Tunnel your way into the center of your dreams and plant yourself there with vigorous intention. Manifesting is awesome but it isn't magic. It's a combination of dreaming, surrounding yourself with people who support your dreams, a lot of work, and a little bit of good luck.  The march to success is a team event. Each triumph, no matter how small, finds me jumping up and down in solidarity with every one of you. Without each other, without our mentors and believers and champions, this journey would be a lonely road. And so I remain deeply grateful to all you wonderful humans who continue to be my cheerleaders. Believe me when I say, I am also yours. 

#amwriting #encouragement #persistance #selfdoubt

Thursday, April 20, 2017

On a Swing and a Prayer

I thought about years. How they take so long. And they go so fast. --Beth Nielson Chapman

We threw our tennis gear in the back of the car in hopes of getting a couple sets in before the sun went down but first we needed to stop for a quick look at a patio swing I'd found on craigslist. Brer and I were already cutting it close time-wise but I didn't want to risk losing the swing to another possible buyer. We're moving at the end of the month and it looked perfect for that sweet spot on the back deck with a view of the ocean.

Google maps led us to a twin home in Arroyo Grande with a stucco fence and an open garage door where the owner of said swing greeted us with a firm but cheery handshake. She led us to the back patio, flowered flip-flops clapping along under tanned sturdy legs. At one end of the fenced-in patio sat the swing, compete with custom cushions molded to a human being who'd spent a lot of time in that swing, namely her late husband, Ed*. The rest of the area was set up like a lanai with decorative ceramic fish, tinkling chimes and brightly colored pillows. We later learned the patio was a reflection of the many years she and Ed had spent living in Oahu.

We never made it to tennis. Over the next hour my beau and I gently swang in the canopied glider as Helen* talked about her beloved, their shared sense of humor, and a deep loving friendship. He was a hard worker, handsome and athletic, taken down in less than a month by an aggressive melanoma. The swing was his favorite place to relax after working on their property a few miles away where they grew avocados and other fruits and veggies. It sat in front of the hot tub, shielding neighbors from a view of the naked couple still very much in love in their 79th and 81st years.

In addition to our love of sunny California, we learned that the three of us shared a common upbringing in the Midwest, a trifecta of South Dakota, Minnesota and Michigan. "Did you say wash or warsh?" she asked, the true test of a Midwesterner. I think we passed the test. Not because of our shared former dialect but because she felt safe enough to drop the Midwestern stoicism and reveal more about his illness, her grief and loneliness, how she'd held her beloved's hand as he took his last breath and promised him she'd never leave. How they lost their only daughter five years before. How after nine months she's learning that she can keep the memories alive without clinging to all the stuff that's weighing her down. Little by little she's starting to let go of things. Like the patio swing where we sat, having earned the honor of becoming the new owners.

As we drove past the tennis courts on our way home my beau squeezed my hand and smiled. Funny how what you think is important suddenly pales in comparison to sitting with someone as they transform from a craigslist stranger into a human being with a story that's now a part of your story. I can't wait to set up the swing on our new porch and raise a toast to Helen and Ed. I've already dubbed the swing Harriet so I can sing "Swing Low, Sweet Harriet" because I think Ed would laugh at that.

*Names changed to protect the individual's privacy

Monday, March 27, 2017

Coming of Age: The Music That Moved Us

When I am silent, I fall into the place where everything is music. ~ Rumi

Both my forthcoming book THIS I KNOW and my current work-in-progress take place during the turbulent 1960's and 70's. One of my creative tricks has been to immerse myself into the setting by listening to music from that iconic era while I write. From Dylan to Baez to The Beatles to CSNY the music is not just about nostalgia, it represents a time when a nation of people pushed back against the wrongs of our government. Kind of like now. My novels are not political but change doesn't happen in a vacuum so my characters often find themselves brushing up against events of the day. For me, listening to the music is like slipping between the pages of Life Magazine during the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war and the counter-culture movement I missed by a few scant years. 

I've always considered myself a left-behind flower child. Kennedy was assassinated when I was just four years old. I was in the fourth grade when Woodstock happened. The Vietnam war had ended by the time I reached my teens. But that didn't stop me from knowing from a very young age that I was an idealist, a free spirit who just happened to have been born a few years too late to march with Dr. King, chant with Hare Krishnas or move to Haight-Ashbury to be with my tribe. Having grown up in a conservative Christian household, we weren't supposed to listen to rock-n-roll but of course we did. I did, anyway. I clearly remember being called upon by a history teacher having no idea of the question because I was (quite ironically) lost in the song, Drift Away playing on an earphone threaded from a small radio in my purse up the back of my blouse to my ear. 

Many of those utopian songs of freedom and change have etched themselves permanently into my being. Fortunately the music plays on and in my mind I'm there; dancing naked at an outdoor concert, placing flowers in rifles at Kent State, riding on the Marakesh Express to find truth and meaning from gurus draped in white sheets of wisdom. It would be difficult to pick a favorite but as I play though my lists on Pandora, a few songs reach me in places that send me back to that barefoot girl with a guitar on her back and bohemian dreams in her heart. Or like today, curled up with my coffee and a notepad as I plot my main character's next move and suddenly I'm rolling down the highway in a semi-truck, windshield wipers slappin' time as we pull into Salinas...

What about you? What song stands out from your coming-of-age years, when you thought every song was either written for you or about you?

#1960's #1970's #comingofage #counterculture #hippies #music

Monday, February 27, 2017

Today Will Always Be Better Than Tomorrow

"Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." --Allen Saunders

If you're having a sucky day you might not believe the title of this post but the fact that you're having a sucky day and thinking about tomorrow is kind of my point. Don't believe me? Well take a gander at the number of people (over 100,000 as I write this) currently viewing this Giraffe who is about to give birth. I'll wait. That was probably a stupid suggestion because I just lost most of you, who will now be more interested in waiting for the magic moment those two baby-sized hooves appear (well, as baby-sized as a 150-pound giraffe can be) before mamma April gives birth. I know this because I've spent way too many hours over the past four days watching said giraffe and her bae Oliver as they count down to the big splash. Sorry I know that sounds gross but after three days of waiting I finally just started watching giraffe birth videos and that's kind of what it's like when they hit the ground. Sploosh is probably a better word.

The thing is I realized that the more I watched the giraffe the more impatient I got. And the more invested I became. I'd already wasted all this time and I didn't want it to be for nothing. Come on already, I thought. Time to get this show on the road! It's kind of how I feel when I'm writing a book or waiting for said book to release. I get so focused on the next thing that I forget to revel in the beauty of current thing. Ram Dass wrote a whole book about this titled Be Here Now. I think as humans we intrinsically know that we should be more present in the smallest moments but we get addicted to the adrenal charge of the big moments. The births, the weddings, the birthdays, the moves, the job promotions, the book releases and yes, even the deaths. We get so caught up in the preamble we forget to marvel at the process. And quite often, we rush the thing that's not ready to be born.

One of the most exciting aspects of a publishing a book is also one of the most challenging. Your agent sold the book (YAY!) but then you realize it takes an average of two years before it will hit the shelves. Two. Years. Why? Well, partly because there are other books ahead of yours in the queue but also because your book is not ready. It takes time for the edits and revisions and meetings with publicity department and cover art and press releases and reviewers and blah, blah blah. And while you're waiting, or let's be honest here, while I'm waiting, I need to stay focused on writing the next book. Because the magic moment isn't publishing the book, it's writing it. And just like our adorable baby giraffe, gestation takes time. The finished product is indeed a miracle but the making of the miracle is where the magic happens. Taking a single sentence and turning into one that makes you stop for a moment and wonder at the way those words lined up to form a cogent thought is not a waste of time, it's the reason time exists. If I had skipped over that sentence because I was anxious to get to the next sentence, the next chapter, the final scene, I'd never have fully enjoyed that moment.

Or this one right here, where some of you are having a sucky day and I'm here to tell you that even
pain can be exquisite if you think about it. It's our measure of bliss, isn't it? How else would we know how good something feels if we haven't experienced suffering? How lucky are we to be extended the grace of these moments-in-waiting? Just look at those giraffes. How amazing are they with their long necks, crazy patterns, and goofy little horns? It's not about the baby, folks, it's about enjoying each moment with these awesome creatures. Otherwise life would be like reading the last page without ever getting to ride the roller coaster of emotions that led to the finale. So go ahead, look forward to the next thing but for crying out loud don't forget to enjoy the this one.

So tell me, what are you waiting for? And what moment are you reveling in RIGHT NOW? I'd love to read your comments.

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Friday, February 3, 2017

The Big Picture

"They bought a house on the hillside, where little feet soon would run. From small things, mama, big things one day come."  --Bruce Springsteen, From Small Things

We saw Twentieth Century Women at the local theater tonight and somewhere during the film the question was asked, “What is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to you?” And it got me to thinking. The biggest thing is always relative to the last biggest thing, isn’t it? When I got married at sixteen that was huge. Until I had a baby at eighteen and creating a human being became the biggest thing. But then her dad and I divorced and raising a child on my own when I was barely more than a child myself, well, you can imagine how big that felt. The next time I got married it wasn’t as big a thing because I’d done it before. Same for the next two babies and the second divorce. But getting my real estate license was big. As was the day I left real estate to open my first massage practice.

If you asked me the biggest thing in my life when I was thirty one I would have told you it was watching my mother take her last breath. Moving to California at thirty-seven soon eclipsed that passage. Not bigger, but different in size and scope for sure. Fast forward thirteen years when I donated a kidney to a complete stranger. Now that was a big thing, bigger than me, bigger than I ever expected in terms of how it affected my life in so many beautiful ways. Still does. And although I was overwhelmed by the impact of donating a kidney, taking part in a documentary and then giving birth to the memoir that followed my donation journey consumed my life in a big way for several very exciting and busy years.

Writing the memoir gave me the confidence to finish a novel and then I signed with an agent and I suddenly felt like a BFD. I had an agent! An even bigger deal when she sold the book to a publisher. "This I Know" will be released next spring. Will this novel be the biggest big thing? Maybe. Maybe it will be the book after that, the one already taking up most of the space in my head as I clickety-clack away on my keyboard.  Or maybe, the writing itself is the big thing, eh?

Between my childhood wedding and selling my book, there were lots of smaller things, although many left a big impression. Things like seeing my youngest go off to college, moving to the ocean, finding and losing love (and finding it anew). I won’t marry again but I’ll probably write more books. I’ll undoubtedly lose more dear friends to cancer. My fifteen year-old dog will die. My kid’s kids will have kids. And so on and so on but frankly, I think my biggest thing will have already passed by that time. Maybe when I’m seventy or eighty I’ll be able to tell you which one of those was the biggest. Or maybe the biggest thing will be my death, when I finally find out if there is anything after this. Now that would be huge, given my agnosticism.  
The thing is I think we’re too focused on the big things. It’s those little things I most remember. The vibration of clunky roller skates under my feet on a bumpy sidewalk. The smell of sheets breeze-dried on my mother’s clothesline. The feel of knotted muscles under my hands as I kneaded them into submission. Baby toes. Carrot cake. My lover’s breath on the back of my neck. The scent of books and the sound of a page turned.  Dirt crunching beneath my boots. A fan on a hot summer day. Movie popcorn. All of it. 

So tell me, what is the biggest thing that's ever happened to you? What is your smallest biggest thing? The next biggest thing?