Monday, March 23, 2020

Little Caesar

Another Excerpt from Paws and Reflect

CAESAR WAS DEAD. The little emperor who’d stolen all our hearts was gone after eighteen years, and we were left with silence and memories. He wasn’t my first dog, but he was the most memorable dog I’ve ever had the pleasure to call my friend.

His imperial name came from my little brother’s overactive imagination. But it fit Caesar’s regal personality, which was clear even in the squirming puppy that he was when he entered our lives.

I was fourteen, my sister and brother even younger, and we’d wanted nothing so much as we wanted a dog. A neighbor’s beautiful terrier, Sheba, was about to give birth. She had mated with a regal-looking, all-white Fox Terrier. My sister, brother, and I anxiously awaited the results of the match. 

When it happened, I remember my brother running home with the news that Sheba had produced a litter and that we were to choose one.

We trooped over to the house to take a look at the litter and make a choice. The squirming mass of puppy flesh was too indistinct for me to choose, and neither could my sister or brother. So Mom picked one of the puppies. We were to wait for him to be weaned and then could take him home. The waiting wouldn’t be easy, even if we could visit him each day.

A few days later, however, disaster struck—Sheba was killed by a car and the puppies had to be hand fed.

Mom picked him up, a shivering little squealing bundle who barely knew what was going on. He fit in the palm of her hand, tiny, vulnerable, and pitiful. I took one look at him and wondered how we’d keep him alive. But Mom knew more about puppies than I’d imagined. She promptly found a tiny bottle and fed him some kind of milk mixture whenever he wanted.

On the day he came home with us, my brother immediately named him Caesar. I looked at the tiny wriggling pink-and-white pup and laughed, thinking that such a big name would weigh down so small a dog. Watching him move and yawn, blink his eyes and fidget—the sight tugged at my heart and I knew that no matter what his name, I was bound to this little dog.

That was the beginning. The days turned into weeks, and he gained weight and strength and was soon standing on his own and demanding something more than milk. Next came the training—a gentle boot camp. 

Joe's website
Caesar was a quick learner and took his place among the family members in a short time. I remember staring at him and wondering how that little lump of flesh had become the handsome dog surveying his territory with an imperial air. He was like his father: shapely, sturdy, and smart. 

Unlike his father, Caesar’s white coat was marked with one black furry patch circling his right eye. But rather than appear foolish, Caesar managed to look dashing, black patch and all.

Small and quick, Caesar quickly became the neighborhood favorite. And he lapped it up. He loved the attention but also knew that he had responsibilities and took them seriously. He shook the windows with his barks and with his paws as he pounced on the storm door to frighten passersby. No one escaped his attention, especially not strange dogs, whether or not they had a human companion.


Enjoyed this excerpt? You can order Paws and Reflect from Amazon or other e-retailers.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Girls by Victor Banis

Another Excerpt from Paws and Reflect


I'm continuing my posts of excerpts from this great collection of essays about men and their relationships with their dogs with this bit from "The Girls" by Victor Banis.

Victor was a terrific guy, a gentleman and a pioneer of gay literature who wrote prolifically for the pulp paperback world beginning in the 1960s, under many pen names. This excerpt gives you an idea of how wonderful his prose is, and his attention to detail.


She was a year old when a boyfriend—mine, not hers—arrived one day carrying in his arms a peculiar-looking little animal that purported to be a German Shepherd with the ears of a jackrabbit. 

Her name, he informed me, was Prima, and she had been terribly abused in her previous home. I pointed out that I had neither the desire nor the room for a second pet, and reminded him that my landlord had not been happy about the first one, but he asked plaintively if I would just keep her for a day or so while he found a home for her. I made the mistake of saying yes.

In all fairness, he did warn me that she was not yet housebroken. By the next morning, however, Jennie had seen to that, and they were going outside together. That struck me as even more mysterious, since it was not the sort of oddity you would expect to have happen twice. Still, I had no reason to complain.

Since we lived in the city, I tried training the newcomer to a leash, thinking that Jennie’s instant understanding of that necessity was certainly not likely to repeat itself, as the toilet training had. But Prima was such a frightened little thing that, no sooner had you put any kind of collar around her neck than she fell to the floor in a quivering, peeing mass and could not be induced to regain her feet until the collar was removed and she had been reassured that no physical violence was intended.

It was Jenny once again who took charge. To my astonishment, by the next day she had taught Prima to heel at the snap of my fingers, and from then on I could walk down a busy sidewalk in, say, West Hollywood, with both girls safely and politely at perfect heel.

How had Jenny done that? What secret language had passed between them? I only knew that whatever I wanted her to do Jenny divined, and whatever Jenny did Prima did as well. So I could come out of the kitchen into the den, where the rug had just been shampooed, and walk around the bare-floor perimeter to cross the room, and Jenny would follow after me, and Prima after her, and not a paw upon the damp rug. I could entertain less–dog enthusiastic guests in the living room and, though the girls had the run of the house, they would sit politely in the doorway while I sipped cocktails with the guests. I have had two legged friends whose manners weren’t so good.

The story of Victor's life in the pulps
They could be parted from me only by trickery. If, of necessity, I left them home without me, they would sit at the upstairs window and cry in great mournful howls until I returned, to be greeted with wagging tails and scathing looks.

The girls shared my life for fifteen happy and loving years. About halfway through that span, we moved to a cabin in the mountains. They loved it: the great outdoors, exploring together, creeks to splash in, all sorts of scents to investigate. In the summer we took long treks in the woods; in the winter, they liked me to throw snowballs for them to catch. They got friendly with the squirrels, who lost their fear of the girls and would leap over Prima when she slept in the doorway to come inside and beg for a snack.


Victor Banis passed away but his work lives on.

You can buy Paws and Reflect from Amazon or other retailers.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Doomed for a Dog


Excerpts from Paws and Reflect

To celebrate the new cover for the classic essay collection Sharon Sakson and I published, Paws & Reflect, I'm publishing some excerpts from the essays. This one comes from Donald Hardy's very funny essay, "Puppy Whipped."

The last few weeks of my Cocker Spaniel Casey’s life, I took her for “walks” under the vet’s instructions not to let her walk.

The doctor on the case (who was fabulous) was upbeat but slightly evasive about the prognosis. Diagnosis, too, was slightly uncertain, but she did give Casey treatment: a steroid to encourage the marrow of her aging bones to crank out red blood cells; puppy Pepto to calm the stomach so she could take the steroid; antibiotics; and soft food, special stuff that looked, the doctor said, like paté. “She loves it,” she said. “She has been chowing down all day. Only feed her this. And no exercise. Out the door to pee, right back in, and rest.”

Permanently. She was supposed to do nothing but eat expensive pâté and sleep. It’s a dog’s life, indeed.” But Dr. Fab,” I said. “I live on a boat, about 200 yards worth of dock from the shore. We have to walk that far for her to get to where she can pee.”

“No, ” replied the doc.”That’s too far. You carry her.” Silence.

“Well, OK, ” I said. I let Casey do her business when I got her home, then carried her down the dock. This wasn’t too bad, as she only weighed thirty-five pounds, but I had a strong sense that it would get old fast. I eyed up the dock carts. I’d nearly killed myself the year before when carrying my other dog, Bear, up to the shore for a vet visit. Bear weighed in at eighty pounds.

“Hmmm,” I thought.”Maybe I’ll get a nice big one that’ll fit both dogs, and then neither will have to walk . . . assuming they’ll let me push ’em. If they don’t, that’s a wasted 250 bucks. I’ll wait.”

As I was coming back from walking Bear that evening, Patty and Dennis, my neighbors in the marina, asked what was wrong with Casey. I explained, and they offered a little dock cart they didn’t need. About twenty minutes later, Dennis knocked on my deck and said, “Here it is! You’ll have to hose it down, but it should work for her.”

I climbed up on deck and thanked him, and then looked at the dock cart.

Don's Novel
It was small. It was red. It was cute.

I was doomed.

Eleven o’clock rolled around, and it was time for Casey’s late night—well, I suppose one ought not to call it a walk—“outing.” I took some puppy blankets up and lined the bottom of the cart, then carried Casey up on deck, deposited her in her little cart, and started down the dock.

So. There I was. A forty-seven-year-old, six-foot-two, 200-pound man, pulling a small, fluffy golden dog down the dock in a cute, little red wagon.


Find Donald Hardy online here.

Buy your copy of Paws and Reflect at Amazon or other retailers.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Other Elements of Author Branding

Moving Beyond the Tagline

I’ve been focusing so far in this series about taglines, because they’re an important part of developing your brand. But there are other elements of your brand as well.

Titles

Stuck for a title for your book? Try out Reedsy’s Title Generator. You’ll notice that many of the titles they generate are short and sweet. My MFA thesis advisor, the very talented James W. Hall, told us that thrillers should have two-word titles, for a couple of reasons. 

First, it’s harder to convey the essence of a book in a one-word title. Unfulfilled? Might be a great word to describe the plot or your protagonist’s key motivator. That title could be a romance, a mystery, science fiction.

Unfulfilled Desire, though, is sure to be a romance, while Unfulfilled Revenge sounds more like a thriller, and Unfulfilled Exploration might be science fiction or adventure.

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Most of the books in my Mahu series have two-word titles. The next five books used Mahu first, followed by a qualifier. The word “mahu” is a word from the Hawaiian language which means gay or two-spirit, and for a long time it was a nasty epithet like faggot or queer.

Since then, it has been reclaimed, and I’m proud to use it as a synonym for gay. In the following books I wanted to explore more sides of my hero’s character. Mahu Surfer takes him to the North Shore of O’ahu, where he returns to his surfing roots while investigating a case.

Mahu Blood is probably one of my best titles because of the dual meaning. It’s a murder investigation so of course there’s blood. But this book is also about Hawaiian heritage, and what Kimo his inherited from his Hawaiian ancestors.

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Key Words in Titles

I also use a key word to link the five books in my Love on series, which begins with Love on Site, which has a construction background. The curlicue neon font says this is contemporary romance, as does the shirtless cover model. I like the angularity of the crane in the background and overall the whole layout of the cover, which was done by an artist for Loose Id, who first published that series. 

The inspiration for the title came not only from the years I spent building shopping centers, but from Beatrice’s speech in Much Ado About Nothing. “Benedick, love on! I shall requite thee!” I wanted to convey the sense of joy from that scene in the Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson movie.



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I use longer titles for my adventure and thriller books. The Angus Green FBI series, for example, begins with The Next One Will Kill You, while the first book in the Have Body, Will Guard series is Three Wrong Turns in the Desert.

Colors



The books generally use darker colors in the background, to convey once again that these are mysteries, rather than comic romps.

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Check out some of these covers and see what they tell you about the story you could expect to read. Notice in particular the two very different books with the same title: Silversword by Phyllis A. Whitney and Silver Sword by Charles Knief. You only have to look at the cover design to know what you’re getting.


Font

Your choice of font, both on your book covers, your website, and the text you apply to images, says something about your brand.

When I got the rights to the Mahu series back and relaunched them, I commissioned new covers. The designer used the same font on each book, a simple sans-serif one that is intended to convey that these are serious books.

In each case, the first word sits on top of the second, almost touching. That parallel structure tells the reader these are part of the same series.
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Monday, February 24, 2020

Brand is more than a word


Creating a statement that represents your author brand




Looking back at my first post about branding, I identified the brand for my golden retriever mysteries as “dogs.”

That doesn’t seem enough.


From Amazon or other e-retailer
For my golden retriever mysteries, I often use the tagline “Do you think a dog can solve a mystery? Rochester can!”

But that’s a tagline for that series, not a statement of my author brand.

When I promote the series on dog-friendly sites, I often use the statement, “Do you like dogs and mysteries? If you do, I hope you’ll check out my golden retriever mystery series. Ten books and the dog never gets hurt!”

That’s getting closer. The idea behind that second statement came from a reader, who emailed me to say one thing she loved about my series was that she never had to worry about Rochester getting harmed.



That’s a big thing for readers who love animals—they’re willing to see adults and children killed and maimed, but don’t touch the pets! So I try to emphasize that.

But back to brand. Dogs appear in most of my mystery and adventure books. Rochester is first, of course; he’s the co-star in his series, a lively golden retriever with a nose for crime.

From Amazon or other e-retailers
There’s Roby in the Mahu series, a golden retriever. Roby alerted his family that their house was on fire, allowing them all to escape. 

But they couldn’t take the dog with them to their new temporary housing, so Kimo’s fire investigator partner Mike takes the dog in. 

He’s just a pet, though he serves a valid role in the series. He is the first addition to their household, showing them both that they can love, and eventually opening their hearts to a foster son.

Then there’s Hayam, the lion-faced dog who appears in the first pages of Three Wrong Turns in the Desert, the first of my Have Body, Will Guard series. I don’t know where he came from—he just showed up. 

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Aidan Greene has been kicked to the curb by his long-time partner and fled halfway across the world to Tunis. Hayam showed up, I think, to tell Aidan that he wasn’t really alone in the world.

Hayam is an independent dog, as I imagined he would be, living on the streets of a third-world country. When Aidan returns to Tunis with his new love, Liam, Hayam is waiting for him once again, and Liam christens the dog with her name, which he says means deliriously in love in Arabic.

So these three dogs all serve important purposes in their novels. How can I knit those ideas into a canine-centric brand?


Crime-solving canines only applies to Rochester, not to Hayam or Roby. But that might be a nice line to put onto my golden retriever mysteries website. I like the alliteration, because I think that makes the tagline more memorable.

Crime and courtship with canine companions makes every book sound like romance. And honestly, romance is the one genre where I generally don’t have canine characters.

I’m thinking of Canine companions join the fun in adventure and mystery fiction. What do you think? Any other ideas?

Monday, February 17, 2020

Guest Blog from Marjetta Geerling/Mara Wells


Branding: to Pen Name or not to Pen Name?


Marjetta Geerling is a teaching colleague of mine at Broward College, and when I heard that she had written a romantic comedy set in Miami and featuring dogs, I was all in. I've asked her to give some of the background as to why she chose a different pen name for her debut romantic comedy, when she's already published a YA novel under her real name.

The book, the first in the Fur Haven Dog Park series, is under the name Mara Wells



Here's what Marjetta has to say about author branding.
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When I decided to jump genres and enter the world of romantic comedy, I had to decide whether to use my legal name, which I’d used to publish in children’s literature, or a pen name. Ultimately, my agent’s advice struck a chord with me: a romance novel doesn’t belong on the same web page as a kids’ book. She talked to me about the advantages of having what she called a “clean brand,” and in the year and a half since I made the decision to use a pen name, I’ve come to see the wisdom in her advice.

A clean brand means that when readers see an author’s name, they know exactly what they are getting. When readers are confident in the brand, they are more likely to pre-order, and pre-orders are good for authors for all kinds of reasons—book buzz, print runs, and the all-important first week of sales numbers. Pre-orders count as sales on the day the book is released so contribute to the perception of how the book is received in the market. In other words, preorders help the book stand out in a crowded marketplace.


You are probably already thinking of beloved authors who genre hop. Mixed-brand authors do well, too, of course, especially if they have a big name. For me, though, starting out in a new genre with no platform to speak of, I decided that a clean brand was the way to go. The next step: What exactly should that brand be?


My agent and editor had lots of opinions, and after many discussions it boiled down to three key words: romance, dogs, and humor. Unlike my actual life which is complicated by, well, life, my brand identity gets to focus on the things that make me happy: talking about dogs, reading romance novels, and wryly observing the world around me. It’s me, boiled down. And I’m loving the experience.

In many ways, branding has simplified promotion for me. When I’m putting together a gift basket, shopping for conference swag to give-away, or deciding what to post on social media, I have my brand key words to help guide and focus my decisions. I was worried that branding would make me less of who I am, but instead, it’s helped me express myself more clearly and concisely than I otherwise might’ve done. The result? I’m creating relationships with readers based on our shared passions, and that feels real and meaningful to me in a delightful way.

Here's the delightful blurb for Cold Nose, Warm Heart:

A poodle, a black lab and a Chihuahua walk into a dog park...
All Caleb Donovan has to do to redeem his family name is take a rundown Miami Beach apartment building and turn it into luxury condos. Easy, right?
Unfortunately, that would also turn the local dog park into a parking lot and the neighbors aren't having it. Caleb is faced with outright revolt, led by smart, beautiful building manager Riley Carson and her poodle, LouLou.
For Caleb, this project should have been a slam dunk. But even more challenging than the neighborhood resistance is the mutual attraction between him and Riley. It would be so much easier just to stay enemies.
Can Riley and her canine sidekick convince Caleb that what's best for business isn't always best for the heart?

I'm looking forward to reading this book and I hope you all are too!


Monday, February 10, 2020

What's Your Personal Brand?

What do the logos you wear say about you? 


Recently I blogged about author brands. We all have our personal "brand identity" as well. What does that say about you?

I’m not a big fan of wearing company logos on my clothes. I feel like if you want me to advertise your brand for you, you ought to pay me.

My students feel differently. As I walk across the campus I’m assaulted by logos from PINK, Aeropostale, and Hollister, among others.

From my studies in marketing and advertising, I assume it’s because they want to feel associated with the brand and what it stands for.

Sometimes, though, I’m baffled. I have an elderly neighbor who walks religiously up and down our street, and I often run into him when I’m out walking the dogs. One of his T-shirts has a huge K-Mart logo on it.

Really? That’s the brand you want to be associated with?

Then there was the guy I observed while I was waiting for my husband’s cataract follow up appointment. He wore a Versace polo shirt with a bright green underlying the company’s traditional baroque twists and turns of gold. He had a round-faced watch in a matching green, the same color as his webbed belt and the socks sticking out of his white Versace sneakers. He had a hard face, one that had seen trouble and was completely at odds with the bright colors of his outfit. The only thing that wasn’t Versace were his white shorts, with the RL Polo logo perched on his fine ass.

I figured out that he was there with his father, for an eye appointment. He didn’t necessarily look gay, from his face to his short hair to his generally straight presentation. But really, would a straight man coordinate his outfit so carefully, down to matching the face of his watch and his socks?

I’m not saying my clothes are totally brandless. I am an outlet and Marshall’s shopper and if I find a polo shirt that fits well and is a bargain, I won’t care if it has a little polo pony on the breast, or the Margaritaville logo. My jeans come from LL Bean, and my shoes are usually Crocs. My T-shirts are usually dog-related gifts or souvenirs of places I’ve visited, and even the one Armani Exchange T-shirt in my closet was a freebie given out when a new store opened on South Beach.

So I guess you could construct a fictional character based on your observation of me. How about you? Do you wear brands or observe people who do? If you’re a writer, do you use brands to identify your characters?