So Much Chocolate, So Little Time

M&M1 I’m in the middle of writing and researching the next Bodies of Art novel, so my mind and clicking finger naturally gravitates toward anything relating to London. Recently, I read an article that has me wanting to grab my passport and book a flight. The Brits have a huge M&M store in London! Yes, four stories high, and looking like something between Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and my most heartfelt desire.

Couldn’t resist grabbing a few of the shots and posting them here to share for now and enjoy later when I’m planning my next hop across the pond ūüôāM&M5

So many choices. Wonder which ones I would pick–M&M6

–This is the M&M take on the iconic Abbey Road pic.

And I wonder if anyone tries to make the queen’s M&M guard laugh or smile at his posting.

It really would be tempting–M&M3

Imagine having your personal order completed while you wait.¬†Kind of reminds me of the classic¬†I Love Lucy¬†episode where Lucy & M&M2Ethel packaged candy (when they weren’t eating the bon bons or stuffing them down their shirts).

So very much chocolate, and so little time. Sigh…

Something for everyone I’ll bet–well, everyone who loves chocolate ūüôā

M&M4

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Exciting Day Around Here! Book Cover Reveals!

COUNTERFEIT CONSPIRACIES coverIII’m pretty good at keeping secrets when I have to–But I don’t really like to. Especially when it involves new book covers. ¬†I’ve been really good at keeping ¬†these covers secret–but now that my publisher, Henery Press, has made them public, I get to show them off as well!

A couple of months ago, I signed a contract with Henery Press for my Bodies of Art series. They’re releasing the first two books in a few months, and they’ve contracted for three more books to come out in the next few years.

The last Friday in July, my lovely editor, Erin, sent me a request from the art department, asking if I had anything in particular I’d like to see incorporated into the covers. Well, let me tell you–I may write art mysteries, but I know my creativity is firmly with words–not creating pictures. So I have no problem letting design people work their graphic magic without a lot of my interference.

However, I didn’t want to sound like I wasn’t a team play and wanted to check out completely, so I sent in some ideas that rattled around in my brain. Things like:

  • An empty frame or an empty art case could be used to tie together the books in the series.
  • I really wanted something that gave readers a clue that this was a caper-type-mystery, fast and fun.
  • I mentioned the different settings for each book, in case landmarks could be incorporated somehow into the cover designs.

Then I reiterated that I didn’t want to really direct them in anything, because I knew a design artist could do something a million times better than anything I could dream up in a cover, so not to feel they had to use my ideas if better inspiration came along. Then I hurriedly hit the SEND button so I wouldn’t write anything more.

And I was amazed by what came back!MARKED MASTERS cover

From the funky font Kendel used for the second line to give the caper vibe, to incorporating specific landmark shots into the frames of the pictures in the display, to the empty frame idea that I almost didn’t mention–Truly, I couldn’t have asked for anything I would ever have liked better. She took my tiny idea sparks and made something outstanding. As soon as I saw the first cover I knew she’d nailed it! When I saw the second cover, I was positive!

Now, I can’t wait to finish writing the third book so I can see the next book cover masterpiece ūüôā

 

Easy Ways to Help Others

I’m a big fan of recycling, not just to stay green but because practically everyone I know has a habit of buying things they don’t always use to the “worn out” point of the item(s). Whether we’re talking clothes or books or–well, anything really–there’s always some group or organization that can use your discarded items. The landfill should be the last step to get rid of things, instead of the first option used.

I know different communities have different options, but there are national and worldwide organizations that can use your donations wherever you live. It may take a phone call or email, or maybe even a bit of postage, but your discarded items can truly help others, even if you don’t have ready cash to send to charity.

books sale imageFor example, our library’s annual “huge book sale” is coming in just a few weeks. I don’t read as many physical books as I once did–I tend to read more and more on my Kindle–but I always have books I can take in to contribute each year. And it’s such a win-win for everyone. The library gains my usually-once-read books, I gain more shelf space in my house, and the yearly exercise gives me a good reason to go back and consider whether some of those titles I thought I couldn’t live without are still on my “going to read again” list. And library patrons who come to the sale and buy the bargain books get to try out new authors they might not have read otherwise.

A new charity I just learned about this week is Medicine Bottles for Malawi.Medicine Bottle for Malawi¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† My¬†household doesn’t have a lot of prescription medicine bottles, but I have older relatives who do. I love this great way to Malawi Projectrecycle and keep more plastic out of landfills. It’s hard to imagine countries like Malawi, so poor that when its people can get needed prescription drugs the pills often come folded in a scrap of paper because there are no bottles available. I’ll be collecting all our empty prescription bottles, and ship them off when I get a boxful. Here’s the link to¬†The Malawi Project¬†if you want more information, and the address to ship to as well.

We drive our cars as long as possible. Right now we have a 20-year-old Honda and our American Lung Association“newest” car is a 15-year-old Camry. So, when we give up a car we know we’re not going to get much of trade-in, despite the fact that we don’t drive long distances daily and there’s never any body damage to the vehicles. Instead, we donate to the American Lung Association–Vehicle Donation¬†program, and they send out a tow truck (even if the car still runs) and the vehicle is picked up at our house within two days. How easy is that? The organization sells it, and the small profit is used to fund programs to help people with breathing issues. One of our friends told me recently that he donates his old cars Cars for Homesto¬†Habitat for Humanity–Cars for Homes¬†program.¬†¬†Another friend always donates her old clunkers to National Public Radio, because the guys on Car Talk made her aware of the program, and she feels she’s giving back since she listens to NPR programs all day long. ¬†Charity Navigator has a page with information on donating your car. For more information, Charity Watch¬†has a page on the subject, too. If you’d like to find other organizations that take car donations, you can check websites like the¬†BizTax Advisor.

And speaking of Habitat for Humanity, this organization not only helps low-income folks get into their first house. The organization also has Habitat for Humanity-ReStores in most major cities. At these ReStore locations, itemsHabitat for Humanity ReStore¬†donated that cannot be used on jobs are sold to the public, and the proceeds are used to help fund building projects and other needs of the organization. We’ve donated old storm doors and cabinets after a remodel. And when we’re doing any DIY jobs around the house, we check there first for bargain supplies. We’ve purchased a $25 door to replace a closet door that cracked, lights to change the look in one of the rooms in our house, and an area rug we use every day. The store has every kind of building supply–some new, some recycled. I love going–whether I’m buying or donating–because it always feels like a treasure trove to explore. To¬†donate or check out what the nearest store has to offer, go to the¬†Habitat for Humanity ReStore¬†website to find the nearest location in the U.S. and Canada.

Honey's grinAs a writer, and a devoted pet owner, animal organizations are near and dear to my heart as well. Both my 19-year-old cat who passed away this summer, and my wonderfully-goofy 4-year-old Labrador were rescues that stole my heart when they came to live with me. Because I feel animal rescue work is so important, I’ve located and written grant requests for my city’s animal shelter for several years. Each time I go into the shelter there is usually another new volunteer helping out. So, while downtime is always important, think about ways you can set some aside a little bit of time to help the community–animal or human. I promise, you’ll feel better for it and you’re liable to meet some terrific new friends. Win-win!

We have a local charity that takes any and all kinds of household items as donations–even upholstered furniture and large appliances, which our area Goodwill no longer takes. The local charity is a “second hand” store that supports a local domestic violence shelter. But while some items get into the store, most are actually given away to families of domestic abuse who often have to leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs to get away from their abusers. These kinds of “safe nets” are a great way to help people you may never meet, but by donating the items they need we help them create a new home. Through the years, we’ve used the store’s drop off zone to give this organization sofas, a refrigerator, chairs, old working televisions (my husband really wanted the thinner screens) and clothing we no longer used or our child outgrew. While I’ve shopped in the store (yes, I love a bargain, and knowing it’s supporting a charity makes it all the better), but I’ve never seen any of our donations on the shop’s floor. That made me feel good, because I knew 100% of my donation went to help a family or families in need. Oh, what a feeling! So, look around for small, out of the way stores that might be doing what this shop does–they never have good real estate spots on a main street, but the work they do is truly first class.

One huge warning, however. There are scams that use charities, just like there are scams that try to use every other avenue of our lives. The Federal Trade Commission has a great web page that gives a quick checklist on things to watch for to avoid charity scams, and also the things you need to be aware of if you want to deduct your donation(s) on your income taxes (yes, charitable donations to organizations that have a 501(c)3 designation by the IRS can be deducted if if you itemize on your tax return). You can get that information by going to¬†The FTC webpage–Before Giving to a Charity.

The Soundtrack of My Working Life

One thing that keeps me energized as an author is playing music as I write. My daughter used to always say she could tell which writing project I was currently working on based on what music came out of my home office. Her favorite was when I worked on a suspense/thriller with a particularly no-nonsense reporter as the protagonist, because I played Sheryl Crow all day. I’m not sure why, but the music perfectly fit that particular character.

Right now, I’m on deadline for the next book in my Bodies of Art Mysteries¬†series, and beyond watching YouTube videos of Barcelona and Switzerland (that’s all the clues I’m giving, no spoilers) I added new music to my “escape in Europe” repetoire. Have been writing to the soundtracks of the Oceans movies, thanks to a tip from terrific author Ellie Ashe. But a couple of weeks ago I saw the new¬†The Man from U.N.C.L.E.¬†(and yes, I’ve Man from UNCLEalways had Henry Cavill in mind for Jack Hawkes–even before Guy Ritchie cast him in the role of Napoleon Solo and proved Cavill had the acting chops I’d long suspected he had and “owned” the role). Loved the movie, will likely see it again (and again). Especially loved the chemistry between the three spys. And something I didn’t even consider when I bought my ticket (but should have, since this is a Guy Ritchie film, after all) was that I LOVE¬†the movie’s soundtrack.

The best part is that this soundtrack is the¬†perfect¬†music to play on my computer or Amazon Echo (yes, love that little marvel, too) while I’m writing scenes for a Bodies of Art¬†mystery. Don’t have a final title worked out yet for the little jewel of a sequel for Laurel & Jack, but thanks to this original music created for the fabulous film, words flows from my brain to the keyboard as smoothly as this smooth soundtrack shuffles from one excellent song to the next.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. One of the bad guys from the first book,¬†Counterfeit Conspiracies,¬†has surfaced again in a book #3 scene (no, I won’t give the name), and thinks he’s trapped our heroine. I can’t wait to see how Laurel gets out of a very sticky situation–or whether the baddie is limping (or worse) by the end.

Do you have any favorite music you like to motivate you while working? Feel free to share in the comments ūüôā