While the Getting Is Good…

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At the end of the month, I will be removing my short stories from Amazon as I prepare a collection. The collection will feature the twelve stories I wrote in 2013, including the award-winning “This Elegant Ruin,” along with 13 brand new vignettes, one between each of the stories, plus two to bookend the collection, that will connect to make sort of a “thirteenth tale,” if you will. I’m hoping that collection will be available in both ebook and print by the end of the summer. So if you want to read any of the stories as an inexpensive single on Kindle, you have ten more days to buy before that option disappears forever!

Find information about the short stories here and click through to buy for Kindle.

 

All Short Stories Free Today!

Don’t forget to download any and all of my short stories for Kindle absolutely FREE today only as my thank you to you for reading! This will be your last chance to snap them up individually for free!

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Water & Light

A young pregnant woman is called into work at the water treatment plant on a stormy Christmas Eve. What happens that night will test her resolve and strengthen her faith. Buy it here for Kindle.

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Memory Man

People say there’s a man who can forget your bad memories for you. Lives in the city somewhere, supposedly. Problem is, I never met anyone who has actually seen the guy. Buy it here for Kindle.

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Drive

When a man drives across the Upper Peninsula to retrieve a moving truck that has been missing for 25 years, he never could have guessed what was waiting for him inside. Buy it here for Kindle.

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The Beginning and the End

The trip never should have happened—wouldn’t have happened were it not for that unfortunate confluence of romantic clichés the night of Courtney’s wedding… Buy it here for Kindle.

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The Astonishing Moment

A pleasant kayaking excursion along the southern shore of Lake Superior becomes a dangerous affair when the weather suddenly turns and the light fails. Buy it here for Kindle.

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10 Degrees Cooler in the Shade

In the light of a hot summer day at the carnival, there’s always something to see. In the dark of night, there’s always something to hide. Buy it here for Kindle.

One Endless Summer Day

One Endless Summer Day

In summertime, the days can seem endless. Whether that is good or bad kind of depends on what side of childhood you find yourself on. Buy it here for Kindle.

Clean

Clean

When it seems like everything in life is going wrong, sometimes all it takes to get things back on track is just one thing a little out of the ordinary. Buy it here for Kindle.

We Shall Sometime Come to Someplace

We Shall Sometime Come to Someplace

An unseasonable storm is just the first in a series of strange and surreal events that will set a one man’s life on a very different course. Buy it here for Kindle.

The Door

The Door

An aging homebound artist realizes that his life is not as it seems when something he paints leads him to an impossible–and unforgettable–discovery. Buy it here for Kindle.

Beneath the Winter Weeds

Beneath the Winter Weeds

On a frigid January day, one woman must return to the forest of her youth to finally uncover what lies buried beneath the winter weeds. Buy it here for Kindle.

The Intentional Writer: Finding the Time, Space, and Inspiration You Need To Write

I’ve mentioned it a few times on the blog and now here it is. Inspired by the presentation I gave at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference last October and bringing together some of my best blogging and writing about writing, I offer you The Intentional Writer.

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It’s available on Kindle now and I will soon be working on formatting the print edition. Here’s the description of what you’ll get inside:

You can make creative writing a regular part of your life—without making it a rigid daily requirement.

If you are trying to make creative writing a more intentional—and yet not tyrannical—part of your life, The Intentional Writer will help you to pursue your goals, hone your craft, and get your work out there into the hands of readers. This entertaining and informative book will help you analyze your motivations for writing, put yourself in the path of inspiration to keep your ideas flowing, deal with both internal and external distractions, reshape your surroundings and your schedule to aid your process, and take your work from first draft to final publishable product.

From encouragement and insight to the nuts and bolts of storytelling and editing, you’ll find something in the following pages that will change your writing rhythm for the better.

I See Free Books in Your Future…

It would appear from the sidebar that this space is close to having 1000 followers, so I wanted to remind all of you lovely readers that I made a promise back in September that if A Beautiful Fiction reached the 1000 follower mark by the end of the year, I would make all of my short stories free for one day (January 2nd, my gift to you on my birthday). As of the writing of this post, we’re 37 followers away from that goal.

First, thank you for reading and for sharing articles with your friends through email, on Facebook, and on Twitter. I hope that you continue to find these posts informative and encouraging.

Second, I do have to apologize and tell you that one story (“This Elegant Ruin”) will not be available as part of this giveaway because it is officially a runner up in the Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest and I’m awaiting a contract that will outline which rights I maintain to it. Suffice to say, it will be free online anyway as it will be on the Saturday Evening Post‘s website in January or February. It will also appear in their 2014 fiction anthology. And I believe I will still be able to include it in my short story collection next year (both ebook and printed book).

So, once more…

How can you help make this great giveaway happen?

1.) One easy way is to click the Follow button on the righthand side of the screen if you are not already an official follower of this blog. You’ll get new posts emailed to you automatically–and nothing else. No spam. No ads. Just blog posts. That’s it. When I blog you’ll know about it and you’ll be among the first to know about future giveaways and promos!

2.) When you read a blog post that speaks to you, please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter or email it to someone you think would enjoy and benefit from what I write about here.

Here’s the other big announcement: Once the January 2, 2014 date passes, the stories will not only no longer be free, they will no longer be available on Kindle. I’ll be taking them all out of circulation as I work on the collection. So get them while they’re hot.

Thanks again for reading.

How 12 Ordinary Photos Became 12 Eye-Catching Ebook Covers

Over this past year, a few different people have asked me about the covers I’m creating for the short stories I’ve written. Some have wondered how I create them. It occurred to me that it might be fun to show you all the original photos I started with and the finished covers side by side so you can see how I decided what to keep, what to chop, and what to change in order to make a photo into a cover. This is going to end up a pretty long post, but I hope a pretty interesting one as well.

If I had been really smart, I would have tracked all of the changes I made to the photos so I could tell you exactly how to achieve particular effects in Photoshop. Alas, I did not do so. But messing around in Photoshop and seeing what you come up with is half the fun anyway. I didn’t really know what I was doing in several of these, so if I can end up with something compelling, so can you, even if you’re a newbie. (Also, it helps to have a husband who actually does know what he’s doing and can answer all my questions.)

Without further ado…

Beneath the Winter Weeds

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Super simple because I started with a great photo. Crop, sharpen, layer one effect (don’t remember which!), and add text. You’ll see I kept the same fonts on every cover in order to give everything a family look, despite all the different colors and images.

The Door

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Another one I didn’t change much beyond cropping. You’ll note that in all of these, I selected colors that were in the photo as the colors for the text. That’s one of the simplest ways to create more cohesion in a cover. If you choose colors form a chart, you’re going to get things that aren’t quite matches. Use the eye-dropper tool to select colors that are already in your photo to then color your text. Also, watch out for high contrast photos where it’s hard to find enough room to put a title that will be readable. In this photo, it was hard to find a spot for the already very short title where I could have it all one font color and yet still readable. I think I was pushing it on this one. “The” is very easy to read, while “Door” is a bit harder.

This Elegant Ruin

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I hadn’t planned on putting my model on the cover at all–I only wanted to have the violin in the proper playing position. But Corissa had such an enigmatic look in her eye and I love this girl’s hair. With some adjustments for lighting and a warming filter, the whole cover has a very warm, honey glow to it. I smudged the background to create that rounded light (rather than have the straight windowsill) and created the illusion of movement on the bow using the same tactic. I remember having trouble placing the words, and even changed the title from its original (An Elegant Ruin) to achieve the right balance for the words. I then played with triangles in placement. There are three triangle shapes in this cover. Also, notice how much of the photo I didn’t use. Cropping is absolutely the most basic and effective way to turn a mediocre photo into a good one.

Also, this was one of only two photos I actually took after writing the story, for the purpose of a cover image. All the rest were photos I already had, some of them many years old.

We Shall Sometime Come to Someplace

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I loved this rabbit. Problem was, the rabbit in the story is a wild one, not a gray domestic one. Wild rabbits are brown. This took a LOT of tries to get the right brown for the rabbit and the right brown for the background and those two layers were manipulated separately first, then together. It was hard to keep this from becoming just too dark.

Clean

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Look how dark and crooked that original is! I did so much to this photo, I can’t even begin to tell you how I did it. Lots of strategic lighting adjustments, layer by layer, bit by bit. This was the other cover for which I asked a girl from church to model after I wrote the story. Elise didn’t bat an eye about getting in that dryer in full view of a number of people washing their clothes at the laundromat.

One Endless Summer Day

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I knew I needed a ladybug for this. But she couldn’t be on a rock. I knew I needed a green plant for this. But it couldn’t be boring. So out came the lasso tool and a lot of patience, twisting and turning and shrinking and shadowing so it would look semi-real. I like the way it turned out in the end.

10 Degrees Cooler in the Shade

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This was an image/title pair that preceded the story and I wrote the story to fit it. Not a lot of edits on the image. It was already quite eye-catching.

The Astonishing Moment

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This may be the image that was worked over the most. When you see the original and final side by side it may not even see like the same photo. The cover image was cropped from the left side (see the lighter almost vertical line between the clouds?) and then I used several different artistic filters to make it look more illustrated, which fits with a bit in the story (although I didn’t realize it until I wrote this post). See the Mackinac Bridge in the distance in the original? Don’t let that fool you. The story actually takes place on Lake Superior.

The Beginning and the End

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Cropped, flipped, brightened, and a little fun with the text. Not much more to say, except that this was one of the first images I shot with my macro lens when I got it.

Drive

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This image was obviously cropped and brightened and I upped the color saturation. I also used an artistic effect (perhaps watercolor?). I didn’t have to blur it to make it look like there was movement down the road as I took this from the passenger seat one day when we were driving Up North.

Memory Man

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This photo of the undergirding of a train bridge over the Lansing River Trail also serves as the basis of the background on my husband’s website. I needed something urban looking, but didn’t want the graffiti to compete with the words on the cover, so I rotated the photo 90 degrees and cropped out my cover image from what is really the top of the original photo (note the dark strip of rivets to orient your brain). Then I enhanced the colors, brightened, increased contrast, and added effects to make it less photoreal and more like a painting. I put the words vertical because of all the dark rust and even dropped an article because it didn’t really fit the design (it used to be called The Memory Man). A real graphic designer could have made it work, I’m sure. I also removed distracting dots of rust from beneath the words so that the title and author name can be easily read.

Water & Light

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Lastly, another very simple one. Just a matter of cropping, brightening, and placing text. This one I haven’t written yet, haven’t started at all, and have barely thought about. It may or may not end up with some subtle tie to Christmas since it will be coming out in December. The title simply came from the building that is featured in the photo (and may or may not have anything to do with the eventual story), which is the Lansing Board of Water and Light building downtown. Built in the 1930s, it is a gorgeous place with Art Deco lines and stirring murals on the lobby walls. Modern public buildings just don’t compare. Anyway, we’ll see what story I can come up with to fit the cover and title.

And that makes twelve. Twelve photos, twelve covers, twelve stories. I’m busy working on Memory Man right now. This has been such a fun year-long experiment. I highly recommend you try it if you’re struggling with consistent writing. As you write you will hone your skills and short stories are far easier to finish than novels, thus giving you that satisfying feeling of typing out the last sentence far more often. We’re getting close to the end of the year. It may be time to start thinking up some writing goals for 2014…

New Release: Drive

I pleased to announce the release of October’s short story, Drive. I got the initial idea for this story last year and this is one of the first covers I designed when I decided to write and self-publish a short story every month of 2013. However, it was not until last weekend when the last piece of the plot puzzle fell into place.

Writers, this is why you always want to capture those little ideas on paper. If I hadn’t written myself a note saying “guy goes to collect U-Haul-type trucks that aren’t returned” I might not have even remembered the premise when I came across a news story last weekend about a guy who was legally dead.

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So there you have it. Nearly a year in the making and here it finally is! Buy it here for Kindle. For those of you with other e-readers, I plan on releasing all of this year’s short stories on Smashwords in every conceivable format next spring. And for those of you who prefer traditional books, also coming in the spring will be a printed collection of all of this year’s stories. I’m so excited about it! So hang tight, stay tuned, and hold fast–your day is coming!

One Endless Summer Day: A Story from Life

Just under the wire, June’s short story is here! Well, not here on the blog, but HERE in the Kindle store.

I wrote a prehistoric version of this story way back in my second year of college for a creative writing class. At the time I was sure it was the best thing I’d ever written. When I reread it earlier this month I thought it was pretty atrocious. So I took out all the pretension, changed the POV and the tense, added, subtracted, and molded. A few lines made it through unscathed and unedited. But just a few. It is the exact same story as it was fourteen years ago–just much, much, MUCH better.

Unlike all of my other stories written thus far this year, this one is based on a real event and real people, though most are dead and the living have new names. It’s an artistic, fictional rendering of a very small event that made a very big impression on me, an event that I have never forgotten, but told from the perspective of someone else who was there.

Here is a short excerpt to tempt you…

When did she get so old? It seems to have happened when I wasn’t looking, perhaps one night as I was sleeping. It vexes me that time is quickly stealing away abandon, that most precious of childhood qualities. To be unconcerned, flitting about on the very edge of reality in the silvery world of forests and fairies, wearing a dress made of yellow rose petals and riding upon the backs of ladybugs. To lightly touch down upon the ground on soft bare feet. To wear necklaces of raindrops. To talk to fireflies.

“Paula, what are you looking at out there?”

“Karen. Just watching Karen play in the yard. I’m listening. You were talking about the prices at the meat market.”

“It’s really just ridiculous, you know. I’ve never paid so much for ground chuck in my life, and that’s including…”

And on and on and on. The motorcycles from the front room. The drone of negativity from across the table. I squeeze my eyes shut and push my fingers into my temples.

“Mom, do you have any aspirin?”

“It’s in the bathroom.”

I go into the bathroom, shut the door, and stand for a moment in the lovely still dark, my hands upon the counter. Then I flick on the light and open the medicine cabinet. I scan the jars and bottles lined up in rows, a neat little train of powdered normalcy that daily delivers some relief, some steadiness, one more miserable day upon this earth to the two old people who live in this sad little house.

I tell myself that I need to be more patient with her. That life has not always been kind to her. That I’ll be old someday. That she just wants someone to talk to.

In case you’re curious, the POV character is based on my mother, who loved the original story from my creative writing class. I think she will enjoy this one much more. And I hope you enjoy it as well.

Every Ebook–FREE TODAY (Yeah, you read that right.)

One year ago I started this blog with the intention of focusing most of my posts on writing and Michigan. If you want to know why I chose those two subjects, just click on “Home” up above the blog header. A year later, I’m happy that my passion for both writing and Michigan has not waned. In fact, I get the distinct feeling that I’m truly just getting started.

For those of you who have been along for the ride from the beginning, I thank you for reading. For those who have just found A Beautiful Fiction, I thank you for joining us on this journey toward better writing, more appreciation for the natural world, and more intentional noticing.

We’re now nearly six months into my one-short-story-per-month experiment (I’m thinking June’s story will just make it on time). I’m in talks with a couple agents about my first novel, I’ve begun another that I’ve put on pause, and I’ve begun a third for which I’m in gung-ho mode. I’ve also sketched out another project—a three book series.

I have many lovely travel plans, the first being Interlochen next week, where my husband is taking me to see Brandi Carlile in concert—part of his Mother’s Day present to me. I. Can’t. Wait. Then camp, Mackinac Island, and hiking.

So I imagine this summer you will find this space filled with photos of some lovely places and people. And I’ll keep those short stories and posts about the craft of writing coming as well.

If you haven’t already, consider following me on Twitter (@ErinLBartels) to get links to lots of interesting articles about Michigan, writing, publishing, and more.

First Five

And as a special thank you to all of my readers, I’m making all five of my short stories FREE TODAY ONLY for Kindle and Kindle apps. So snap them all up today and tell your reading friends to do the same. You can find them all on my Amazon author page or on the My Books page on this website.

Happy summer, and thanks for making me part of your longest day of the year.

Free Short Story for Kindle to Celebrate a Musical Pioneer

This Elegant RuinIn honor of Anton Dvorak’s death on this day in 1904, I’m making This Elegant Ruin free to download for Kindle today only! Click here for your free copy.

This story begins where Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 ends and follows an orchestra conductor as he comes to terms with a career winding down and a relationship with a young violinist that can never be.

Hope you enjoy it!

April’s Short Story Is Here–and It’s Free Today Only!

The next morning the sun was behind a cloud, but they started on, as if they were quite sure which way they were going.

‘If we walk far enough,’ said Dorothy, ‘I am sure we shall sometime come to some place.’

This line from chapter 14 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Lyman Frank Baum did not inspire April’s short story, but it did provide the title after it was written. I’m particularly proud of We Shall Sometime Come to Someplace as a story that attempts to combine the three main conflicts (man vs. nature, man vs. man, and man vs. himself) into one short tale, and also alludes to three particular well-known stories that involve portals and other worlds of some sort.

I first had the inkling of an idea for this story a couple years ago during a drive in March when the skies were studded with clouds that looked like they belonged to the month of July. It grew from the short note I jotted down about it and an element of one of my recurring dreams.

Because I like this story so much, I’m offering it free on its release day (and that, my friend, is today) so click here and get your free copy! (No, this is not an April Fool’s joke; it really is free.)

We Shall Sometime Come to Somplace