Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Perfect Cover for your Book

It isn't easy to create a really good book cover, and if you aren't the artistic type, it's probably not worth trying to design your own. But here are some resources that may help, whether you're making your own or simply giving instructions to the artist you've chosen.

First, you may want to take a look at Amazon's criteria for Kindle book covers and paperback book covers to make sure that yours meets the requirements.


Author Tamie Dearen has compiled a list of sites where you can find free images to use in book covers or other designs.

My Book Cave has a two-part series on book cover design. Part 1 is about picking the right image, and part 2 deals with setting up your file and image.


YouTuber Derek Murphy has a video about 7 must-have qualities for a book cover that sells. Make sure to check out his link under the video if you want more video options about cover creation.


The same Derek Murphy also has a useful list of specific fonts that work well on book covers, organized by genre.


And, he has an article listing cover design "secrets" that can be used to "manipulate" people into buying books.


Starla Huchton, herself a cover designer, has a great article with some quick tips for cover design.


She's also written an article about the costs of a good cover, and how to end up with an affordable one.


Canva is a great site on which you can create your own cover for free.


These people give instructions for how to create a cover using Microsoft Word or Photoshop.


Want to get elaborate? Here is Derk Muphy's explanation of how to create an animated (gif) cover for your ebook!


Want to put several books together into a boxed set, but unsure how to make your existing cover work for that? Lisa Shea explains how in this article. Indies Unlimited has another explanation of how to do it using Gimp.


Have you made a cover, but you're wondering if it's any good? The Rate My Kindle Cover site will let you upload it and get feedback (for free!) before you publish your book.


Finally, here are some book cover artists you can contact if you're looking for someone to design the perfect cover for your own book. Note that some of them have specific styles or focus on specific genres, so you'll want to choose carefully as you consider what will work best for your book - and of course your budget.

Affordable Book Covers and More


Blue Valley Author Services


Book Cover Bakery


C.K. Volnek


Damonza


Deranged Doctor Design


The Design in Your Mind


DogEared Design


E Kaiser Writes


Indie Book Cover Sales and Design


Indie Cover Design


Indigo Forest Designs


Jennifer White


The July Group


Karmada Arts


McCorkle Creations


Mythspinner Studios


Perry Elisabeth Design


Psalm 40 Publishing Services


Seedlings 


Time Keeper Art


Tugboat Design


And if you're planning to work with a cover artist, don't miss Starla Huchton's blog post on that topic.


I hope these tips are helpful! If you have any other cover artists to recommend, or if you know of any other useful articles on the topic of cover creation, please feel free to mention them in the comments! You're welcome to share tips of your own, too.



Monday, November 28, 2016

How to Write a Book Blurb (and a Synopsis, Logline and Tagline)

Many authors agree that writing the back-cover blurb is the hardest part of writing a novel! Fortunately there are a lot of talented writers out there willing to share their expertise on the topic. Here are some useful resources that I hope will make the process a little less painful!

First, the synopsis. This is longer than a blurb, and most indie authors don't have to do write one very often. But if you're trying to get the attention of an agent or publisher, you will probably need a synopsis. Krystine Kercher has a useful article about how to create one.


Next, a logline. As the folks at Writers Helping Writers explain, "a logline is a one- or two-sentence pitch that explains what your story is about in a way that makes listeners want to read it." Some book promo sites ask for loglines, and they're also useful when people who don't have much time to sit and listen hear that you've written a book and ask you what it's about. This article gives some great examples and talks about how to write good ones.


And now for the blurb. Here are some of my favorite resources:


The Fussy Librarian suggests techniques for how to write an "irresistible" blurb here.


Author Pauline Creeden has a 3-part blurb writing "clinic" on her blog. Part 1 lists 12 dos and don'tsPart 2 explains how to write a tagline (similar to logline, but not the same). Part 3 explains what to do in a blurb if your book involves multiple genres and main characters.


Fix My Story talks about how to write an "incredible" blurb, complete with tagline, here.


Starla Huchton lists several types of blurbs and how to tackle each of them, on her blog.


And now for the one I have personally found to be the most helpful. Author Libby Hawker has a fun and useful video about blurb writing here


Some people suggest formatting parts of your blurb (e.g. with bold, italics, different sizes, or color) to make it really stand out on Amazon and other sites. Here are a few resources on that topic:


In this article, the Fix My Story folks talk about how to use simple HTML to format your description on Amazon.


Here on Kindlepreneuer, they will actually generate the HTML for you. All you have to do is paste in your blog and format it with easy buttons such as you'd find in Microsoft Word.


Finally, for those familiar with HTML and knowledgeable enough to use it on their own, Amazon itself has a list of the HTML tags supported on their site.


I hope these resources are useful! And if you have links to others that you use, or would like to share your own suggestions about how to write a good blurb (or synopsis, logline, tagline, or anything similar), I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Kisses, Kids and Bundles of Joy: 7 Christian Winter Romances



"Would You Rather" Interview with the authors of Kisses, Kids and Bundles of Joy!
1) Would you rather drink coffee or tea?
Cindy K. Green: This is an easy one for me. I am a total tea drinker. (In fact, I am one of those odd ones who actually hates coffee!) If you came to my house, I would have a myriad of different types of teas to choose from, and I would serve it to you in a proper cup and saucer (no mugs please). My favorite is green tea with a bend of acai and blueberry.
2) Would you rather live on the east coast or on the west coast of the US?
Lindi Peterson: I love this question because I’m on the east coast, in Georgia, while my brother and his family live in Seattle, the city I call my favorite city in America. I’ve spent a few weeks in Seattle over the years, but never for an extended period of time. If you’ve never been you must go! The green is different in Seattle. It’s hard to explain, but it’s how I see it. The city itself is amazing, Lake Washington and the surrounding area is beautiful. Seattle is my west coast experience and I’ve said for years if the rest of my family would move there with me I’d go in a heartbeat. But they won’t, and I’m kind of partial to living with my husband, so I’m staying on the east coast. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful here, too. We have coastline and mountains within a short driving distance. So my east coast body wants to live on the west coast, but that may simply be a case of the grass is always greener on the other side. (No pun intended on the green thing!)
3) Would you rather have a castle in Scotland or a countryside villa in Italy?
Trisha Grace: This is a tough one! I love historical romance, so a castle in Scotland would be a dream come true. But I have a soft spot for Italy, too. It’s a beautiful country, and I went there for my honeymoon. If I really have to choose, I’ll rather have a . . . castle in Scotland. As beautiful as a countryside villa in lovely Italy would be, I’ve never been to Scotland. For a city girl, a castle is something I’ve only ever seen in movies and pictures. So yeah, castle in Scotland it is!
4) Would you rather watch a football game or baseball game?
Jenn Faulk: Honestly, I would much prefer to watch a basketball game over football or baseball either one! But if given a choice between the two in this question, I would pick football, mainly because baseball moves sooooo slowly. I went to a MLB game with my husband a couple of months ago (he got me there by promising me a lot of trips to the concession stand), and we made it all the way to the fifth inning with NO home runs! I told him, “If this was an NBA game, we’d be up seventy points by now.” (See why I prefer basketball?) Football is the same! I like seeing action on the field, not everyone just standing around, ha ha!
5) Would you rather vacation on the beach or in the mountains?
Cindy Flores Martinez: I’m fortunate to live close enough to the beach and the mountains that I can visit both places. But if I had to choose only one of them to vacation at, it would have to be the beach. Although the mountains are beautiful, there’s just something about being by the ocean that’s much more exhilarating for me. I also find that the mountains are a bit more isolated compared to most beach towns, which is awkward for this suburb girl who is used to being around a lot of people.
6) Would you rather go horseback riding or whitewater rafting?
Tanya Eavenson: I love horses so horseback riding for sure! My husband and kids are another story. They go whitewater rafting every year in Georgia. I rather stay dry! =)
7) Would you rather live in Hawaii or Alaska?
Liwen Y. Ho: Definitely, without a doubt, in a heartbeat—Hawaii! I am a beach girl and the beaches of Hawaii are breathtakingly beautiful. I love Hawaii so much that I made the island of Oahu the setting for my story, Tropical Kiss Or Miss. I wouldn’t mind visiting Alaska though; I have an aunt who’s lived there for over thirty years.
Snuggle up with seven brand new, never before published Christian winter romances from bestselling and award-winning authors. Kisses and kids abound in this collection of novellas that will warm your heart all winter long.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Realm Explorers Part CXVII: Visit The Valley of Slaves with Laura Frances

Welcome to Realm Explorers!  In this weekly series, we visit a variety of unique worlds created by talented science fiction and fantasy authors.  Enjoy your travels!  And don't forget to read to the bottom of the post to find out more about each author and see how to purchase the featured book. 


Author’s name:
Laura Frances

Title of book and/or series:
Slave
This is book one. The series and book two are yet to be titled!

Brief summary of the story:
There is no sun. There is no moon. There is only gray—the smog belched from coal-fueled factories. The Workers silently shuffle to their assigned posts. The Outcasts watch from the alley walls. On every corner, a Watcher stands stone-faced, a rifle in hand. This is the only life that exists. Beyond the mountains is a dream. But dreams are foolish in a place like this.

Hannah has spent nineteen years dodging Watchers and doing as she is told.

Do not look Watchers in the eye. Don't give them a reason to notice you.

But when she wakes to the valley exploding in revolution, Hannah is forced onto a dangerous path, where nothing is what she believed. Suddenly freedom is in her grasp, and the way there requires working with the men she once feared.

Brief description of the world or location you created for this story:
Slave is set in a deep valley filled with factories and blanketed in smog. The residents of the valley have never seen the sky. It is a maze of dank alleys and bordered by high mountains.

If we were to visit the valley as tourists, what would you recommend that we see or do there?
I would recommend never visiting the valley as a tourist. In fact, it would never happen. The residents of the valley are a hidden people. No one enters or exits unless they are a Watcher or an expert needed for a factory.

What dangers should we avoid in the valley?
Don’t do anything to draw attention to yourself. Better to keep your head down, mouth shut, and eyes on your next step. Watchers are everywhere, and they don’t need a reason to kill you.

Is there a distinct or unusual type of food or meal that we might be served in the valley?
I hope you like plain oats. Workers are fed oats and dehydrated apples every day for lunch. Dinner will come from your cabinet of rations—probably a can of beans.

What types of weaponry or fighting styles are common in the valley?
Only the Watchers have weapons. An assault rifle and a pistol strapped to their leg. Both require a fingerprint to use, so good luck trying to take one.

What types of vehicles, animals, technology, etc. are used to travel in or to the valley?
Workers walk. Technology is mediocre at best. There are some advances, like print scanners and whatever is needed for the manufacturing of goods. But the Workers rarely utilize it themselves. As far as animals go, the mountains are rumored to be filled with beasts. I don’t recommend trying to escape.

Tell us about any sports, games, or activities that are available for entertainment in the valley.
Sleep is nice. Staring at walls in the silence of your unit might be soothing. Really anything to try to mentally disconnect from the events of the day and the reality of life in the valley.

What is the political or government structure in the valley?  Who is in charge there at the moment, and what kind of leader is he/she?
The valley is governed by a panel of five leaders. They are called the Council. No one sees them, but occasionally they address the Workers from the speakers. The residents are policed by Watchers. They are the ones enforcing curfew, performing executions, and overseeing the daily labor.

Has anything in your actual life inspired the locations, cultures, etc. in your book?
I live in Japan, just a stone's throw from China. I am occasionally told I ought to wear a mask, because the pollution is high, blowing in across The Sea of Japan and The East China Sea. I watched a documentary some time ago about the high levels of smog in certain areas of China. One little girl was asked if she had ever seen stars. She said no. This stuck with me. The story is also in some ways inspired by my lifelong struggle with social anxiety. Fear, and becoming free from it, is a major theme in Slave.

What, if any, “hot-button” or controversial topics do you touch on in your book?
There is a theme of finding our humanity and working to understand life from one another's perspective. Society is becoming more segregated, and I hope by this story that readers will be inspired to fight for one another...rather than against.

Author Autobiography:
Laura Frances was born in Heidelberg, Germany as a military brat. She grew up in Springfield, Missouri, and now lives in Osaka Prefecture, Japan, with her husband and two children. Slave is Laura’s debut novel.

Where, and in what formats, can we purchase your book? 
You can download to Kindle here! For the moment, that is the only option. But I am releasing the print version very soon!


I hope you all enjoyed the trip to the valley.  Questions about the world or the book?  Ask them in the comments and the author will get back to you!  

Click here to read other posts in the Realm Explorers series.

Please join us again next Monday for a trip to another world, in Realm Explorers Part CXVIII!
-Annie Douglass Lima

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fantastic Creatures: An Anthology with a Scavenger Hunt!



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To celebrate the release of Fantastic Creatures, The Fellowship of Fantasy has planned a Release Extravaganza! Join our open house-style Facebook party today (Nov 17) from 3:30 - 7 pm to meet many of our anthology authors and get a peek at the fantastic creatures highlighted in our stories. There will be fun, games, and, of course, DRAGONS! You can also join our Fantastic Creatures Scavenger Hunt from Nov 17-20th. Each of twelve stops will feature a post with exclusive content from one of our authors. Many will also include a mini-giveaway... Visit all the stops and collect the clues--a number featured in each post--and you could win a Kindle Fire plus a 12-book digital library! Make sure to scroll down to find the list of Scavenger Hunt stops and get started right away!

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Here be dragons ... and selkies and griffins and maybe even a mermaid or two. Twenty fantasy authors band together to bring you a collection of thrilling tales and magical monsters. Do you like to slay dragons? Or befriend them? Do you prefer to meet cephalopods as gigantic kraken or adorable tree octopuses? Each story focuses around a fantastic creature from folklore or mythology, and they range from light and playful tales for the whole family to darker stories that may make you wish to leave the lights on. These stories carry the Fellowship of Fantasy seal of approval. While our monsters may be horrifying, you won't stumble into graphic sex and constant swearing. Perfect for the fantasy lover who can't get enough of mythical beasts.

Get it on: Amazon | B&N (Nook) | Kobo | More!
And find out more at the Fellowship of Fantasy website.

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The Fantastic Creatures Scavenger Hunt

Visit these authors' blogs to find the numbers hidden in each post, discover exclusive content about the stories in our anthology, and find a few mini giveaways along the way! Each author is hosting a different author's post, so be sure to visit them all. Once you've collected all the numbers, add them together and enter the total in the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win a Kindle Fire and 12 book digital library!

Scavenger Hunt Stops




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Monday, November 14, 2016

Realm Explorers Part CXVI: Visit Trabor and Shayal with Kristen Kooistra

Welcome to Realm Explorers!  In this weekly series, we visit a variety of unique worlds created by talented science fiction and fantasy authors.  Enjoy your travels!  And don't forget to read to the bottom of the post to find out more about each author and see how to purchase the featured book. 


Author’s name: Kristen Kooistra

Title of book and/or series: Heart of the Winterland

Brief summary of the story: In the heart of snow-cursed Trabor, a princess and her guardian live in a haze cast by an ancient spell. On the dawn of her 200th birthday, Princess Calisandra awakes with a clear mind. No longer happy to just sit idle, Cali and Voice set out to find what lies beyond their shielded kingdom.

Joined by Angel—a fiery redhead that delights in ruffling Cali's feathers—they soon find themselves fleeing from the legendary Captain Kota who is determined to capture Angel. Cali's perfect vision of her journey is shattered and it takes all of her strength just to keep up in a world she doesn't understand. Everything is a new experience and tests Cali physically and mentally.

Will she ever find out what happened to her kingdom? And what will Voice's purpose be when Cali no longer needs her?

Brief description of the world or location you created for this story:
Heart of the Winterland takes place in two countries, Trabor and Shayal. Princess Cali and Voice live in Trabor, but leave it within the first few chapters and spend the rest of the journey in Shayal. There is both a past and present storyline, while Cali’s in the present, Amee is in the past and her story takes place in Trabor.

At the time of the present, Trabor is devoid of human life except for Cali and is completely covered in snow. Shayal is like a medieval European country.

If we were to visit Shayal as tourists, what would you recommend that we see or do there?
Visit Rokuhai! They have all sorts of entertainment from the traveling performers, to food and wares on every corner, and of course local eating establishments and sailing ships.

What dangers should we avoid in Shayal?
Definitely the Duke and his men, mainly the captain of the guard, Kota.

Is there a distinct or unusual type of food or meal that we might be served in Shayal?
There is little travel between cities and villages, most food is homecooked meals that consist of local products and whatever that particular village raises/grows.

What types of weaponry or fighting styles are common in Shayal?
Swords and daggers are the most common by far. Only nobility and the Guard are allowed to have such weapons. Hunters may carry bows or a hunting knife. To prevent rebellion, the people are kept as powerless as possible.

What types of vehicles, animals, technology, etc. are used to travel in or to Shayal? Most people walk or ride horses, though some of the wealthier people will travel in carriages. Cali and Voice started their journey from Trabor to Shayal in a sleigh that converts into a carriage when needed.

What types of plants, animals, or sentient races might we encounter in Trabor or Shayal that we don’t see on Earth?
Ooh, I don’t want to give away too many spoilers. Hmm, Winterland primarily focuses on the characters. It’s a character-driven story where the friendships involved and the characters growing and discovering themselves are the main focus. There is a snow-fountain tree, which only grows from the tears of a certain group of people. We see hints of other races. There’s a immortal, magical women who is the last of her race, an invisible, shapeless protector of a book, and there’s quite a few characters who are Sjadians—a race discovered more thoroughly in book 2 and 3—which are long-lived and some of them possess magic.

And there’s a few more surprises that I won’t give away.

What role, if any, does magic or the supernatural play in the lives of people in Trabor and Shayal?  If there is magic, please give some examples of what it involves or how it’s used.
Magic is almost unheard of in both countries. Trabor had no experience with it until recently, and well, that didn’t go so well. Shayal has forbidden magic and that’s why Tera—the sole survivor of her race—is hiding out in her forest, and why she’s the last.

Sjadians do occasionally have magic, and since some of them have immigrated to this continent, there are instances of magic in Amee’s timelime. The magic works differently for each race that has such powers. For Sjadians, they can see deep into the magical plane that covers everything. They can see lines of power that connects everything and they use spells to command those lines to twist reality into doing whatever they need.

Each magic wielder has a certain amount of power. Think a rechargeable battery. One battery may hold a lot longer charge, and people with a higher max capacity can do greater spells and more of them. When not using magic, they slowly recharge back to full. In that way they are limited somewhat, and can’t just cast spells willy nilly unless they want to overextend themselves which has consequences, the least being that they won’t have enough power to do a spell even if their life depends on it.

Are the days of the week and months of the year the same in Shayal/Trabor as on Earth? What holidays or special events are celebrated regularly there?
Oh yes, goodness, I can’t imagine coming up with new time cycles. The one holiday that is referenced is the annual Winter Festival from Trabor’s past where the royal family set up a field full of events and free food.

What is the political or government structure in Shayal and Trabor?  Who is in charge there at the moment, and what kind of leader is he/she?
Both Trabor and Shayal are monarchies, though Duke Bludgaard of Shayal has managed to weasel quite a bit of control and though it’s not stated, I’d say the king is more of a puppet.

Cali is the crown princess of Trabor, but there’s no people there! So there’s no one to rule over. She’s not sure what kind of leader she’d be anyway. She has no training when it comes to leading or even interacting with people. Maybe there’ll be people in her kingdom someday and then she’ll find out if she’s cut out to be a ruler.

Has anything in your actual life inspired the locations, cultures, etc. in your book?
I live in Michigan, so the idea for Trabor and the never-ending winter came from my personal loathing of winter and thinking it’d be horrible if I didn’t get a few months off. I’ve met a lot of people over the years, and I used bits of personalities to form a lot of my characters.

A Scottish friend of mine became Captain Rebol, a sea captain with a cat that I named after one he’d lost.

Dikala was inspired by a young man I met whose future was mapped out for him because of his cultural upbringing. His parents made the plans, and he was expected to follow them. He never really thought to do otherwise, and I brought that into the character of Dikala.

My favorite inspiration though was a mute friend of mine who never let her inability to talk hinder her. She had a strong presence of character and it never felt like she was outside of the conversation. When I created Captain Kota, I knew she was going to emulate those strong characteristics and this is a minor spoiler, but I love it when people don’t realize Kota doesn’t speak for quite awhile. I like to think it’s because she’s such a force to be reckoned with, that we notice that and not what she’s missing. Being mute is a part of her, but it doesn’t define her and it’s certainly not going to hold her back from achieving her goals.

What, if any, “hot-button” or controversial topics do you touch on in your book?
Hmm, not so much for this book, maybe with the next one. There are seeds of some racial discrimination, but I think that becomes more of a central theme with the next book. I hope most of the themes for this book are ones that people can agree with, for the most part. Friendship, family being more than just blood, accepting responsibility, admitting when you’re wrong, redemption, open hearts, and not trying to be someone else, but rather be the best YOU that you can be.

Author Autobiography:
Kristen Kooistra fell in love with reading at a young age and never resurfaced. She loved solving mysteries, riding across the prairie, and sailing on the open sea. But her favorite books were those that held the fantastical. So when the time came for her to seriously approach publishing a book, it had to be fantasy!

Living in Michigan (her own winterland) with her husband, three kids, and two cats, she has lots of free time . . . Okay, so more like she squeezes in writing time late at night when only the cats are awake to pester her.

"Heart of the Winterland" is Kristen's first novel, and though it started as a whim, it grew into so much more and has inspired a sequel (in progress), "Heart of the Sorceress".

Tucked into a quiet countryside, Kristen spends most of her time being Mommy. She loves spending time with her family and hopes that her writing will entertain and inspire them as well.
Besides writing, Kristen enjoys reading (of course!), chatting with her writer's group, sewing, swimming, gardening, and cooking (please no baking!).


Where, and in what formats, can we purchase your book? 
Amazon. Available as paperback or ebook for Kindle.
https://www.amazon.com/Heart-Winterland-Kristen-Kooistra-ebook/dp/B01GJ1E1IA

Where can readers connect with you online?

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I hope you all enjoyed the trip to Trabor and Shayal.  Questions about the world or the book?  Ask them in the comments and the author will get back to you!  

Click here to read other posts in the Realm Explorers series.

Please join us again next Monday for a trip to another world, in Realm Explorers Part CXVII!
-Annie Douglass Lima

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Swim Season: a Young Adult Sports Novel



 
Book blurb:

Short:
The swim team is ripped apart when two girls vie to break a longstanding school record with a 50,000-dollar scholarship prize. 

Longer:
Sometimes winning is everything. 

Champion swimmer Aerin Keane is ready to give up her dreams of college swimming and a shot at the Olympics. As she starts senior year in her third high school, Aerin's determined to leave her family troubles behind and be like all the other girls at Two Rivers. She's got a new image and a new attitude. She doesn’t want to win anymore. She's swimming for fun, no longer the freak who wins every race, every title, only to find herself alone.

But when her desire to be just one of the girls collides with her desire to be the best Two Rivers has ever seen, will Aerin sacrifice her new friendships to break a longstanding school record that comes with a $50,000 scholarship?

Excerpt:

Aunt Mags didn't say a word on the way to the high school and neither did I. We were up and out too early for anything more than, "Got everything?" "Uh huh," and "Let's go." We'd left the house before her first cup of coffee and she was not in a talkative mood. 

It was just after dawn, the moon still visible as the sun peeked out over the horizon. A chill in the air hinted at summer's end. I regretted leaving my sweatshirt behind, although after swim practice the sun would be shining and we'd be back to the mid-August heat.

We arrived at the school and a deserted parking lot. Mags parked her minivan at the athletics entrance.

"Are you sure it starts at 6:45?" she asked.

"Positive," I said.

She yawned. "Looks like you're the first one here."

"I doubt it." 

Today was the first day of swim season. Tryouts started at 7 a.m. The coach had instructed all wannabe swimmers to be on the pool deck no later than 6:45. My experience as a varsity athlete told me that anyone with any degree of competitiveness had already arrived. I had five minutes to spare.

"Want me to walk in with you?" Mags asked.

My horror at her suggestion must have been all over my face, because she said, "Sorry. Having a teenager is new to me. My girls would beg me to walk them into that big, scary building." We looked at the three-story hodgepodge put together to house Two Rivers High School.

"I can take it from here." I was sure I'd remember the meandering route to the pool area from the tour we took when we registered for my senior year.

She still looked anxious. "Sure you're all right?"

"Don't worry. I've got this routine down pat." Two Rivers would be my third high school. I played the role of new girl so well I deserved an Oscar.

I opened the door and hopped out. "Don't hang around waiting for me to call for a ride home," I said, reaching back to grab my bag. "I'm not sure when I'll get out, and I don't want to mess up your day. I'm okay to walk." 

Aunt Mags nodded, and I shut the door.

"Don't forget we're going back-to-school shopping later on," she said through the open window.

"Got it."

"Go get 'em, Aerin." She gave me a thumbs-up.

I shot her a grin, hoisted my bag over my shoulder, and went off to join the Two Rivers High School Girls Varsity Swim and Dive Team.
***
Minutes later, I stood on the pool deck with an odd blend of girls vying to earn a place on the team. I spotted the usual huddle of newbies benched together at the far end of the bleachers, glancing at each other nervously and at the seasoned swimmers with something like awe. On the opposite end were the members of last year's championship team, all wearing team T-shirts and chatting like old pals, ignoring everyone else. In the middle was a bunch who looked like they wanted to go back to bed, the ones whose parents pushed them into a sport and who chose swimming because we did it indoors and it looked easy. Most of them wouldn't make it.

I found a place to stand against the wall and blocked out the curious glances shot my way, using the time before practice began to check out my surroundings. Aunt Mags had said the natatorium, built just a few years ago, was state-of-the-art. 

Banners hung from the rafters and on clean white walls, touting the team's success, and an enormous leaderboard listed all of their champions and their accomplishments.

A wall of windows on the farthest side and a ceiling loaded with skylights filled the room with light. 

The six-lane pool had blue and white flags and lane lines, and the Trailblazers logo – a torch - was laid out in blue tiles on the bottom. 

The floor tiles were a mosaic of white and three shades of blue. 

The air was thick with the smell of chlorine.

I checked my expression, not wanting anyone to catch me gaping over the finest natatorium of any team I'd joined. The thought of swimming in it, of calling it "home" for the next few months caused a thrill of excitement in my belly. Around me, the other girls talked and laughed, none of them seeming to appreciate the beauty of the pool and the privilege to use it.

"Good morning girls." A man's voice cut through the chatter, and each girl sat up at attention. "Let's get started."

The voice belonged to an older man with bushy white hair and bifocals, dressed in the school's colors: navy blue shorts and a white polo shirt. Coach Steven Dudash. I hadn't met him yet – he was out of the building when my father and I visited the high school – but Maggie and her husband, Pat, gave him high praise. He'd coached the Two Rivers boys and girls swim teams for more than twenty years, and they were both winning teams. 

He pulled a chair behind him, positioned it in front of the bleachers, sat down, and organized the pile of paperwork on his clipboard. "Good morning," he said again, studying us over the rim of his bifocals. "I'm happy to see last year's team back for another year. And welcome to those of you here for the first time. I'm glad you decided to give us a try."

He took a swig from an extra tall cup of coffee before continuing. "For those of you new to the team, meet Coach Denise." He gestured toward the young woman who accompanied him. "She's my daughter. I coached her for six years when she swam for Two Rivers and got her name on the leaderboard." 

I checked out the leaderboard and saw she held the record in the 200 IM and the 100 breaststroke. Good creds. 

"This is her second year as assistant coach," he said. "She did a terrific job last year so I invited her back."

The young blonde smiled at him and the swimmers cheered.

"Yay Coach D!" a few seniors shouted.

"It's great to be back," she said. "Ready to win another championship?"

The shouts and applause were deafening. 

"During the next two weeks," Coach said when the noise died down, "you'll all be working hard, doing drills both in the pool and in the weight room, four hours a day, six days a week. During the season, you'll be practicing from after school until five or six every weekday, and four hours on Saturday. Sunday is a resting day. And, of course, you will compete in swim meets at least twice a week. So, if you don't think you can make it through the first two weeks, you might as well leave now." He paused, waiting for anyone to opt out before we even got started. No one moved.

"Okay," he continued. "Most of you know that Two Rivers won the Division Championship last year, and the two years before. I plan to win again. When we do, and I say when, not if, we will be the first team in the division to ever win four consecutive division titles."

Last year's team broke out in wild applause and cheers. Coach waited for the outburst to die down before he continued.

"I need performers," he said, "swimmers who aren't afraid to push themselves, to try new things and discover where they best support the team. So, in practice you're all going to swim every stroke, you're all going to swim distance, and you're all going to swim sprints. Each person will do all she can to defend our title."

Silence filled the pool deck as the girls looked each other over, wondering where each would fit in.

"That's the good news." He paused for effect. No worries. He had everyone's riveted attention. "But I've got some bad news. For years, the school board has been supportive of our team, and we've reciprocated by working as serious athletes and turning in winning records. Most years, the team can support as many as thirty-eight swimmers. This year, due to a budget crisis in our school district, our funds have been cut, and I can only put twenty-eight girls on the team."

Raised eyebrows and shocked inhalations followed this bit of news. I counted bodies: thirty-six.

"Yeah, eight of you will be cut, either at the end of this week or the end of next. Anyone want to leave now?"

Again, no one moved.

Coach Dudash smiled. "I like your level of commitment. Let's see if you can keep it under pressure."

He spent the next half hour reviewing team policies and the season's schedule. I'd heard such talks before from other coaches and tuned him out while I studied the other girls, trying to figure out what their positions might be. 

Most of them focused on Coach's every word, but last year's champs ignored him and whispered among themselves. One of them, a lanky girl with sun-bleached hair and a killer tan, looked over the group of wannabes and held up her fingers one to five, scoring them, I guess, on whether or not they had a chance. Her friends snickered, trying to act as if they were paying attention to Coach instead of fooling around. 

At last, the lanky girl's frosty blue eyes rested on me, and I met her gaze straight on. We stared at each other for a few seconds before she looked away first, then held up three fingers. It seemed she was ambivalent. I could go either way.

I was ambivalent too. I joined this crowd as a walk-on, someone with no history with the team and questionable ability. In their eyes, I was no better than a wannabe who needed to prove herself to gain a spot on the team and the other girls' respect. 

I showed up because it's what I did at the start of every school year. Swimming was my only sport, and I was good at it. Really good. Still, I almost skipped tryouts today. The truth was, I didn't have the energy to join a new team, in a new school, for the third time. If anyone found out I’d won championship titles in club and varsity last year they'd expect great things from me, and I didn't want the pressure. Swimming was no longer the focus of my life. It was my therapy, and I wouldn't let anyone mess that up. 

The glimmer of challenge in the way the lanky girl looked at me caused a stirring in my gut, and I shot it down. I didn't come here to get involved in any personal challenges. I came here to swim, and not make any waves. My plan was to get through the senior year and go away to college, away from my troubles, and on to a new life that I could control.

Purchase Links:
Swim Season is currently only available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.

About the Author:
During swim season, you can find Marianne Sciucco, a dedicated Swim Mom for ten years, at one of many Skyline Conference swim meets, cheering for her daughter Allison and the Mount Saint Mary College Knights. Marianne is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse. A lover of words and books, she dreamed of becoming an author when she grew up but became a nurse to avoid poverty. She later brought her two passions together and writes about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues. Her debut novel Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer's love story, is a Kindle bestseller; IndieReader Approved; a BookWorks featured book; and a Library Journal Self-e Selection. She also has two short stories available on Kindle, Ino's Love and Collection. A native Bostonian, Marianne lives in New York's Hudson Valley, and when not writing works as a campus nurse at a community college.

Why did I write a book about girls' varsity swimming? 


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