My Presidential Encounter with the Great Beyond

Last month, my sister Michelle and I drove 1,100 miles to Pennsylvania for a funeral.  (More on that later.)  While we were there, I had strange and eerie experience that I think most of you will appreciate.  (I attempted to share my occurrence with a few friends after I got home, but sadly, they all just gave me the “DUH!” face, and it was evident they weren’t able to get the irony.)

On our way home, we stopped in Gettysburg at the Lincoln Diner.  (Don’t forget, Michelle’s a history major, so if anyone doesn’t know what relevance Gettysburg and Lincoln have, you’d better not voice it here or she’s likely to attack you in the comments section!)

Lincoln Diner, Gettysburg, PA

When we got to the diner, I used the restroom in the basement in the stall closest to the far wall.  We ate, then my sister used the restroom.  When she got back to the table, once more I went back to the basement and used the same stall that I’d used before, only this time, I found a heads-up penny on the floor.  (For my foreign friends, Abraham Lincoln is on our U.S. penny as well as on our five dollar bill.)  I told Michelle that the former president was trying to contact me from the Great Beyond, and since he knows I’m a writer, he probably wants me to add an addendum to his Gettysburg Address.

We laughed and proceeded to go check out the Gettysburg Train Depot that President Lincoln used when he went there in 1863.  The station was only in operation from 1850 through 1870.  We then went through the Gettysburg Battlefield, then headed home.

Gettysburg Train Station

(FYI: The sky in the actual photos was grey and dismal, so I Photoshopped in the blue sky and clouds.  The car really did just happen to pass as I snapped that photo, though I had to paint over a couple of people that were walking on the sidewalk across the street.)

Because were drinking tons of fresh apple cider (YUM!) as we drove, we broke my rule about stopping only every 250 miles for gas and a restroom, and we stopped at the Welcome Center in Maryland.  While I used the facilities, I found yet another heads-up penny!  I knew then that President Lincoln really was trying to contact me.

The cider was absolutely phenomenal, and it really gave our bladders a workout.  So at the Virginia Welcome Center, once again we made a pit stop…  And you guess it, I found a heads-up penny!  I had no doubt that the former president wanted to send me a message, but my sister was still skeptical.  So to convince her, I suggested that the next place we stopped, I should find a five dollar bill.  She agreed that if that happened, she’d be a believer.

Well, we stopped in North Carolina.  Only instead of finding any money, I found a sign on the restroom mirror telling us that human trafficking was prevalent there and we should beware!    (Yes, really!  I would’ve taken a photo, only I left my phone in the car, and after that warning, I was afraid to run out and go back in the restroom!  Plus the big homeless woman who was talking to her dog in the bathroom and kept trying to approach us scared us a bit.)

In South Carolina, we found that the Welcome Center was not welcoming at all!  There were bars over the vending machines  with signs telling us it was unsafe there, so we should reach through the bars!  The Welcome Center was locked at only around 9:00 PM, and the door said it locked the doors each day at 5:00!  There were no signs directing us to the outside restrooms, so we had to walk all the way around the building in the dark with four big, scary men walking around outside digging through the garbage!  When we did find the restrooms, the men’s and the ladies’ side were through one entrance, and there was no door in the doorway.  So needless to say, we were pretty freaked out and hurried to get out of there and back to our car.

I was afraid that my rendezvous with President Lincoln had come to an end, but when we finally got home (thankfully in one piece!), I actually found a fourth heads-up penny on the floor of my very own living room!  (The same living room that was cleaned before I left.)

Lincoln Pennies

Unfortunately, I had to go back to work the next day, though I felt like sleeping for a week, so if President Lincoln was indeed trying to send me a message, I was too tired to receive it.

Let’s talk:  Were you hopeful that I’d actually find a five dollar bill?  Has a dead president ever tried to contact you before?  How cool was it that that old car drove in front of the railroad station while I was taking photos?

I Like Mike

From Antananarivo, Madagascar
To Stockholm, Sweden,
There’s no rhymester better
Than the poet Mike Steeden.

His lovely wife Shirley
Is his best friend and muse;
She’s also on his book’s cover –
Now that’s exciting news!

The humor in his book
Will truly make you convulse;
So go pick up a copy of
Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse!

Not only is it amusing, but
Its brilliance will make you think;
To purchase it, just click below
On the Internet hyperlink.

I got to help Mike with his cover
And formatting for publication;
It was so much fun, I wish I could
Make that my life’s vocation.

It’s a good gift for the holidays,
And looks great in giftwrap;
And I promise you it’s far better
Than this, my own rhyming crap.

(As promised, here’s that internet hyperlink: http://www.amazon.com/Gentlemen-Prefer-Pulse-Poetry-Lunacy/dp/1517436478/ref=la_B015WAUW8C_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1446143038&sr=1-1)

Okay, so as the poem said, I was honored to recently assist my buddy and yours, Mike Steeden, in getting his first book of poetry, Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse, published.  It comes in both Kindle and paperback versions, and features over one hundred magnificent poems by his highness, Sir Mike.  As you can imagine, the poems are not unlike those on his blog… filed with brilliance, lunacy, humor, wit, and WOW!

Of course, Mike did all the really hard work by writing it, but I contributed a teeny-tiny bit by designing the cover and formatting the paperback version.  We searched high and low for a photo that I could manipulate for the cover art, but when we selected the perfect photo, we couldn’t authenticate its owner to request permission to use it.  (A few sources said it was a French postcard circa 1920, but we couldn’t be sure.)  So finally, Mike was able to dig up a photo of his lovely wife, Shirley, taken on the Cob at Lyme Regis (the same spot they used in the film The French Lieutenant’s Woman).

Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse

When I saw this, I fell in love with the scene, and just knew it would be perfect.  So I did a little Photoshop magic, and voila!

Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse

So to conclude, GO BUY THE BOOK!  (You won’t regret it.)

Changes

Last week, I blogged the cover reveal for my good friend Craig Boyack’s new book, Will O’ the Wisp.  I shared with you how I designed the cover and how much I loved the story.   Today, I am pleased to announce that as of this past weekend, Will O’ the Wisp is finally available for sale on Amazon.

By the way, if you don’t know what a will o’ the wisp is, I’ll be happy to explain in Craig’s own words:

“It is a natural phenomenon involving a light that floats above swampy or boggy areas. It’s also seen with friction associated with tectonic plate movement. Science doesn’t exactly know, because it is extremely rare. There are many legends associated with it, and I took the legends from there.”

I also wanted to show you the difference between the original photo and what ended up being Craig’s cover.  Here is the original:

The Original

And here again is the finished product:

Will O’ the Wisp by C.S. Boyack

And since it is now published, I’d like to share the blurb with you as well:

There is something evil up Bergamot Holler, and it’s been targeting the Hall family for generations.  Patty Hall is fifteen years old. She loves stargazing, science fiction, and all things related to space exploration. This leaves her perfectly prepared for the wrong problem.  Patty is afraid her mother will send her to a care facility if she tells her what she’s seen. If she doesn’t figure things out soon, she’s going to join her father in the Hall family cemetery plot.  Patty is going to have to come to grips with her own physical handicap, survive the wilderness, and face an ancient evil all alone if she’s going to survive.  Will O’ the Wisp is suitable for young adults. It involves strong elements of suspense and is set in the mid-1970s.

Now if you think this looks or sounds even remotely intriguing, please know that it definitely is!  And I’d never steer you wrong.  So please hop on over to Amazon and pick yourself up a copy right now.  (By the way, if you’re anywhere other than in North America right now, you’ll want to pick up THIS copy.  Craig used a portion of song lyrics, and the license he purchased only covered North America.  He made a different international version for the rest of the world.)

Time to talk:  Did you already know what a will o’ the wisp was?  Have you ever known someone who claimed to be the victim of a family curse?  Do you like when books are set in a past time of your life so you can vividly recall certain news items, technology, or fads?

The Secret’s Out!

So you’ve all heard me talk about my good friend and blogging brother, Craig Boyack, before.  Craig is an awesome writer, and when he named his blog “Entertaining Stories,” I wonder if he knew just how right on the money that name would be.

Well, Craig and I have been sharing a secret that I’ve been dying to let out of the bag!  Now if your mind is in the gutter, get it out.  It’s not that kind of secret!  This secret has to do with an edge-of-your-seat story that Craig wrote called Will O’ the Wisp.

A few months ago, Craig graciously allowed me to beta read for him.  At the time, I really didn’t know that a will o’ the wisp was an actual thing, but rather, I thought it was a term he made up himself.  Knowing how much I love working with Photoshop, around the same time he sent me the book to read, he also asked if I wanted to design the cover.  He didn’t have to ask me twice!

So he told me he wanted a dark forest with a shallow creek, a will o’ the wisp, and certain hardwood trees with autumn leaves.  He also wanted a simple font that could be read easily as a thumbnail.  Being as I’m a professional photographer, I was planning to alter a photograph to make this cover.  The only problem was that we don’t get autumn colors here in Florida.  I immediately put in some calls to all my photographer friends to the north of me, but sadly, they all reported back that their leaves had already fallen, and their trees were bare.

My next problem was that I really didn’t know what feel the image should have until I read the story.  So late that evening, I started reading.  I actually don’t think I ever made it to sleep that night because the book was that good!  Seriously, once I got started, it sucked me in right away, and I couldn’t have put it down if I’d wanted to.

The story is written in first person which I don’t usually care for, but in this case, it really worked, and I loved it.  In fact, once you read the story, I think you’ll agree that Craig made the best choice in this, his first time venture in writing first person.  It’s set in 1975, and features a teenage girl named Patty and her best friends, Laura and Pete, who help her solve a family mystery.  There’s a lot of action and adventure, as well as goosebump moments that leave you on the edge of your seat.  I don’t know how much Craig will allow me to share with you here, but let’s just say The Wonder Years meets The Exorcist, and it leaves you wanting more.  Seriously, the only complaint I had with Craig over this book is that he hasn’t already written a sequel!

So by the next day, after a good long nap and a shower, I clearly envisioned the cover I knew Craig wanted.  I scoured the internet and found the perfect photo which was taken by another blogger (who we didn’t know) who is a fisherman and actually took this on one of his fishing expeditions.  Craig contacted him, and he was happy to allow us to use his photo for the book.  The only problem was, the photo had no autumn leaves, it was the wrong size and shape, and it was taken during the daytime.  But for me, that challenge was the fun part.

What I did to the original daytime photo was as follows:  I flipped it to make the stream go in the other direction; I made it vertical instead of horizontal without cropping any important elements; I removed some stones from the creek bed; I burned the edges and darkened the sky to make it look more like nighttime; I added fog to make it look eerie; I took moss off of some of the stones; I removed some boulders from the ground; I changed the green leaves to have some autumn colors; I added some autumn leaves to the ground to cover the dead, brown leaves that were there previously; of course I added a will o’ the wisp and the title and author name; and I added a subtle “cracked” overlay to the words to add to the feel of  spookiness.

Anyway, while I don’t know if I did the story justice, I sure had fun helping Craig with this project.  I do happen to know that Will O’ the Wisp will be published and on sale very soon.  So please hop on over to Craig’s Blog and ask him how you can pick up a copy.  (And if you need a cover for your book and would like my help, feel free to contact me.)

“Will O’ the Wisp” by C.S. Boyack

Superheroes, Dinosaurs, and Clouds

As many of you know, besides being a writer, I’m also a professional wedding photographer.  Last month, I had the pleasure of photographing Iron Man’s wedding.  Yes, really.  Actually, superhero weddings are becoming increasingly popular.  Last year, I was around to photograph Captain America’s wedding.  However, Iron Man’s wedding was quite unique.

First of all, the groom, Andrew, and the bride, Katie, love video games.  So their cake topper was none other than characters from a Zelda game.

Secondly, the groom and all his groomsmen were various superheroes.  And of course, the ring bearer was Hulk.

The bride, though she did not possess superpowers, looked stunning.

In the past year or so, a popular wedding pose has been for the wedding party to be running from a T-rex.

However, this couple is also really into Star Wars, so they wanted to be running from some AT-ATs which were introduced in The Empire Strikes Back and also appeared in Return of the Jedi.

Finally, something happened at this wedding that I’ve actually not seen before at a wedding:  The reception hall caught on fire!  Actually, I’m exaggerating.  People were dancing when suddenly my sister Michelle and I smelled smoke.  We looked up and saw smoke coming off a table.  Apparently someone bumped the table, and a napkin fell onto a tea light candle.  We ran toward it, and Michelle poured a glass of water on it.  Mostly just the napkin and a bit of the tablecloth were burned, and no one else but the bride even noticed.  Sadly, we didn’t get a photo, but there really wasn’t much to see.  However, it did make for an interesting story:  “There was a fire at my wedding!”

A lot of people don’t like to spend money on wedding photographers. They don’t understand that owning a good camera is only a fraction of a photographer’s job.  Posing, lighting, and post-production work are also a large part of what we do.  For example, this couple got married on a hazy day with a white sky.  The overcast when this happens gives people a blue-grey pallor.  But thanks to me, they now have a blue sky and puffy clouds, and years from now when they look at their wedding photos, they’ll only remember how good they looked and what a beautiful, sunny day it was.

BEFORE & AFTER my magic. 🙂

I’m not knocking people who don’t use professional photographers.  But I am saying that I feel honored to have been present at the weddings I’ve shot.  It feels great to help people capture a day with photos that they’ll one day show their grandchildren.

Let’s talk:  When’s the last time you had a professional photograph taken of yourself?  (Your driver’s license photo doesn’t count!)  If you were getting married in the next few weeks, would you wear superhero garb? Would you want a dinosaur chasing your bridal party? Have you ever been to a wedding where a fire started?