September 23, 2012

Best Blogs Posts by Janice Phelps Williams

Links to popular Appalachian Morning blog posts (alphabetical by subject).

Altered Book Projects and Artist Trading Cards (ATCs)

Art in Public Places and Memorial Topics

Children's Book Illustrations

Drawing with Markers or Colored Pencils

Illustrating a Children's Book; Illustrating Book Covers

Miscellaneous Essays

Needle Crafts and Art Dolls

Outsider Art


Photographs of Harbor Springs and Petoskey, Michigan (Emmet County, Michigan) 

Photographs of New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans: 5 posts with photographs (Spring 2011)

Photographs of Southern Ohio


September 10, 2012

Review of "The Forever Marriage" by Ann Bauer

The Forever MarriageThe Forever Marriage by Ann Bauer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Forever Marriage
by Ann Bauer

From the publisher's description: "The Forever Marriage is at its heart a mystery, and the mystery is what, exactly, the nature of Carmen and Jobe's marriage might have been. Page-turning and irreverent, The Forever Marriage is a compelling examination of a relationship and of a woman facing up to her imperfect past. It merits comparison to the best work of Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg, and Alice Sebold."

I loved it: because of the characters, who are flawed and complicated and surprising; because of the excellent writing and storytelling; because of the way the story alternates between the past and the present, giving us a more complete picture as the pages turn of what might really have led up to the great dissatisfaction with which the main character, Carmen, has had to cope throughout her married life. I have known Carmens and I have known Jobes and it is interesting to think what happens when two such different people marry and create a family and life together. People are drawn to their opposites and marry for all sorts of reasons, many of which they are unaware of at the time they make the choice, when young and not yet with a complete understanding of who they are.

Carmen, the main character, seems at the start to be a real bitch. Even her best friend seems to think so. She is not emotionally attached to her lover, but uses him to make up for the lack of sexual activity in her marriage. You may not respect Carmen or like anything about her at first, but hang in there. Typically, if I do not like the main character of a novel, it is hard for me to stay with it, but I'm glad I did in this case. I trusted the author, and she honored my purchase of this book and confidence in her by revealing to me an understanding of human nature and the complexities of love that wowed me.

Even though there are universal themes in this book, I've never read a story quite like this, and that is one reason why I enjoyed it so much. Yes, it dealt with cancer, adultery, a child with disabilities, but I didn't find it depressing or uplifting, but rather realistic in the aspect that all of these main characters, Carmen, the late Jobe, the lover Danny, and the mother-in-law Olive, as well as the boy with Down's Syndrome, Luca, were all more than they seemed at first glance and more endearing by the end of the book than at the start.

I also loved the descriptions of mathematics and how as the book progresses we see that perhaps Carmen loved Jobe more than she thought she did. And he certainly loved her, though at some point I wondered, what was it he needed that she was never able to provide? How did he cope with that? It was interesting to see how the author added dimension to this character of Jobe as the book progressed.

I thought the title of the book was a brilliant choice.

This is the first book I've read by Ann Bauer. I found her writing at when doing a Google search under autism. I then went to her website and ordered her two novels. I hope she is writing a third. I find her characters and storyline insightful and memorable.

--Reviewed by Janice Phelps Williams, Sept. 9, 2012

View all my reviews

August 28, 2012

"Open House" by Elizabeth Berg

Open HouseOpen House by Elizabeth Berg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Open House by Elizabeth Berg for the first time four years ago. I discovered her books at the library and read all of Berg’s titles available there, then purchased some additional titles as well. I’ve now read all of her books except, oddly considering my profession, her book on writing, which I haven’t finished yet. A few weeks ago, I decided to purchase paperback editions and re-read a few of Berg’s books. I started with Open House.

I’ve just now gone to Berg’s site to grab a short synopsis, and see that Open House was published by Random House in 2000. This novel was the author’s first (written), but not the first she had published. Here is the synopsis from

A woman whose husband has moved out decides that, rather than selling their house, she will keep it and rent out rooms to boarders. This novel, which was an Oprah pick, is about finding the gifts inside yourself that you've ignored or not been aware of. It emphasizes the fact that sometimes it takes a tragedy to get you to the best place you can be.

Here is mine:

When husband David leaves Samantha after many years of marriage, Sam first reacts by imitating Martha Stewart in an attempt to create the perfect home for her and her 11-year-old son, Travis. When this soon wanes, Sam, determined to keep the family home, opens the doors of her house and the doors of her heart to a few strangers and a man named King, who has a degree in astrophysics and works for a temp agency. Sam starts working there, too, and as the book progresses, Berg weaves the story of how a person’s heart can heal and open to the beauty of the world around them once again, even when they are so profoundly changed by circumstances that they may feel unrecognizable to their former selves. When Sam faces what she thought she once longed for, and makes a surprising decision, some readers may recognize having been faced with a similar dilemma as time marches on and our old dreams boomerang back in our faces, challenging our new desires.

Open House is not simply my favorite Elizabeth Berg book; it is one of my very favorite books ever. This is because it is well-written, well-woven, and I can relate to much of the storyline. My first marriage lasted about the same length as fictional character Samantha’s. My boys were about the same age as Sam’s son, Travis. I, too, had to figure out how to earn money, how to handle a life that had suddenly changed in what felt like every single way, how to parent pre-teen sons and in that process re-invent myself, or find myself, or just grow and change, like many people do. But this commonplace process takes extraordinary strength, I believe (not compared to humanity but compared to what we might have been called upon before to have), and Berg seems to think so also. She blends strength and a fragile sensitivity into the character of Sam (as well as King), and this makes the main character someone you would want as your best friend; someone you want to be happy and to be loved.

As a writer, I find it impressive that in the 241 pages of Open House the author has created endearing characters and a story that touched me so deeply because as I read it I thought, Yes, that! I did that same thing. I felt that same way. This is the magic of Berg’s writing, in this book and in others. If you haven’t yet discovered her books, start with one of her many titles soon.

Note: This is not a paid review, nor a requested review, and I have never worked with Elizabeth Berg, though I have liked her Facebook page.

~Janice Phelps Williams, writer, illustrator, book designer at
Author of Open Your Heart with Pets: Mastering Life through Love of Animals (Transformation Publishing 2012)

View all my reviews

August 21, 2012

For the Path to Publication, the Map Is under Development

An author I have worked with, Jessica Bell, posted a link today to an article from Forbes: Publishing Is Broken, We're Drowning in Indie Books - and That's a Good Thing, by David Vinjamuri. Here is the link.  I wrote a lengthy comment on Facebook about the article, and decided to post it here as well. I'd love to know your thoughts.

I'll be traveling for a few days, so may be delayed in replying to your comments...

My response to Vinjamuri's article:

I can see this issue from several sides: publisher, author, reader. And, Vinjamuri covers the subject well. He doesn't talk much about editing, though, and what I've noticed in 14 years of working with indie authors/self-publishers is that they, some of them, devalue editing. They don't understand the role of an editor, they don't know how to evaluate if an editor is able to do the professional job needed, they confuse proofreading with editing, and they don't know how to access the level of editor they need to ensure their book has its best chance. (The same can often be true of cover design.)

I can't tell you how many times a book has come to me for design already having been "edited" and it is in no way ready for publication. But the author doesn't see it. I've often been hired to re-edit work that was previously edited at great cost and, to be completely honest, there have been times others have been brought in to do a second round of editing on work that I've been involved in (because it takes years to learn how to be a great editor). Publishing houses have multiple people who are professionals and read the manuscript and offer structural suggestions and marketing suggestions and proofreading suggestions. A self-publisher, even if he or she hires the best designer and freelance editor available, would find it difficult to replicate the team effort publishers put into books (at least some books, certainly not all, and certainly not as they did as assuredly decades ago).

It all comes down to money. It takes money to make money. It takes years to learn how to write. It takes years to learn how to edit. I bet if there was a survey, 80% of the people in the US would say they "want to write a book" or "could write a book." In actual fact, it is not such an easy thing to write a successful book. It's a profession, but how does one get paid while they develop the experience and time in the chair at the keyboard that is necessary? And then, when they are finally *there*, a young acquiring editor feels they are too old at 40 or 50 to have much to say.

I have been astounded by the poor quality of ebooks being promoted by self-publishing authors who are hurting their careers by their rush to publish. At the same time, as a writer I understand this and have perhaps fallen victim to the seducing voice of publication as well. I am writing a book. What will happen to it? Who will read it? Is there hope of finding a publisher for it? Should I spend all that time on it then?

Many small publishers will find it difficult to be profitable selling ebooks. The profit margin is so slim. And, in selling printed books, there are so many difficulties on the distribution end. The distributor who gave me my start has gone bankrupt. Borders, the most open store to small publishers, has gone bankrupt. Sometimes I feel like starting a little printed catalog and mailing it out to people to look at while they read their coffee and maybe they will order a book. In fact, there are a few publishers who send me this sort of thing and I love them. The brochures are quirky and the publishers have a definite brand.

I have thought about going the other direction from print on demand, in the direction of collectors' editions of handcrafted books, and then an ebook for those who can't afford the handcrafted book. I'm going to look at this option for "Finding Pletonia."

As a former publisher, I can tell you that ending my 11 years as a publisher (due to the climate of publishing, the numbers, the lack of capital, the competition, the returns, the time in my life that all these things took place, the other choices that I had that were more profitable and fulfilling) has been sobering and of course caused me to think about what works and what doesn't; for me, for authors, and for publishers. And also for readers! I keep settling into bed with books that just don't work well or were not marketed/titled/designed/categorized/proofread correctly.

What I would say to any writer starting out who wants to be published is to write because you must; because there is nothing else on earth you want to do more than writing; because you are willing to work at it; because you want to do it whether you succeed or not. Figure out a way to support yourself, educate yourself about the craft of writing; save up for the services of the best editor you can find, and keep at it.

A final word: Be sure to visit the link to the Forbes article that prompted my post, and also read the many great comments writers have left. It is very insightful and, I think, inspiring to see their comments. I think it is a wonderful time to be a writer, but it is a confusing time as well. The nature of publishing is in transition and it will be exciting to see what the landscape looks like in 3, or 5, or 10 years!

 Forbes: Publishing Is Broken, We're Drowning in Indie Books - and That's a Good Thing, by David Vinjamuri. Here is the link.

~Janice Phelps Williams, (I am an editor, illustrator, and book designer and have brought more than 250 books "to life" since 1997. I am also the author of the "traditionally" published book: Open Your Heart with Pets: Mastering Life through Love of Animals)

August 17, 2012

The Steps to Create Illustrations for a Children's Book

Today,  I am the guest of Karen S. Elliott, The Word Shark, at her blog for writers and readers. I discuss my path to becoming a book designer and illustrator and list out the steps involved in creating illustrations for an author and/or publisher.

Here is the link:

Have a great weekend,

July 26, 2012

Free Patterns from Yarn Companies, and More! Janice's 2012 List!

One of my most visited blogposts is "Yarn Companies Offering Free Patterns" from 2009. It's time to provide a new gift to all those who love to knit and crochet! Remember, it is never too early to start working on holiday gifts. Enjoy...

This lovely lavender yarn was purchased on a trip I made with my husband to New Orleans. Learn more at this link.

At left is a hat I made using a Vogue Pattern.

Below is a photo of Jackie wrapped in a scarf I made.
Photo at left is of a felted hat I made for my mother.
Additional Resources for Free Patterns:
A whimsical doll I made years ago, wearing a crocheted yarn jumpsuit. Her face is hand-painted.
All photos on this page © Janice Phelps Williams. Author of Open Your Heart with Pets: Mastering Life through Love of Animals and illustrator of Two True Blue Dragons, Still Her Spirit Sings, and The Will Turner Novels.

July 22, 2012

July in Northern Michigan!

A snippet of my day yesterday and some photos taken throughout the month of July. 

"Love is to the heart what the summer is to the farmer's year - it brings to harvest all the loveliest flowers of the soul." ~author unknown

Harbor Springs, MI, Saturday Farmers Market

Prep work at Chandler's Restaurant, Petoskey, MI

Antique cash register on display at Chandler's Restaurant.

Art in the Park, July 21st, 2012, in Petoskey, MI

Wright Cycle Company, Petoskey, MI

Petoskey State Park

Flowers at Birchwood Farms Golf and Country Club

Alpena County Regional Airport. The smallest airport I have ever been in. Good is not a far walk to your gate!

Sunset at Alepna (MI) Airport

Flowers in downtown Harbor Springs, MI

Harbor Springs street scene

Fields off of Hughston Rd., Harbor Springs, MI

I was driving down the road listening to Odetta sing "All the Pretty Little Horses" and she finished singing, I turned the corner and saw these beauties! Their owners consented to my taking their photo.

The houses are open for summer visitors along Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan, in Harbor Springs.

View of Harbor Springs from hills above.

Lobsterfest at Birchwood.

With my mother at Methodist Church, Harbor Springs. The church was founded in 1875. I liked these windows.

View of Little Traverse Bay from the Bay View Memorial Garden, behind Bay View Inn. My mother and I sat on a swing and I also went to the water's edge and collected rocks.

This mother deer and two fawns were seen at a neighbor's house. Unfortunately, I did not have my good camera with me.

One of the happiest flowers of all, methinks. I love petunias!

This wonderful produce place is located near Charlevoix, and I can personally attest to the deliciousness of their cherry pies! The National Cherry Festival was held in Traverse City this month.

Jackie is doing well on her heart failure medication. Here she is sleeping until it is time for breakfast.

Yesterday, my mother and I went to the local farmer's market. The produce was bountiful, the colors vibrant, the conversation amongst vendors and customers lively. The sun was shining and it was not too hot. There were dogs, there were kids, and I now know how tasty cherry mustard can be. ...Later in the day, my mother, son and I went to an art fair. I bought a recorder at a local music store. ... We had fresh green beans on our table last night and raspberries, cherries, and blueberries as the ending of a meal that was eaten on our deck and included Mark's delicious bbq ribs. ...Then, my mother and I waged canasta war over the kitchen table until it was late and I fell into bed with a Pekingese at my feet and a happy summer feeling.

I hope you have time to enjoy the wonderful foods and activities that epitomize "SUMMER" to you!

All photos © 2012 by Janice Phelps Williams. All rights reserved.

July 9, 2012

My New Studio and an Altered Book Swap with Angie Ledbetter

Angie Ledbetter and I recently decided to do an altered book swap. I wrote previously on this blog about altered book projects:

A Collaboration, a Swap!

Angie, who lives in Louisiana, is a writer (co-author of Seeds of Faith: An Inspirational Almanac: Seasonal Essays, Recipes and Tips), editor (at Rose and Thorn Journal), and recipe dispenser (at the GumboWriter blog). She is also a wonderful "doodler" and shares her colorful sketches with friends on Facebook and also in a FB group for those who love to draw and doodle. And that's not all, Angie is also a thoughtful photographer who captures beautiful images and shares them with inspirational messages on Facebook. 

I am a writer, book designer, and illustrator by profession, and an amateur photographer. I also love making altered books and seeing the work of others as well and was happy to have the opportunity to do a trade with Angie. I love her postings on Facebook, her photographs, descriptions of delicious Louisiana cooking, and the wonderful Rose and Thorn Journal.

We agreed to create two altered books from children's board books. At first we considered each decorating every other page, then swapping, and finishing the books, then mailing them back. But, in the end we decided to simply each create a book for the other person. 

Angie has also posted a blog today on her altered book project for me! It is at So, be sure to stop by her site and see the photos of her project!

I like the fact that there are only a few pages in small board books, they are also sturdy and can stand on their own or on a plate stand (I like the simple wire stands available in hobby stores). They also come in interesting shapes. I like that they can be stored or shipped in hat boxes (also available at stores like Hobby Lobby at a very low price, the one I used to ship Angie's book cost $2).

Here is a photo of the three books I considered using for my project:

Back story...

My husband, Mark, and I moved to Harbor Springs, MI (from OH) in April and while my art room was set up, I hadn't really used it yet. So, Angie's book will forever be the first creative endeavor undertaken in my Harbor Springs studio!

Here are some photos of the space. I've needed to accommodate many of my interests, and was happy to have the use of two tables previously found in our kitchen in Athens. A kitchen island (made by the Amish and purchased online) and Mark's mother's beautiful card table. I wanted space for my scrap booking and altered book supplies; a table where I could work on "messy things" standing up; a place for my easel and my sewing machine; and a relatively clean area for working on clients' illustrations as well as the drawings I am doing for my work-in-progress, Finding Pletonia.

The making of my altered book for Angie...

I decided to use the book Funny Bones, which I'd picked up at the Goodwill store in Athens, Ohio, for 25 cents. I liked the shape of the book and also the two holes in the front cover. I knew I could do something with them.

During the time I worked on Angie's book there was a lot going on in my family and work, so having a place to set up the supplies and project and work on it, then walk away, then return and do something else, then go take care of responsibilities, then come back and check on the drying of varnish or glue or add an embellishment or two... well it was an easy process to meld into my workday. Here is the work in progress at the beginning. In fact, all I've done at this point is the cover. You can see the bookbinder's glue and the metallic paints as well as an old copy of Roget's Thesaurus which provided some background paper. A drawing of the elusive "poplyn" (an imaginary bird from my fantasy book in progress) is on the cork board I affixed to the wall. The cork board and the holders underneath containing my pens came from Lowes. You can also see my hole punch and electric pencil sharpener (one of my favorite things).

Here is a closeup of the Lumiere paints. They are wonderful! You can purchase them at JoAnn Fabric and Crafts.

Pages and Process...

I'll show, below, the various pages in the finished altered book and explain briefly the process. First up is the cover. I started out by gluing on pages from an old book. I added in the year, 2012, with press-on letters from my scrapbooking supplies. These particular letters were purchased at Walmart. 

The circular holes were already in the cover. I pasted a sheet of paper behind the holes, then painted Lumiere gold metallic paint in the circles. I also added other shades and then spiced it up with some flecks of real gold from a gold leaf kit.

I love to punch holes in paper, but the board of this book was too thick to punch, so I had to be content with pushing holes in the cover, along the top, with an awl. But then what? I found some brass paper fasteners and inserted them in the small holes. (I then covered the backs of the fasteners on the inside front cover with a piece of paper.) 

I took some pieces of foam and cut them into small rectangular shapes and glued them between the brass fasteners. I then painted Lumiere on the cover, in two shades of gold, and made sure I applied paint to the grass fasteners and foam rectangles as well. For a final touch, I glued rhinestones onto the cover in the circles. Glittery bits to catch the light. Also, I wrote "shelter ideal purposes" on the cover. This phrase is found inside the book as well...

The photographs at left and below show the inside front cover and first page. (At left you can see the original book's first page). For the inside front cover, I pasted paper from a set of papers about 4 x 6 inches, sold for scrapbooking. The paper is flocked and reminded me of New Orleans. Angie doesn't live in NOLA, but I've been there and so in my mind she lives "near New Orleans" a place I love very much.

A few small things were added to the inside front cover. Some labels I'd stained with tea, a note identifying the book, and a strip of thin, white paper (which provides the white swirls you see), and a picture of a bicycle.

On the facing page, I used more scrapbooking paper for the lower 2/3rds. I used the hole puncher to punch holes in the paper and black paper, glued underneath, shows through. I pasted a flower which I'd cut from Veranda magazine.

The page shown at left was created using a sheet of blue paper that was purchased in a set of such papers and said to be handmade. I don't think it really was handmade, but it looks like handmade paper, as it is rough. I took the paper and applied green and gold and other colors of paint and use these decorated sheets in various things. So, I glued it to the board book's page and then added in a picture of a window from a magazine, a picture of a sailboat, a statue, and some words from an old book. The writing says: "Wyatt nowadays was more silent than usual, being preoccupied with thoughts of Kate pregnant, alone, and all but penniless." Lastly, I added in some trees which I drew with a Micron .005 pen and a penny for Kate. On the facing page, I pasted some paper for the background and then glued a pretty ship in the center, for Wyatt, who was away on a ship, according to the page I'd cut the type from. I then added circular scribbles and the little pointing hand.

Below you can see another set of pages. They were simple to do. I glued black paper (punching holds in it beforehand) on the back of the left page and more flocked scrapbooking paper to the page on the right. I then affixed a flower arrangement cut from a magazine and a little photo of three dogs in a suitcase.  On the right-hand page, I used black and red markers to decorate the paper and also used metallic paints.

In the photo below, you can see another page with tree images. I cut strips of cardboard (some sort of waffled paper used in packing) and glued them like tree trunks, drawing lines on them with the Micron pen. I liked the baby with the leaf (from a magazine advertisement) and found the circular shape and the baby carriage amongst my scrapbooking images. 

On the facing page, I pasted an image of three dogs and a parrot.  Until January, Mark and I were the guardians of three dogs and a parrot. There is glare on the red flower I've pasted here. There is a different background paper on top than on the bottom and I have drawn in small flowers with red centers within each diamond shape on the top half.

On the next pair of facing pages, for the left side, I pasted another page from the same book (used on the cover and on the page with the ship). I have circled the words "shelter ideal purposes on this garden of an island." I've woven strips from a painting found in a magazine through the book pages.

On the facing page I glued a card I had with a dog on it; but I didn't know what to do then, so painted around it with blue, white, and black acrylic paint.

The last set of pages features a woman's face from a magazine and I have given her gold hair and surrounded her with the roles and titles of female persons, as well as a few lines from the thesaurus. 

The facing page was made by taking sheets of paper that I had treated long ago with something that caused images to transfer onto the paper, in a faded way. I cut triangular shapes from these papers and glued them like quilt pieces to the background, along with a small bit of that cardboard mentioned earlier and two paper tags I'd stained with tea. I chose three quotes:

"Life obliges me to do something, so I paint." - Rene Magritte

"I like the fact that in ancient Chinese art the great painters always included a deliberate flaw in their work: human creation is never perfect." - Madeleine L'Engle

"Create!" JPW

I also glued on an image of paints, taken from a magazine. (Note: the book is sitting on top of the $2 hat box I mentioned earlier.)

For the back cover, I pasted pieces of pages from the thesaurus and then on top of those pressed violets from our yard. I also sprinkled distress powder on the back cover. Each page was covered at least once with a clear, glossy coat of acrylic varnish. 

The spine was challenging as now the book was larger than previously and the original spine cover was glossy and the paint was not adhering to it well. I stripped it off and then glued a wide ribbon over the spine, then covered it with gold paint. As a last touch, I glued a piece of oriental-style faux ivory (or perhaps real, who knows!) to the front cover. This was from an old pin I'd had for many years from a second hand shop. The clasp had broken, but I'd saved the important part as I knew one day I would find the perfect place for it. And, the cover looks better with three large shapes rather than two. My mother taught me that when you arrange flowers, always have an odd number. I've found that rule works well in many situations.

I ran a pad of brown ink over the edges of the book's pages; they were too white. I let the book sit under the warmth of my desk lamp for a whole day, and then it was time to place the book into the hatbox and mail it to Angie! 

In the last photograph, you can see the altered book inside the hatbox. I put bubble wrap (we have tons left over from our move) between each set of pages, and then placed all inside a cardboard box. And off it went to Louisiana! I just love sending and receiving mail! 

It might sound like this project took a lot of time, but actually it did not. By doing a little bit here and there, it went quite quickly. If you want to try something similar, set up a table where you can leave your project and be comfortable with working on it in short bits of time. That way the glue and paint and varnish will have time to dry and, like a good book being read, the fun of creating will last for several days.

~Janice Phelps Williams

PS: Angie's altered book gift to me arrived just hours after I wrote this post on Friday. It is absolutely wonderful...a thoughtfully considered, artfully constructed treasure that means so much to me to have alongside the books I've made and the artist trading cards I've collected from around the country (and world). It was uncanny how many elements I incorporated into the book for Angie were also featured in her book to me! Read her post at the link below and you'll see what I mean. Thank you, Angie, for doing this fun and precious trade with me!

A Reminder: Angie has also posted a blog today on her altered book project for me! It is at So, be sure to stop by her site and see the photos of her project!

© 2012 by Janice Phelps Williams. All rights reserved.