Something had to give

Summer is HERE. And so are the tantrums, fighting, and proclamations of boredom. I was ready to throw in the beach towel, and we were only one week in!! Something had to be done. After a little creative brainstorming, I decided we needed a rewards system. We've done marbles in a jar, monetary rewards for chores, and other promises of greatness. But this summer I need something motivating and simple. I had been thinking about the fair coming up in August, and it dawned on me: RED TICKETS. I ran to Walmart and came home with a gigantic roll of red tickets. The kids were speechless for the first time in a week. "How do we earn them?" they implored. "I will share with you all of my secrets," I promised, and set about making this system work for us.

First, I gave them each an envelope for ticket storage, and found a big jar for "payments." Then we came up with a mutually agreed-upon system. You want to watch TV? Pay the jar 1 ticket per show. You want to go to a friend's house? 5 tickets. Family movie night or snow cones on mom? 10 tickets. Go to a movie? 50 tickets. Trip to the museum? 100 tickets...and so on. And they have to work for these rewards! 1 ticket for every 10 minutes of reading. Picking up toys, 5 tickets, etc. Some rewards and payments are set in stone (they HAVE to read at least 20 minutes a day, but my 9 year old is now averaging about 70 minutes in order to earn an many tickets as are humanly possible). But I also can use these tickets to keep them in line while, oh, say, having to shop for summer clothes with all three kids in tow. "You keep playing hide and seek in the racks, and that's going to cost you 10 tickets!" Boom. Angels. And if they are extra helpful and go above and beyond, they earn bonus tickets! Helping with little Lena (2) has earned Finn (9) and Maya (7) quite a few tickets to pad their envelopes. We even have a Friday Toy Chest where they can choose a 5 Ticket Toy from a treasure bin (thank you Dollar Store). It's the perfect motivation to keep everyone on track this summer! What's working for YOU? :)

I've whipped up some ticket charts for you to use! You can download them for free HERE.


Book Club Guide for Fire of the Sea

Planning a Book Club for Fire of the Sea? Well you should be, because it's the PERFECT book club read. ;) Here are some tips to make your next gathering a success.

To purchase the print or ebook, find them HERE.
For signed copies ($15 plus shipping), EMAIL ME!

Head on over to your local Ikea and pick up some Scandinavian treats! Ginger cookies, tea, some sandwiches with Havarti cheese, or even some Siggi Icelandic yogurt with fruit!

To drink, serve Ocean Water by combining lemonade, ginger ale & blue Hawaiian Punch!

I was inspired by Sigur Ros and Imogen Heap, primarily. But there are some really great songs that graced my playlist. Here are a few to consider:

Sigur Ros – Glosoli
Imogen Heap – Canvas
Susie Suh – Here With Me
Florence and the Machine – What the Water Gave Me

Think beach, sea, sand, and ice! Iceland isn't a warm and balmy place, but great texture in fabrics, rope, shells, woods, and stones can help warm of the feel. A rustic nautical theme can work, with a hint of raw mystery!

You can add touch of Old Norse flair with this map, genealogy chart, and woodcut design. I have included the book cover, as well, at full resolution. All files are available as a free download HERE.

Share the gorgeous book trailer for Fire of the Sea. (It was filmed IN Iceland!)

If you want to keep it light, you can always play the Mermaid Name Game!

Quotes from the book (printed or shared) are another way to add interest.


1. Fire of the Sea combines elements of Old Norse tales and Scandinavian (like the Icelandic Sagas, and H.C. Andersen's The Little Mermaid.) How does Fire of the Sea add to the modern day landscape of fantasy and mythology?
(Discussion might include the marriage of Norse and Greek mythology, for example.) 

2. Fate and choice is a central theme of Fire of the Sea. How did Aeva's choices influence the shifting of fate? How are fate and choice intertwined?

3. SPOILER ALERT!! Did you suspect Petra to be Delphine? If so, when did you start to suspect this, and how did this impact you as you read further? Did you feel the tension building as Aeva was taken in by Petra? Were any of you surprised that Petra was really Delphine in human form?

4. Discuss the nature of shape shifters. How are other characters besides Delphine shape shifters in their own way (Aeva, Gunnar, or even Sissel)? 

5. Stories with both romantic and fantasy elements often depict romantic relationships happening quickly--even suddenly--on a deep emotional level. Does this work with this genre? If so, what makes it believable? (Is it the added magic and mystery? Is it the fact that we as readers just love a love story?)

6. Aeva sacrificed a lot for Gunnar. Do you feel he matched her love, and was worthy of her sacrifice? If so, how? If not, what would make it so impossible for Aeva and Gunnar to be separated if they seemed unequally matched? 

7. Aeva has to make a pretty serious choice between honoring family and choosing love. Did she make the right decision? How would her world have been different if she had chosen to stay with her family, rather than take the more difficult path to land? Could she have achieved her destiny any other way? (Discussion could include the prophecy about the Fire of the Sea and the Fate of Man, and how balance is restored.)

8. Fire of the Sea seems to wrap up in a fairly neat package. Do you think Delphine is truly gone? Or are there any loose ends that could leave the ending open to more danger? (Spoiler alert, share if you would like: one of Delphine’s Selur “friends” made it away alive from the orca attack. This was a way to leave a small loose end in the event of a sequel. Can you figure out which character made it out alive?)

9. The ocean plays a large role in Fire of the Sea. How do you view this “character?" (Could be a mother figure, Creator, teacher, raw force, etc.) 

10. To follow up with the previous question: In the end, Aeva must give herself back to the sea as a form of repentance, in a way. Was the sea truly angry, or just responding based on the laws of this created world? Was the ocean’s forgiveness immediate or conditional? Were these conditions a result of Aeva’s mistakes, and were these conditions only met after personal growth, or is it an unconditional forgiveness? Maybe a bit of both? (This exists in other mythologies and in scriptural texts, for example…)

11. Gunnar has his own personal growth in Fire of the Sea. He changes from a bit of a quiet loner, into someone with personal conviction and a sense of honor. How does imparting duty and purpose on someone compel them to rise to the challenge? How was this mirrored in Aeva’s character arc? 

Have fun!!

Thank you to Shannon Wilson of Family Brings Joy for sharing these photos with me! 


Book Cover Design: Getting it RIGHT

I have a unique perspective on book cover design because I have seen both sides of the coin. I have designed many covers, and have also worked with a designer for my own cover when Fire of the Sea was published (I wanted to focus on writing and editing, rather than designing my own over). I've been a graphic designer and illustrator now for over 15 years, and have been seriously writing for just over five year. And one thing is certain: book cover design makes ALL the difference in a book's success! 

I've put together a bit of a quick-start guide to help authors navigate the world of cover design, and decide which option is the best for their personal publishing journey.

It's no secret that book covers make a huge impact. Your book cover's MAIN PURPOSE is to generate excitement and interest for your book. Your genre needs to be represented in your cover, and it should easily convey tone and theme at a glance. Whether you will be designing the cover yourself,  hiring a freelance artist, or working with a publisher, it's best to have an idea of what needs to be conveyed in your cover.

First, boil it down to motivation, incentive and emotion. What is your book all about? What is the MOST important theme or concept that you would like your cover to express? This will help you come up with lots of ideas and choices for imagery, color palette, typography, and layout. 

Before you begin, know what kills a cover. Bad typography, terrible stock photography, dated or overdone color combos all destroy a book’s visual credibility. You have all seen them. You can pick them out of a crowd in a heartbeat. And they often scream "self published." And in an era where a self published author can gain immense success, it is even more important to pair a dynamite cover design with that manuscript! It gives an author instant credibility. Let's face it. We are ALL judging a book by its cover.

You will also need to consider the cost of stock photography. Do NOT steal artwork. It's not only bad form, but it's illegal. I have posted resources for great stock photography at the bottom of this post (with some free options, as well). If you find an image on the web, and it's high resolution, you might need to gain permission from the original artist or photographer. There is a 25% rule that allows a photo or design to be altered 25% in order to be legally used without payment or permission. But I would proceed with caution in this arena. I once had Gap, Inc. call the scrapbook company I worked for demanding a cease and desist because the lime pattern I had created was mistakenly too similar to Piperlime's logo. I had to alter the shade of green, and add a few more spokes to the starburst in the center of the lime. It was an easy fix, but a lot of hassle! So be mindful.

Getting Started
I want to talk a little about the three levels of book cover design: D.I.Y. (design it yourself), hiring a freelance designer/illustrator/artist, and working with a publisher. Going into any of these situations, be prepared. Scour the internet for covers. Go to libraries or bookstores to see what stands out in your genre. Search for some initial cover or stock photo examples. Consider the type of cover that might best represent your story. Is it character-driven? Theme-driven? Typography-driven? Having a flexible idea will help the process!

D.I.Y Design
Proceed at your own risk! :) You will absolutely need to have some level of proficiency in design software. Tools to consider are Adobe's Creative Suite (InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop). Photoshop Elements can be a decent program for intermediate designers who don't want to purchase the full version of Photoshop. I DO NOT recommend designing a cover yourself if you are a beginner in these programs. Also keep in mind that if you are self-publishing, and self-designing, you will need to feel comfortable enough to work with the software to design the book's interior, as well. And services like Amazon's Create Space will also require formatting and uploading. A few quick Dos and Don'ts:
DO make your title big and bold (or at least quite prominent). The best book covers, particularly those that are going to be seen as thumbnails on a computer screen, as well as in a bookshop in hard copy, should have a prominent, easy-to-read title and author name on them. This makes it much easier for the reader to identify the book.
DON’T try to illustrate every theme/character.
DO focus on the main theme within your genre when envisioning design concepts.
DON'T go font crazy Instead, choose simple, easy to read fonts that are classic and enhance/compliment the design/theme.
DO make a mood board! Find out what resonates with you, and what conveys the essence of your story. You will move ahead with the design process in a more prepared and mindful state.
DON'T wing it. Look for online tutorials if your design skills are lacking.
DO consider hiring a great cover artist or designer if you feel a little out of your depth. 

Working with a freelance designer
Choose carefully! Make sure they have designed covers in your genre. Do you like many of their designs? Email them. How is your communication? Make sure you are prepared to offer design samples/inspiration of covers that have designs you like, and also designs that would represent your book's theme well. There will be a lot of back and forth. Make sure there isn’t a low cap on the number of revisions, because you might be caught shelling out overtime fees. Get recommendations from other authors or friends. Consider the designer's workload. Do they have a huge portfolio with hundreds of covers? If so, ask what their turnaround time looks like. You don't want to get stuck with a designer who is potentially overcommitted. And don't always choose the designer with the lowest price! Pay for quality, and that's is what you will get 90% of the time. You might also consider a PRE-MADE cover if you are on a budget, and are flexible on your cover design. I have listed resources for all of these below. To view my own personal cover designs and prices, click here.

Working with a publisher
There are pros and cons when working with a publisher. For starters, they have read your manuscripts multiple times, and know the ins-and-outs of your book or series. This can be a wonderful advantage over a designer who has merely read a blurb, and is going of your suggestions. Your publisher will be your advocate with the designer, and can offer a fresh and seasoned perspective. But they will also have a vision for this cover. Come prepared to share specific cover inspiration examples (and possibly color and font choices) that resonate with you and best represent your book. But also understand that a publisher has the ultimate final say. Depending on the size of the publishing house, you will have varying levels of involvement and feedback on your cover design. Remember that a calm, open, flexible author will always get farther than one who holds on to a headstrong vision. Be prepared to let go a bit. Compromise can often produce a cover that is even better (and ultimately more effective at selling your book) than you could have envisioned on your own. Remember that your publisher will know your current market better than anyone else. They know what is selling, and what has been over used. So trust them! They are your ally.

During the revision process
You will be excited to share your new designs, but resist the urge to show all initial versions of your cover design with everyone you know. Test your cover against other covers first. Print out a copy, take it to the library or bookshelf in your genre. Does it fit in? Does it stand out in a good way? Make or request changes accordingly. When you are in the final rounds, test your cover with your TARGET AUDIENCE. Don't test a racy romance cover with your sweet grandma...unless she loves racy romances! ;) 

If things are going downhill
Maybe your publisher isn't all that you had hoped for. Maybe your designer is taking an eternity. Maybe you just hate all the designs, and you are getting that pit in your author stomach... Take a breath, and don't overreact. I understand. This is your baby. You have a vision. You wan't the best cover possible. Shed a tear if you must, and then move forward. The best course of action is GOOD COMMUNICATION. A well-worded, sincere/candid email or phone call will almost always turn things in the right direction. Be firm but not forceful. Know your contract if you are truly unhappy. Ask your designer what their satisfaction policy is ahead of time. Make sure you have an alternative route within the parameters of your contract or agreement, and in the worst case scenario, make sure you have an escape hatch. This is a rare occurrence, however. Most cover conflict can find a happy resolution. By simply being prepared, flexible, and willing to communicate, you should be just fine.

Once you have a final cover
SHARE with pride! Have a big cover reveal! Drum up excitement and anticipation! If you had to bend a bit in a collaboration, don't apologize for your cover if it isn't exactly what you envisioned. If your publisher and target audience are responding strongly, so will your supporters. So share it loud and proud, and then go forth with your promotional efforts (that's a post for another day).

I hope this has been helpful! Feel free to leave comments below with any questions you might have, or email me at lyndsayjohnson@gmail.com to inquire about my book cover design and map illustration services! Keep reading for a list of more resources.

Self Publishing and Design

Online Design Classes

Free stock photos

Royalty free photos (paid subscriptions or single use)


A-MAZE-ING Valentine Freebie!

Happy Valentine's Day! I am offering a fun little freebie for you. Tape a pencil to the back for a-maze-ing fun. ;)



Dealing with food allergies: What do I eat??

It's been 5+ years since I've been unable to eat wheat, dairy, coconut, egg, pineapple, turmeric, and yeast (bakers and brewers). I am now on a medication (Cromolyn Sodium) to help desensitize my body to these foods so that I can start trying to eat them again. To say I am freaked out is an understatement. I am almost as freaked out as I was when I was told I couldn't eat any of these foods to begin with! Our relationship with food can be a weird thing. When you have to adjust your diet in any way, it can be daunting. So here is my basic advice to anyone dealing with a newly restricted diet or food sensitivities/allergies.

You don't realize how much processed and/or packaged food we purchase, prep with, and eat until you have to go "clean." It's not all bad, and I still buy many of these things for the rest of my family. Things like cereal, cheese, tortillas, bread, snack bars, crackers, etc. These are all an integral part of our lives! And cutting them out can make you feel left without snack or meal options.

When people ask me "What can you eat??" I laugh and say, "LOTS of things!" I suggest getting back to basics and eating protein, veggies, fruits, and nuts (if able). You need to embrace whatever resources you can find by way of Facebook groups, websites, and cookbooks. Think WHOLE FOODS, and seek out those recipes! You will find a wealth of information on Pinterest and simply by Googling. I do NOT recommend heading straight to the processed gluten free aisle if you are cutting out gluten or wheat. These imitation foods have zero taste and low nutrition value. There are a few exceptions (Betty Crocker cake and brownie mixes are fantastic). Instead, do research on which whole foods you can combine to create your own flour blends or muffin mixes.

Here is a great list of substitutes if you have to cut out certain ingredients:


Yogurt: I love to eat Silk Dairy Free yogurt (I get mine at Walmart).
Butter: Earth Balance (comes in lots of varieties and is amazing).
Mayo: Earth Balance makes a mayo substitute, as well as Veganaise (my fave). I make dressings (RANCH!) and chicken salad with these.
Milk: My personal favorite is Almond Milk. But there are so many options now! Cashew, Soy, Coconut, even Lactaid. Coconut milk in the can is great in cakes and rich desserts and things like curry dishes and caramel sauces.


• Flax Meal (1 T ground flax + 2.5 T warm water = 1 egg) — I grind flax seeds in my Vitamix and they work better than any pre-ground brand I've found. But Bob's Redmill works great, too.
• "Egg Replacer" when baking.
• Apple sauce or pumpkin in certain recipes.


Try substituting with these grains—
• Brown Rice and GF pasta blends
• Rice Flour blends to create an imitation of wheat flour (find my recipe HERE). I use this in baking and coating chicken or veggies when browning or frying.
• Coconut flour is a great flour substitute in many recipes.
• Quinoa
• Rice (white, wild, brown)
• Oats (just make sure they are certified gluten free oats, otherwise they will always have cross contamination)


• If you have a nut allergy, try to find a substitute (like Sunflower or Almond butter instead of Peanut Butter).
• Nuts are also a great thing to have on hand when you feel snack-ish. They are crunchy, salty, and satisfying!

How to eat meals:

• Try dairy-free yogurt, bacon, fruit, smoothies, GF cereals (Chex!), potato hash, eggs (if able), etc.

• Plan a grain, protein, and veggie (quinoa, chicken, and zucchini, for example).
• Make a "Chipotle" bowl with rice, slow cooked pork, salsa, guacamole, and chips. I've found that most Mexican food is gluten free.
• Have a sampling of olives, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, and maybe even pepperoni like an appetizer plate. Dip it in homemade dairy-free ranch for an indulgence.
• Salads galore!

• Again, think protein, grain, veggies. I have also been able to adapt sweet and sour chicken, BBQ chicken, Asian recipes, and SO many more. Often I am just excluding the roll on the side, or making rice pasta for everyone instead (they never notice). I've learned to make sauces from scratch (they aren't that time consuming, and taste great). Get creative and abandon the idea of baked casseroles or one pot meals in the beginning, until you get more ambitious. There are many slow cooker recipes out there, and with a few tweaks they will work beautifully!

• I love to eat Pop Chips, tortilla chips and salsa, dairy free sorbet (read the ingredients first, but Haagen Dazs is great), nuts, fruit leather (and fruit of any kind), dry cereal, baby carrots, dairy free yogurt, gluten free homemade cookies and muffins on occasion.

Lastly, remember that there are still so many foods that you can enjoy! If I can do it, you definitely can. It takes time. Go easy on yourself. Be forgiving and patient. But I promise along the way you will have more and more epiphanies! It will get easier—and more yummy—as you go. :)

Here are my favorite cookbooks right now:

(you'll need to make substitutes here)

(you'll need to make substitutes here)

(you'll have to make some substitutions here)

What suggestions do you have that have worked well for YOU? :)

** For more info on how to handle a new food lifestyle (and more cookbook recommendations), read my first post in this series HERE.