Today we have with us the wonderful Julie Eberhart Painter to discuss branding and how an author can establish their brand. Please join us in welcoming Julie!
Branding? What it really it
Julie Eberhart Painter
Branding? What is it? I wanted to know more about the term and its use since it apparently applies to us and our writing, not just large corporations or thos guys and gals in the pastures.
Definition: Voice? Plot? Values? Reliability, a promise that I will wind up the details of my twists and turns in the plot.
Ah-ha. Branding is me. My integrity combined with my interests and values create my brand, because who I am contributes to and is incorporated into what I write, whether it’s a travel essay, a blog or flash fiction.
But how does my brand apply to my three latest Champagne novels?
In the contemporary Mortal Coil, a widow with a ten-year old daughter tries to save her nursing home residents from the Ponytail Perp. The cop assigned to the murder case and she become allies, friends, lovers, and more. The brand here is sweet romance, family values, and sense of responsibility and altruism. I must b trusted to wrap up the details.
In Tangled Web, an innocent woman is seduced by what we would now call a player, but in 1935, was a user, a selfish rogue or a philanderer who takes no responsibility for their child. She rebuilds her life and moves from his influence to become a nationally known… The brand here is grit, suspense and eventually sweet romance and the promise that the author will not only wrap up the details but will not commit any anachronisms.
Kill Fee, my October 3 release, is so named because it involves an environmentally sensitive article that strays into a murder plot and cover-up. Editors want it pulled, thus requiring that they pay the author a kill fee—in more ways than one. No one suspect is completely innocent. The all too possible story reflects back on the article writer and her entire life. By her side are her talkative mynah bird and her attorney, with no agenda but to be her helpmate. The brand here is sweet romance; loyalty, family values, humor and whimsy wrapped up neatly and logically.
All my writing has commonalties. People have told me, “I found myself agreeing with your article before I saw your name at the end.” Or, “I thought that might be yours.”
Ellen Smith, our Champagne Books publisher pointed out to me that although the term Branding has been around for several years, newer writers are becoming more aware of it. This is why your Web site must reflect your brand, not just your latest or your favorite book. As Ellen said, “That way, when someone says (your name) they know exactly who they are talking about.
“Branding is especially important when building an author’s platform. It’s what brings your readers to you,” she stated.
This makes perfect sense when you consider how we wait to experience the next book by Nora Roberts, John Grisham, Clive Cussler, Dean Koonz or Stephen King, to mention only a few. They are reliable brands in their own genres.
Build your reliable brand and display it on your Web site. You don’t own it; you are it.
Julie Eberhart Painter is the Champagne Books author of Mortal Coil, in which she practices both medicine and law without licenses, Tangled Web, a story close to her heart, and Kill Fee. See Julie’s Web site at
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Opening scene from Kill Fee by Julie Eberhart Painter
Fall in central Florida, 2010
Penny closed the apartment door just as her pet mynah bird let out a disapproving squawk.
Pretty Penny, Pretty Penny. You’re not leaving me… again!”
“Keep that up and I won’t be back,” she said, locking the door on further discussions.
Penny drove over the causeway to the building where she spent her free day running an American Contract Bridge League duplicate game in Right House Towers. Her uncle had purchased the building that housed retired and relocated seniors as an investment. He didn’t live in it or run the game now. He’d recently turned over those duties to his niece.
Mondays were her days off from her job as an environmental biologist as an in-the-field inspector. She barely had time to indulge other interests.
Humming a little tune, she hurried into the small commercial kitchen and put the tin of cookies on the counter. She glanced at her watch. The bridge players would be arriving any minute; they'd expect the coffee to be ready. Deftly she swung the stepladder open and climbed aboard. Stretching upward, she reached for the can of coffee from the top shelf. Her perch started to totter on the uneven floor and she made an awkward descent just as Lyle Crowe entered the room and sprang to her rescue.
“Steady there, Miss Penny, we don't need any disabled bridge directors, especially in this building.” His reference was to the assisted living upstairs. Their game room was large enough for bridge or dancing or an occasional meeting.
Penny grabbed for the arm of her friend and rescuer. Lyle had been recently widowed, but he was one of the younger players, mid-sixties. He'd just retired to central Florida from the Detroit police force. He still retained his official bearing despite the delicious temptations of the widows who wanted to fatten him up for the kill. He, however, kept a strict discipline. He’d made his adjustments to the single life, but he missed being in the thick of an investigation and consequently saw perpetrators in every juncture of his life.
“You're looking mighty dapper this morning, Mr. Crowe. Thanks for the ‘save.’ ”
Lyle's silver crew cut caught the light from the kitchen window. He looked saintly, standing there, smiling. No wonder the ladies thought he was a catch. “Any time, Miss Penny. We really should move the coffee tin to a more accessible shelf.”
“Every time I put it back, by the following Monday’s game, it's up out of reach.”
“Ah, a mystery! The culprit would have to be a tall, swarthy man, perhaps with long arms.”
“Don't let your training run away with you, Lyle. Most likely our prep is the president of the Tall Club, Chipper Duckworth.”
“A likely candidate for our suspicions. I'll get on the case and report back.” He winked, then picked up the stool to put in the broom closet.
The large, adjoining room awaited. Though it held sixteen tables comfortably, it was seldom set for more than eight. It took too long to put everything away again before the early dances.
Penny smoothed her blond hair, pinned up today. Her Uncle Connie liked it long. She’d do anything to please him while he still played in his old game.
Connie, a spare looking Viking, had insisted she begin directing his bridge game after her fourth brush with true love.
“It will give you something to do,” he'd stated. “Anyway, I need the help; it’s too much for me anymore. Your job isn’t that demanding, is it?”
She didn’t consider her job with EPA easy. Even if they had stationed her here in the boonies, pollution could happen anywhere. With industry moving in and building increasing, she had plenty to oversee. The bridge game, however, had proven to be a lifesaver for Penny. But then, Uncle Connie was the type of man who provided lifesavers, a quality that made him extremely popular. Unfortunately, his popularity did not automatically extend to Penny whose youth grated on some of the players, especially the women. She’d overheard one of them say “She's just too pretty.”
Her uncle maintained his independence by living in his big house on the beach. He still drove his white Cadillac. He was her favorite relative. Actually, he was the last of her family.
A disturbance near the door into the main room, caused heads to turn. Amalia Ahmen had arrived. She was a German lady, close to ninety and extremely competitive.
“Is zee coffee ready?” demanded Mrs. Ahmen, sniffing the air for her favorite American beverage. You know it’s not a morning of bridge without coffee to remind one of the old country, Chermany.
“Soon, Mrs. Ahmen, soon.” Penny gave Lyle a pat on the arm and mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
She hurried toward the table near the outside door to collect the fees. That job she didn't delegate because the older folks, who could count trumps without missing a beat, couldn't add three dollars and three dollars to save their souls, and she had to keep an accurate accounting.
Although the game wasn’t scheduled to begin until 9:30, by 9:15, the room had filled with chattering seniors. Most of the players lived above the recreation area in the building's apartments.
Penny enjoyed all the players, although she knew the women resented her relationship with “the boys.” Her love life was a bit of a muddle because she refused to marry someone weak and couldn’t seem to tolerate someone strong. So far, she’d ended up with a lot of consolation prizes, like her pet mynah bird, Bilgewater, who tended to repeat her love life history to her male visitors.
At 9:25, she stood and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, find your places please. We have seven full tables. I'll run a seven-table Mitchell movement as your non-playing director today. We will play four boards per round.”
“No skips, no bumps, no errors,” offered Sam Bates, who sat muttering, as usual, during the announcement.
Penny shushed him with a finger to her lips. He reddened, ducking his head. Sam had retired from a career in real estate. He and attorney had been instrumental in developing Peachtree City, Georgia, south of Atlanta. Sam had always been a gambler and high liver. Nowadays, he channeled his gambling prowess into an outrageous bidding style that left his opponents not only gasping, but usually much poorer. And, he had an eye for the ladies.
“Remember not to move your boards until I call the next round. Good luck everybody.”
Penny walked to the director's table to count the money, write her monthly pound-of-flesh check to the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) and make out her deposit slip to take to the bank.
Two boards into the first round she heard the familiar call, “Director!”
“Coming.” She put down her pen, snatched up her trusty rulebook and walked to table six. “What's the problem?”
“He,” Mrs. Ahmen, who was not accustomed to playing East-West, pointed to Justin Richards, sitting South. “He has the wrong cards.”
Penny looked at Justin's cards, “What has the bidding been?”
“That doesn't matter. He can't play four spades with those cards!”
Penny moved around the table and stood behind Justin, who by this time was shaking like a Model T Ford. The hand he held didn't look unreasonable for a four-spade contract.
“Oh… I see.”
“The dummkopf doesn't even know what hand he's playing, for Godt's sake!” Mrs. Ahmen's normally straight back was positively ramrod.
“What have I done?” Justin looked up, his face turning from red to white.
Justin's ever patient wife, Jenny chimed in, “I think what they mean, dear, is that we are all playing with the yellow cards and you have bid four spades with the blue ones.”
“Ohmygod,” Justin turned pink and stuffed his cards back into the plastic tray, “What do I do now?”
“Just take out the yellow cards, Justin. You're in four spades,” Penny said.
“Vee will see about dat.” Mrs. Ahmen always thought there should be some redress when an error was made against her. Penny was not willing to do more than read the rule and if the woman still objected, she could take it up with the committee after the game.
The Richards, Jenny and Justin, were all that was gentle in the world. Justin, a retired chemist from Cleveland and Jenny, his mate of fifty-nine years, claimed that aside from bridge they devoted their time to keeping each other alive. Everyone should be so lucky in love, Penny thought.
Poor Justin was still shaken and distracted. The Richards had been playing bridge together since the late 30s and supported each other beautifully. Penny often thought if any one of the men she’d dated had been as sweet and thoughtful as Justin Richards she might have married one of them.
She walked back to the table and sat down. The game went on with no further interruptions until the next to the last round approached, Mrs. Ahmen called out once again at full decibels, “You can't do that, vee will see—”
Penny was on the spot to take the heat away from Uncle Connie. “What's the problem, Mrs. Ahmen?”
“Your uncle seems to think he can lead from any hand he vunts to… tell him!”
Penny looked at the board and around the table. There were only three cards left to play from each hand.
“Whose lead is it?”
“Nordt's,” supplied Mrs. Ahmen, not giving up control of the situation.
“Uncle Connie, lead from the board for the nice lady.” She smiled at her uncle who nodded back.
“There. My trick!” With a decisive snap, she pounced on the trick like a cat on a skink.
Conrad Olsen shrugged his shoulders. “I never doubted it for a moment, dear lady.”
Before the last round was announced, Penny asked if anyone wanted more coffee before she threw it away. It was her habit to offer it, although her uncle was usually the only taker. She liked to get a head start on cleaning up the kitchen before the scores came to her for entry into the computer. Everyone had to be out of the clubroom by 1:00 so that the next meeting, scheduled for 1:30 could assemble.
Uncle Connie, being of Norwegian descent never turned down a cup of coffee. There were only ten ounces left, enough to make a cup without disturbing the sludge in the bottom.
“Here, I'll pour it for you. Your hand is shaking today. Are you all right?” Penny felt a stab of concern for her eighty-year-old uncle who was so thin you could almost see through him.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” he smiled up at Penny, the skin around his rheumy eyes crinkling into familiar lines.
After pouring her uncle’s coffee, Penny walked into the kitchen and dumped the grounds into the garbage disposal. She hosed down the inside of the percolator and put it on the counter, then placed the Folgers can on the first shelf, within easy reach. “Now stay there, you.” She closed and locked the cabinet and returned to her director's table.
“Move when ready for the last round,” Penny announced. She remained standing so that she could collect the pickup slips.
The players moved their boards and placed themselves at their last table positions.
Ten minutes into the play, Penny, looked up when she heard a strange noise. A crowd had gathered around her uncle's table. Fear clutched her heart as she rushed toward them.
Uncle Connie lay sprawled back against his chair. Players were holding him so he didn’t drop to the floor. “Connie, you’re scaring us.”
“Come on fellow. Move. Are you all right?”
Penny could hardly breathe as she reached the group of concerned seniors. “Out of my way!”
The old folks parted.
“Uncle Connie, Uncle Connie! What's wrong?” Oh, God, she thought, I can't lose him. Not yet. But she could see that her uncle was very gray, his lips were already turning blue. Penny looked around, helplessly, “Do something!”
But every one of his old friends was in shock and not moving.
~ * ~
Penny didn't remember calling the ambulance. By the time it arrived, some of the bridge players had left. Each had their own way of dealing with death. Penny felt frozen inside. Intellectually she knew her uncle could not have lived forever, but she never expected to see him die suddenly at her game, a place of pleasure and friendly competition.
Mrs. Ahmen, never at a loss for words and certainly not about to give up her good scores, fussed. “Vill the last round count? I vus winning, you know; took two tops from Marvin Fudge.”
“Madam, please! Show a little respect!” Lyle Crowe said, coming to Penny's rescue again. “I can't believe you can be so insensitive.” He grabbed her arm to lead her away.
“But I don't often beat Marvin,” she sputtered.
Marvin had a reputation for always winning—not necessarily without bending the rules.
Sisters, Marge and Maybelle McNish had stayed behind to comfort their director, although Penny suspected that they were really there because now that the pair had retired, they had nothing interesting or exciting in their lives.
“Shame on you, Amelia, talking about bridge at a time like this. Go upstairs to your apartment. We’ll stay and see who murdered the dear man.”
“Murder? What murder?” Lyle asked.
The McNish sisters giggled to each other. Maybelle's snowy white hair quivered around her head as she chattered on, her audience following her every word, “Well, the police were called, weren't they?”
“The police are always called.” Lyle took Maybelle's arm and whispered in her ear, “You have to watch what you say around the police. If they think that there is any possible reason in the world to do an autopsy, they'll order one. We don't want Penny to go through that, now do we?”
Marge and Maybelle were known as the McNish sisters, because no one could remember all the husbands they had each married and buried. People just remembered their original old family home and called them the McNishes. Their family had kept property in central Florida since the glory days of St. Augustine when “to winter” was turned into a verb.
“An autopsy?” Maybelle’s sister, Marge asked. “That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. The man was old, for heaven's sake.”
“We're old, Marge.” Maybelle knew that calling her sister old always made her mad, but it usually shut her up.
Marge shook her head; not a hair moved. Lacquer kept her hair helmeted in its original blond hairdo just as it had been on her first honeymoon. Unfortunately, it only made Marge's face appear more wrinkled, but when she surveyed herself in the mirror her cataracts placed a film between her mind and reality. So long as no one reminded her of her age, she thought of herself as young.
“You're old; I'm just a chick!”
“A chick? Indeed,” sneered Bella Rosencrantz, the expert on age.
“I guess you would know, having just turned ninety-four.” Maybelle laughed, thinking that she didn't look a day over ninety-three. Bella's appearance could only be described as “the wreck of the Hesperus.”
Unfortunately, the police officer in charge of accompanying the transporting the body had heard murder mentioned and approached Penny. “Ms. Olsen, I understand that this was your uncle who died here? Are you in charge of this card game?”
Penny thought he looked as if he were about to accuse her of running a gambling casino too close to shore. “Yes, sir, I run the bridge game here once a week. It's a franchise from the American Contract Bridge League.”
“Thank you. And people pay to play; the prize is a non-monetary award? I like to get my facts straight, in case there is an investigation?”
“Why would there be an investigation? My uncle was an old man, seventy-nine, almost eighty.”
“Well… I heard someone mention murder. Did he seem to be acting strangely before he died?”
“Officer, uh, Dexter?” Penny read his badge. “I wasn't with him when he died; I was across the room.”
“I distinctly heard someone say murder. Can you think of any—”
“Oh, they're just talking, Officer Dexter. They don't always make good sense.” Penny twirled her finger around her ear. “If you get my drift?”
“Un-huh, I get it, but I'll still have to ask the group here to give me their names before they leave; and please supply me with the names and contact information of the others who have already gone home.” He turned his back on Penny and pulled out his measuring tape.
“Is that necessary? These old folks are in shock; they don’t know what they’re saying.”
“Sorry, just routine procedure. The coroner will take your uncle's… remains. Detective Harper would slap me upside my head if I didn't follow through according to procedure. Did he—your uncle—leave any instructions?”
“A few minutes ago his ‘remains’ as you so sweetly put it, were my favorite and last living relative. I have no idea what his wishes were, or if he knew he was—” Penny sighed. “He came here like he always did on Mondays to play bridge.”
“Sorry, ma'am, but we have to ask these questions. I’m sure when the coroner is finished with his examination, he’ll return your uncle’s... your uncle to you.”
“Take him to Ashes and Waters.”
“So, he specified cremation?”
“I guess. They were long-time friends. I never saw his will. He was a very private person.”
Officer Dexter questioned the milling players, who began to take their leave. Sirens filled the air with a cold, shrill scream as the police car led the ambulance from the parking lot. An eerie quiet descended in the room, which only hours before held laughter.
Penny took her printed bridge scores and put them in her purse. Then she slowly finished putting the equipment away. She turned off the air-conditioning, put out the lights and left the building.
The police had swathed the front of the building in crime scene tape.