Friday, July 29, 2016

Writing in Obedience: A Book Review

Writing in Obedience: A Primer for Christian Fiction Writers is all I expected and more. All I expected because the authors, Terry Burns and Linda W. Yezak are my former literary agent (before his retirement) and a trusted and talented colleague (and one of Terry's former clients too), respectively, and I would expect nothing less than excellence from either of them. Together they form a superb team. And more? Well, because this book not only covers a myriad of topics the writer of Christian fiction asks at some time during his or her career, but does so in an easy-to-read, challenging, and informative manner.

Terry Burns is a multi-published author, as well as a literary agent, and a popular presenter at writing conferences around the country. Linda Yezak is a published author, freelance editor, and conference presenter in the AR, LA,TX and OK regions. Together they bring a plethora of ideas and advice for the budding or old-hand writer for the Christian market. Writing in Obedience begins with a discussion of the difference between being called by God to write and writing as an offering to Him. Both, as the authors explain, are pleasing to the Father, and are simply two different ways to write for and about Him. From there, Burns and Yezak explore such topics as Who Is Your Audience?, Writing to Reach Nonbelievers, and How Much Christian Content? to Newbie Enthusiasm, Structuring the Story, and Keeping the Readers Engaged, and finish up with Do I Need an Agent?, Should I Self-Publish?, and Traditional Publishing Takes Time. There's more, of course, but too much to list in detail in this review, and there's something for everyone to take away in this 180-page book.

Writers of Christian content, whether fiction or non-fiction, know we're held to a higher standard than many of our secular counterparts. While good writing is good writing (and the publishing profession accepts no less from any writer, Christian or secular), the expectations of Christian readers for wholesome, uplifting, and Biblically-accurate content is paramount. Nonbelievers are even more critical of anything that smacks of Christianity, thereby being even harder to please. (And that's not even mentioning the Lord, for Whom we're writing in the first place.) This book goes a long way toward explaining how to prepare for a writing career in the Christian marketplace, whether your writing is a calling or an offering, what to expect from an agent, editor, publisher, or self-publishing, the importance of character, story, what is meant by the three-act format, setting, and many other questions writers-to-be or longtime writers have at one time or another. It's written in a friendly, conversational manner as if you're talking to the authors over a cup of coffee at your writers' group meeting. Whether you're just getting started, are discouraged, disappointed, or disillusioned, or just want a reminder of why you're writing Christian content in the first place, Writing in Obedience is the book for you.


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Monday, July 25, 2016

WHEN ENVY CAN BE HELPFUL


Have you ever read a book, article, or poem, written so beautifully, so magical, that you want to turn in your keyboard and quit? I know I have—more than once. I envy Jan Karon's skill with dialogue, Richard Paul Evan's skill with sense of place, Sue Monk Kid's skill with characterization. I could go on, but I need to finish this article. Thankfully, writer envy is a passing emotion, but it has never benefitted me until now.

Jane Friedman shared an article by Jennifer Loudon titled 5 Ways to Develop Your Writing Voice. All five points were excellent but point number 4 caught and held my attention. Loudon gives writers something to do with the discouraging emotion of envy. She suggests:


  • Write the passage you love in long hand because it takes longer and you learn more. 
  • Ask yourself, "Why do I love this so much?" I especially liked this point. I've never taken the time to deconstruct beautiful prose to discover all the touch points it had on my writerly soul. 
  • Discuss these passages with writer friends. I love this idea! Especially over a glass of wine!
  • Be prepared to struggle to understand why. Of course this struggle can be eased with said glass of wine. 
Loudon also suggests this exercise with passages you hate. Unfortunately, I easily recognize the weakness in those passages I hate because I'm often guilty of the same thing. But seeing it from another writer helps me understand how insipid they are for the reader.  

I've always been taught that envy isn't good, and it isn't. However, it can be the kick we need in the rear to do something about it and write prose that makes others sigh and throw their pencils across the room! 
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Friday, July 22, 2016

CHASING FRANCIS ~ A Pilgram's Tale

https://www.amazon.com/Chasing-Francis-Ian-Morgan-Cron/dp/0310336694/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1469189511&sr=8-1&keywords=chasing+francis+a+pilgrim%27s+tale

Book Blurb: What happens when the pastor of a mega-church loses his faith? Pastor Chase Falson has lost his faith in God, the Bible, evangelical Christianity, and his super-sized mega-church. When he falls apart the church elders tell him to go away; as far away as possible. Join Chase on his life-changing journey to Italy where, with a curious group of Franciscan friars, he struggles to resolve his crisis of faith by retracing the footsteps of Francis of Assisi, a saint whose simple way of loving Jesus changed the history of the world. Read this riveting story and then begin your own life-changing journey through the pilgrim's guide in this powerful novel.

My Review:  I don't know that Francis of Assisi actually changed the history of the world, but he certainly added to it, and after reading this book I was changed. I am a better person for having read Chasing Francis.

Most of us have at one time in our lives a crisis of faith that causes us to search deeper. We may be surrounded by those who do not want the waters disturbed, and they tell us so. But we have to have answers. In this season of pursuit, our eyes are opened beyond brick and mortar walls and we see the pain and suffering of those outside. Suddenly the masses have faces. This was what resonated with me when I read this book. It also made me curious about St. Francis and I also read about this loving, humble, man of God.

Ian Cron's novel grabbed me immediately and he took me on a journey. I was there in his story  emotionally and mentally. The only time I broke from it was to take a note on something I wanted to think about or pray about in my own life. His Franciscan characters are lively, engaging, and some on the church board I wanted to slap. Like I said, I was there!

Summer is hot and muggy. So be nice to yourself, get something cool to drink, and enjoy the journey with Chasing Francis


http://iancron.com/

Ian Morgan Cron is an author, speaker, Episcopal priest, and retreat guide. In addition to writing and speaking, Ian is an adjunct priest at Christ Church in Greenwich, Connecticut and a doctoral student at Fordham University where he is studying Christian Spirituality.



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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Dream Come True ~ Guest Post

Meet Windy Nichols Lanzl. I've known this gal since she was a teen, and I'm proud of the woman she has become. Windy is an audiobook narrator, and I invited her to tell us how that all came about for her. She tells a wonderful story full of great nuggets of inspiration for perseverance and following your dreams.

Windy: When my husband and I got married 30+ years ago, we didn’t have a television. We didn’t have a phone. We didn’t have a lot of stuff that most 12 year olds have today. What we DID have was books. My husband, James, did not enjoy reading as much as I did. He found it tedious. So to pull him into my world of books I began reading aloud. A major part of our evenings consisted of James stretched out on the couch, his feet propped in my lap, while I happily read story after story.

 Little did I know that all that reading would eventually help me step into the audio book recording world. Over the years when I have had occasion to read aloud I would have people say, “You should do books on tape.” (I know I’m dating myself here!) I remember listening to Lynn Brooks read Christian Classics on BBN and thinking to myself what an awesome job she had. I wanted to be her! 

 Because I’m a dreamer, I began combing the internet for voice over work. I happened across an ad on Craigslist for a non-paying recording gig. It basically consisted of reading 500 different prompts. Some were single words, others were complete sentences. I walked into a little recording booth, grinning from ear to ear, with absolutely no earthly idea what I was doing. A gentleman handed me a pair of headphones, placed the reading material on a stand, and directed me to start reading at his prompt. Much to his surprise (and mine) I read the entire thing without one mistake. As I was leaving, he made the comment that I had just read more accurately than the professional voice over artist in the adjoining booth. I was over the moon excited. I left him all my information and told him I would love to work in the industry. Blah blah blah. Naturally, I never heard from him again. 

However, as I said before, I’m a dreamer. So I jumped right back into searching the internet. Eventually, I ran across another ad on Craigslist. This one was advertising for audiobook work. I responded to the ad and the producer called to talk with me. The first words out of his mouth were, “Can you lose the accent?” Yikes! Easier said than done! (Think deep East Texas.) After visiting a few minutes over the phone, he emailed me a section of a manuscript and said, “Start reading and don’t stop until I tell you to.” I plowed right in and read my heart out. After about 2 or 3 minutes (translate that ETERNITY), he had me stop. He invited me to come to his studio to record a demo. It was incredibly intimidating. Much more “official” than my one experience over a year earlier. I swallowed hard, sat down in front of the biggest microphone set-up I had ever seen in my life, and started reading. It was much more difficult than I imagined. He stopped me a thousand times for a thousand different reasons. I was making mouth noises. My hand brushed against my pant leg. I was breathing too deep. I was popping my P’s. And who knew that the long vowel sound for “i” could be so difficult to pronounce! I must have read the word “light” a million times before he was satisfied. By the time he had a finished product, I personally hated it. I thought it sounded so bland and boring. I tend to want to infuse my voice with audible emoticons. I want my tone to communicate happy faces, rainbows, and cute little bunny rabbits. Evidently, that is not what the recording world is looking for. The producer explained to me that when a publisher wants a book to be recorded, he requests demos of different readers. From those demos, the publisher chooses who he would like to read the book. He smiled as he showed me the door and said, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” OK, that isn’t exactly what he said, but that was what it amounted to!


 Fast forward a year. I had totally forgotten that I had even created a demo when the phone rang, and the producer was on the other end. He had an emergency. His reader for a particular book had to cancel at the last minute, and he was in a bind. Was there any way I could drive to Austin immediately and record? Well what do you know, my calendar suddenly found itself wiped clean. I was in the car and out the door in record time. The recording was brutal. If you’ve never sat stock still for hours on end, trying not to smack, swallow, blink, breath, move, or basically do anything that living beings do, then you cannot understand my trauma. It was trial by fire. I could tell by the look of pain on my producer's face that my accent was just about to kill him, but much to my joy, he was in a pinch and was stuck with me. After the book was completed, I assumed that would be an item checked off my bucket list, and I would never hear from him again.

 Imagine my surprise when a few months later he called me up. Once again, he was in a bind and could I come. Heck yeah, I could come! I didn’t mind being the last resort. I was just happy to get to do it at all. The producer seemed a little less brusque this time around. I enjoyed getting to know him just a bit. He thanked me for being available, and I thanked him for asking. He called one more time a few months later with the same request. The “first choice” wasn’t available, would I be willing to come. All of these opportunities were such a blessing to me. It gave me a chance to learn and practice. The producer confided in me later that it was nice to work with someone who wasn’t entitled and who was willing to work hard and do what needed to be done. Because of those opportunities, the publisher was able to get to know my reading style and see that I had more to offer than my demos showed. My producer helped me overcome some of my accent issues, and just learned to live with the rest!

 Finally, the day arrived when my dreams were realized. My phone rang, and my producer’s happy voice called out on the other end. “Guess what? You were FIRST choice!”

Thanks so much, Windy! I love that story. Windy has narrated All Dressed Up In Love by Ruth Logan Herne, I Hope You Dance by Robin Lee Hatcher, The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauk, Unstuffed by Ruth Soukup, The Wedding Shop by Rachel Hauk, and Just a Kiss by Denise Hunter. 

Windy Lanzl  is originally from Kirbyville, Texas. but New Braunfels has been home her entire married life.  She and her husband of 31 years, James, have 3 boys: Tony 28, Levi, 22, William 15.  Windy is Foster-mom to a rescued baby skunk. She works part time as an Office Assistant and is a Christian and active in her church. Windy can be reached at windygirl68@hotmail.com
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Monday, July 18, 2016

We Writers Are Crazy

When psychiatrists come across an individual with “a severe brain disorder in which the person interprets reality abnormally,” and “may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior,” they will diagnose that person as a schizophrenic. Usually, that same doctor will prescribe some form of psychotropic medication to help alleviate the symptoms (definition taken from the Mayo Clinic website).
When I meet somebody that deals with those symptoms, I am usually listening to them tell me about their latest novel or short story.
We writers are a strange breed.
We live in make believe worlds, talk to imaginary people, and have a curious obsession with coffee. We bore our friends and family with incessant talk about people who do not even exist, and often become emotionally attached to those same imaginary people. We hurt when they hurt, we cry when they cry, we rejoice when they rejoice, and we become depressed when they are depressed.
In my ten-plus years of professional writing, I have yet to meet another writer who does not meet the criteria given by the Mayo Clinic for schizophrenia, and we all tend to have our own quirks about us that all point to this same diagnosis. It is for this reason that I decided to discuss some of the strangest things about us, showing why we should all see a doctor who will likely prescribe us a healthy dose of Haldol.

Interpreting Reality Abnormally

Have you ever been regaling a friend, family member, or colleague with the plot of your latest work in progress and been unable to shut up about it? They have told you millions of times already that they don’t read, or that they don’t like the genre you are writing in, but you just can’t stop talking? We know intellectually that they hate reading anything more than their Facebook feeds, but we tell ourselves that our book is going to change that. That is the very definition of “interpreting reality abnormally.”
Additionally, we all are slightly disorganized in one way or another. I mean, I’m looking at my desk right now, and I see half-scribbled notes, coffee stains, a plate that held a snack two days ago (I forgot to eat lunch that day), and a green folder where book ideas go to die. Sure, I tell myself that I’ll get around to novel about a man who collects Tonka trucks and restores them sometime soon, but in reality, I’ll probably just throw it in the trash with the last fifty story idea sheets I’ve created in the last two months (I recently went through them all). Sure, I know in my head that it’s a mess, but my heart sees a glorious workspace, where the next New York Times bestseller will be created.

Hallucinations

We see people, places, and things that aren’t there, and we hear voices in our heads…and we record the conversations! When you consider that the definition of “hallucination” is “an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present,” it is clear that we writers hallucinate…a lot.
http://images.mentalfloss.com/sites/default/files/styles/article_640x430/public/gollum-primary.pngAfter all, how can we describe something that’s not real? We are able to use a pen (or computer!) to describe the specific shade of chartreuse that a non-existent person’s dress is. We can describe in excruciating detail the way a futuristic ruin looks. We are able to defy the laws of logic with the simple stroke of a key, giving a plausible explanation for why Timmy started flying! We know that those conversations are never taking place, at any time, ever, but we record them anyway.
Sure, we call it “world building” or “creating dialogue,” but psychiatrists call those episodes “hallucinations.”

Delusions

A wise man once said that if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.
Well, as one popular writer’s meme says, “give someone a book, and they’ll read for a day. Teach someone to write a book…and they’ll spend a life-time mired in paralyzing self-doubt.”
What else would you call this besides a delusion? One common theme among all writers that I know is crippling doubt. The critic that lives within us is constantly telling us that we are not good enough, that our stories are rubbish, and that no-one will ever like it. The second delusion that writers suffer is thinking that our story is phenomenal, when it’s really terrible. We either think that our work is terrible or should never see the light of day, or else we think that it’s going to be the next “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games” phenomenon, when it’s really destined for obscurity on the shelf at the dollar store.
It doesn’t matter if you are a good writer or a bad writer; we all have some serious delusions about our work

How to Treat the Illness

https://scontent-atl3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/13537811_10154235705506031_8936162593061843459_n.jpg?oh=13a8c9cc6277cf0d3ee30c194153a0b3&oe=57EFC015Much like schizophrenia, writing is not a disease with a cure. There are ways to treat it and ease some of the symptoms, but if you have it, you’ll never get rid of it.
I myself tell folks that I’ve been a writer for 26 years…quite the feat when you consider that I will be 27 in December of this year. The fact is, we writers are born, not made. We either have an innate, instinctual desire to tell stories, or we don’t.
And if we don’t, we’d be better suited to work at IKEA than to write a novel.
The only way to treat the symptoms that come with being a writer is to do the one thing that we all crave to do so much: write. Tell the story, get it out there for people to see, and let them be the judge. And when you’re done, tell another story.
We are writers…therefore we are a special breed of crazy.
____________________
Josh Davis is a freelance ghostwriter, novelist, editor, blogger, and podcast host who lives in his hometown of Historic Appomattox, Virginia. He currently is set to release his first book, The Layman’s Guide to Romans, a short work of non-fiction discussing the Biblical book of Romans. Additionally, he is preparing for his first novel to be released this fall, and a work of narrative non-fiction that should be released in December of this year.
You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter, as well as his blog, Josh Davis, Writer
He also owns a start-up publishing company with his high-school sweetheart, Patricia, who he married almost eight years ago. For more information about his company, go to DavisPublishingCo.com
To listen to Josh’s podcast, “The Wrambling Writer’s Podcast,” visit this link.
Josh and Patricia have three children, Ivy, Nathaniel, and Christine. They live in Appomattox with their five dogs and two fish-tanks.
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Friday, July 15, 2016

Summers Winter by Robin Johns Grant book review

21807601
Summer’s Winter
Robin Johns Grant

Jan 2014
Inspirational romantic fiction
Story Merchant Books
ISBN 978-0989715430

buy on US Amazon

2.99 eBook
12.9 paperback

When Jeanine finally connects with film star Jamie Newkirk, the object of her obsession, will it be a dream come true? Or will she be pulled into his family's nightmare of secrets, control, and death? 

At age ten, preacher's daughter Jeanine fell in love with young movie star Jamie Newkirk and the character he played--Danny Summer. Jeanine believed God Himself promised Jamie would be part of her life--that he would rescue her from boring rural Georgia. But eleven years later, she's graduating college and about to settle into the dreary nine-to-five life with no word from Jamie or God. 

And then Jamie bursts into her life in an amazing way. There are plans to resurrect the Summer series of books and movies, and Jeanine is right in the middle of it all. Jamie seems to be falling for her, just as she'd dreamed. And yet... 

She never expected all the dark undercurrents. Jamie is hiding out in Georgia following the suspicious death of his former girlfriend. And isn't it odd that he found his mother dead of a supposed suicide in that same house two years before, and that both women had the same strangely-shaped burn on their bodies? And who knew there would be so many sinister characters involved in Jamie's life, and in the Summer series? There's his young co-star, Charlie--the Summer author died in an unexplained fire at his house. And Jamie's stepfather, Elliott, and uncle Richard seem to be in a vicious competition for control of the Summer series and of Jamie's life. 

Jamie is obviously hiding things--about his family, about the deaths of his mother and girlfriend. The media and the public have declared him guilty. Jeanine longs to prove his innocence. Unless she can, Jamie's dark secrets may shatter her dreams, her faith--and her life.

My review
I love Grant’s way with words and her sense of story. It’s not breathless when it doesn’t need to be, and gradually sets up story in a way that’s a luscious down comforter and not a bumpy, worn blanket. Since reading Jordan's Shadow, I knew Summer's Winter would be just as good.

Young Adult fiction can cover a great deal of circumstances and settings, but the genre involves exploration of self, growth, and a lot angst getting there. Skillfully melding twists and romance, blurring the lines between bad guys and good, and identifying and taking responsibility for bad behavior without glorifying it, Grant has published a great story about a young lady with gifts on a sure path guided by the only One we can truly trust, and her obsession, a movie star from another continent portraying a beloved character in a series of motion pictures. While Jeanine may not truly believe that she’ll receive the longings of her heart, she has a firm foundation that the Giver of all good things has a plan for her.

Within the realm of believability, the movie star, Jamie, comes from a similar-enough background to feel guilt over actions he controls, as well as events that he cannot influence…or can he? It’s this sense of responsibility that bring Jamie and Jeanine together, yet keep them frustratingly apart.

Told in multiple points of view, Summer’s Winter is a story will keep readers of romantic young adult fiction turning pages. Set in contemporary America, the story has a genteel feel, despite the despair and drug use and less savory actions hinted at behind the scenes. The characters are rich and multi-layered, adding a satisfactory denseness to the beautiful settings and even the less than beautiful events. Star-crossed lovers? Sure, but emotionally satisfying and with just enough questions left over that make me drool for a sequel.

About the Author
Robin was named 2014 Author of the Year by the Georgia Association of College Stores, and Summer's Winter won a bronze medal in the Romance - Suspense category of the International Readers' Favorite Book Awards. Robin lives in Georgia.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Importance of Setting



Picture your favorite place on earth. Do the memories evoke a sense of familiarity, the taste of your favorite food, the scent of a forest after rain, a view that symbolizes peace, the songs of birds? Writers draw readers into the setting by immersing themselves in setting and character. When the writer feels the rain, the setting becomes a character in and of itself.

Authors, both historical and contemporary, must create a milieu (environment, setting, background, atmosphere), which quickly becomes familiar to the audience. Two elements are necessary: 1) the author must be familiar enough with the setting to write believably; 2) the writer must find vibrant elements to portray the setting that draw the reader into the story world from the outset.

A few authors stand out as masters of setting. Charles Dickens brought 19th century England and its people alive. Mark Twain carried us down the Mississippi on a raft with a runaway slave. The Grapes of Wrath evoked the sweltering heat of the sun, the grit of the dustbowl, and the uncertainty of the future. Les Miserablés transported us to Paris streets clamoring with desperate mobs, while Pride & Prejudice conjured up drawing rooms of aristocrats unable to think beyond the next day’s pleasures or an advantageous marriage.

An editor once said my manuscript displayed “the author's knowledge and seemingly firsthand experience with Scottish culture and geography through vivid descriptions of the terrain and generally well-used cultural placements”. I met my goal, having spent a total of two weeks in Scotland.

So how do writers achieve a setting that becomes a character itself?
  1. Immerse yourself in the culture in every way possible. The minute details that only come through personal experience are invaluable. I would not have known that when you order water in a Scottish restaurant they asked if you prefer “still” or “sparkling”. A cellphone is a “mobile”, and entrance and exit signs say “way in” and “way out”.

  2. Familiarize yourself with unique and minute aspects of the culture. Popular music, clothing, customs, and holidays add an extra dimension to a scene. Whether or not you have been there, have someone knowledgeable about the area read your manuscript. Create a screensaver of photos, your own or from the internet, that lend accuracy to descriptions. A playlist of popular and folk tunes enhances the writer’s ability to add depth. Smells, sounds, and common sights are essential to the reality of your characters.

  3. Knowledge of colloquialisms and native language lends reality. If foreign words are appropriate, revealing definitions within the text works better than a glossary in this day of e-books. The spicy language of my home state in New Mexico includes terms such as adobe, ristra, mesa, frijoles, luminarias, posole, chili, familiar to us, confusing to visitors.


  4. Contemporary requires as much research as historical. One or two plausible fictional settings can work, but knowledge of actual restaurants, historical sites, and tourist attractions add authenticity. The reader of a contemporary work should find things familiar if they live in or visit the scene of the book. Visiting the House of Seven Gables in Massachusetts gave the book new meaning.

  5. Understand weather and seasons, using similes, metaphors, and descriptions that enhance the effect of the environment on the mood of characters and lend insight into the lifestyle of natives. For example:
  • Bonny’s tears began and ended with the intensity of a New Mexico thunderstorm.
  • Scotland and New Mexico are as different as water and dust.
  • The day was as dreich as Kieran’s mood.
  1. Television programs, documentaries, news on the internet, and knowledge of history can explain why people do things in a certain way even in contemporary works.
Like a method actor, a writer must be so familiar with their story world that they write with a sense of being there. Setting enhances both characters and story. Immerse yourself to the point you experience the emotions you desire to evoke in your audience. Getting it right can hook a reader from the first page.

© Copyright by Norma Gail Thurston Holtman, July 7, 2016. Used by permission.


Norma Gail is the author of the contemporary Christian romance, Land of My Dreams. A women’s Bible study leader for over 21 years, her devotionals and poetry have appeared at ChristianDevotions.us, the Stitches Thru Time blog, and in “The Secret Place.” She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. Norma is a former RN who lives in the mountains of New Mexico with her husband of 40 years. They have two adult children.

Connect with Norma:







Book Links:


Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas Bookstore: http:// lpcbooks.com/product/land-of-my-dreams/







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Monday, July 11, 2016

Of Mice and Men (Oh, that's taken?) Then... Of Guinea Pigs and Kids

I've mentioned on other occasions that I live with my oldest daughter and four-year-old granddaughter. As a result, I'm with Molly most of the time because her mother works long days as a vet tech. Those long days often include things I haven't done in decades (how many decades is none of your business, thank you very much) and consist of running, hiding, lifting, bending, skipping, and the occasional somersault--although that last one is usually accidental.

Because I try to translate my everyday life into humorous situations for my books' characters or at least learn a lesson or two from my journey into total incapacity, it was inevitable I'd find reasons why playing with a child can teach us a lot about writing a book.

For instance:

1.     Children are spontaneous. They don't need to think about whether or not they want to go for a ride, eat a popsicle, or run through the sprinkler. They're in a constant state of "Let's do it, let's go, I don't care if I just had four hot dogs and a piece of cake topped with ice cream, I'll choke down that popsicle even if it means Mom has to clean up the vomit." The same should be said of writers (most of us will avoid the vomit part). We should never be afraid to try something new, whether it be as sweeping as writing in a genre we've avoided or as minor as moving our desk to another corner of our office. We write about life and change is a part of life.


Here I am cleaning up some of the
paperwork around my desk. Wait.
That's not me. It's a guinea pig. Well,
he still makes a mighty fine mess.
2.     Children make messes. Enough said. Writers make messes too. My desk resembles the aftermath of a week-long gale, but I know (for the most part), where everything is in those piles of paper. Do you remember hiding stuff under your bed when your mom insisted you clean your room? Well, my office is a lot like a big toy room, except the toys have been replaced with first drafts, second drafts, scribblings, and inspirational quotes I've printed off to ponder and then buried under the cable bill, which is then buried beneath another pile. Whenever I think someone will see my office, I find another attractive storage container, stuff paper into it for "sorting" at some later time, and slap on the lid. If you're one of those highly-organized, neat writers whose offices resemble an ad for a high-end furniture store, just know you won't be invited to visit my office any time soon.

3.     Children know when something doesn't make sense. Ever try to answer a "why" question with something flippant? Don't. Just don't. Kids can smell sarcasm from across the state line, and your attempt to avoid giving them a straight answer will blow up in your face. Same thing goes for your readers. They too know when something doesn't add up. Giving our readers the credit they deserve as intelligent people will go a long way toward ensuring they continue reading. Make things as weird or mysterious or unbelievable as you want in your books, but be sure to tie up loose ends and explain yourself before the end.

4.     Finally, children love to be entertained. I suspect that one of the reasons most writers write is because they too enjoy the distraction from everyday life that reading (and yes, writing) affords us. I know that's true of me. Watch a child's face light up when he or she is amused or engrossed in something that interests them. If we can do that for others when we write, we'll have won the battle.

        And if you run across my cable bill, let me know.



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Friday, July 8, 2016

Review: Moved, Left No Address

by Vickie Phelps


            "My uncle, Joel Webster, disappeared without a trace on June 1, 1949." Thus begins Vickie Phelps' novel of alienation, quest, and reconciliation. The narrator, also named Joel Webster, was born a year after the disappearance, and he knows that uncle only by stories told him by his mother.  His embittered father never mentions the uncle, but heaps verbal abuse on the younger Joel in the uncle's stead. The tension increases when the younger Joel becomes a teacher rather than a farmer, and it continues until both father and mother are deceased. So at age forty, divorced and alone, the younger Joel sets out on a quest to see if the elder Joel still lives.



            His quest leads him to Santa Fe, the address from which his uncle mailed occasional post cards. He finds an old Indian woman named Lila, who loved his uncle briefly before the uncle disappeared from her also. Joel receives instant hatred from the influential and treacherous Juan Hernandez—but no information about the uncle. And the tension heightens when Joel is attracted to Hernandez' granddaughter, Sierra. Nevertheless, Joel continues his quest.
 
            Vickie Phelps develops these materials deftly, weaving the conflicts and harmonies of the different players into an interesting blend of narrative and character study. She keeps the reader wondering: Will the younger Joel manage to lay the ghosts of his troubled past? Will he find his uncle? Will he be able to resolve his double conflicts with the vindictive Hernandez? Yet she skillfully brings these disparate materials to a satisfying conclusion. The result is a novel that will be particularly pleasing to readers who enjoy character studies in depth.


Reviewed by Donn Taylor, author of Murder Mezzo Forte, Lightning on a Quiet Night, etc.
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