Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Roller coaster

The past month has been as bi-polar as possible.

Thanksgiving marked the arrival of prerelease copies of my second novel, Third Time Around. I was so excited to finally have this one ready for others to read! I went to work, setting up book signings and delivering copies to all who preordered. I had the privilege of sharing the publishing process and the end result with my students, my young authors, and even students in another school.

In the midst of this excitement, however, my father-in-law, who has been battling lung cancer for two years, took a turn for the worse. He passed away on Friday. Four days before he passed he told my husband he believed he had made things right with the Lord. We hold tight to that hope.

Because I am a writer, and I process my feelings with words, I sat down yesterday and wrote a poem. This has not been an easy road for our family, and as with many others, dealing with death shows itself in many different ways. My prayer is that regardless of the circumstances, we will turn to the one true source of comfort and allow him to give us peace.

Dealing with Death

For some it is steeped with guilt
For words left unsaid
Deeds left undone
The best intentions laying in a pile of ash at their feet.

Others wail in anger and despair
At the world
At the wasting disease or cruel accident
At God for not staying his hand.

Death can reunite embittered relatives
Or rip apart the closest friends.
It is the bringer of grief

But sometimes death delivers
In knowing the loved one no longer suffers.
For an eternity spent in paradise.
At the promise of a sweet reunion one day.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Need a New Love Story?

Victoria Burks has created a classic in A Legacy of Love.  Young Dani McKinnon can't decide if her life has changed for the better or worse.  She finds she is an heiress to an unknown relative in Georgia, meets a dashing young lawyer who seems intent on pursuing her, and at the same time, someone keeps threatening her life.

Mrs. Burks weaves a tale of suspense, romance, and God's redemptive love in this thriller.  If you enjoy Christian fiction, you should give A Legacy of Love a try!

"Old Acquaintances" -- a New Hit

Ursula Gorman's new thriller, Old Acquaintances is an action-packed bullet train.  This fast paced mystery will have you turning pages as quickly as you can.  Gorman spares no time with long descriptive passages or extraneous back story, but cuts right to the chase.

Rissa Neil's life turns upside down when she realizes she is the target of an unknown stalker.  Her world further spins off kilter when she finds that several of her old acquaintances have been murdered.  Enter Stone, the perseptive and elligible detective assigned to her case.  Will he follow the clues to solve the killings before Rissa's assailant catches up with her?  Get your copy of Old Acquaintances today and find out!

Available where books are sold, including amazon.com.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

3 Days in Nashville

This should have a catchier title, but...it gets to the point, right?

Last weekend, I had the privilege of spending three days with five amazing women.  We met on Facebook, shared a common publisher, and decided to share a booth at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TN.

My feelings before the trip were ambivalent.  I was both excited and nervous about sharing a 10x10 space with online acquaintances.  I was anxious about selling enough books to make a return on my investment.  I had that little feeling in the pit of my stomach at the thought of navigating downtown Nashville with only my sometimes questionable GPS. I began to feel sick the week of the trip, and that part of me that fears the unknown considered how bad it would be if I backed out.  But I decided to tough it out and awoke early on Friday morning, dropped the children off at school, and made the three hour trip to Nashville with no problems.

The weekend was nothing like I planned.

The ladies I now count as friends were fun, vivacious, dedicated, prayerful, energetic, wise, and gracious!  We smiled, we cried, we sang, we shared confidences, we handed out hundreds of each others' promotional materials, and we sold some books.  All in all, I would say God was smiling on us.  He definitely reminded me to consider his ways above my ways.  I went to Nashville for a business trip and ended up on a spiritual retreat.  How amazing that three ladies from Tennessee, one from Wisconsin, one from Oklahoma, and an Alabama girl could bond so quickly!

So I have to send a shout out to my fellow authors and encourage you, if you haven't already, to check out their work!

Dee Dee Wike has authored Good to the Last Drop and A Pleasing Aroma, both powerful devotionals that will uplift you with their wit and wisdom.  Her daughter, Joy, certainly infused our days with her namesake!

Amanda Stephan has authored The Price of Trust and has a new book, Lonely Hearts, coming out next month.

Darlene Shortridge has authored Until Forever, and is working on her second novel.

Victoria Burks has authored A Legacy of Love and has a new book coming out in a few weeks.

Thanks, ladies for reminding me its not all about the bottom dollar.  Its about the message, the journey, and the friendships we develop along the way!

Monday, July 18, 2011

An Immortal Legacy Review

I was eager to read this new novel from first time author, Ashley Blalock.  An Immortal Legacy is a paranormal vampire romance written by a Christian.   I was interested to see how these two seemingly opposing theologies could exist in the same novel.

Our heroine, Brooke Hansen receives an inheritance from a great-grandfather she never knew existed.  This is the beginning of discoveries that change her understanding of the world around her. As the existence of creatures she only read about are confirmed, so is her role in the war between good and evil. 

Ms. Blalock tells a compelling story with twists and turns that kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen next.  I have only read a few other books with vampires as the primary characters, and they all seem to have a unique take on the lore.  Ms. Blalock was no different.  In fact, I enjoyed the culture she created for her characters.  The foundation was believable and the characters were fun.

I look forward to reading more from this young author and watching her storytelling abilities grow as she dedicates herself more to the craft of writing.  I think high-schoolers would particularly enjoy the fast paced, easy to read style of this book.  But I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys paranormal fiction.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Witness on the Run~A Fast-paced Thriller

Hope White's romantic suspense, Witness on the Run, was a fun, fast-paced, easy read.  Robin Strand witnesses a murder, then suffers from amnesia after an accident.  She holds tightly to hope in P.I. Jake Walters, who is involved not only in the investigation leading up to the murder, but also in her accident.  By sticking together they hope to regain her memory and keep her safe before the killer finds her.

I enjoyed reading this book.  The characters were believable and likable.  Though the story-line was somewhat predictable, I didn't mind because this was a "for fun" read.  My main critique would be the immediate strong attachment the characters felt towards each other.  While the author tried to explain the initial attraction as transference on Robin's part and a sense of responsibility on Jake's, it seemed a little unlikely to me.  However, that being said, I would still recommend this book to those who enjoy romantic suspense.  It would be a great summer-at-the-beach novel!

This book is a Love Inspired Suspense Harlequin novel and was provided by the author for my honest review.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Indelible~an Eerie Delight

Indelible by Kristen Heitzmann is another amazing read by this author.  Natalie Reeve's nephew is rescued from a mountain lion attack by ex-Olympic skier turned search and rescuer, Trevor McDaniel.  The chance encounter connects them in more ways than one.  As in many of Heitzmann's novels, both characters have weaknesses and fears that seemed destined to be healed only by each other.  Trevor's demons are not only emotional, however.  Someone else noticed the amazing rescue and has decided Trevor may be the opposing light to his darkness. 

Heitzmann does a masterful job of putting the reader into the minds of her characters.  Thankfully we only receive brief glimpses into the troubled thoughts of our mysterious antagonist.  This story unfolds with a balance of action, psychological mystery, budding romance, and even humor that keeps the pages turning until the end.

This story takes place after her novel, Indivisible, and is set in the same town, with some of the same characters from that story taking a minor role in this one.  I would definitely recommend reading Indivisible first, even though the major plots are not connected.  My only criticism would be that I felt this story ended a little too abruptly...some questions still unanswered...which leaves me wondering if we might have a third novel in the works?  I certainly wouldn't mind!

Thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing this novel for my unbiased review.  Indelible is available where books are sold.  Check it out for yourself at amazon.com.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hold Fast to Hope

After a few dry months, where words were as elusive as water in the wilderness, I finally managed some writing today.  I've been trying to write the prequel to Second Chance, starting the story when the Summers siblings first discover their parents' deaths.  It journals Jaden's path as he takes on the mantle of head of the family.  While dealing with the loss of their parents, Avalin and Quinn also question their faith.  I've been stuck 30 pages into the story for months, until today.

I always back up and reread what I have previously written to help refresh my memory and put myself back into the story.  I had completely forgotten the last scene I penned, and fully believe it was not a coincidence that today I had the urge to revisit this story.

In the latest scene our characters are at church.  In the sermon, the preacher uses a well quoted verse from Jeremiah;  "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.  Plans to give you hope and a future."  While one character in the story takes joy in this scripture, the Summers siblings do not.  In fact they react with anger, not understanding how they can have hope while facing their personal tragedy.

As I read that, my heart was heavy.  Over the past month hundreds in our state (Alabama) have suffered loss through violent storms.  Flooding has devastated parts of Tennessee and Arizona.  Then Joplin, Missouri was struck just yesterday.

I can't imagine losing a loved one in such a violent way.  And while my story is purely fictional, the emotions inherent with loss are real.  I sat at my computer struggling to answer the question my characters asked.  If God is a loving God, why is he allowing so much destruction?  How can we have hope and a future?  And as I tried to reconcile the Summers's struggles, this verse continued to play in my mind:  "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path."  Psalm 119:105.

How aptly it applies, both to the fictional plot in my story, and more importantly to the struggles in our daily lives.

Right now we may only be able to see the light at our feet, and not the whole path in front of us.  I don't know why God has allowed the weather to cause such wide spread destruction.  But I do know God is good because his WORD tells me.  His word—that promise of his goodness—illuminates the air around me.  Though I know not the fullness of his purpose, and cannot see the path in front of me right now, I also know he is faithful.  If he says his plans are to give us hope and a future, then we can take him at his word.  And when the time is right, he will light our path and allow us to see that future more clearly.

My prayers continue to go out to those who have lost loved ones.  I don't mean to trivialize your pain. My own struggles with loss did not come swiftly through physical disaster, but slowly due to age and sickness.  So while my experiences may not match yours, the pain of loss still tears at our hearts with the same sorrow and at times seems unbearable.

I hope that you will find comfort in knowing the God of the universe knows your name, and while he has allowed these events to occur, he still loves you.  His WORD is full of comfort, and he can give you strength when yours fails.

So hold to hope.  Hope that God is still in control.  Hope that his mercies are new every morning. Hope that each day you continue here is an opportunity to share Christ's love with others.  Hope that in heaven there is no more pain.  Hope that the day will come when you will be reunited.  Hope.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Celebrating My Young Authors

I have to give a "shout out" to my Young Authors' Club. We had our last meeting this past Monday. What started out as fifteen fourth graders who were interested in writing, ended with nine authors who worked hard, and now have their own printed anthology!

We created the first ever AES Aggie Anthology this year. It is a 25 page, soft-cover book filled with short stories, poetry, and personal essays. I am so very proud of this group. As I told them Monday, no matter who joins the YAC in future years, they will always be my first ever!

I look forward to seeing more of their work in the future, and I hope each of them continues to write and finds a mentor who can help them grow even more.

Breath of Angel

Breath of Angel, book 1 of The Angeleon Circle, by Karyn Henley, was almost everything I hoped it would be! In this fantasy novel, Henley does a masterful job of creating her world, her characters, and her storyline. From the first pages, I was hooked.

Melaia, a young priestess discovers the legends she is charged with remembering through song are not simple myth. In fact, the ancient battle between good and evil continues its epic struggle in her land. She is drawn into the middle of the age old battle and learns her role is more than simple priestess. Her destiny is intertwined with the salvation of her world. And she must learn who she can trust, as her heart is pulled between her duty, her destiny, and her desires.

I look forward to the continuation of the tale with bated breath! My only criticism is that I will have to wait for book 2...

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading fantasy. It was a clean, easy read, suitable for even middle school children. My thanks to Waterbrook Press for offering this book for review. It will be available for sale on June 21, 2011 and can be pre-ordered at amazon.com.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Copy-Editing Phase

Good morning!
I just wanted to let you all know that Third Time Around entered the copy-editing phase at the beginning of May. We will begin concept editing (the hard work) at the beginning of June. I am so excited to get back into the lives of the Summers family!

I hope to have pre-release copies available by Christmas. So if you haven't reserved your copy yet, please let me know. I am only numbering the first 100 copies of this book.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Clarity~An Edgy YA Treat

Clarity is an amazingly well-written debut novel by Kim Harrington. I was immediately drawn into 14 year-old Clarity Fern's mind and world. I finished the book in one day—determined to find out who the murderer of the teenager in Clarity's town was. Another plus in my opinion was that I didn't have it figured out within the first few chapters! There are twists, suspense, romance, even some paranormal characteristics— Clarity's family possess psychic abilities— that would keep any young adult glued to the pages. The story ends with several unanswered questions, suggesting a sequel? I certainly would read more about the struggles and adventures of Clarity and her friends.

I have only two critiques which keep me from unreservedly recommending this book to any young teen reader. There is mild language that would offend some (including my 15 year old who does not curse). There are also a couple of lewd comments I found extremely inappropriate that added nothing to the storyline, and detracted from my enjoyment of the book. However, older teens would most likely enjoy the book with no qualms.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What a Wonder of a Tale

Mine is the Night, by Liz Curtis Higgs is more than a Christian romance set in the Scottish borderlands during the 1700's. I confess that is what first drew me to this novel. I am giddy for all things ancient, Scottish or Irish. I found no disappointment in my expectations here.

But I was delighted and amazed when, as I read the tale, I was reminded of another, dearly familiar one (aye, one of my favorites). The story of Elizabeth Kerr, her mother-in-law, Marjory, and Lord Jack Buchanan, mirror the beautiful tale of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz from the Old Testament.

What makes this reading even more special for me personally, is that very recently, in our creative ministries group at church, I asked our members to dwell on their favorite name for God. I shared that mine is "Redeemer"...and reminded them of the story of Ruth, and the picture it paints of Christ as our kinsman redeemer even today. Since then, more than I can recount, I have been blessed to hear through songs or sayings that very name "Redeemer". I never imagined the joy of choosing a book that would have the same theme! How amazing is our Lord to work out such things ahead of time.

Now, as for a review of the book (the true purpose of this post), I found it well written, and deeply touching. Mrs. Higgs's characters are endearingly realistic, easy to love, even in their flaws. And their consistent manner of choosing the word of the Lord for whatever situation they found themselves in—fear, sorrow, longing, joy—was both an encouragement and a conviction to me. Her description of landscape and use of Scottish vernacular were a delightful addition as well. I found myself wanting to read aloud, just to practice how the lads and lasses might have sounded!

I would without reservation recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Christian, historical romance. My many thanks to Waterbrook/Multnomah Press for providing this book for my honest review.

This book may be purchased beginning March 15th at online sites, including

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Being Made More Like Him

God has been convicting me lately. And since writing my thoughts out sometimes helps me make sense of His message, I hope that truth will speak to you as well.

About a year ago our Sunday School class went through a series on discovering one's spiritual gifts. In the course of that study, we discussed how—though God clearly gives us spiritual gifts that we should work within to best serve him—as we seek to become more like Christ, those latent spiritual attributes may be strengthened.

My gift is teaching. My personality is an introvert and organizer. So my joy comes through sharing the truth with others, through organizing tasks, creating and worshiping through introspection. But I am not gifted in investing emotionally with others.

Fast forward to three weeks ago. Our pastor preached on being committed to serve on the battle ship of the church. He meant that as a Christian, as the Church, every person's role is vital. Too many times people are willing to sit on the sidelines and let others do all the work. He was calling us to service. And the greatest service should be to win souls to Christ.

I was convicted. Service I am good at. My time at church is filled with leadership roles in various capacities. But rarely do I take the time to truly connect with people...to take the risk of an emotional tie that might in the end be painful. As I was sharing this conviction with a friend, I made the statement that I don't like to "get my hands messy with other people's lives".

Last night we had the director's clinic for VBS. The message was making connections through our faith. The powerpoint highlighted the importance of getting to know our teachers in order to meet their needs, so that they are free and prepared to share Christ with the children. The speaker said we have to get out of our comfort zones and do what it takes to touch the lives of those children and families God puts in our path.

Then a lady shared her testimony, and at the end of it she said, "We have to invest in the lives of these children, and their families...and sometimes that's messy. But we have to do it. Christ calls us to that!" I couldn't believe she used the same word I had used when describing what I DON'T like to do...but knew I should!

I shared with the leaders of that clinic my experience and asked them to pray with me that God would help me to better connect with people, and that he would put someone in my path with whom I could invest myself and share his love.

God doesn't wait around when you ask him for a field to harvest! Tonight at children's choir we had two children who had not been there before. At the end of choir we shared prayer requests, as always. The little boy spoke up and asked that we pray for his dad who "was in real trouble and that's why they were with DHR." You can imagine the strength that only comes from Christ that enabled me to make it through that prayer calmly. But now I have two children who I will certainly pray for daily, and who I hope I get the chance to share Christ with.

But God wasn't finished tasking me. During adult choir we practiced a song we had sung awhile back...and our director brought out again. The name of the song is "A Little More Like You." It is a prayer—a question—that, at the end of the day, when all is said and done...am I more like you, Lord? There is even a part that asks God to "help us grieve when others grieve, to laugh when others laugh, and for our neighbors to see Jesus in us each day."

That brings me back to the beginning of this post. So my gift is not personal relationships. But I have Christ living in me. And HE is the author of relationships. THROUGH him, I can love, I can minister, I can witness.

In Corinthians 5:11-21, Paul reminds us that now we have Christ in us, we no longer view others as our old selves. God is making us brand new! He is making us more like Christ. And that love should urge us on to tell others of this grand and glorious treasure.

I hope that you will seek to do so as well. Yes, Christ has given us specific gifts, and it is important to know them so we might fill our role on the battle ship to the best of our ability. But he has called ALL of us to "go and tell the world that Christ is Lord." Please pray with me that we will all feel this urgency, and not miss a chance to share the love of Christ to those around us.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Just As You Are

I had a moment of clarity this past Sunday.

As some of you know, I am turning 40 this year. I have bemoaned the fact to friends and family alike, at church, work, and on Facebook. I had a mini breakdown (not really, more a moment of over reaction according to my teenage daughter) a couple of weeks ago when told I needed bifocals. My friends have laughed, those older have said, "It only gets better." I remained unconvinced.

But this Sunday, we sang the song that says, "Come, just as you are to worship. Come, just as you before your God." Like the Lord has to sometimes do with me, I felt like he was standing right in front of me, his hand outstretched, indicating the words of the song and saying, "SEE?"

Christ wants me just as I am. Overweight, bifocaled, bad knees, 40 year-old me. This body is not what is important to him. It's my soul. Though my body can lift up hands and heart and voice and eyes unto the heavens in worship, he wants all of me. And he loves me just where I am.

That truth applies to you as well. Christ longs for you, the way a lover longs for his bride. He pursues you with a passion unimaginable and wants to know the depths of your being. And guess what? He doesn't require you to be outwardly perfect, or even inwardly perfect. He just wants your love and obedience. He'll make you brand new.

Just come.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Beggar's Purse

I don't normally read nonfiction, but after making the acquaintance of author, Toni Nelson, she changed my mind. Put simplistically, her book, A Beggar's Purse, is a short autobiography. She describes her childhood in delightful detail, her youthful sorrows with heartfelt clarity, and her call to service in a way that gives the reader pause.

Mrs. Nelson's mission field is the homeless. From childhood, God prepared her heart for these men and women who suffer among us. He gave her eyes to see them, ears to listen to their stories, and a compassion to help. Her honest writing makes us examine our own lives and look at how we are using our gifts. Are we answering our call? Or simply spending our time here?

I would encourage you to take a look at this book. It is a very short read, but powerful in its purpose.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What If?

Tandem, by Tracey Bateman was a thrilling surprise. What I thought would be an intriguing suspense mystery turned out to be that and so much more. One of the endorsements on the inside cover read, "Is it possible for a writer of Christian fiction to pen a vampire tale with an inspirational message?" I thought, are you kidding me?

No joke. A Christian vampire novel. Or a novel that includes both vampires and Christians, and definite beliefs about God.

Needless to say, I was hooked, and finished the book in two days. Once again, a book preceded this one (I think I've finally figured out how WaterBrook press indicates sequels...they note "author of insert previous title here" on the cover.), but that fact didn't hinder me at all as I read this one.

Tandem is set in Abbey Hills, a small town in the Ozarks, where strange, ritualistic murders have taken place. As the killings continue, fear abounds, and all visitors are suspect. A cast of strong characters helps move the story along, and we find ourselves pulled into the minds of three separate women:
Eden, a tortured, captured vampire who escapes her prison by remembering her past.
Amede, a vampire who refuses human blood, and who comes to Abbey Hills in search of her long lost sister, Eden.
Lauryn, an antiquities dealer whose life revolves around caring for her father who has Alzheimer's.

My one critique would be the author's choice of vacillating between first and third person points of view. Lauryn's story is told in the first person, but when the point of view shifts to Amede or Eden (or any other character), it becomes third person. This frequent shift was a little jarring, and took a while to figure out. But once I realized the pattern, I could follow the story without difficulty. I just wonder why the author chose to write in that way to begin with.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading the paranormal. It was an added pleasure to receive an inspirational message along the way. My thanks once again to WaterBrook Press for providing this book for review.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Indivisible"...Irresistible, Intriguing and Exceptional

"Indivisible", by Kristen Heitzmann was riveting. Heitzmann's breathtaking imagery, deep characters, and intriguing plot made this a book I couldn't put down. I especially appreciated the appropriate quotations at the beginning of each chapter...great literary touch.

This story is set in a small mountain town, where everyone has an inescapable history. Some characters have moved to this town to forget their past, others have been unable to leave because of it. We see glimpses of a painful story between Police Chief, Jonah Westfall and candle-maker/prayerline counselor, Tia Manning. The tension between the two is palpable, yet the reasons for it are slow to unfold.

In the midst of their personal struggles, a mysterious and sickening crime occurs...repeatedly. As Chief Westfall tries to understand the motivation behind the act and hopefully catch the person responsible, his time and energy are pulled in many directions, leaving him with little strength to maintain his fragile sobriety.

A powerful story of life...how we can most hurt the ones we should treasure, how the actions of others can irrevocably affect our lives, and how some people can overcome while others give in to darkness.

Thanks to Waterbrook/Multnomah for providing this book for review.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"A Plague on Both Your Houses"

Once again, my father recommended this book to me. A Plague on Both Your Houses is the first in a series by Susanna Gregory (circa 1996). Set in the 1300's at one of the colleges in Cambridge, our main character is Matthew Bartholomew, an unorthodox physician and teacher.

The story begins with the proclaimed suicide of the college's Master (head professor/administer). But his ghastly demise leaves Matthew unconvinced that his friend had taken his on life. Then other murders occur. Unwillingly, Matthew becomes embroiled in the sinister plot. Not knowing who he can trust, why the murders are occurring, or if his own life is in danger, Matthew spends his days split between seeing patients and trying to logically solve the crimes.

And the the plague arrives.

This book reminded me a little of Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club, specifically the mystery of multiple murders, the true historical setting, and the gruesomeness of the Black Death. Although Gregory's description is not quite as vivid as Pearl's...that was fine with me in this case! She does a masterful job of weaving characters, plots, subplots, and twists and turns into a mystery that I had not solved by the time the answers were revealed!

I look forward to reading the rest of Bartholomew's adventures by Susanna Gregory!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Helpful Hint #6: Write What you Know...Or Learn about it First

I have never been one to write about my own experiences for others to read. I've kept a journal off and on for years. But to share my own life? Too personal, too painful, or too boring.

So fiction is my form of escape. I leave my own world of daily grind and live in someone else's for a while. Creating characters, placing them in settings I would love to visit, and giving them problems to solve, delights me.

However...I have learned that "writing what you know" is important. May I give you an example?

When I began writing Second Chance I knew the characters and had a vague idea of the plot. I wanted my hero to be FBI agent, Ian Martin. I looked at the FBI website and investigated the types of cases in which they might be involved. It was a superficial study, to say the least.

I also knew I wanted my characters to leave the US during the course of their search. I chose Spain, to honor a friend of mine who read my chapters as soon as they were written. So my characters ended up flying to Lisbon, Spain, with the FBI agent to investigate the disappearance of their parents.

Now. If you haven't guessed what's wrong with this picture, allow me to point out two major problems:
1. Lisbon is not IN Spain.
2. The FBI doesn't have jurisdiction overseas.

Are you laughing yet? Obviously, I didn't do my research! Not only that, my friend (who grew up in Spain) kindly informed me that my scenes set in that country looked more like a suburb of Any Town, USA than Spain.

So. I hit the computer a little harder! I spent time researching Lisbon, Portugal, and surrounding cities, to make my description more authentic. As I researched, I fell in love with the landscape, the history, and the people. Portugal is now on my ever growing list of places I wish to visit some day.

To address the problem with the FBI and overseas, I tried making my hero into a CIA agent, but it just didn't sit well with me. So after further research, I found a loophole in which the FBI does work with overseas cases involving Americans. They still don't have jurisdiction and must deal with local police in that country or INTERPOL, but I could make that work. (After more research involving INTERPOL, of course. I had learned my lesson!)

My point? You don't have to draw from personal experience to write everything you write...but you better spend some time learning about your subject before hand. Otherwise you may end up with a mess like me! I continue to be thankful for good friends who knew the difference, and weren't afraid to question me! And I have learned that researching new topics for other stories can be fun:)

More helpful thoughts regarding this subject:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Helpful Hint #5: Show, don't Tell

If you've ever taken a Writing course, I imagine you have heard that phrase. My memory of high school Creative Writing is summed up in those three words. It drives me to carefully consider everything I write, as I question myself, "Am I telling or showing?"

But explaining what it means is difficult for me. The simplistic version (and I do teach children...) is to ask yourself, "Am I painting a picture with my words? Or am I telling the reader what's happening?" But that explanation isn't quite right either. So let's look at some examples that might make the difference more clear.

The group walked into the construction zone and had to place their hands over their ears because it was so loud.

When I read this sentence I know exactly what is happening, because I've been told. I don't have to think about it. But there is also little or no emotional connection for me, the reader. Now, read how Christina Dodd shows the same scene in her paranormal romantic thriller, Chains of Fire:

Welders sparked and the rythmic blast of riveters created acoustic bedlam.

Wow. Now I picture the scene, and I wince at the sounds I have imagined. I see the sparks fly from the welders. I don't know what riveters are, but the sounds they make must be deafening! Mentally, I am there, in that scene, experiencing those sights and sounds.

As writers, that should be the desired effect our words have on our readers; to draw them into the story in a way that they feel as if they are there. I try to think of it as "sharing my story" rather than "telling my story".

How to do this? Choose words precisely. Rather than ran quickly, use raced or fled. Raced implies running toward something, while fled suggests running away. Depending on which your character is doing, either choice shows a better picture than ran quickly.

Another example:

The little boy licked his ice cream cone nervously. (telling)

The boy huddled in the far corner of the room and his gaze darted from one person to the next, as he devoured his rare treat. (showing)

The first example requires no active participation from me, the readers. The second shows me the boy is nervous, but never actually uses that word.

Please visit these sights for much more helpful suggestions on this enigmatic rule. They "show" you much better than I do!


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Helpful Hint #4: To Use "Be" or Not to Use "Be"

I often struggle with overusing forms of the verb 'be'. Usually this occurs during the first draft stage when the action of the story moves faster than my thoughts, and word choice is not my highest priority. However, when editing I often am appalled at the overuse of linking verbs such as 'is', 'was', and 'were'. Writing instructors discourage the use of linking verbs because they create wordy, weak sentences.

Let's look at some examples:

Yesterday, I was going to the store to pick up some peaches.

Rather than was going, choose a more accurate action verb, such as drove, walked, or ran. These actually help the reader create a more vivid mental picture.

She is trying to fly a kite.

How can we reword this without the linking verb? Also consider the picture you wish to portray.

She tugs the string upward, but the kite refuses to follow.

I once saw a post on FaceBook from a fellow author sharing the best tip she learned at a workshop: eliminate the word 'was'! It remains a personal challenge for me. But when I take the time to carefully consider the picture I want to show my readers, and word my sentences accordingly, the outcome is worth it.

Which of these examples creates a more moving picture for you?

Susan was feeling lonely because her friend moved away.

After Jake moved away, Susan's loneliness consumed her.

It takes time and energy to consciously limit the use of linking verbs, but the professionals I have studied claim it makes for much better reading!

Feel free to check these related discussions:

Monday, January 31, 2011

Helpful Hint #3: Dialogue tags

Limiting the variety of dialogue tags, a "rule of thumb" in the literary world, was very difficult for me to accept. As a second grade writing teacher I often encouraged my students to think of other words to describe their characters' dialogue other than 'said'.

Yet during the production of my first novel, my editor suggested that using more flowery dialogue tags were unnecessary. I remained unconvinced, but took her advice half-way...meaning I deleted some of my tags but kept many of them. Even after reading some well written posts on the subject I couldn't bring myself to agree with what was essentially the opposite of what I had been teaching my students.

However, I began to pay attention to tags used in other books...those by prolific, best-selling authors. As you might have guessed, there was little variation from the word 'said'. And when the speaker was obvious, there might not be a dialogue tag at all.

So I have tried to scale down my use of 'commented' and 'reproached' and 'moaned' (etc).

In addition to that is the overuse of adverbs hooked to tags such as 'she said joyfully'. This is a particular weakness of mine. I am learning, however, that if I take more care in what my characters are actually saying, I don't have to tell my readers how it was said. I can assume they are smart enough to know.

Take for example, "I'm so excited!" Sara shouted gleefully or "Thank you so much," she whispered thankfully. The adverbs are completely redundant. We can infer quite easily the speaker's emotion from the words.

For more on this suggestion check out the following articles:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hint #2: Does everyone have to have a name?

Author and writing consultant, Rick Shelton, made a statement in a recent workshop that has stuck with me. Although he was giving a Writing Workshop on how we as educators could better instruct children in the art of writing, his truths hit home with me, an author, as well.

"A character should only have a name if he or she does something important in the story."

Hmm. After I thought about it, the statement was so obvious I wanted to slap my hand against my forehead. After all, if the character is so minor that he contributes little or nothing to the plot, why do we care what his name is?

As readers of fiction, we want to connect with the characters in the story. And one of the first ways anyone connects is by knowing another's name. Yet if I give a name to everyone in the story, it devalues the main characters, as well as disconnects the reader. Once a character is named, we automatically begin to picture that character in our mind. We try to form an opinion of that character. Are we going to like this person or not? How is he important to the plot? What is he going to do?

Take for example the beginning (paraphrased) of a recent young author's short story:

Me and my friends, Mallory Grace and Susan and Emily and Emma Claire all went to the mall. Mallory Grace and I decided to get an ice cream. I got chocolate chip and Mallory Grace ordered a plain vanilla. While we were sitting in the food court enjoying our frozen treats we saw some cute boys.

Well, okay. Where did Susan and Emily and Emma Claire go? If they are no longer going to be in the story, do I really have to know their names? The answer, of course, is no.

The young author could just as easily have begun with something like, "I went to the mall with Mallory Grace and some friends."

Again, although the examples are elementary, the truths are still valid. So consider, please, if it is truly important to give a name to the post man, the bus driver, and the sister-in-law's pet poodle. Unless they have more than a ten second part in the story, it's not impolite to allow them to remain nameless.

If you found this hint helpful, you may want to read more from Rick Shelton: http://www.rickshelton.us/

A Tale of Forgiveness, Redemption, and Love

Until Forever, a Christian romance written by Darlene Shortridge is a modern day tale of tragic loss, the consequences of poor actions, the choice of forgiveness and love, and God's will for our lives.

Shortridge shares the story of Jessi, a fearful mother who pours her whole existence into her child, and her husband, Mark, an alcoholic. Neither feels deserving of love, even from each other. Tragic circumstances tear apart their tenuous relationship and years pass before they see each other again.

Meanwhile, God continues to work in their lives through praying Christians who seek to share God's love and plan of salvation with both hurting souls. As the story unfolds we see one of the two make a choice to accept Christ and the huge difference it makes in that character's life. The leaves the question, will Mark and Jessi both find the Lord? And will they forgive each other and regain their marriage?

The plot of this story was compelling and powerful. Although the author's style of writing was not one I typically enjoy, there were time where I was surprised, parts where I cried, and scenes where I rejoiced right along with the characters. For those women who enjoy a tale of loss and love, written with a strong Christian hand, this book if for you!

Helpful Hint #1: POV

Writers have several options when choosing which point of view to use when writing fiction. Since I have no experience whatsoever with writing in the first person, this post shall be limited to the one suggested by most instructors (limited third person) and how it differs from one I have noticed in some other new writers' works (omniscient)...including my own.

A limited third person point of view allows the reader to know the thoughts of the main characters in a story.

The omniscient point of view gives the reader everyone's thoughts, sometimes including the writer's.

Everything I have read about point of view recommends the use of limited third person and strongly discourages the use of omniscient POV.

Most people who read fiction want to identify with a character in the story. They invest a part of themselves into that character, and for better or worse, say to themselves either, "That could be me" or "I wish that were me".

People can't emotionally invest in every character in the book. And if they are constantly made privy to the thoughts and motives behind every character, rather than better understanding the story (as young authors believe will be the case by sharing every internal detail), the opposite happens. The reader feels disconnected from all the characters.

Experts say it is better storytelling to choose to reveal on the main characters' internal musings. I have struggled with this personally. I wanted my readers to understand what all the characters in the room were thinking, feeling that it helped to better explain their actions. However, it was pointed out to me that since we as readers connect with only one character at a time, it is better to choose one character and relate the whole scene from his point of view. Now, as writers we can still show what other characters are thinking through the eyes of the main character.

Let's look at two examples:

Mike wanted desperately not to be the last person chosen this time. He stood as tall as he could, puffed his chest out as much as he dared and held his head high. Joe and Tim, the team captains stood at the front of the group. Joe looked at all the other boys, and picked the ones he thought had the best athletic ability. He hated to lose. Tim was more thoughtful. He didn't like to see anyone left out, and he had noticed that Mike was often chosen last.

This is an example of omniscient point of view. We know what Mike and Joe and Tim all think. And its difficult to connect with anyone, because we know what everyone is thinking! Let's look at the same scene strictly from Mike's point of view:

Mike wanted desperately not to be the last person chosen this time. He stood as tall as he could, puffed his chest out as much as he dared and held his head high. Joe and Tim, the team captains stood at the front of the group. When it was Joe's turn to choose, Mike made a concerted effort to make eye contact. He watched Joe scan the faces of the other boys in line. For a split second their gazes locked, and Mike held his breath. Then just as quickly Joe's gaze moved down the line. Mike let his breath out slowly, like a deflated balloon, as Joe remained true to form and chose the best pitcher.

Next it was Tim's turn. Mike's heart hammered in his chest and his hands felt sweaty as he waited for Tim to make his choice. He closed his eyes for a moment, willing Tim to see him, to really
see him. When he opened his eyes, Tim was looking right at him. Unlike Joe, Tim's gaze didn't skitter away immediately. He seemed to ponder his choice carefully. Please, thought Mike. Please pick me.

Who do you, the reader, identify with? Mike, of course. We see the whole scene unfold through his eyes. We feel his emotions, and we long for him to be chosen as well. Do we still get a sense of Joe's and Tim's character? Absolutely. Can we imagine what those two boys are thinking by their actions? Yes. And yet we weren't told their thoughts...we were shown their thoughts through Mike's interpretation of their actions.

For more on this discussion, check out the following link from award winning author, Robert J Sawyer:

Hopefully Helpful Hints from a Humble Heart

I know, corny alliteration, right? Shall I dive right into the explanation?

Becoming a published author and entering the realm of book fairs, literary chat rooms, and Facebook Author groups has broadened my acquaintance with others. As a newly published author, who longs for support and affirmation from fans, I try to support those like me. I search for least one book at these venues that truly interests me. If my chat with the author is memorably pleasant, and/or the book intrigues me, I will purchase it.

So, in short, I have read more first-time authors' books in the last year than ever before. And I would like to offer some suggestions or hints to help us all become better storytellers. Many of these suggestions are practices I still struggle with in my own writing...so I offer them humbly. Most are hints not original to me, rather they have been made to me by instructors of writing, educated editors, and other more polished authors.

So the next two weeks, I will post "helpful hints" regarding the art of writing. Please keep in mind that I am in no way suggesting I know it all, or feel I am a better writer than anyone else. However, when my own weaknesses were pointed out to me, it became extremely difficult to enjoy a story when I read those same weaknesses in others' works.

Perhaps you might join me in offering insights as well? Together we can encourage each other and learn to continually improve our craft.

Hint #1 to follow shortly.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

When We Wait

In the meantime.

Have you ever wondered about that phrase? Separately: in the mean time.

That's my mental picture during times of waiting. They are mean times; often periods filled with impatience, anxiety, and foreboding. Waiting is not anywhere near my list of things I enjoy. Probably because I like control... and a plan. So when I'm stuck "in the meantime", waiting for an answer, or an event, or an outcome, it can become a feeling akin to being set adrift in the open sea with only a small flotation ring.

That's not the way it should be. I know that. I know that. There are a thousand overused cliches dedicated to the purpose of keeping one from sinking in the sea of worry and inactivity while waiting for one thing or another: Stop and smell the roses. Don't wish your life away. Enjoy the moment. Its the little things in life that count. Carpe diem.

So why do I fall back into an attitude of impatient restlessness every time? Lack of faith or trust? Maybe. Probably.

Worship is easy for me—I have so much to be thankful for and am constantly in awe that the creator of the universe longed for my love, and relishes my relationship. And, in the end of all things, I know without a shadow of doubt that Romans 8:28 is true. God will work all things to the good of those who love him, who are the called according to his purpose. But I would be insincerely trite if I didn't acknowledge that in the meantime, the mean times, I often loose sight of that truth.

It's like a previous blog regarding God lighting our path. I want to know the endgame. I want an insider's peek at the grand scheme, the long range goal, the whole plan. Then my sea of uncertainty would be nothing but dried up land, and I could walk forward with calm assurance, in control.

Ahh, but that's the point, isn't it? As much as I want to be in control of my thoughts, my circumstances, my life, my goals, God wants the opposite. It's a battle I hope to lose one day, and in losing I know I will actually have the victory. Who better to give the reins to than the One who is expert in all things?

So today is another attempt to remind myself that the meantime does not have to be mean. It should not be filled with anxiety or impatience. It should be filled with focus, with purpose—doing good and righteous deeds, and giving glory to the one who deserves so much more than our praise.

I hope this will be a reminder that sticks with me for a long while....because chastisement is also not on my list of things I enjoy...but that's another blog topic entirely!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Hauntingly Hopeful Tale

How can a book be both haunting and hopeful? Susan Meissner manages it with a beautifully gentle pen in "Lady in Waiting".

I generally don't choose books whose plots focus on a couple with marital difficulties. I must confess, if the lure of sixteenth-century England had not caught my attention, I might not have chosen this one. And even as I struggled to identify with our modern day Jane, whose husband has decided he needs space, I eagerly consumed the pages dedicated to another Jane, one who lived in the 1500's.

A ring binds these two stories together. Found hidden within an ancient prayer book by Jane Lindsey, owner of an antique store in Upper West Side, Manhattan, the inscription on the inside of the band compels her to search out the original owner. As the story turns back in time to Lady Jane Grey, an elusive familiarity with that name whispered of a tragic end.

Meissner has a gift for creating beautiful pictures with her words, even when those pictures are filled with sorrow, longing, or uncertainty. Yet, with the inevitable events of history moving more swiftly than I wished for Lady Jane, Meissner leaves us with hope for Jane Lindsey. And in doing so, gifts us with hope for ourselves.

I would recommend this book without reservation to any woman who enjoys a touching tale. My thanks to WaterBrook Press for allowing me to read and review it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Trusting the Light

A couple of Sundays ago I heard a profound explanations of a particular Bible verse. What made it even more incredible for me was that I never thought it needed one before.

We had a guest preacher at church; our previous youth minister and associate pastor, who moved to Maine several years ago as a church planter and evangelist. In the midst of sharing how the Lord called his family to missions in Maine, he said, "We thought the Lord was calling us to work in Maine for two years. But you know sometimes he chooses to only show us light at our feet."

He went on to quote the verse from Psalm 119:105: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." (NIV) I had memorized that verse as a teenager, still love the way Keith Green turned it into a praise and worship chorus. I treasured it for the promise that the Lord would always show us the way we should go. Never did I question the difference between a lamp and a light. But I had never heard it explained the way Chris Johnson went on to share.

He said sometimes the Lord shows us just enough of his will (the path he has for us), that it is illuminated like a lamp at our feet. We know where we are, that we are on the path, but we cannot see far. Why does the Lord allow us only this brief glimpse? Perhaps if we saw the whole path it would be too awesome to comprehend...or too daunting to venture forward. Perhaps to increase our trust in him. Perhaps to keep our focus on the task at hand.

However, other times he is a light for our path. He allows us a deeper vision. We see the road ahead, with all its bumps, twists and turns. But even so, we have his illumination is also a promise of his constant presence and guide. And whatever God shines his face toward must be glorious indeed.

This year may we seek out His word, trust Him when he is the lamp to our feet, and follow Him when he is the light for our path.