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 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: