Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Review: Good Grief by Lolly Winston

Several years ago as I struggled to become a published writer a good friend recommended that I read a new book. So I went out and bought it. It wasn’t the usual book that would attract me. The cover was of a woman wearing bunny slippers and the title was Good Grief. But knowing that my friend knew me and what I like, I opened the book and started reading. I was pulled in by the first paragraph. See what you think.

“How can I be a widow? Widows wear horn-rimmed glasses and cardigan sweaters that smell like mothballs and have crepe-paper skin and names like Gladys or Midge and meet with their other widow friends once a week to play pinochle. I’m only thirty-six. I just got used to the idea of being married, only test-drove the words my husband for three years: My husband and I, my husband and I ... after all that time being single!”

Right away I liked the protagonist, though she was in pain grieving the death of her husband, her personality came through and I knew this was a person I wanted to know better.

Here’s a quote from the book flap.

“The funny thing about rock bottom is there’s stuff underneath it. You think, This is it. I’m at the bottom now. It’s all uphill from here! Then you discover the escalator goes down one more floor to another level of bargain basement junk.”

See what I mean?
Now take a look at the synopsis on the book flap.

In an age in which women are expected to be high achievers, thirty-six-year-old Sophie Stanton desperately wants to be a good widow—a graceful, composed, Jackie Kennedy kind of widow. Alas, Sophie is more of a Jack Daniels kind. Self-medicating with cartons of ice cream for breakfast, breaking down in the produce section at the super-market, showing up to work in her bathrobe and bunny slippers—soon she’s not only lost her husband, but her job, her house, and her waistline.

Desperate to reinvent her life, Sophie moves to Ashland, Oregon. But instead of the way women starting over are depicted in the movies—with heroines instantly being swept off their feet by Sam Shepard kinds of guys—Sophie finds herself in the middle of Lucy-and-Ethel madcap adventures with a darkly comic edge involving a thirteen-year-old with a fascination with fire and an alarmingly handsome actor who inspires a range of feelings she can’t cope with—yet.

Filled with laugh-out loud humor, struggles, triumphs, and plenty of midnight trips to the fridge, Good Grief is a funny, wise, and heartbreakingly poignant novel from one of fiction’s freshest and most exciting new voices.

I have read this book numerous times and loved every minute of it. In fact, when a friend of mine was going through a difficult divorce, I gave her a copy of the book. It helped her look at her life differently and pulled her through some tough times.

I haven’t read other books written by Winston, so I can’t comment on her other work, but Good Grief is a keeper.

(This novel was published by Warner Books. I freely reviewed the book and have no financial ties to its success.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Through the Lens of Your Protagonist's Eyes

Last week we discussed chain reactions and how the order of feeling, action, and speech should be logically written to make your writing smooth. In other words keep the horse in front of the cart. Today we’re going to focus on seeing the world through your protagonist’s eyes.

Picture it:

Small town USA, stores frame a park in the center of town and at the head is the courthouse with a clock tower. In the park children are playing on a swing set, a woman walks by pushing a stroller, two men are sitting on a park bench, and a young boy tosses a stick for his dog to fetch.

Now enter your protagonist. What is it that your protagonist focuses on? Is it the kids on the swing set, the woman with the stroller, the two men or the boy playing fetch with the dog?

It depends on the genre you write in. If you’re writing suspense and your protagonist is a woman who has been anonymously stalked, where would her focus be?

As Jane hurries through the park, she notices the boy with the dog, but her main focus is on the two men sitting on the park bench. As she gives a wide berth to them, she abruptly comes face to face with the dog that corners her and the boy who pulls out a gun.

Did you notice I didn’t bring up the kids on the swing or the mother with the stroller? I only brought your attention to what was important and how the lens of your protagonist sees them. Her attention was on what she thought was the obvious threat, but it turned out to be the boy and dog AND that is why I mentioned them. A writer must only bring up what is important to the story. It may seem like filler, but that filler is there for a reason and in this case a very important reason.

Okay let’s try it with romance. Say the protagonist is a man in his late thirties, he’s just broken up with his girlfriend, and he realizes he may never have a family of his own.

On Jon's lunch break he goes to the park. He sees the kids on the swing, the boy with the dog and the woman with the stroller. Without thinking Jon stops the woman with the stroller and gazes down on a beautiful sleeping baby. As he chats with the woman he notices her beautiful dark, chocolate eyes; her easygoing nature; and her low, sexy voice. Jon finds out she is the baby’s nanny. The clock on the courthouse tower bongs. She immediately excuses herself saying she has an appointment and leaves. He has no way of getting in touch with her, so on the hopes of meeting her again he comes to the park every day at the same time.

Did you notice the filler? Kids on swing, boy with dog, the courthouse clock tower. A man on his lunch break would notice the clock. A man who yearns for a family would notice the kids on the swing and the boy with the dog. Most importantly because this is a romance a man who yearns for a family would notice the woman with the baby.

Did you also notice the cause and effect in each case? As you write a scene view it through the lens of your protagonist eyes, focus on what he/she will notice, and add filler that is important to the scene.

I’ve only given you the bare bones of each case. To fully flesh out the scene again you need to think of your protagonist. Is he an artist? Would he notice if the trees were hunter green? Is he a landscaper? If so, would he notice the condition of the grass and trees? Is the protagonist a mystery writer? Would she look at every person with a bit of suspicion as she plots out her next novel? A fully fleshed-out protagonist brings context to every scene and as a writer you need to color the lens the readers view your story with just the right amount of focus.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Building Cathedrals

Do you ever wonder if anyone appreciates what you do? You know, the little things like cleaning off the counter, scrubbing the floors, or giving the dog food. Over the weekend, I was checking the blogs I follow and I found this wonderful video clip on C.K. Bryant's blog "Day Dreamer." Take a minute and watch it.

I loved the message that even though no one may see what we do, God does. Isn't this true with so many things in life? We sometimes feel invisible. What we need to focus on are the cathedrals we're building.

Have a wonderful day and go build a cathedral!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Book Review: As Sure as the Dawn by Francine Rivers

This book is the third in Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series. It follows the gladiator, Atretes, who was first a German warrior, but was captured by the Romans and forced to become a gladiator. He had a child he thought was dead, but was saved by Hadassah (the heroine of the first two books in this series) and given to the apostle John. The book opens with Atretes learning that his child is alive. Atretes is frantic to find the child and goes to John, who tells him he gave the baby to Rizpah, a young widow who had lost her own child. Rizpah, a woman of tremendous faith, wants what is best for the baby she dearly loves and feeling that she should make sure the child is well cared for she convinces Atretes to keep her on as the child’s nursemaid.

I have barely skimmed the surface of this story. Again, layers of feelings and emotions are very much a part of this book. You have Atretes, a driven man who has stayed alive as a gladiator because of his fighting skills. Yes, he has killed, he has loved, and he is bitter. Rizpah is a woman, who has been through tremendous heartache in her short life, yet she dearly loves this little baby. The child brought meaning to her world. The obstacles between Atretes and Rizpah falling in love are huge, yet the reader is compelled to hope that despite the odds things will work out for them.

The ticking bomb in this story is Atretes’ desperate need to return to Germania, his homeland, without being captured once again by the Romans. Does he make it? I’m not going to tell you. And what about the religious aspect of this book? Faith, hope and charity abound through Rizpah. Does she convert Atretes, who seems irredeemable? Again, I’m not going to tell you. Let me just say you will be greatly rewarded as you live this story through these fully-fleshed out characters, see ancient Rome and Germany through their eyes, and have your own faith rekindled by reading this beautiful tale.

As Sure as the Dawn is another masterpiece for Francine Rivers. I hope you read it and enjoy it as much as I did.

(The publisher of this book is Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. I have no vested interest in the success of this book and bought my own copy.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chain Reactions

So sorry I didn't post something Monday. I have been on a deadline for my next book, and I had to get some rewrites to my editor. I'm back on track now.

Last week we studied the chronology of emotion. This week let’s think about chain reactions. And not just any reactions, but the reactions of your protagonist. This is the person whose eyes your reader sees the world through, so it’s very important to have that character react logically and in the right order. This may seem redundant to what we’ve covered, but it isn’t. What we are going to zero in on is a chain reaction of: cause, feeling, action and thought/speech. If your character doesn’t react in that sequence your work will feel choppy and disjointed.

Let's use some scenes from my book, River Whispers, so you can see what I mean.

The night was suddenly rent with the heart-stopping sound of gun shot. Regi dropped to the ground, hugging the cold, wet earth. Snow froze her cheek. Her breath came in cold puffs. Someone was shooting at her.

First we have the cause of this chain reaction: the gun shot. Next we have feeling, which is automatic: Regi dropped to the ground. Feeling is something that logically happens. When Regi hears the shot she automatically dropped to the ground. You couldn’t very well have Regi drop to the ground and then hear the shot because the reaction would be out of sync. The same holds true for the snow freezing her cheek. Her cheek couldn’t freeze without being cold thus the snow comes first. After feeling follows action: Her breath came in cold puffs. And on it’s heels thought: Someone was shooting at her.

Another example:

Trying to keep her anger in check, she felt like a wild horse stuck in a trap-corral. Regi forced herself to relax and smile. “Tanner, no one else wants that land. You are so full of...baloney!”

Do you see the chain reactions? The cause: to keep her anger in check. The feeling: she felt like a wild horse stuck in a trap-corral. Now the action: Regi forced herself to relax and smile. And then the thought/speech: “Tanner, no one else wants that land. You are so full of…baloney!”

In the next paragraph is another chain reaction. Pick out the cause, the feeling, the action and the thought/speech.

Regi stared him in the eyes. He glared back. Tanner was serious. Razor-sharp anger sliced her good intentions to shreds. “I sold you the cattle, my prized horse, the farming equipment, even the river land. You promised me you’d wait five years.”

See, it's not so tough. The cause: Tanner was serious. The feeling: Razor-sharp anger sliced her good intentions to shreds. The action: (no action?). The thought/speech: "I sold you the cattle..."

I threw you a curve since there wasn't action. But the action is combined with her thought/speech. Yes, that happens sometimes and I wanted you to see it here. Action and thought/speech can be combined, but you always have cause before feeling. Always!

Now try it on something you have written.

If you always strive to have your writing follow a logical chain reaction, then your work will read smoothly and your readers will be anxious for more.

Happy writing!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Review - An Echo in the Darkness

Last week I reviewed Francine Rivers book, A Voice in the Wind, which is the first book in her Mark of the Lion trilogy. As promised here is a review of the second book, An Echo in the Darkness.

This book picks up where the first one left off. And true to Rivers’ style it is full of wonderful scenes. Let me show you the opening sentence of the prologue: “Alexander Democedes Amandinus stood at the Door of Death waiting for the chance to learn more about life.” Okay if that wasn’t enough to pull you into the book take a look at the first two sentences of chapter one: “Marcus Lucianus Valerian walked through a maze of streets in the Eternal City, hoping to find a sanctuary of peace within himself. He couldn’t.” Just like book one, this second book from the very beginning engages the reader to know more.

Though this is the second book in the trilogy, you can still read it without reading the first book and yet know what is going on. Rivers is a genius at layering her work with "need to know" information while progressing the current story. But I think once you read An Echo in the Darkness, you'll go back to read the first book hungry to read more of this wonderful story.

For the last couple of Wednesdays I’ve been writing about putting feeling and emotion into your books. This book is packed with emotions that peel the characters feelings back to reveal their very souls. In An Echo in the Darkness we continue to follow Hadassah as she overcomes incredible odds to put her life back together after nearly dying. We also follow Marcus Valerian as he comes to terms over religion and losing Hadassah. He walks the streets of Jerusalem, going there in hopes of understanding Hadassah’s God and why she believed so strongly in a man she called her Savior.

Though it has been several years since I read this book, scenes from it cling to me: the scene of Marcus’s mother converting to Christianity, the scenes of his sister’s betrayal, scenes of Hadassah forgiving those who scarred her life, and, of course, the romantic scenes. You need to read the book and enjoy the story page by masterfully-written page.

I didn’t think Rivers could top book one, but I was mistaken. An Echo in the Darkness far exceeded my expectations, and I think it will exceed yours as well.

( Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., published this book. I purchased my copy and freely give this review having now financial interests in it’s success.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Chronology of Emotion

Last week we talked about putting feeling in fiction. This week we’re going to take that a step further. We’re going to delve into the chronology of emotion. Believe it or not characters in fiction have a chronology of emotions. Think about this. In our lives there are steps we go through as our mind breaks down information. Well, it’s important to have your characters live through these steps exactly as they happen. That way there will be no doubt as to the cause and effect of these emotions.

Here’s a scene that will help you understand what I mean.

Pauline, mother of two, has just spent the most wonderful Mother’s Day with her family. She’s tried to call her mother several times to wish her well, but she doesn’t pick up. The phone rings. It’s Pauline’s brother. He tells her he is at their mother’s. He came over to wish her a happy Mother’s Day and found her in the bedroom, still in bed. She had passed away in the night. Pauline becomes numb with shock. Waves of different emotions wash over her: sorrow, pain, and grief. She finds the nearest chair and falls into it as a ground swell of tears threaten to overcome her. She wants to give in and cry, yet she holds it together and asks if her brother knows how she died. He tells her he doesn’t, but the paramedics believe it was a heart attack. Her nitro-glycerin bottle was empty. Pauline remembers yesterday her mother told her she wasn’t feeling well and that she needed to get her prescription refilled. At the time Pauline was taking her daughter to a dance recital, but thought afterward she'd go by her mother's and make sure she had her medicine. But she forgot. Overwhelmed with guilt and sorrow she drops the phone.

Did you notice the cause and effect? Did you see the motivation and reaction? I hope so. All came into play, but also something more…a chronology of emotion.

Cause and effect: mother didn’t receive pills and died.

Motivation and reaction: Pauline learns her mother died and breaks down.

Let’s focus on the impact of emotion and what led to the ultimate break down. You and I know that a person can experience many emotions at the same time, but in writing it is impossible to do that. One word follows another word and so a writer has to examine emotion and list those emotions in the exact order as they are felt. You could probably just say, Pauline felt many emotions at the same time, but the tension of the moment is lost. An important, life-changing moment needs to be drawn out and experienced by the readers for them to truly feel the pain of the main character. A chronology of emotion will help a writer accomplish that.

First the reader learns that Pauline is 1) happy. It’s Mother’s Day and being a mother of two she is celebrating. Next you learn that she is 2) concerned. She can’t get hold of her mother to wish her a happy day as well. Then the phone call comes that will change Pauline’s life. Cause and effect are about to stimulate Pauline’s motivation and reaction. Her brother tells her their mother is dead and Pauline becomes 3)numb. Several more emotions envelope her 4)sorrow, which causes 5)pain that feds into 6)grief. Yet she holds it together in a sort of 7)denial as she asks if her brother knows how she died. He tells her a heart attack and that her nitro bottle was empty. Pauline remembers she neglected to go by her mother's which leads to 8)guilt. Then she collapses into full blown 9)grief.

Did you noticed all of the emotions going on? Probably, but did you realize those steps of emotion were deliberately put there to make you, the reader, feel Pauline’s pain as it happened? If you didn’t, you do now. Reveal these emotions step by step and in the order they logically happen and your characters will come to life.

I hope that I’ve helped you understand the chronology of emotion a little more and that you’ll use it now. Make your characters feel. In many ways, that’s what life is all about…how we feel.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Exciting News!!!

Last Thursday my editor emailed with exciting news. My publisher has accepted another book of mine. It is a young-adult, time-travel titled The Stone Traveler. I know many of you were hoping my exciting news would have to do with the release date of The Forgotten Warrior’s sequel, but sadly it does not. However, The Stone Traveler is part of my Givers of Light series. I’m so excited!!! Let me tell you about this new book.

This is the story of a young man named Tag. He’s going through a difficult time trying to accept that his father and brother have left. His mother takes him to his grandfather’s cabin for the summer, hopeful that being away from home and spending time with his grandpa will help him work things out. Tag decides to run away, but he meets a man named John Doe, who has a very intriguing stone...a stone that Tag thinks can help him. He steals the stone and as he runs away he is suddenly sent back to Book of Mormon times.

There he meets Sabirah, the daughter of Samuel the Lamanite. Didn’t know he had a daughter did you? Well, I didn’t either until I wrote this fictional book that takes place at the time when Christ was crucified. She is in search of her father and Tag comes on the scene right when Sabirah is about to capture Princess Jamila, the daughter of wicked King Jacob. Sabirah believes the princess knows what happened to her father. (picture from Real Heroes. Check out their website

Despite Tag’s desire to return home, he is soon caught up in Sabirah’s desperate search for her father. I won’t tell you how it ends. There’s action, adventure, battles and a little romance. You’ll be happy to know that this book does not have a cliffhanger ending.

The Stone Traveler is scheduled to be released this June!!! As the date draws near I’ll let you know a little more about the book and will hopefully post the first chapter on my website.

As you may have noticed, I’ve posted a countdown on my blog for the release of The Stone Traveler. I want to keep you in the loop of the book’s progress, so periodically I’ll let you know what’s going on as the book goes through the publishing process such as what the cover will look like, when it goes to press and book signings. I’m thrilled to have this book published, and I think you’ll enjoy it as much as you did the first book of The Forgotten Warrior and An Angel on Main Street.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Book Review - A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers

One of my favorite books is A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers. Let me explain why. When I decided to focus seriously on my writing I started reading almost everything I could get my hands on. I came upon a book I had purchased years ago at a writers' conference from one of my favorite authors. I met her at the conference, but had never read the book. Though she'd been a very successful romance writer, she'd changed her writing to not just romance, but inspirational romance. At the time I wasn't interested, but after changing the focus of my writing to inspirational I now was. From page one the book pulls you into the story breathing life and feeling not only into the characters, but also the setting and storyline.

The opening page is a heading: Jerusalem. Here's the opening sentence as the book starts: "The city was silently bloating in the hot sun, rotting like the thousands of bodies that lay where they had fallen in street battles." Now for those with delicate sensibilities this may have been a bit off putting, but for me I was hooked. Questions popped into my mind. What battle had thousands of bodies laying in the street? And how does this fit into inspirational romance? Yes, I realize the setting Jerusalem gives you an idea of how the inspiration will be directed, but how in the world would dead bodies fold into the mix? Needless to say I read on anxious to have my questions answered and to find out who the heroine was.

Hard to believe, but Rivers ratchets up the tension. You learn that sixty thousand legionnaires are waiting to gut the city of God, so, of course, the heroine is a Jewish woman who loses her family in the fight and is in danger of losing her life. But Hadassah is only one character in the book. After bringing the reader into the story, Rivers then switches gears and sends you to Germania as the warrior, Atretes, goes to battle against Romans and is eventually captured and sold to become a gladiator. What a scene! All the time I'm reading about him, I'm wondering how his story will tie into Hadassah's.

The next section heading: Rome. Here we meet Marcus Valerian, the son of a wealthy shipping magnet, whose father buys Hadassah as a slave for his wife. Okay, now I'm hopeful the romance will be between Marcus and Hadassah, but what about Atretes?

Rivers is a powerful writer who does justice to the epic story of how the Jews were slaughtered by the Romans and how desperate the conditions were for those left alive. She utilizes all five senses as she shows (not tells) the story making you see, hear, taste, touch, and smell this gritty world of polluted politics, bloody games, and forbidden love. Certainly not a book for the faint of heart, but a riveting, heart-thumping tale that brings the era to life.

I must admit I was a little upset by the cliffhanger ending, however, the publisher did a wonderful thing by adding the first chapter of the sequel. Smart strategy for I was excited for the next book, which I'll review next Friday.

(This book is published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. I freely purchased the book and have no ties financially to its success.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Feeling in Fiction

It’s Writing Wednesday.

I’m feeling very frustrated. Last night I spent several hours writing a wonderful post and then Blogger had a hiccup and lost all my work. ARGH! Why does this happen when you least need it to? I could boohoo over this for quite a while, but I’m sure it would bore you to tears so I’ll get busy and try to recapture the brilliant piece I wrote. :0)

Something vital to good fiction is feeling. So how do you write feeling in fiction?

Putting emotion in your book is vital for your work to ring true and for your readers to care about your characters and, therefore, your story. If your readers are caught up in the feelings of your characters they’ll follow them wherever they go and even stay up nights to see what happens to them.

To put feeling in your story start at the basic level and that’s with your main characters; most importantly your protagonist. The reader wants to know his/her inner and outer conflicts, what he/she wants most in the world and what he/she fears.

To show this let’s create a simple character: Jane Doe. You can add all the descriptions height, weight, color of hair, eyes and such. I’m going to focus on what Jane Doe wants most. For this story she wants to earn a degree in business management so she can get a good job and provide for herself. This is a basic need everyone understands and is her outer struggle. Her inner struggle is worry that she doesn’t measure up and will fail. But what does she want more than this? To be loved and she fears being alone. Can you see how this shapes the character and makes the reader care for her beyond physical description?

Okay, now let’s push more feeling into the mix. To do this we need the help of cause and effect coupled with motivation and reaction. Let’s look at a brief synopsis for the first chapter in a book.

Jane Doe is attending college to earn her business management degree. She works for a CPA part-time. It’s April 15th at 11:30 P.M. Her boss hands her his most important client’s tax returns and tells her they must be postmarked before midnight. On her way she’s involved in a traffic accident. The handsome, single officer called to the scene believes she has a concussion and insists she goes to the hospital. As she is loaded into the ambulance she begs him to mail the returns. Will he or won’t he?

Cause and effect: tax returns must be filed on time or the tax filer will be penalized. Motivation and reaction is layered into the scene by the character. What motivates Jane? The cause and effect, but also the need to earn money and keep her job. What’s her reaction? To do it. She’s desperate to meet the dead line (outer struggle), but did you notice “the handsome, single officer”? Her reaction and the one that will hook romance readers is that she noticed him (inner struggle and subconscious reaction). Will he be her knight in shining armor and come to her aid not only in filing the return, but by becoming her love interest? He could be the answer to Jane’s inner most need and fear.

Feelings are very personal and go deeper than the mere sensation of touch. Feelings go to the core of your character. Cause and effect—motivation and reaction help you flesh out those feelings and makes them important to your reader. Now write the chapter. ;0)

Try this out on the next piece you write and see if it gives your fiction more feeling.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Forever Strong in the New Year

On Sunday evenings my family usually plays a game and/or watches a movie together. We did both last night. After the game we decided to watch the movie Forever Strong. I'd bought it for Christmas. We always stock up on DVDs at Christmastime. This was the last of our new batch of films. Did we save the best for last? It certainly ranks in the top five. I don't know if you've seen it, but I highly recommend the movie especially if you have troubled youth in your home. The film was based on factual events and was shot in Utah (yeah). The story is about a troubled teen who finds himself sent to a correctional facility in Utah. The boy has a passion for the game of rugby. A counselor there realized this and was able to get the coach of Highland High's team to give the boy a chance to play. Here's the trailor for the movie.

The film was actually shot with Larry Gelwix, the real coach of the Highland team, in mind. He's quite internationally know for he has coached a winning rugby team for over 33 years.

Something I found quite fascinating was the Haka that his rugby team does before important games. I found this wonderful interview with Coach Gelwix where he talks about the Haka and why they do it.

Here's the Haka performed at the end of the movie:

So why have I gone on and on about this movie and the Haka? I have no material or financial interest in the film or story and freely blogged about. But here's the deal, we're facing a brand new year, new challenges and new opportunities. It probably wouldn't hurt for us to do a Haka to move forward and have a winning year!
Go for your dreams, do your best and you'll be a success. And no matter what be forever strong.


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