Saturday, December 31, 2011

What I Don't Do Here

I am not one of those people who generally writes blogs relating to a certain holiday. No posts about Christmas or wishing anyone a merry one last week. And no, I'm not here today to post about my New Year's resolution(s) or anything. I mentioned mine on Facebook the other day. You wanna see it, go friend me :P.

This blog is also "not" for a lot of other things:

I don't post about politics. I do have opinions, but I tend to keep them to myself. My general take on politics is that there is NO such thing as a perfect candidate for ANYTHING because we're are all people and we all make mistakes and we all tend to be stupid and greedy when it comes to SOMETHING. And I've found that sitting around debating politics with people in person, much less online, doesn't generally get either of us anywhere. Maybe you find that to be different in your life, and that's great. Me, I'm just staying out of it. I keep my ears open and vote on voting day. Period.

I don't post "how to write" articles, with the exception of a rant now and then about how the word "was" is not the devil, or stuff like my recent post about making sure a book has an end "hook." If you want to learn mechanics of writing there are gobs and gobs of great books out there, like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. And awesome websites like K.M. Weiland's "Wordplay." Writing posts like that is a LOT of work--why do so when they already exist and are just a click away?

I don't have a defined purpose for this blog, so I don't plan out my posts way ahead of time, strategically searching for hot topics or whatever in order to drive readers here. I tend to think of this as an online journal of sorts, a place to dump my thoughts on things mostly related to books and writing (but also including the occasional post about family vacations and whatnot). Again, there are other writers out there with a penchant for hitting on controversy, and I don't want to rehash. On the rare occasion I do find myself needing to tackle a controversial writing issue, you'll likely find me posting about it on New Authors' Fellowship.

I don't preach here. I am a Christian, yes, and I don't keep that out of my blog, but I don't push it. If I post about something "religious" it's going to be personal. I actually have a rather hefty background in Creation science, but I don't post about all that here. I did waaaaaaaay back in the beginning of this blog just a bit, and quickly realized this is not the place. And again, there are gobs of awesome books and websites on the subject--where I got my info on the topic, and therefore where you can do the same. (Answers in Genesis is a good place to start if it's something you're interested in.)

I don't often post videos or have trivia contests or other fun little bits like that. Honestly, the music I like it likely not what you like. (How many times can you use "like" in a sentence, without, like, you know, sounding like a Valley girl?) And I suck at trivia except in certain areas, such as Harry Potter and Disney stuff.

Other things I suck at, and therefore would never post about, are sports (yes, all of them), video games (yes, all of them), history, keeping plants alive, working the TV remote, gift-wrapping, and folding fitted sheets.

Things I *don't* suck at include healthy eating and natural healing, organization of physical space (still working  on organizing my time, though :P), homeschooling, math, jigsaw puzzles, photography (while I am totally amateur, I've taken some pretty righteous shots), and pretty much anything involving the combined components of fabric, wood, and a staple gun. But does anyone want to actually read posts about that stuff??

So there you have it. Everything this blog is not. If you want to find out all the stuff that is here, though, stick around.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gobbling Goblins

I mentioned in my last post a book called Tyger, Tyger by Kersten Hamilton. It's about goblins and Irish folklore and a mythical, magical place called Mag Mell. The main character, Teagan, ends up visiting Mag Mell after her "cousin" Finn Mac Cumhail moves in with her family. Turns out they're not exactly cousins--which is good, considering the sparks Teagan feels around him. But with Finn, the goblins follow. One kills Teagan's mother and another drags her father off to Mag Mell. Teagan, Finn, and Tea's little brother go off on an adventure to find him and bring him home.

While they are there, Teagan learns more about Mag Mell and the goblins, and finds out some interesting stuff about her family heritage. They battle goblins of all sorts and experience one of the most unique story worlds I've read. Their adventures continue in In the Forests of the Night, which I loved just as much as Tyger, Tyger.

There is obviously going to be another book in this series, although it hasn't come out yet. I am anxiously awaiting it, though!

This is not the only goblin series I've read recently. Another that has captured my heart is a series by Hilari Bell.

I found the first book, The Goblin Wood, at a local Scholastic warehouse sale. (If you are a homeschooler, check out THIS and see if there are any in your area. Cheap books! Fun times!) I admit I just picked it up because it was only a couple of dollars and the title sounded interesting.

But I fell in love as soon as I started reading. Mackenna is a hedge witch whose mother is killed. She takes revenge on her entire town after discovering goblins aren't quite what the priests of the town have made them out to be. She becomes an ally to them, and they become her loyal followers.

The story continues in The Goblin Gate, and ends in The Goblin War. Both of these books are equally as good as the first. In some sense, the stories follow similar paths because it is essentially the same conflict--humans against goblins--but each book adds a new facet to the story and the whole thing comes to a very satisfying finale.

I had never really given much thought to goblins before. Never read books that focused on them. These two series--with very different takes on goblins--have opened my eyes to them, though. I highly recommend you get out and gobble some goblin books.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

End with your Hook

I’m going to do something I’ve never done before—I’m going to give major spoilers about a book here.  If that bugs you, don’t read this beyond where I mark the spoilers. But I have to do this, because my point in writing this post is to illustrate why authors need to have good endings to their books.

So much of learning about writing focuses on “the hook.” You have to grab the reader in the first chapter. Oh, no—I mean the first couple of pages. No, wait, it’s the first paragraph. Uh-uh. The first sentence. There are even whole books about writing craft that focus specifically on the first five pages. It’s that important.

You may find a book or two, a blog post here and there, the occasional workshop, on “middles.” The middle of the book does have to keep the reader reading. Sure.

But what about endings?

I, personally, would rather have a book start slow. Give me good writing, yes. Give me a character I can connect with. But I don’t need to be “hooked” by some clever line, or some odd or intense action scene. I want to get to know my characters, and in some sense, I like to have stories sneak up on me. I would prefer a book to start slow, making me take time to warm up to it, and then grip me tighter and tighter throughout. I want the *ending* of a book to leave me begging for more.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld did that. The first several chapters were world building. I was getting to know the character of Tally. It was enough to hold my interest, but I can’t say I was blown away by the first chapters—but I could tell more was coming. I LIKE the anticipation of wondering what is going to be discovered LATER. You see, I have this assumption when I start a book: it’s a book because there is a story to tell. I don’t need that story to slam me like a freight train the moment I open the first page to know it’s there.

More recently, the book Tyger, Tyger by Kersten Hamilton won me over this way. Lots of character building. Yes, there was some conflict—Teagan’s friend Abby had a dream the goblins would be coming. But the story moves at a slow pace in the beginning as we get to know the cast and gain the information necessary to understand the major action to come. And come it did. By the end, I couldn’t get to the library website fast enough to put the next book on hold.

Think about theme park rides. Many of them start off as stories. Splash Mountain tells the tale of Brer Rabbit with animatronics lining a slow moving “river.” The end of the ride is the big splash. But who would want to ride it if it were the other way around? Or…what if the whole ride was thrilling, and then the end was a complete dud?

See? Anticipation is what counts in rides like that. Get the thrill part over with in the beginning and have nothing as good afterward and riders will complain. Or have a thrilling ride end in a dud, and most riders leave the ride with a sour taste despite all the fun they had in the beginning—because they didn’t have that “wow” to look forward to. There was nothing to anticipate.

*Now comes the spoilers, folks.*

I finished reading a book yesterday called Dark Eden, by Patrick Carman. The book starts off with this blurb by the main character, Will Besting, which is actually sort of part of the ending. No, that’s not right—you find out at the end that it’s a thought he had during his experience at Fort Eden.

Because I knew.
That’s what I’ll say when they ask.
I knew, and I was afraid.

It sounds all creepy and suspenseful at first, and then you get to the end and discover it’s really meaningless. Of course he’s afraid. He’s got anthrophobia (fear of people).

Will and six other kids his age are chosen to go to Fort Eden to receive a cure for various phobias. They are taken to a building deep in the woods. Will is too scared to go in, and you find out partway through it’s because he’s so afraid of people. He discovers a bomb shelter in the basement of the bunker next to the main building where he hides.

There are video monitors that show the various rooms inside the main building. How convenient. Will, of course, thinks he’s really lucky. It’s obviously a set-up. But, because we’re dealing with kids who have serious mental issues, it seems acceptable. You know something is coming as he watches each of the other kids get “cured” by being hooked up to this funky helmet with wires that connect to the ceiling and experience their moments of greatest fear. So it’s no surprise when Will is trapped in the bomb shelter and discovers that the headphones he’s wearing to listen in on what he sees on the monitors are actually a modified helmet.

Each kid is, as I said, cured by experiencing their biggest fears. Those fears show up on the monitors as well, as though the images in their heads being displayed. If this was ever explained, it must have been in the last couple of pages which I couldn’t bear to read. At that point I was so mad at the book’s ending I could barely see straight, much less read. So we have psychotherapy, complete with mad scientists. The main doctor, who goes simply by Rainsford. Will’s doc, Dr. Stevens. And the groundskeeper, a codgy old woman named Mrs. Groning.

Will is never “caught,” of course. They know where he is the whole time. Although he does sneak in a few times and speak with a couple of the other kids. All the character interaction and relationship building though is for nothing. It has not a stinking thing to do with the ending.

Each kid also ends up with some side effect from the treatment. Joint pain, vertigo, fatigue, headaches, hearing loss, etc.

OK, following so far? It really does sound like a story with serious potential.

And then the kids all get to leave at the end. No attempt by anyone to keep them there. You’re cured. Sorry about the side effects. Go home to your families and live out your lives. None of them remembers anything about their cure experience, but they are all happy just to be cured.

Will, however, is given something by Mrs. Groning as he leaves. He’d entered Fort Eden with a digital recorder, and she ‘d added some audio files. It was her, telling the story of who Rainsford and Dr. Stevens are, and who she is herself.

Rainsford was her husband, and Dr. Stevens is her daughter. And the children’s “cure” was a side effect of Rainsford stealing their blood. Yep, he’s a vampire, and he hooks himself up to the kids to exchange blood with them, ridding himself of his old, contaminated blood—which is why they all end up with “old people” symptoms (rolls eyes)—and taking in their blood flooded with chemicals produced by intense fear, which is what he feeds on, what makes him turn young again.

ALL of the explanation is given in the last several pages, with Mrs. Groning telling Will via the digital recorder.

Made. Me. Want. To. Scream.

A vampire? Really? Not a HINT of anything supernatural in the whole rest of the book. And if Groning actually cared about the kids, why was she so mean to them? Spitting in their food—which Will saw her do and still ate it. Ew. And why even bother telling Will? I mean, he’s not going to do anything about it. It was just a way for the author to tell the reader what was “really” going on, rather than integrating it into the story and letting the reader discover it. 

Actually, there were mini versions of that technique throughout, that bugged me each time, but were mixed in with enough suspense to make me forgive them. But really? Will makes some rather hefty jumps to conclusions, or statements of the obvious and it was obviously the author not wanting to lead the reader. Instead, he’d have something happen, then Will would state specifically what is going on “The headphones were really a helmet!” Duh.

Lazy, lazy author. Ugh.

I’ve read other books that do this. Page-turning plot and a complete dud of an ending. Ted Dekker is a big one. Yes, go ahead, throw the tomatoes. I’ve liked a few of his books, but they mostly make me want to throw them across the room when I get to the end, so I’ve quit reading his stuff. Another book that did this was The Maze Runner by James Dashner. This one, Dark Eden by Patrick Carman, has been the worst by far, though.

I beg of you, dear writers. Think about the endings of your books. A twist is fine! But is it really a twist if you are telling one story and then turn it into something else? To me, this kind of ending is like having the main character wake up and discover everything is a dream.

Endings, even twist ones, need to come organically. You can’t tell one story, and then tack on a big explanation at the end saying that it was all really something else, haha! Yes, maybe a good portion of information can be saved for the last part of the story—we’re all familiar with the villain monologue. But make it integrated, not what is essentially an appendix at the end.

So, sorry if I’ve spoiled a book for you. But it had to be done. This kind of writing atrocity makes my blood boil. I’ve been told a few times that Finding Angel is a little slower in the beginning than some people like. BUT every reader I’ve had so far has agreed that the ending completely sucked them in. I can totally live with that. I’d rather create a story that builds from good to better to best, than a story that starts with a bang and ends with a dud. A hook at the beginning is fine, but if it lets loose during the story, even three pages from the end of the book, the reader isn’t going to stick with that author. But if in the end the hook is still firmly in place…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Map Across Time by C.S. Lakin

I enjoyed the first book in C.S. Lakin's Gates of Heaven Series, The Wolf of Tebron. I'd read Grace Bridges' review and it sounded like something right up my alley--"a fairy tale for adults." It's a great story.

I liked The Map Across Time even better, though!

The Gates of Heaven series isn't a real series in that the books can be read out of order. They take place in the same world, but aren't necessarily chronological.

The Map Across Time is the story of twins, Adin and Aletha. Their mother the queen is deathly ill. Their father the king is suffering the effects of the curse that has invaded their land. Their future is doomed until Adin stumbles across a talking pig who brings him to a hermit's house. And the hermit leads Adin to a map that will take him back in time, where Adin must find the cause of the curse and its cure.

The concept is simple. The execution is not. The story is complex, and rich, and twisty is such a lovely way! Time travel is one of those concepts that makes my brain feel as if it's being pinched. I just can't wrap my mind around the paradox. Lakin, though, laid out a story that wove the crossed-over timeline perfectly. Brilliant.

The only--and I mean only--thing that bothered me was the use of the "old language." Where words in italics were thrown in here and there, words that all seemed to have randomly placed apostrophes. I doubt this will bother most people, but it is a pet peeve of mine. I will say that their use thinned out as the book went on, and it never once got even close to bugging me enough to make me stop reading. Every ounce of the rest of the book was enjoyable. And the use of the old language was actually integral to the plot!

I highly recommend the book for fantasy and fairy tale fans. And I can't wait to read the third book, which just released, The Land of Darkness.

Oh, and while looking up the links for the above, I noticed that The Map Across Time is on sale at Amazon in print for $6! Go get it NOW!.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Giveaway Winner

So, yes, I know I said in my Un-Grinching Giveaway post that I'd be announcing the winner on December 13th. Well, I changed my mind and am announcing today. The entries rather died off right there at the end, I want to thank those of you who jumped in right away!

I numbered all the entries and wrote those numbers on little slips of papers. My daughter picked one out of a bowl. Yep, I like to do it the old-fashioned way :).

And the winner is...lucky number 11...

Joy Hannabass!

Joy, I've sent you an email already. Hope to hear from you soon so I can get those books in the mail and you will hopefully have them before Christmas in case any are meant as gifts. BTW, Fred Warren, author of Odd Little Miracles (one of the giveaway books) offered to send a signed copy in place of my unsigned one. Fred is so awesome!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Two or Three...At Least or Only?

Remember in my last blog post I said I was inspired by something Sunday morning that would likely turn into my next blog post? Well, here it is. This all occurred to me while watching church (the one we've attended the last couple of years) on the internet. We stayed home Sunday morning, having been out very late the night before at a friend's Christmas party. I was very glad we stayed home, because the service we watched, imho, was a circus. Had I been there, I'd have walked out. 

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.
(Matthew 18:20 KJV)

People tend to read that verse as though the words “at least” are in there. “For where at least two or three are gathered…” See? That is the meaning it has always implied to me. Like it’s okay if you don’t have hundreds gathered, because Jesus is present even if you only have a few. But there seems to be an implication that while there’s nothing wrong with two or three, it’s a minimum. More people are still expected. Big groups are the norm, better somehow, but two or three will do if that’s all you have.

But I wonder if maybe it can be looked at the other way. Maybe having “only” two or three gathered is preferential.

Churches these days tend to be all about growing, reaching out, drawing people in. Bigger sanctuaries, multiple services. The church I’ve been attending the last couple of years has started to use what they call “video venues”—where the pastor speaks in person during one service while being recorded. The video is then played at other services that weekend. It’s all because the church is growing by leaps and bounds.

Sure, they push small group meetings—Life Groups—which take place in host houses and involve intimate groups instead of large congregations. But they have felt to me like tentacles still attached to the creature that is the main church.

My family has decided to leave this church. Partly because they have grown so large. We can’t find a way to get connected. We feel the services are turning into performances. Light shows on the wall during the music, dramatic "spontaneous" praying over the congregation...that to me comes across as orchestrated and practiced. Bigger has definitely not equated to better in our minds regarding church in the past, and this has been no exception.

On the other hand, we’ve had some of the most amazing God moments with fellow Christians when there were only a handful of us gathered in situations quite totally non-church related. I personally have felt God’s presence very often while just talking on the phone with a friend, discussing situations in our lives and how we’ve turned to Him. Discussing Bible verses and lessons learned from other Christians. And those moments were generally more powerful than anything I’ve experienced inside a church.

It’s like the distractions disappear. There are no Sunday clothes to put on, no fighting the kids into the car, no tromping across the parking lot. No sit-down-stand-up-sit-down-stand-up.  No finding a seat, no following a program. Instead it’s all spur of the moment, from the heart, in the heat of it, connecting between two or three people and the God they are sharing about.

I’m not saying I think church is a bad thing. My family has every intention of finding a new one, although we’ll be looking for a bit smaller than the old one. What I’m saying is that I’m not sure God intended for Christians to feel they must all cram together in one spot. He can be all places at all times, which means if we all gathered in groups of two or three He’d still be able to hang with all of us at once. And without the distraction of crowded lobbies and strobe lights we’re able to give Him more focus.

So think of that next time you read, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” Don’t let “at least” sneak in there.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ow, Wow, it's Monday!

This has probably been one of the longest and most exhausting weekends of my life. Not in a bad way, though. My family spent the day at Legoland in Winter Haven, FL, on Friday with our homeschool group. It was crazy fun, although I can't recommend it if you're paying full price. Get in with a group for a discount somehow, seriously. Still the "Miniland" area alone was worth the trip. All the Lego models of American cities--so cool! The detail is incredible. Here are a couple of examples:

Kennedy Space Center

New York City
Those are pics I found online. I, of course, took my camera--but, of course, left the battery in the charger, so the camera was useless. Sigh....

Fortunately, I had my phone with me, but it's picture taking capabilities are not exactly top-notch, and the battery was sucked dry halfway through the day. I have no photos to share here, as I haven't figured out how to load them onto my computer from my phone yet. Not that you all want to see pics of my kids with blurry Lego stuff in the background anyway.

Legoland is built on what used to be Cypress Gardens, which was nearly destroyed years ago by a storm and the owner couldn't afford to rebuild. So he sold to Lego, and they were awesome enough to leave a botanical garden area to roam around. The center of that area has this incredible Banyan tree:

Again, photo not taken by me, but oh, my. I want to build the world's most awesome tree house and live in one of these! Not sure what it is about cool trees and forests that draws me so. I am beginning to wonder if I was a druid in past life or something ;).

The rest of the weekend was fun and exciting for me, but likely boring for you, so I won't go into detail. Suffice it to say it involved a writers meeting and a Christmas party, and accomplishing a lot of "stuff" around my house.

On Sunday morning I was inspired to ponder on some things that will likely be my next blog post, when I actually have time to formulate my thoughts.

And don't forget to check out my last blog post and enter the contest for the four-book giveaway if you haven't already!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Un-Grinching Giveaway

I am normally not Grinchy at all, but this year...
I am normally one of those crazy people who actually doesn't get at all annoyed when stores start putting out Christmas stuff before Halloween. Despite my penchant for horror writing, Halloween is a holiday I can do without. No, it has nothing to do with me not liking its evil roots--that's not an issue with me--it's just the idea of spending $30 on a costume for each kid so they can wear it for about two hours, griping the whole time about how this is too loose and that is too tight, so they can collect a pile of candy, more than half of which will go in the trash. So, fine by me to skip right on past Halloween straight to Christmas. I love the decorations, the music...the movies!

Most years, the inside of my house is decorated all but the tree itself a week or so before Thanksgiving. I try to hold out, I really do, but always give in. I start with multiple Nativity scenes, one of which is hand-painted by me, then go on to my nutcracker collection. A smattering of miscellaneous figurines and wreaths get spread around. Then the very day after Thanksgiving, the tree and outside lights go up.

My daughter IS this cute, or the decorations might still not be up!
But this year I've had an oddly hard time getting into the Christmas spirit. Not a single decoration went up before Thanksgiving. Actually, it took my daughter begging me to put the tree up all day--aaaallll daaaay--on Monday to get me to start pulling out boxes. I didn't put up everything, either. Yep, even half my nutcrackers went back into the box and into the closet.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, I need to do something to get me feeling Christmas-y. I thought maybe giving some books away might help.

So, I am going to run a contest for one copy each of four books. As in, if you win, you get all four.

They are as follows:

A signed copy of my novel, MG fantasy Finding Angel.

Angel doesn't remember her magical heritage...but it remembers her.
Magic and science collide when she embarks on a journey to her true home, and to herself.
Angel lives with a loving foster family, but dreams of a land that exists only in the pages of a fantasy novel. Until she meets Gregor, whose magic Talent saves her life and revives lost memories.

A signed-by-me copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens, which contains my story "Armored and Dangerous" (a tale about the time I found strength in a very odd place when faced by a bully).

A signed-by-me copy of Aquasynthesis, the anthology featuring short stories by all the Splashdown Books authors. Three of my stories are found inside.

A not-signed-by-anyone-because-I-ordered-it-from-Amazon-and-the-author-lives-in-Kansas-but-I-live-in-Florida copy of Odd Little Miracles by Fred Warren. It is a collection of his short stories, which are what made me buy his book, The Muse, which is what got me interested in Splashdown Books as a potential publisher because I *adore* his writing.

These are all brand-new, unread copies, that I bought to sell. So, if you enter but happen to have one of the titles already, think "gift." :D

Now, how to enter.

I hate trying to track these things, to be honest. I want to make it easy on you, and on me. Each of the following gives you one entry:

  • Leave a comment here, on THIS POST. (If you comment any-ole-where on the blog it makes it very hard for me to track it down.)
  • Friend me and/or become a "fan" on Goodreads and send me a message.

*Make sure your comment or message states that you are interested in the giveaway, please!*

I will contact the winner on December 13th, so if you are giving one or more titles away they'll reach you before Christmas. (I hope.) (I really should have thought of this earlier...)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Back to the Future "Huh?" Moments

I bought the complete Back to the Future trilogy on DVD for my husband's birthday. We've had a blast watching them the last couple of nights.

I LOVE these movies. They are fabulous fun, and of course totally nostalgic for me :). But watching them this time, I couldn't help picking up stuff I've never noticed before. Stuff that made me think, "Did the writers check facts at all?" and "Why did they choose that?"

The time machine / DeLorean left trails of the part of the road *past* the point at which it disappeared, but not where the tires actually touched the pavement.

In the scene at the end of the first movie, when Doc is at the top of the clock tower, he tells Marty they only have four minutes left. Marty takes two minutes to get in the car, drive it to the starting point, turn around, stall the car, and struggle to get the car started again. Then it takes him two minutes to drive the *same distance* at top speed, barely making it to the wire in time.

After that, Doc uses the street in front of Marty's house to take off in the DeLorean, hitting 88 miles/hour with no problem within the length of the street. But after Doc comes back moments later to get Marty, Marty points out that the street isn't long enough, and they have to fly the now-converted DeLorean.

In Part 2, they go into the future:

TVs are now wall-size, but the resolution is still crappy. Same for printers. The whole house is computerized, with pizza re-hydrators, yet the printer is this dot-matrix dinosaur.

There are no cell phones--but there are hover-boards and flying cars.

Books have dust-resistant paper. This cracks me up. They didn't even conceive of the idea of electronic books! I'm not dissin' 'em. I just think it is funny how our thoughts of what would be don't line up with where technology actually leads.

And finally, two things that just popped out at me and made me go, "Hey, cool! I didn't remember that!"

George McFly ends up a sci-fi author and gets a box filled with copies of his first book :). I wanted to high-five him!

The guy that played Needles is FLEA from Red Hot Chili Peppers.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the cool, weird, and messed up stuff in Back to the Future. Just a few things that popped out at me this time around. And there will be many more times around watching these movies.

So...what's the most memorable odd, cool, or "what were they thinking?" thing you've noticed in a movie?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Interview With Caprice Hokstad

I have two main types of writer friends. Those whose writing is outside my preferred genre / personal taste, but I happen to find them to be really cool people. The other group includes those whose writing I fell in love with first, and that led me to respect them as writers. That respect eventually grew into genuine friendship--because they're really cool people. The latter is the case with Caprice Hokstad.

Caprice and I are both published by Splashdown Books. I was honored to originally do artwork for her first novel, The Duke's Handmaid (the key on the cover is mine). After reading the novel, I was doubly honored. Her books are original, heady, and left me contemplating. They read smoothly, and her characterization is one of her (many) strong points.

Today, I'm jumping inside her head a bit. I find some of the concepts in her book fascinating--and controversial. This is not the standard, "So, when did you start writing?" kind of interview....

The key on the cover is my artwork.
K: Caprice, Your books take place in a kingdom where slavery is the norm. It's not in general depicted as a "good" thing, but it is depicted as completely acceptable. And your main character actually *chooses* to become a slave in order to "better" her life. This is a very unusual idea, especially these days, and could be considered pretty controversial. Can you explain why you chose to write about a society with slavery? And why make Kee *want* such a life?

C: Most of us ARE enslaved to one degree or another. We just don't use that term. Example: How many people can just walk into their place of employment and tell the boss he is an A.H. (and I mean saying the actual words)? We can't. Why? Because we NEED that job. Without income, we lose our house, our car, our means to buy food. Okay, so we could get a different job (good luck on a character reference if you actually DID call the boss an A.H.). But we can't just decide not to work at all. (Let's not cloud the issue with welfare bums). You have to trade your nice warm bed and sleep every morning for a paycheck. You have to hold your tongue and adopt certain attitudes and habits. You may have to follow a dress code or wear a uniform. That's just reality.

People in our world are trapped in less-than-ideal circumstances by lack of education, poverty, place of birth, skin color, and the list goes on and on. Very few people are truly free to do only what they want all the time.

So my Kingdom of Latoph is not as different as it may seem. Let's look at Kee's options: when her mother dies, she leaves her daughter a henhouse and some chickens. That's it. No home to live in, because it was burned by marauders. Kee tricked an Elva farmhand to teach her to read, but if she stays a chicken farmer, she'll have almost zero opportunity to read. She doesn't like chickens. She gets scared thinking about having to protect them from wolves. Just getting water to them every day is a huge pain in the butt because she has to haul it up from the stream in buckets. By herself.

She can sell the chickens and move into town and hire herself out as a seamstress. She has no shop or start-up money to buy fabric, so she has to work for someone. Ooops, there it is. Working for someone. She actually plans to do this during her mourning period, using sale of her chickens to pay rent. But then she has to react to another event and that puts her on a different path.

When the duke put her up in his guest house during his "posse", she saw more luxury than she's ever seen in her life: running water inside the house, a flushing toilet, tasty and plentiful food, beds with feather mattresses, glass windows, carpets, and books. The duke's slaves wear clean, new-looking clothes and they eat well and they're very kindly treated. Yes, to us, the treatment looks more like how someone should treat pets, but to Kee, it looks like affection and with her entire family gone, that's appealing. And of course, she's got a crush on Duke Vahn.

Maybe I should answer your question with another question. Why do people in our country join the military? Voluntarily even! They have to give up lots of personal freedom and even some of their rights. And the pay is terrible. Why would anyone do that? I'm sure the answers vary. Some do it for love of country. Some for promise of an education. Some just love the job and can't find anything comparable in the private sector. (How many other employers will pay you to drive a tank or pilot a fighter jet?) Yet we respect those who join the military, those who set aside their freedom to don a uniform and serve something bigger than themselves. Why is it any less virtuous to give up some rights and devote oneself to serving an important governing figure in my fantasy setting? Oh yeah. Because she's scrubbing floors and bowing instead of shooting guns and saluting.

K: That makes sense. Kee's life doesn't offer her much and I can see why she would see that slavery in the Duke's house would appeal to her. Instead of tromping through chicken crap and bathing in the stream (where she is likely to get attacked anyway) she can scrub the floors of a mansion and *live* in that mansion. 

What things did you struggle with in trying to make Kee's life choice seem like an honorable one? Have you gotten opposition from readers? Maybe grief for presenting a female MC who isn't all female warrior and secret ninja like so many female leads today? (Did your inner editor scream at my use of the word "female" three times in that last sentence?)

C: My inner editor has the day off. I don't think I've gotten "opposition" as much as just indifference. I think the subject matter does bother people and rather than start a controversy or question it, they just decline to read. And that's their right. I, myself, am a very picky reader. I don't like the majority of fantasy out there because of those very things you mention. Why must a female pick up a sword and act like a man to be worthy of interest? I don't relate to that. Women are strong all the time without becoming warriors or sex objects or damsels in distress. Why can't fiction show women like that?

I don't know if I succeeded in making Kee's life choice seem honorable to readers. I think she's brave and selfless. I find that honorable, but I'm sure others would disagree with me.

As for opposition... would someone PLEASE ban my book? Hold a burning? Denounce it? I could use the publicity.

K: Hah! That would be great publicity, wouldn't it? 

You've answered in other interviews (such as the one at NAF) about the lack of overt Christianity in your novel. I know the whole thing is kind of a thorn in your side. You are a Christian, but your book was never intended to be labeled as "Christian fiction." You were writing a story that appealed to you. I've read both The Duke's Handmaid and Nor Iron Bars a Cage. I haven't seen anything in there that would keep it out of the general market. Maybe not "mainstream" since it's technically genre writing, but definitely not pigeonholed as "Christian." BUT, Grace Bridges, who happens to own a Christian spec-fic publishing house, is the brave soul who took a chance on your novels, and I know you are happy with her and her publishing. So...what has been the biggest obstacle presented by this relabeling of your novels as "Christian" (or at least seemingly directed at the Christian market)?

C: The biggest obstacle is explaining. Whenever I see it labeled "Christian Fiction" I try to clarify because there are way too many definitions out there and my fiction doesn't fit a lot of them. In my books, there's violence. (YOU write a society that uses swords for defense and keep the blood out!) There's seduction of an underage slavegirl. There's raping and pillaging. There's cursing. It's NOT sanitized to CBA norms. It's not meant for a YA audience, like the vast majority of fantasy available in Christian Bookstores is. It's allegorical. It's set in a different reality where they call God "The Nymphs" or "The Heavenlies" which sounds polytheistic, but think about it, we call God "The Trinity". Genesis 1:26 says "And God said, Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness..." [emphasis mine] Hmm. Plurals. Yet, we consider ourselves monotheistic. Imagine that.

I don't label my work "Christian Fiction" and I discourage others from doing so without a CLEAR definition of what they mean. But so far, my work has been so obscure and ignored, that I haven't really had to do much defending. My biggest problem is finding the readers that might be interested in my book and coaxing them to try it. I've had fans who are Wiccan, Mormon, and atheist. I'm not trying to preach to them or to anyone else. I'm not a preacher. I'm just a storyteller.

And the shackles on this one, too.
K: I mentioned in the last question that your book is "genre"--falling into the category of fantasy. Yet, your books are not traditional fantasy. There is a pointy-eared race, but they are not "elves" in the traditional sense. You have no other races or creatures commonly found in most fantasy novels. (No dwarves, orcs, unicorns, dragons, etc.) The books actually, in many ways, to me at least, seem rather literary. They certainly are heavy on characterization and social issues. How exactly do you personally classify your novels? Are there specific genre labels you would place on them--either already existing or terms you have made up? What other books/authors do you most associate your "genre" with? (And just to be difficult, I'm going to make the rule that you must leave out Lewis and Tolkien, since you mentioned those in the NAF interview. Mwoohoohahahahaha.)

C: I call my books Sword Opera. I made up that Fantasy sub-genre to differentiate from "Sword and Sorcery" since I have no sorcery and "High Fantasy" which is usually about a quest. It is meant to be analogous to "Space Opera", which is commonly applied to Star Wars to differentiate it from "Hard" Science Fiction. I have never tried to lump any other author into my self-applied label. I'm not sure anyone else would want to be there.

I do use a few science fiction-y elements. Byntar (the name of my world) is not just an alternate Earth. It has two suns and two moons. It has some "fantastic" creatures, but they aren't mystical or magic. Koopchucks are strong draft animals that look like shaggy hippos and have especially smelly dung. Zupwolves are like miniature wolves. Think of being attacked by shelties instead of German shepherds. Still not fun, but conceivably survivable. I kind of regret not putting in dragons, because that might have helped me market the book, but then the dragon-crazy would probably complain that I cheated them. I don't dislike dragons, but I don't understand the whole ga-ga over them either. I'd probably only be putting them there to unfairly lure readers who would cry bait-and-switch when the story isn't about dragons at all.

Literary, huh? No one else has ever told me that. I'd never intended it to be anything but fantasy-adventure, but I suppose as a catch-all, it could apply.

K: I like that term: Sword Opera. I think it fits well. And I tend to think of "literary" books as those that have me pondering when I put them down, and yours did so for me.

What books are you drawn toward reading? What is it about a book that grabs your attention and/or makes you fall in love with the story and/or characters? And if you were the reader of your own books, what would those things be in them?

C: First off, I read to escape reality. A writer must give me a better reality to escape to. This is why dystopias don't generally interest me much. However, I have been known to find plot devices within certain dystopias that offset the bleak setting. For example, in Frank Creed's Flashpoint, I dislike the state of the world, BUT when he gives the Christian "Underground" what amounts to spiritual superpowers via "re-forming", then I can set aside the bleakness of the rest of the world. I could enjoy living there if I could also get re-formed.

Of course, in my own books, I made Latoph a place I'd love to visit or live in. Authors  spend MUCH more time imagining themselves in their settings than the readers probably ever will.

It also helps to give me characters I love or love-to-hate. Please do NOT make the main protagonist someone I'd avoid in real life if we met. Please do NOT make the protagonist someone I want to slap upside the head either because they're monumentally stupid or whiney. I have children. I get quite enough of whiney in the real world, thanks.

And most of all, do not depress me. I want to feel BETTER after reading fiction, not worse. I'm not saying there can't be sad events, although keep the gut-wrenching, bawl-my-eyes-out scenes to a minimum, please.

Beyond that, I gravitate towards science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and suspense. I don't typically read the romance genre, but I don't mind romance as part of a plot that includes other things. I think I already covered how my books have lots of elements in them from romance to adventure to mystery.

K: Who is your favorite side character (as in not Kee, not Vahn) and why? (You know my answer on this! Blackthorn!)

C: Well, if I can't choose Vahn, then it would probably have to be Blackthorn. Blackthorn is sort of a Vahn-surrogate in the first book. In the second book, he has to train the duke as a slave and that made for a very interesting situation. By the third book, I have him really reaching outside the box and becoming a "landlubber admiral". He's the guy whose path to knighthood got cut short, who had to figure out another way to make something of himself. He's the "everyman" who can achieve great things by working hard.

K: Maybe that is why I like him so much, too. I felt I could really relate to him--he seemed very real, genuine.

Let's jump ship now (pun intended--read on, readers). Besides your Latoph novels, you also write fan fiction. Sea Quest fan-fic, to be specific. (Get the pun now, readers? Yes you may roll your eyes.) I'm not going to ask you to recap all your reasons for writing fan-fic. You've posted about it on your blog in detail, and anyone who is truly interested can read about it there. But the whole fan-fic thing to me is interesting. I've never personally been drawn to it. I suppose it is because I consider it sort of treading on sacred ground. If I adore Harry Potter, I don't want to muck around with the story and characters. I love it because of how the author wrote it and don't feel comfortable stepping into her shoes. But I *can* see how one would want to be a participant in the world, and how that would lead to writing fan-fic. Or, as in your case, a writer for the show disappointed you and you felt compelled to "fix" the episode. So, let's ask some questions. 

C: Wait. Before you ask, let me touch on one of your points. I don't see what I do as quite the same as Harry Potter fanfiction would be. I'll tell you why. Harry Potter was ALL J.K. Rowling. She didn't collaborate with anyone else. It was all her baby. SeaQuest is NOT any one person's "baby". Yes, it was created by Rockne S. O'Bannon. But after he created it, he did NOT write all the episodes or even most of them. Spielberg had a LOT of writers contributing to the show. Three authorized novels were published and even the first one (which is basically just the novelization of the pilot) is listed as authored by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood, just "based on" O'Bannon's TV script. The other two published books are by David Bischoff and Matthew Costello. So if to use Mr. O'Bannon's created universe is "stepping into his shoes" then lots of others did it long before I did, and they got PAID to do it.

Another point would be that, unlike the continuing franchise of Harry Potter (Rowling still sells a LOT of books, plus DVDs, merchandise, not to mention a theme park), there is NO continuing franchise for SeaQuest. All the books are out of print. I had to get them used. They had a teeny bit of merchandising back in the 90s, but nothing new is being produced. Only the first two seasons are available on DVD. I also seem to remember that Spielberg once said he considered the show a failure and an embarrassment. I have a hard time seeing my writing as "treading on sacred ground" when the creators have dissed it and abandoned it. I'm giving the poor, unwanted orphans a new lease on life.

K: I definitely see the distinction there.  

Have the unique challenges of writing fan-fic--such as trying to stay consistent to an existing story world that you did not create--helped you with your writing outside of fan-fic? In what other ways has it either benefited or hurt your writing? And by that I mean craft, not success of.

C: Fanfiction brought back the joy that had been missing for a long time. I go into the particulars of that in the blog, but suffice it to say that it has helped all my writing to have that back. It also helped me see that my natural writing speed was not so bad. Just because I cannot write 50,000 words in the month of November does NOT mean I'm a failure or "slow".

I'm not saying my fanfiction couldn't benefit from a round of critique and editing, but you know what? The chapters I have posted without it (because it was for FUN, not for publication to be sold) are not that bad at all. In fact, some of it is my very best writing EVER. I constantly self-edit. I get it closer to right the first time because I feel more experienced and my confidence has soared because of fanfiction and the readers there.

My third original book, God willing, will be written, critiqued, edited, revised and polished to publication-ready status in under eight months, start-to-finish. Maybe others can get a book out faster than that, and if you can, more power to ya. I may not be the fastest writer around, but I no longer feel inferior with regards to speed.

K: For a while, you tried to keep your novel writing and fan-fic separate, even using a pen name for your Sea Quest writing. What was your reasoning behind separating like that? I'm curious because my writing spans a rather odd gamut between inspirational nonfiction, fantasy, and horror. I also thought of using separate names but chose to write everything under my real name because I like the idea of being seen as, well, odd in that I write so diversely. Did you find the separation to be help, hindrance, or neutral? Would you change it if you could go back and do so?

C: (the site where I posted my stories first) requires people to make up a "handle" to sign in there, like most places on the internet do. I used CF Vici because I know it's generally not taken by someone else and I didn't know what kind of weirdoes might stalk around the place. I did eventually share my real name on my profile, but after building a "following", I certainly didn't want to confuse anyone by changing the name they were used to seeing. If I ever got permission to publish the fanfiction as authorized (and yes, this is one of my far-fetched goals) I would probably use CF Vici, but I'd also be open to using my own name if anyone thought it would be useful or advantageous. I've heard good and bad for both sides of the argument. It does help with reader expectations if you've previously been writing fantasy to give you room to write science fiction in a different style. I'm not sure I have much value in "crossover". Most people who like my fantasy aren't interested in the sci-fi and vice-versa. But I don't have a big fanbase to really worry about. I don't think the name matters much, to tell the truth.

K: Thanks, Caprice, for letting us tromp around inside your head a bit. I know as a fellow small press author, getting people to consider your books is a difficult task. I, for one, am truly glad I found them! And I hope everyone here sees that they are *not* typical, in a good way. 

So, dear readers, if you want to read something that's adventurous, with rich characters and a well thought-out story world...

The Duke's Handmaid: available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords

Nor Iron Bars a Cage: available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords

Caprice's blog:

Caprice's SeaQuest novels (read for free):

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Author Mistake #1

I discovered a new blog review of Finding Angel today. It was written in honesty, with both positives and negatives. The reviewer backed up their opinion with specifics, so whether things were personal opinion/taste or not, they were not arbitrary.


Upon first read, the only words that stuck out were the not-so-positives. The logical side of me truly appreciated that. I don't give glowing reviews generally and don't expect them in return. But the new-author-with-great-hopes in me felt a little kick, and inadvertently kicked back. I left a comment on the reviewer's blog thanking them--sincerely--but when I reread my comment (after submitting it, of course, because I am a total dork sometimes) I realized there was an edge of snark in one sentence that was not intended.

I've seen authors completely blow their stack over a negative review. I hope I never go to that extreme. This review, while not glowing, was not negative. It was more "not the best book ever but pretty good"-ish. And there was a lot of positive in it that on first read sank into the shadows because we new authors tend to get our hopes up. We put so much of ourselves into our novels, and if something comes across as even remotely close to "meh" in a review it can feel like a whip sting.

Skin needs a little time to toughen. Next time, I will remember that fact. And will likely move on to New Author Mistake #2.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Winterland by Mike Duran

Here we go, folks. Winterland, the newest, and very surreal, novella release by Mike Duran.

I reviewed Mike Duran's first novel, The Resurrection, and you can see here how I felt about it. One thing I didn't say in that review is that it wasn't entirely what I expected from Mike. Yes it was dark, and creepy (Mr. Cellophane....*shiver*) and definitely a supernatural thriller, but I expected the style of writing to be a little different. I don't know how to explain it. The Resurrection read like something written by Frank Peretti or Dean Koontz. Scary, but, um, normal?

Winterland is more like what I expected from him. Surreal. Mike describes it as "The Wizard of Oz meets Dante's Inferno." It also made me think a little bit of Alice in Wonderland with Stephen King a la Duma Key hiding in the corner. 

I know, you are shaking your head right now, aren't you?

OK, let's start with a summary. I'm taking this right off Mike's site:

Summoned into her dying mother’s coma, recovering addict Eunice Ames must traverse a surreal, apocalyptic dreamscape in search of three generational spirits who have imprisoned her mother’s soul.

Together with Joseph, a crippled drifter who serves as her guide, Eunice treks an abandoned highway strewn with debris from her mother’s “emotional” wars. 

(The rest of his synopsis, which goes into much more detail, can be found here.)

My take on it? The characterization was very strong. I got a real sense of Eunice and what she'd been through, even without having "met" her mother in the story. The other characters that accompany Eunice on her journey were vivid. I agree with reviewer Tim George that Mordant was annoying, but I believe that was Mike's intent. I mean--how do you get across that someone annoys another character to that degree without making that someone annoying to the reader? 

The descriptive language was fantastic. I could see every contour of the landscape, but Mike didn't go overboard with detail. The words he chose were just right, many of them poetic, dark, and lovely. I think this was my favorite element of the book.

Although there were a couple of small moments where I wish the corner-hiding Stephen King would have stepped out a little more. One spot in particular where I thought, "Mr. King would have my skin crawling here, and Mike should have." But it was isolated. For the most part he really got the feel of each scene and each character to a satisfying level.

And finally, the surreal nature of the story totally appealed to me. I'm not sure where I got the idea that this is what Mike's writing is like. I mean, before The Resurrection I'd read all of one short story by him. It probably fell somewhere between these two in feel, but I guess I assumed a novel by Mike would be even more outlandish. 

All in all, a very good read. Thinky and surreal. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Story Template by Amy Deardon

The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story is a new book by author Amy Deardon (A Lever Long Enough) who looks at story structure from a unique angle. Basically, Deardon watched a dozen or so movies and read a good number of books, all of which drew huge audiences, and analyzed them. She noted common elements of the stories that fall at very specific places in the time line, and used her findings to create a template on which to build a story.

Deardon also discusses the four "pillars" of story (character, plot, story world, and moral) and what encompasses each. There are exercises throughout that will help you through each portion of the template. And she touches on some basic principles of writing as well as gives a smattering of advice about editing and manuscript submission. Those last areas are by no means comprehensive, but  Deardon includes a great listing of resources for delving into them.

I don't want to give detail about the template itself or the pillars--well, because, I want you to go buy this book. I loved the concept Deardon has come up with. It's very scientific, but at the same time it allows for complete creativity. It's technical, but at the same time she gives so many examples and lists questions in each section of exercise that will easily guide you. There's a great summary of the template in the book, too, that makes for a great quick-reference once you've already read through and completed the exercises.

At first glance, you may think the book is strictly for those who love to outline their novels. And I definitely think it would be a huge benefit for that kind of writer. It lays out all the elements and helps you get everything in order, in the right proportion, and the various "pillars" interconnected. She recommends the use of note cards and story boards--things that make pantsers cringe.

BUT, I think all writers--outliners, pantsers, and hybrids--would benefit from this book, just in different ways. As I read through, I was mentally checking my already written and published novel, Finding Angel, against her recommendations. First, it was lovely to see that I apparently grasped a lot of this intuitively, as I was able to pretty much check off everything Deardon discussed. And as I did so, I couldn't help thinking what a great tool for someone who has finished a manuscript to go through and find if and where anything isn't right with their story! I believe wholeheartedly that if your manuscript seems "off" in any way, The Story Template will help you pinpoint why.

Deardon takes you through creating a one-sentence description of your story concept, to a larger description, to a full synopsis. If you've already written your manuscript, follow her techniques backwards to narrow down your story to a synopsis and then a one-line pitch. I wish I'd had this book when I was trying to do that for Finding Angel--I really think it would have made the process much less painful!

All in all, I highly recommend this book. More experienced writers may find the later writing, editing, and submission basics chapters something they can skim past, but they are great chapters for newer writers who need to know "what's the next step." And as I said, it makes for a excellent reference for all writers when either planning out their story before writing and/or evaluating it once the first draft is complete.

For more info, visit Amy Deardon's blog: The Story Template
And find the book on Amazon and B&

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Magical Discussion at "deCompose"

I'm the guest blogger today over at Mike Duran's blog, deCompose. Please come visit me, and feel free to comment with your thoughts on "Magic in Christian Fiction."

What is the difference between the "evil" magic the Bible warns us against and fairy tale magic? Why did I choose to write a book with magic if I'm a Christian? I talk about those things and welcome your questions.