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!