Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fatal Convictions--Defending an Imam Accused of an Honor Killing

I've been known to call Randy Singer the John Grisham of CBA and I'm sticking by that opinion. Except Randy's better. I always look forward to his next legal suspense and pick it up as soon as it's available. In Randy's novels you can expect well drawn characters in a hard-hitting legal situation. In other words, they're in a royal mess. And the subject matter typically isn't easy. Randy writes about issues others tend to leave alone.

Take his brand new release, Fatal Convictions. What is the protagonist--a Christian attorney--asked to do? Defend a Moslem imam in an "honor killing" case. Yikes. Whatever was that Singer guy thinking? Here's what he has to say for himself:

So, Randy, how did you come up with the idea for this story?

My idea for the book came when I asked this question: What makes To Kill A Mockingbird the best legal thriller of all time? My answer: Because Atticus Finch performed the highest duty of a lawyer, representing a man he believed was innocent, a man nobody else would defend. Then I asked a related question: What would that look like today? My answer was Fatal Convictions. A Christian lawyer defending a Muslim imam accused of honor killings.

Tell us a little about the plot.

Alex Madison is a Christian pastor and lawyer. (I know, a highly unusual combination!) He ends up landing a profitable personal injury case for a woman named Ghaniyah Mobassar, who happens to be the wife of a local Muslim imam. But when a different woman in the imam’s mosque is brutally murdered after she converts to Christianity, the imam is arrested for ordering the honor killing. Alex believes the imam is innocent and decides to defend him in the biggest murder case Virginia Beach has ever seen.

Alex immediately comes under fire from both the media and his own church members for taking the case. Things get complicated when the imam’s beautiful daughter arrives from Beirut, determined to help Alex out. Before it’s over, Alex will have to summon a level of courage and tenacity he never knew he possessed, defending a man whose culture is practically at war with everything Alex holds dear.

As the evidence mounts, so do Alex’s doubts. Is the imam an innocent reformer caught in an elaborate sting? Or is he a manipulative killer who will stop at nothing to advance the cause of Mohammed?

How did you research your book to ensure that the Islamic faith was realistically and fairly portrayed?

It was very important for me to portray Muslims authentically and accurately in this book. It was also important to show some of the diversity in the Muslim faith. Thus, the imam whom Alex defends is an ardent reformer (or at least he appears to be). For the nuances of this character, I relied heavily on the Islamic reformers portrayed in Joel Rosenberg’s excellent book Inside the Revolution. But there’s also a main character in Fatal Convictions named Hassan Ibn Talib, who is a committed Islamic radical. To portray Hassan accurately, I spent time with Kamal Saleem, a former Islamic terrorist and probably the most intense man I’ve ever met. With Kamal’s permission, I patterned the childhood, terrorist training and spiritual beliefs of my character after Kamal. In addition to this type of research, I’ve also spent time in Beirut, Lebanon, visiting my daughter who worked there with a ministry organization.

How prevalent are honor killings within the Muslim faith?

A lot more prevalent than most people realize. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions has reported honor killings in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda and the United Kingdom. According to the U.N.’s Population Fund, there are an estimated 5000 honor killings each year. In Egypt, 47% of the woman were killed (usually by a woman’s father or brothers) after the woman had been raped. Amnesty International even received a report about a man who killed his wife on the basis of a dream he had about her committing adultery.

Honor killing has found its way to the shores of America as well. For example, Fox News recently did a report on teenagers Amina and Sarah Said who were apparently killed by their father on New Year’s Day 2008 because they dated non-Muslim boys. There’s also the case of Faleh Almaleki in Arizona, who brutally beat his own daughter and then ran over her in his SUV to prevent her from dishonoring the family by adopting an American lifestyle. “For an Iraqi,” he said, “honor is the most valuable thing. No one messed up our life except Noor.” Sadly, Faleh’s wife supported him.

Now, you’re a lawyer…and a pastor…and so is your main character, Alex Madison. How closely does Alex’s life reflect your life?

I’ve been asked that question a lot. Other than our occupations, Alex and I have little in common. The church where I have the privilege of serving as pastor is very different than the quarrelsome and disputatious group that Alex pastors. I attended law school (and now teach at one), whereas Alex took the bar after serving a three-year apprenticeship with his grandfather. This is called “reading the law” and is one way to get a law license in Virginia. And while Alex and I are both trial lawyers, I’m not as theatrical and gimmick-driven as he is. I certainly don’t engage in the same shameless solicitation of clients—I’d prefer to keep my law license.

You like to address controversial issues in your novels—the last few have dealt with the insanity plea, gun control, and now, Muslim honor killings. Why do you choose controversial issues?

First and foremost, because I think addressing these controversial issues makes for interesting stories. We read stories with the heart. And when something is controversial we react strongly to it—in other words, it grabs our heart.

But the second reason I pick these kinds of areas is that I want to challenge readers to look at things through a slightly different lens. On controversial issues like these, we tend to construct a lot of automatic defenses and reactions when somebody asks us to look at these issues in a non-fiction context. But stories bypass those intellectual defenses and go right to the heart. And sometimes, by putting ourselves in the shoes of a character in the story, we can see these important issues from a slightly different perspective.

Isn’t that what Jesus did—address the hot button issues, like the legalism of the Pharisees, by telling a story? After all, who do you think the older brother represented in the story of the prodigal son?

Nearly every person who has been accused of a crime in this country has legal representation, no matter how heinous the crime. How does a lawyer defend someone when there is overwhelming evidence of guilt?

Since I try civil cases, not criminal cases, I’m not confronted with this dilemma. Personally, I really must believe in my client’s case to be an effective advocate. I’ll turn down cases I don’t believe in. But you are right, somebody has to defend those accused of a crime even when there is evidence of overwhelming guilt. And I believe that Christian lawyers can do this without compromising their integrity.

First, by remembering that as a lawyer, you are not the judge and jury. Many times, somebody will “appear” guilty at first blush, even though they are actually innocent. Under our system, as you mentioned, everybody is entitled to an advocate.

But second, for the Christian lawyer, by focusing on mercy and grace while realizing that it’s the job of the prosecutor to focus on bringing this person to justice. Look at the example of Jesus in John, chapter 8, when he advocated for the woman caught in the very act of adultery. Under the law, she was guilty. But Christ was able to save her through a “technicality” (let him who is without sin cast the first stone) and then he counseled her to “go and sin no more.” This is the model for Christian lawyers who find themselves in the same circumstances—advocate and counsel.

One of the things that you have said that you treasure is freedom of religion in this country. What does that mean on a practical level?

We need to remember that religious liberty is always eroded at the margins. This means that the unpopular faiths are limited first. That’s why, as Christians, we need to stand with members of other faiths when people attempt to curtail their religious liberties.

And we should also remember that nobody ever talks about taking away religious liberty, they just redefine what it means. Right now, we see that sharing your faith with somebody else, what the cynics call “proselytizing,” is frowned upon. So political correctness tries to redefine religious liberty to say you can believe what you want but nobody should try to impose their religion on someone else. That sounds a lot better than saying “no evangelizing,” but it means pretty much the same thing. And so we see lots of attempts to keep people from sharing their faith in various contexts.

Can you give us a sneak peek into what you’re working on next?

My next book is entitled The Last Plea Bargain. In it, I will shine a light on the wheeling and dealing that dominates our criminal justice system.

Most people don’t realize that 95% of the criminal cases in our country are disposed of by plea bargains. This book asks the question: What if the defendants in a certain jurisdiction banded together and decided not to plea bargain, insisting on a full jury trial for every case? It would overwhelm the system. There wouldn’t be enough prosecutors or public defenders or available court dates. Even the defendants who lost would be able to claim ineffective assistance of counsel or the lack of a speedy trial on appeal.

The Last Plea Bargain is a sequel to False Witness and continues the story of Jamie Brock, a young prosecutor. Because Jamie’s own mother was killed in a violent home invasion, Jamie takes every case personally. Unlike other prosecutors, she refuses to even consider plea bargains. And she has a longstanding personal vendetta against defense attorney Bosworth Tate, the man who represented Jamie’s mother’s killer.

When Tate is arrested for allegedly poisoning his wife, Jamie talks the district attorney into allowing her to handle the case. But when he is confined to jail, Tate rallies the other inmates and they all begin rejected plea bargains. Those who don’t are punished or killed by their fellow inmates. Snitches who cut a plea and get released are killed on the streets. Fear causes other would-be-snitches to clam up. And the criminal justice system grinds to a halt.

There is one way to break the logjam. But for Jamie Brock, it would violate every ideal that has governed her young career. To convict the devil, sometimes you’ve got to cut a deal with a few of his demons.

Or do you?

Okay, I'm ready. I want this book now!

So, Master Singer--final words?

Maybe an appropriate place to end would be with the last two paragraphs from my acknowledgements page:

This book is the story of an advocate who stands up for a client when, from all appearances, the man should be condemned. Come to think of it, that’s the story of my life.

“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only for our sins but the sins of all the world.” 1 John 2:1-2.

Fatal Convictions at christianbook.com ($9.49)
Fatal Convictions at Amazon, paperback ($10.07)
On the Kindle ($9.57)
Paperback at Barnes and Noble ($10.07)
On the Nook ($9.59)

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Home Stretch in Writing

Last week James Scott Bell started a discussion on an author's e-mail loop as he spoke about finishing his current manuscript:

So I'm entering the last month on my WIP. I find this horserace to be a time of great exhilaration, desperation, excitement, consternation and frequent trips to Starbucks.

Even though I've done this dozens of times, it never feels like, "Hey, I've got this so nailed. No problem!"

I'm looking at all the story threads, balls in the air, knowing the ending I'm heading for but wondering if I'll truly get there. In my head, I know I will, because I always do, somehow.

But in the heat of battle, writing each day, I feel like a Spartan trying to hold off Xerxes at Thermopylae. And I suppose I wouldn't have it any other way (especially if I was ripped like Gerard Butler).

What about you? How do you usually feel on the home stretch of a novel?

Jim's e-mail spurred some interesting replies (all e-mails run here with permission):

Exactly the same way! Like I'm climbing Mt Everest and I'm never going to make it. But I LOVE the energy of that final month! -- Colleen Coble

Panic-stricken. Sure I can never do this again, even after 40-some books, and convinced that for the first time ever, I'm not going to meet my deadline. That feeling should get better with time, experience, and age, but instead it gets worse, because I think every ms. has to be better than the one before. -- Marta Perry

I love the home stretch. My ending scene is in sight and the route there seems clear and close enough to touch. Sure, there are plates spinning in the air, but I figure I can tie up anything I miss during re-writes. Give me the end over the middle any day! -- Denise Hunter

Sick to my stomach, irritable, frustrated. The cats hide. -- Cheryl Hodde (of Hannah Alexander)

To me, the first draft home stretch is as agonizing as the beginning or middle of the first draft. It's that last draft before sending it off that gets my endorphins firing. -- Terri Blackstock

I feel the same way! Will I tie it all up. Did I keep the pace and tension taunt? Is the dialog purposeful with meaning? Do I like it just because it's me and I want it to be done? Or is it good? Really? It's exhausting but I LOVE when I get to the end. Best feeling in the world. I love when I'm rewriting and threads become more clear, motivation and hooks start to materialize in a more definitive way. We have the best job in the world! -- Rachel Hauck

As for me--like Denise, I love the home stretch. It's so much easier than the beginning or middle. I know my characters much better by then, and I know exactly where I'm going and how I'm going to get there. The writing is faster as a result.

Terri mentioned a first draft vs. the last draft, which she sends off to the editor. I'm different from most novelists in that my first draft is what I send off to the editor. Each day I write the pages the way I want them. I may write less pages a day than others this way, but when I'm done with the book--I'm done with the book. I will go over it and edit--usually that means tightening the writing  some. But I'm not rewriting scenes, or deleting or adding to them. It's simply a quick sentence-to-sentence edit. So when I'm on the home stretch, it's truly the ending for me. (Until the editor's macro letter and the rewrite, that is.)

So what about the rest of you? What's the home stretch like?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sale on My Books at Amazon

A quick note as we head into the last weekend of August. (Can you believe it?) For a short time all my adult novels except Deceit are available in e-book form on the Kindle for only $5.99. If you don't have a Kindle you can download a free app for your computer or iphone, etc. Go to my page on Amazon and click on the "Kindle" tab to see all your e-book choices.

I don't know how long this promo will last--only that it won't be for long.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where Do Those Book Ideas Come From?

If you're a published novelist, the question you're mostly likely to hear is, "Where do you get your ideas?" I always try to answer with a modicum of charm, but frankly, I tend to find this a silly question. Perhaps it's because the answer is so obvious to me. LIFE. Life in your bedroom, in your house, on your street, in your neighborhood, at the airport and schools and grocery store and church, riding in the car, walking down the street, eavesdropping on a conversation, watching TV, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper. And on and on and on. Like American Express, Life is everywhere you want to be. And wherever Life is, there is Story.

If all else fails, read the news, in hard print or online. Take a look at these stories I found yesterday at Reuters. There are hundreds of possible tales and plot points that could spin off from each one of these.

Pilots on Alert for High-Flying Vulture. Yup, a testy but somewhat lovable vulture, who can soar as high as 30,000 feet, caught air currents and was long gone from its owner. (I have to wonder: What does one expect when one lets a vulture fly?) Now pilots must be aware of a possible bird strike far higher than they'd considered.

Robber Nabbed After Mocking Police in Email. Moral to this story: when the newspaper gets the facts wrong about your heist, keep your mouth shut.

Woman Buries Brother, Discovers Dead Son. She thought her son was just ignoring her invitation to his uncle's funeral after they'd had a spat ... until the family stumbled over the son's grave marker in the cemetery.

Trafficers Hide Cocaine Under Rare Python. I wouldn't go looking for drugs there. Would you?

Gold Bullion Stolen From Florida Treasure Museum. Not just any gold bar worth $550,000--one recovered from the centuries-old wreck of a Spanish galleon.

Need I go on?

P.S.: Note the reader comments for the aticle about the gold bullion. All they want to do is complain about how bad the article is written. Forget that it's a fascinating story--they don't like the first sentence. Ah, we writers. Forever critiqued.

Photo Friday Winner

This month's winner is Pat, with this caption:

911 What is your emergency?



Are you there, Sir?

Congrats, Pat! Please email me for your free book: brandilyn (at) brandilyncollins (dot) com.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tickle Your Funny Bone Captions

We've had quite a few creative captions this month for Photo Friday (crazy pic below). Too many good ones to miss. Take a look at them and vote for your favorite. And have a few laughs while you're at it.

The winner gets a free book.

Monday, August 23, 2010

When The Second Book Releases

I checked in recently with my pal, fellow author, and all around good guy Richard L. Mabry, MD. Or, as I like to call him, "Doc." His second book has just released, and I wondered what writing that book was like for him. Like many authors his first published novel was bought after being written, at which time he was offered a multi-book contract. Suddenly that second book must now be written--to contract. Not written when one feels like writing--but on a deadline. That's a horse of an entirely different animal. So I asked Doc to tell us about his experience.

My second novel of medical suspense, Medical Error, has just been released, and I’m thrilled.

It’s great to have a book—any book—published. It means your hard work and persistence have paid off. That same feeling comes when you open the carton and hold your first book, your second, or your twenty-first. But still, there’s something special about the second book.

With the publication of Medical Error, I’ve avoided the “one book wonder” curse. Remember when Los Del Rio’s rendition of Macarena was everywhere? That was in 1996. Since then, the two singers (and, thankfully, the song) have faded from view. Let’s try another. What was Billy Ray Cyrus’ next hit after Achy Breaky Heart? Unless you count being the father of Miley Cyrus, AKA Hannah Montana, that was about it. Two examples of “one hit wonders.” No one wants that. Not a singer. Not a performer. Not a writer. We all keep plugging, hoping to repeat the success we’ve tasted once.

It was nice to read good reviews about my first novel. There were even people who asked, “When’s the next one coming out?” Now I can tell them it’s available. Of course, that means I have to hold my breath and hope they like it as well, but it’s nice to have that option. The second book does that for an author.

A lot of what I learned in the writing of Code Blue carried over to Medical Error. I didn’t fall so easily into the trap of overusing favorite words and expressions. In her macro edit of Code Blue, my editor, Barbara Scott, pointed out a number of such errors. When writing Medical Error I was careful to avoid that mistake and lots more that Barbara called to my attention. So the writing for this book went faster and more smoothly than the first, with fewer edits necessary. One more plus for the second novel.

Code Blue taught me that much of the marketing of a book depends on the efforts of the author. Those efforts were uncoordinated at first, but the experience taught me a lot. As soon as I had a signed contract for Medical Error with a firm launch date, I was working to get book information out to the reading public. Less scurrying about, less need for antacids. Score another one for the second book.

There’s something special about looking inside the cover of a book to see the words, “Other books by Richard L. Mabry.” Having more than one book published tells me that I didn’t misinterpret the call I felt after that first writer’s conference. I went there hoping to learn how to write a book about getting through the days after my first wife’s death. I left with a clear sense of direction that not only should I write that book—published in 2006 as The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse—but write Christian fiction as well. Seeing Medical Error sitting on the shelf above my desk alongside Code Blue reminds me again of that call.

When my third book is published next spring, I’m sure there will be a different set of emotions attached to the experience. But for now I’ll take a moment to rejoice in the publication of this one.

Brandilyn, thanks for letting me share my joy with you and your readers.

Dr. Richard Mabry built a worldwide reputation as a clinician, researcher, and teacher before retiring from medicine. Medical Error is his second novel of romantic medical suspense. His first novel, Code Blue, was published by Abingdon Press in April of 2010, and will be followed next spring by the third book in the Prescription For Trouble series, Diagnosis Death. You can learn more about him at his website and follow him on his blog.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's Photo Friday!

Okay, you know the drill. Write the best caption for the crazy picture--win a book. Come on now, get creative with this one. Come back sometime over the weekend to see others' captions and vote on your favorite. Winner will be announced next week. If there's a tie--I'm the tie breaker.

Yes, that is fair--it's my blog.

Facebook friends--it's fine to leave your caption as a comment on FB, but be sure to leave it here as well, so everyone can see it for voting.
And we're off!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Attack of the Zombie Flies

Chalk this one up to creepy-strange.

For the last week in our California house, I've been battling flies in the kitchen. We're talking a fair amount of flies, up to a dozen a day. Coming from ...? They're on the kitchen windows.

These are no ordinary flies.

First of all they barely fly, it at all. Second, they don't seem to care about food. Third, they just sit there on the glass. Grab a tissue, come up and behind 'em, capture and crush 'em with no problem.

The first time it happened I thought, "Old, tired fly." Second time I thought, "Old fly's twin." Third time: "Triplets?" Fourth time--hmmmm.

They don't make flies like they used to.

Of course my suspense brain is going into overdrive on this one. I think once again nature's out to get me. When I wrote Web of Lies (4th in Hidden Faces series), spiders were after me for months. I'm well known for my "fly story"--illustrating the concept of Emotion Memory (or--how I can turn anyone into a murderer in ten minutes). I've even been known to act out the story in writing classes. Okay, so a fly dies in the end. And that's when everyone claps. Is that any reason for the fly world to send a troop of zombies into my kitchen? And why don't they fly? You'd think to get back at me, they'd be so fast I could never catch them.

What is going on here?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kindles Under $99?

Over on Slate.com, tech industry watcher and journalist Farhod Manjoo is predicting sales of Amazon's Kindle will go to around $150 for the 3G version and $99 for the wi-fi version in time for the holidays. It's an interesting article, and Manjoo states some sound back-up reasoning for his prediction. Take a look at his full post.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Comparison of Bestseller Lists for July 2010

Here is the comparison of CBA's "September" list and ECPA's "August" list, both reflecting sales of fiction in participating Christian bookstores in the month of July. (Sometimes the days counted within the month vary a little between CBA and ECPA, but in general this is a month-to-month comparison.) Books appearing only on one list are highlighted in blue. For a reminder of how these lists are put together by ECPA and CBA, please refer to the first few paragraphs of
this post.

CBA (Numbers in parentheses reflect book's standing on CBA's Top Fifty list)

1. (2) Take Four, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
2. (14) Predator, Terri Blackstock, Zondervan
3. (15) The Shack, William P. Young, Windblown Media
4. (18) Her Mother’s Hope, Francine Rivers, Tyndale
5. (20) Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers, Multnomah/WaterBrook
6. (21) Take Three, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
7. (38) Edge of Apocalypse, Tim LaHaye/Craig Parshall, Zondervan
8. (39) A Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers, Tyndale
9. (41) Take One, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
10. (47) The Telling, Beverly Lewis, Bethany/Baker
11. (49) Take Two, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
12. Shades of Blue, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
13. The Bride Collector, Ted Dekker, Center Street/Hachette
14. Intervention, Terri Blackstock, Zondervan
15. Deceit, Brandilyn Collins, Zondervan
16. Walker’s Wedding, Lori Copeland, Harvest House
17. The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis, Zondervan
18. The Bishop, Steven James, Revell/Baker
19. Twilight’s Serenade, Tracie Peterson, Bethany/Baker
20. Who Do I Lean On?, Neta Jackson, Thomas Nelson

ECPA (Numbers in parentheses reflect book's standing on the ECPA Top Fifty list)

1. (1) Take Four, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan 
2. (10) Take Three, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
3. (11) Predator, Terri Blackstock, Zondervan
4. (16) Her Mother's Hope, Francine Rivers, Tyndale
5. (17) The Shack, William P. Young, Windblown Media
6. (18) Edge of Apocalypse, Tim LaHaye/Craig Parshall, Zondervan
7. (21) Take One, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
8. (22) Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers, Waterbrook/Multnomah
9. (23) Shades of Blue, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
10. (26) A Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers, Tyndale
11. (31) Take Two, Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan
12. (32) Amish Gathering, Beth Wiseman, Thomas Nelson
13. (40) The Telling, Beverly Lewis, Bethany/Baker
14. (41) A Lady Like Sarah, Margaret Brownley, Thomas Nelson
15. (46) An Honest Love, Kathleen Fuller, Thomas Nelson
16. Intervention, Terri Blackstock, Zondervan
17. Who Do I Lean On?, Neta Jackson, Thomas Nelson
18. The Seeker, Ann Gabhart, Revell
19. The Bride Collector, Ted Dekker, Grand Central Publishing
20. Maid to Match, Deeanne Gist, Bethany/Baker

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Seatbelt Suspense® Video

Broadman and Holman has created a new author video for me--a general overview of what I write and who I am as an author. The footage was shot during my day-long photo shoot in Nashville in April. Of course, we shot more than we could use--this was edited down. I like what they've done. And they used one of the fun "film noir" type Seatbelt Suspense® shots of me in the 60's Corvette as the opening.

Please take a look at the video.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Writing Epiphany

I learned something recently. Not rocket science by any means. In fact after the epiphany soaked in, I realized I'd known all the pieces but hadn't quite put together the whole. But the whole is quite refreshing.

I learned this: No matter how well I establish character motivation in my novels, some readers just won't be able to "go there." 

A little backstory: My novel Dark Pursuit features a young twenty-something who makes a certain decision regarding a dead body found in her bed--she doesn't call the police; she runs. I thought I established well who this young woman is and why her present circumstances and her past experiences would lead her to make her decision. I really didn't know what more I could have done. Yet some reviewers still complained that her choice was unbelievable. Even though these readers were by far in the minority, their comments left me wondering, "What more could I have done to make that character believable to that person?" Obviously I had failed that reader somehow.

My novel Exposure features a paranoia- and fear-laden protagonist. Again I thought I characterized her as being understandable in her fears. Is she a bit over the top in her phobias? Yeah. But that's what phobias are--over the top. Anyway, when a few readers opined that said protagonist was too crazy, again I wondered what more I could have done to make her believable to them.

Of course I already knew I can't possibly please everyone with any given book. I knew that each reader brings his/her own experiences to the book, and those experiences color the reader's perceptions of the story. So when I'd see an unfavorable review I could say, "Ah, ya can't please 'em all" and let it roll off my back. Except for the comments pertaining to  character motivation. Because solid, believable character motivation is very important to me. I write suspense, but in the end, I know good and well it's the characters that matter. Hence, my wondering what more motivation-establishing I could have done to hook that particular complaining reader.

Now I know the answer: not a thing.

How the epiphany went down: I was reading a novel written by a friend of mine--an author whose work I really respect. The protagonist in this book is a military guy who has to go undercover--forever. So very undercover that he must let his own mother think he's dead.

Wait a minute. No way. Huh-uh. At that point in the story, I put the book down. I could not go there. Because I could never, ever do that to my mother. Not for anybody or any good cause. So how could I possibly care for a protagonist who was willing to do such a terrible thing?

Then I started to scold myself. "How unfair you're being. This protagonist is not you. The writer has well established the level of this character's military responsibility and skill. And the writer has established that the character has nowhere near the positive relationship with his mother that you have with yours. You ask your readers to go beyond their own experiences when it comes to your books. Why aren't you willing to go beyond your experience for this author?"

"True," I answered myself. (Yes, I have these two-way conversations often. I'm a novelist--what do you expect?) "Still, I can't do it. I just can't like a character who'd treat his mother that way. End of story."

And that's when the epiphany hit. Sure there are poorly written books in which character motivation is lacking. But sometimes a reader's lack of connection with a character is not the fault of the author. The author has done all he can do. Nor is it the fault of the reader. It's simply that the reader's experience and beliefs in some particular area--an area that happens to be crucial to the character--are so strong that the reader can't put her personality aside in order to go where the protagonist wants to take her. 

I find this realization very freeing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Insightful Review of DECEIT

Melissa Willis of The Christian Manifesto wrote this review of Deceit. It's an excellent example of a well-written review. (Of course, it doesn't hurt that she liked the book.) Melissa reveals only the premise and no more (I hate seeing plot points given away). Then she takes a look at the deeper meaning and the character motivation in the story.

Baxter Jackson was wealthy, powerful, and a highly respected church leader. When his wife, Linda disappeared in August of 2004, only one person, her best friend Joanne, believed that Baxter was guilty. In the six years since her disappearance, Linda’s body was never found nor was there evidence of a crime, but Joanne still held out hope for justice. When his second wife’s death was ruled an accident, Joanne could no longer remain silent about her knowledge of Baxter’s double life. As expected, though, her accusations were met with skepticism until a mysterious man gave her the information she’d been seeking—the name of a witness who knows where Linda’s buried. Can Joanne find the witness before Baxter can silence them both?

There is no better title for this novel than Deceit. It is the perfect description for the characters and events in this intensely suspenseful tale of murder, conspiracy and duplicity. I’ve read several books by Brandilyn Collins and each time I’m impressed by the complicated simplicity of her stories. On the surface, everything seems pretty cut and dry, but it doesn’t take long to realize this book is anything but simple, with deception lurking around every corner.

A book has set its hooks into me when it repeatedly takes fifty pages to find a stopping place. I’m a suspense junkie with the patience of a gnat and Collins exploits these weaknesses, building awesome tension that forces the reader to keep going to find out what happens next. With flashbacks between the present and 2004 written to perfection, it is virtually impossible to put this book down.

The story line is very good, but the characters make the book. The twists and surprises are due mainly to excellent character development that makes the reader believe the lies that are being told. However, there’s just enough honesty to keep the reader from knowing truth from deception, which leaves even the most logical conclusions in doubt. Without the quality characters, this book falls flat and the plot laid bare. Additionally, the spiritual aspect emerges through the characters in a seamless fashion that enhances that portion of the story. Collins gives the reader some good things to think about and evaluate in their own lives. Also highlighted, is the subject spousal abuse and the pattern of behavior for both the abuser and the victim. With different viewpoints, this theme is developed in a manner that elicits a variety of emotions and builds a strong connection between the reader and the story.

I really enjoyed Deceit. It has a nice presentation that builds good suspense with characters that keep good secrets. It’s a dark story and has some good things to contemplate but not overly heavy. Even though this appears to be a stand alone novel, I hope to visit the characters again since there are a few loose ends that are just begging for a sequel. Collins’ is a great author who knows how to write fun stories with gripping suspense. Whether a long time reader or new to her work, this is one not to miss.


The Christian Manifesto is an interesting web site that looks at Christ in this world--in books, movies, film, comics, and in our culture. Check out their "Christ" and "Culture" blogs.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Do you Know Your Strengths?

While on the Thriller Tour with
Jim Rubart, Robin Caroll, and Tosca Lee, Tosca bought us each a book that would enable us to take the Gallup StrengthsFinder test online. Tosca used to work for Gallup, traveling all over the place to give seminars (for which Gallup charged attendees a bundle) to teach business people about their strengths, based on their test results. The four of us had a very interesting time taking the test, then comparing our individual list of Top 5 Strengths. The test not only teaches you about yourself but also about others who take it. And man, did the results nail all four of us. I found the whole process very enlightening.

Then again, one of my Top 5 is Input (loving to collect data and knowledge).

To take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 test you must purchase the book StrengthsFinder 2.0. ($12.53 at Amazon.) In the book is a sealed page with your code that will enable you to take the online test. Only one test may be taken per code. This is not to book to buy as a used copy. The book includes an overview of the Gallup testing and the psychology behind it, followed by about 150 pages that outlines each of the 34 signature themes (strengths) and how best to put each strength to use.

Taking the test only requires about 30 minutes. You need to give yourself uninterrupted time. You are to answer the questions quickly--going with your first gut response rather than mulling it over. As Tosca explained, the point of the test is more than simply discovering your Top 5 signature themes. Once you know your strengths, you can build on them. Gallup's theory (proven by research) is that people are far more successful when they spend their energy building their strengths rather than improving on their weaknesses. If you're weak in an area, spending a lot of energy to improve in that area will perhaps make you proficient in it, but you'll never soar in it--whereas you can soar if you major on your strengths.

Because there are so many possible combinations to make one's Top 5 list, each combination is quite rare. (Unlike, say, the Myers-Briggs test, which has only 16 possible combinations.) The key to understanding your Top 5 themes is not only in understanding each one individually, but how those certain themes interact with each other to give you your unique set of strengths.

Now that I've taken the StrengthsFinder 2.0 test, my husband, Mark, is going to take it as well. Who knows--after 29 years of marriage we just might discover some new tidbits about each other.

My Top 5 Signature Themes:


Anyone else taken this test? What were your results--and how well did they peg you?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The E-Book March

Those e-books just keep marching along. Lately there's been quite a bit of chatter about the digital world of books. First, Amazon has released its third generation Kindle, which is faster at page turns, lighter, smaller yet with with same size screen, and holds more books. (Read the complete list of improvements here.) The new Kindle remains at $189. A wi-fi only version sells for $139.

Then, just days after the release, Amazon announced it's already sold out of the new Kindles. You can preorder the $189 or the $139 model for an early September shipment. 

Meanwhile Jeff Bezos of Amazon recently announced the online bookseller is already selling more ebooks than hardbacks. (At a ratio of 143 to 100 during the second quarter.) He predicts it won't take long for e-book sales to next eclipse paperbacks. And sometime in the future--although he didn't give a time frame--he expects e-book sales to exceed both hardback and paperback sales together. (And no, these sales don't include the downloaded freebies.) Amazon has also said its sales of Kindles have tripled since the price was cut from $259 to $189. (B&N's price drop of their Nook may be the best thing that happened to Kindle, as Amazon had to follow suit.)

Most recently Markus Dohle, chief executive of Bertelsmann's Random House (world's biggest book publisher), said that current e-book revenue for the company is at 8% in the U.S. He's expecting electronic sales to top 10% of the company's revenue next year. Random House remains one publisher that has not yet agreed to sell its books on the iPad. Dohle isn't sure he likes the agency model of pricing.

Meanwhile, listening to my author friends talk about e-books leads me to think many of them are nervous about what e-books are going to do to the publishing industry in general, and their own sales in particular. Without going into specifics I can say this: e-book sales have been very good to me. I see them as very positive. And I earn at least an equal--many times better--royalty on each e-book than I do on my trade paperbacks. I have no complaints. Besides, e-books aren't returned like paperbacks. One of the most distressing things is to read the royalty statement six months after a release and see the books that were returned. Never fun. Not with e-books. I say bring 'em on!

Monday, August 02, 2010

July 2010 List of Today's Word

Feeling brave enough to attempt a sentence using at least six of these wonderful words? Come on, you can do it.

PRELAPSARIAN (pre-lap-SAIR-ee-un) adj.--characteristic of the time or state before the fall of man.

AMBIT (AM-bit) noun--circuit, circular edge; the space surrounding a house; sphere of influence.

INCULCATE (in-KUL-kate) trans. verb--to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions. 

KITSCH (KICH) noun--artistic or literary material held to be of low quality. 

INDURATE (IND-yer-et) adj.--physically or morally hardened.

PELF (PELF) noun--booty. 

BUMPTIOUS (BUMP-shus) adj.--presumptuously, obtusely, and often noisily self-assertive.

SOLECISM (SAHL-uh-sizm) noun--an ungrammatical combination of words in a sentence.

AMBSACE (AIM-zase) noun--the lowest throw at dice; something worthless or unlucky.

BLENCH (BLENCH) int. verb--to draw back or turn aside from lack of courage or resolution. 

PAPILLOTE (PAP-el-ote) noun--a greased paper wrapper in which food is cooked and served. 

TEPHRA (TEF-ra) noun--solid material ejected into the air during a volcanic eruption.

DEVOIR (dev-WAR) noun--an act or conduct that may be required or expected of one; assigned task. 

SAPONIFY (sa-PON-i-fie) trans. verb--to convert (as a fat or fatty acid) into soap.

MAUNDER (MAUN-der) int. verb--to move or progress slowly and uncertainly without definite aim. 

XERIC (SIR-ik) adj.--low or deficient in moisture that is available for the support of plant life. 

QUODLIBET (KWAD-luh-bet) noun--a subtle or debatable point; a humorous musical medley.

YEAN (YEEN) int. verb--to bring forth young (as a sheep or goat).

UNCTUOUS (UNK-chew-us) adj.--having the nature or qualities of an unguent or ointment. 

ADUMBRATE (AD-um-brate) trans. verb--to foreshadow, symbolize, or prefigure.

LOSEL (LO-zul) noun--a worthless person.

GORGONIZE (GOR-guh-nize) trans. verb--to have a paralyzing or mesmerizing effect upon.

DELIRATION (del-uh-RAY-shun) noun--abnormal state of mind.

ABAFT (uh-BAFT) adv.--toward or at the stern.

HELLKITE (HELL-kite) noun--one that shows cruelty. 

PASH (PASH) trans. verb--to throw or strike violently. 

NEBBISH (NEB-ish) noun--a timid, meek, or ineffectual person. 

KENCH (KENCH) noun--a bin or enclosure in which fish or skins are salted. 

OPPUGN (ah-PYOON) trans. verb--to fight against; to call in question. 

BARBATE (BAR-bate) adj.--bearded; (botany) bearing long, stiff hairs. 

SAVATE (suh-VAT) noun--form of boxing in which blows are delivered with either the feet or the hands.
Read August ‘10