Friday, February 29, 2008

Rules, Rules, Rules -- Adverbs

Always, carefully use adverbs sparingly and cautiously.

I used to use adverbs more easily (there's another one!) before a certain editor came along and cleaned 'em up. In my first four published books, you'll find a lot more of them than in my later books.

First, a quick grammar reminder. Adverbs don't always end in ly. They tend to when they're modifying a verb. But adverbs can also modify an adjective--The new 2008 Corvette is a very fast car. Or they can modify another adverb--She moved quite painstakingly.

In all cases, they're needed a lot less than writers will tend to want to use them. The ly versions seem to especially stand out.

This "rule" really isn't all that hard. If you want to use an adverb in your draft, I encourage you first to rethink it. Can you find a more compelling verb to use rather than tacking on an adverb to a more common verb? If you can't, then use the adverb. But in editing, give it a second, even harder look. Is this absolutely the strongest way to write the sentence? Can you strengthen it by replacing the adverb?

Like head-hopping POV, too many adverbs can look like lazy writing.

Even though said editor mentioned above is no longer my editor, every time I consider an adverb I imagine her looking at it and growling. Now, she never growled if it was really needed. But I just wanted to make danged sure it was, or she'd flag it.

Looking back at adverbs in my earlier books, I now see hardly a one of them is needed. Here are a few sentences:

Now, cruising quietly through the night, I still found it illogical.

The scene is about the character by herself, at night. No need for quietly. And without it, the rhythm of the sentence improves.

I smiled at him briefly. Slowly he smiled back.

Agh, two in a row! I might keep the second one here. The male character is shy in her presence, and the adverb does help show his reticence. But am I properly showing his reticence in other ways? My guess is, on the final edit, I'd nix the adverb and strengthen the sentence another way if necessary.

I gazed at her, fervently wishing my answer could be yes.

Nope. Nix it. You might argue that fervently wishing is more than just so-so wishing. But the context of the scene shows that everything the character is thinking and saying is fervent. And that is the key to the "rule" of being cautious with the use of adverbs. We can too easily believe that sticking one or two of them in a paragraph is enough to heighten the emotion, and therefore not use enough action beats, body language, vocal inflection, crackling dialogue, etc. Write your paragraph using those well, and the need for adverbs is negated most of the time.

Read Part 4

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rules, Rules, Rules -- POV

Thanks to those of you who commented yesterday. I have noted the other "rules" you'd like to cover.

I'll start with those I mentioned yesterday, the first being: One POV per scene.

Obviously this rule deals with writing in third person.

The old omniscient narrative of the classics is no longer in vogue. This is the POV that hovers over the action, showing us occurrences and thoughts from a removed "observer" viewpoint. It can even speak of action none of the characters are aware of. ("He didn't see the salivating goblin hiding behind the tree.")

In today's world of mass media, of in-your-face close-ups on TV, and reality shows, etc., omniscient POV seems too cold and distant. Readers want that intimate look into the character's mind. They want to feel the scene as the character feels it. And so POV has turned to favor close third person.

So why is it important to stick in only one character's head for the duration of a scene? Wouldn't it be even more intimate to know what all the characters are thinking at any given moment?

You can certainly find published authors who change POVs in a scene, some of them very successful. As a reader, this becomes a pretty subjective thing. I happen to really dislike "head-hopping." If the author tells a great story, I can manage to grit my teeth and overlook it--if it's not done every other paragraph. But in every case, no matter how good the story is, I think: the book would have been even better written if he'd stuck to one POV per scene. To put it another way: the novel is successful despite this weaker form of writing.

And yes, I did say weaker. Hold your tomatoes until I'm through, please.

Do you know how common it is for a brand-new author to head-hop? I'm not talking about aspiring writers who've had the benefit of attending a writers' conference and may have heard about this "rule." I mean the person who's driven to write, and all alone by herself, decides to plunk down at the keyboard ...

Why do beginning writers tend to do this? It's easier.

When I first started writing fiction, I was a head-hopper. I didn't even think about it. If I wanted to depict some reaction from a character, the natural thing to do was jump into his head. Then in reading novels, I began to see how other authors handled POV. How much deeper and richer their scenes were when told through one viewpoint. I rewrote my scenes--and they came alive.

Sticking with one POV per scene:

1. Forces an author to write more descriptively
2. Weaves perception of the POV character into the action, which
3. Heightens emotion
4. Allows the reader to settle

Imagine a scene between married couple John and Mary. John, a new Christian, is afraid she's having an affair. She's not--yet. But she's mighty close and feeling guilty about it. And she can't stand this new religiosity of John's, because he's so nice lately even though he's hurt, and that makes her feel even worse. We're in Mary's POV:

...He stood by the kitchen counter, weight on one leg and fingers rubbing the tile. Trying to appear so casual. As if he wasn't scared to death of ending up alone.

Guilt stabbed her. "You don't have to look so pious."

"Pious?" Surprise rippled across his face. "Is that what you think?"

"What I think, John, is that ever since you started going to church you've decided you're better than me. I can't possibly live up to your standards, even when I'm innocent."

"Innocent." John's hand fisted, and he leaned forward with desperation, as if to cling to the word...

Let's say this interchange is two pages into Mary's POV scene. Suddenly at the first sentence here, we switch to John's head:
He stood by the kitchen counter, weight on one leg and fingers rubbing the tile. Trying to look casual. He didn't want her to know he was scared to death of ending up alone.
In this version we don't lose description, but we do lose Mary's perception of how John looks and what he's feeling. And that perception, stated in her distinct POV voice, comes off with so much more layered emotion: As if he wasn't scared to death of ending up alone. In that one line from Mary's POV, we get the sense of her cattiness, her disgust at his weakness, yet her desire not to hurt him.

Following that perception is Mary's emotive reaction--guilt. But of course she doesn't want to show that, so she attacks John where he's most vulnerable--his new faith. If we couldn't see the first paragraph in her perspective, we wouldn't be as well set up to understand her reaction in the second.

Or let's say we jumped into John's POV in the third paragraph:
What? "Pious? Is that what you think?"
Here we get his surprised reaction. But we don't see the description of how it plays over his face.

In short, I think head-hopping is weaker writing because it's too easy to jump into a character's head and tell us what he's thinking. When the author stays in one character's head, but still wants the reader to know what the other character is thinking, that author must layer in description and perception to show us. (Hm, show vs. tell. Isn't there another "rule" about that?) The scene becomes richer.

As for point #4, the ability to settle, herein lies the oxymoron of head-hopping. The author may mix POVs believing it leads to deeper intimacy with all characters in a scene. Instead it leads to less. To really be intimate with a character, I need to see the world from her viewpoint for a certain amount of time before I'm snatched from it. I want to perceive other characters and their actions through her eyes. Hear, in her own distinct voice, her inner reaction to those actions. Then, at a scene change, it feels natural, since I'm already moving, to switch to another POV.

If you want to tell your story in true omniscient viewpoint--that removed, distant narrator's voice--and you think you have good reason, stick with it. This is a different kind of story altogether. (You may have a harder time persuading an editor, who's worried about appealing to the largest number of today's readers.) But true omniscient is different than multiple close POVs in one scene. If you want to write in close third person, which is the common format of today's fiction, I strongly suggest you stick to one POV per scene.

You may now launch your tomatoes.

Read Part 3

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Writing Rules, Rules, and More Rules!

Seems no matter what writer loop you're on or group you're in, the subject of "writing rules" comes up. Again and again. The ubiquitous nature of this topic just goes to show--all writers get hung up on "the rules" at some point. Ironically, after I'd decided to post this week on the topic, it came up again on a writer's loop. And once again I see the same angst.

Before I talk about my take on "the rules," I want to address the heated emotion behind the topic. Time after time as these discussions arise, the subject is broached by a hard-working aspiring author who's not yet published by a traditional house. This author is struggling to get everything right in his/her manuscript, only to read a published work in which one or many of "the rules" are broken. Understandably, said author cries, "Foul!"

Let's stop right there. What's really happening? I can't speak for every aspiring author, but I can remember my own journey, and I'll bet it's pretty typical. I was working danged hard to learn the craft of fiction. The process was frustrating. I got a lot of rejections. Something in me kept me slogging away at it. But the process of pouring my heart out on pages only to be rejected led to many moments of bitterness and anger. When I saw what I considered sloppy writing or "rule-breaking" in published novels, when I saw those undeserving authors' success while I, hardworking, sincere and certainly more talented than they, had none ...

You get the picture. Anger. Bitterness. As a result, I burst out with that typical defensive question: "Why can so-and-so get away with that while I can't?"

Guess what. Wrong question. Oh, the defensiveness is understandable, as I noted. It's human nature. But it's not helpful. Because as long as we're defensive, we're not learning. We're too busy crying "not fair!"

Having gone through all this angst (if you want the whole sordid picture, read my archived "How I Got Here" story), I say to frustrated authors--go ahead and let the defensiveness/anger come. It's going to anyway, so you might as well deal with it. But at some point we need to get over it. We need to put aside all emotion and settle back into learning mode. Only then, with open and clear minds, can we ask the right question:

What is so compelling about this author's story that allowed him/her to be published despite breaking "the rules?"

That's a question that will take some probing. It's a question that will lead to better understanding of the craft.

As for my own writing rules now, I only have one: Story Rules. I will write however I must to best tell the story.

Having said that, I have discovered that some of today's commonly known "rules" are there for a reason. Most of the time, they do help my story be told better. And, contrary to what you might think, they enhance rather than inhibit my distinct author's voice.

Tomorrow I'll talk about some of the rules, why we have them, and how I approach them. In today's fiction, these tend to be the ones you'll run into most:

1. One POV per scene
2. Use adverbs sparingly (pun intended)
3. Avoid speaker attributes (he said, etc.) whenever possible
4. Avoid "to be" verbs in narrative

Any others you want to cover? Please leave a comment.

Part 2-6
Part 7-end

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Anne Rice on Christ the Lord--The Road to Cana -- and Vampires

On March 4 Knopf will release the latest from Anne Rice, her second novel about the life of Jesus. The first, Christ the Lord--Out of Egypt, focused on Jesus' childhood years, about which the Bible says very little. This new one, Christ the Lord--The Road to Cana, looks at Jesus during his years of ministry. Publishers Weekly has given this novel a starred review.

By now you have probably heard the story of Anne Rice's turning toward God, and her vow to write for Him. It's a wonderful story. It's great to see a talented author with Anne's following make such a vow, knowing she may well lose some readers. (As it turns out, her first Christ the Lord book did very well.) I have read Annie Rice since her early vampire days. Actually, I read her before that. One of my favorite books by her was The Feast of All Saints, published around 1980. This is a sweeping, lyrical historical novel. If you don't like horror, but want a taste of Anne Rice's backlist, try this one.

In The Road to Cana Rice apparently has taken some liberties in her interpretation of Jesus' life. One example is mentioned in a recent
World magazine article. (To subscribe to World magazine, go here. ) Rice notes that she doesn't believe Satan knew Jesus was God. "He knows Jesus believes He is God; but Satan doesn't really know the truth of it." According to the article she bases this belief on historian Jeffrey Burton Russell's "work on Satan in the New Testament," and on the opinions of early church fathers: "Satan doesn't really know Who he is dealing with. He's baffled by the signs and wonders surrounding Jesus' birth. He knows he's up against something wholly new. And so he is really going to go all out to try to tempt this mysterious figure of Jesus."

I don't concur with this belief, based on my reading of the Scriptures. We know Satan to be the leader of the demonic world. We also see in such verses as Matthew 8:29 that even underling demons knew very well who Jesus was. When Jesus was about to cast multiple demons out of a man, they cried: "What do we have to do with you, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?" This passage not only shows demons know Who Jesus is, but they also know that in the end--they're toast. Jesus wins.

The World magazine article includes an excerpt from The Road to Cana--Satan's temptation of Jesus. It's an interesting scene. Rice chose to depict Satan as appearing to Jesus in the form of Jesus--all fancied up. "The devil is always played too simply," she said. Rice thought Satan would be more "sophisticated" in his approach. He would show Jesus "how very handsome and beautiful He might look, were He to take power over the whole world, and become a ruler of great wealth." Rice adds, "... this is how I played it while remaining strictly within the framework of Holy Scripture."

I do think the Satan-looking-like-Jesus idea is fictional license. And it's a cool interpretation. But I wish Rice's research hadn't led her to believe Satan didn't know who Jesus was. I find the temptations of Jesus much more fascinating in the light that Satan does know. And, like the demons, he knows his days are numbered. Yet, prideful that he is, Satan went after Jesus to tempt Him anyway. Anne writes a good scene. But I think it could have been even more layered if written from the biblical viewpoint that Satan knows if he can't succeed in bringing down the Son of Man, he is doomed.

Amid the buzz of The Road to Cana's release now comes some controversy over an
article in Time magazine, which quotes Anne as saying she will write another Lestat vampire novel. Is she distancing herself from her former vow to write for God? the writer wonders. The article says of Anne's decision, "it's difficult to see it as anything but a change of heart."

Let's not be so quick to judge. I refer you to the source for the answer--
Anne Rice herself. Please read this direct, unequivocal response. God has done a terrific work in Anne's life, and she's not shy in saying so. I just pray that the Christian community will uphold and support this sister in Christ, whether we agree with all her interpretations of the Bible or not. I applaud Anne for her courage and for following God's call on her writing. Reading the statement on her web site, I get all teary-eyed and can only say, "Praise God."

Besides, it's gonna be way cool to read a redemptive vampire novel from the best-known author of vampire stories.

Monday, February 25, 2008

New Agent in CBA

Alive Communications literary agency released this on Friday:

Alive Communications, the Colorado Springs-based literary agency, has hired Joel Kneedler as a new agent effective March 3 ... Kneedler most recently was publicity manager for WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group (a division of Random House, Inc.) where he worked on numerous successful publicity campaigns, including the Every Man series, Dinner with a Perfect Stranger and One Month to Live.

Previously, he was senior publicist at Multnomah Publishers, which Random House purchased in 2006 and merged with WaterBrook Press. During his tenure there, Kneedler handled publicity efforts for Bruce Wilkinson’s blockbuster, The Prayer of Jabez, and other best-selling authors, including Karen Kingsbury, Super Bowl coach Joe Gibbs, Randy Alcorn, Shaunti Feldhahn, Dee Henderson, Andy Stanley, Mark Buchanan, Sharon Ewell Foster and Kim Meeder. Kneedler has booked interviews and profiles with national media, including The New York Times, USA Today, Time magazine, Larry King Live!, ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Weekend Today Show and CNN’s Talk Back Live.

“Joel’s extensive relationships with authors and media execs will be invaluable to our agency and clients,” said Alive’s president Rick Christian, noting that Kneedler will help expand Alive’s reach into adult trade titles and the general market, while broadening its base in the Christian and inspirational arenas. He will represent both fiction and nonfiction authors. “I honed my word skills and marketing knowledge by constantly pitching story ideas to national outlets, which I will parlay now in working with top authors at Alive,” Kneedler said, adding that “great writing can miss its audience without the proper hook and angle.” A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Joel and his wife Shawna have four children and reside in Colorado Springs.

Other agents at Alive include President Rick Christian, Lee Hough and Beth Jusino.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Brain Dead

Ever found yourself in a brain dead state? Such was mine yesterday as I tried to think of what to write for a Friday post. I found myself staring at the screen. Thinking, really now, I still have pages to write for today. On my contracted book. Which is due in a week.

It was raining yesterday in the morning. And the day before. And the day before that. By Thursday afternoon the sun had come out. My brain remained clouded. Maybe it was just waterlogged. Whatever the reason, I came up with no subject except this one.

I need a vacation. I need my book to write itself. I need a magic wand. I need chocolate.

No, wait, I've already been eating plenty.

I need the weekend. Which is coming. Only it's not a weekend of rest for me. Not when I'm this close to a deadline.

I need ... to go write those pages on my book.

Ah, me. And I wanted to be a writer...

This Week's CFBA Tour--Adam, by Ted Dekker

About Adam:

He died once to stop the he's dying again to save his wife.

FBI behavioral psychologist Daniel Clark has become famous for his well-articulated arguments that religion is one of society’s greatest antagonists. What Daniel doesn’t know is that his obsessive pursuit of a serial killer known only as “Eve” is about to end abruptly with an unexpected death--his own.

Twenty minutes later Daniel is resuscitated, only to be haunted by the loss of memory of the events immediately preceding his death. Daniel becomes convinced that the only way to stop Eve is to recover those missing minutes during which he alone saw the killer’s face. And the only way to access them is to trigger his brain’s memory dump that occurs at the time of death by simulating his death again…and again.

So begins a carefully researched psychological thriller which delves deep into the haunting realities of near-death experiences, demon possession, and the human psyche.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

March Bestseller List

The March bestseller list is now up (reflecting sales in the month of January.) A few things of note:

1. Karen Kingsbury's got four books in the top ten, all from different publishers. Sheesh, the girl makes my head spin.

Denise Hunter's new novel, Surrender Bay, debuts at #10. Waytago, Denise!

Tamera Alexander's Revealed is back on the list at #18. Amazing comeback, since this novel first released toward the end of 2006 and is book two in a now complete three-book series.

Cathy Hake's Forevermore is at #12. Cathy seems to be doing very well with her move to Bethany.

5. Book seven in the Yada Yada series from
Neta Jackson is on the list at #19.

And a final observation: Every book on this list is some form of women's fiction, whether romance, contemporary or historical. Okay, so the authors are my pals, and I'm rootin' for 'em. But this is not cool. I long for the day when the CBA bestseller list is dominated by suspense, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, and quirky new books like Michael Snyder's My Name is Russell Fink.

Yeah, I know. That'll be the day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Infuze--For Sale

Most of you are probably familiar with the online magazine Infuze, at the intersection of art and faith. It was created four years ago by Robin Parrish, who's now writing his own Christian suspense. Infuze is now for sale.

Check it out

If you're not familiar with Infuze, you've missed a lot of great book/music/movie reviews as well as interviews. On the home page, use the search feature right above the art and faith graphic to look up artists and products.

Friday, February 15, 2008

My Name is Russell Fink

This week's CFBA tour brings you the wild and wooly debut novel from Michael Snyder--My Name is Russell Fink.

This is a mad romp of a mystery, with quirky characters and fresh dialogue. Male and female readers alike, if you're looking for something different, try this one on.

About the book:

Russell Fink is twenty-six years old and determined to salvage a job he hates so he can finally move out of his parents house for good. He's convinced he gave his twin sister cancer when they were nine years old. And his crazy fiancée refuses to accept the fact that their engagement really is over.

Then Sonny, his allegedly clairvoyant basset hound, is found murdered.

The ensuing amateur investigation forces Russell to confront several things at once-the enormity of his family's dysfunction, the guy stalking his family, and his long-buried feelings for a most peculiar love interest.

At its heart,
My Name is Russell Fink is a comedy, with sharp dialogue, characters steeped in authenticity, romance, suspense, and fresh humor. With a postmodern style similar to Nick Hornby and Douglas Coupland, the author explores reconciliation, forgiveness, and faith in the midst of tragedy. No amount of neurosis or dysfunction can derail God's redemptive purposes.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Kindle

In case you've missed it, last week the New York Times ran this article on the one-year or longer lead-time between turning in a manuscript and seeing the book in print. It's an informative article about the process of marketing that occurs during that "black hole" time.

So--anybody out there own a Kindle yet? I bought one for my husband for Christmas. Unfortunately I got this bright idea at the beginning of December. By the time I ordered the thing, Amazon and all the world was completely out of them. Well, except for E-bay, where the "Buy Now" Kindles were going for $1900, and the bidding war ones were already up to $800-$900. Seein' as how Amazon was selling 'em for $400, I decided that a piece of paper in a box for Christmas would do. I printed out my amazon order, stuck it in cardboard and wrapped it up all pretty.

Now before you get to feeling too sorry for my husband, do note that he had lots of other presents to enjoy on Christmas. This included the largest set of noise-cancelling Bose headphones that I could have used while stuck sitting next to Dr. I-Hung-The-World cardiologist in O'Hare airport.

On Christmas morning Mark unwrapped the very light present, withdrew the piece of paper and frowned. "What's this?"

OK, the unwrapping didn't go over so well. Funny, how much more exciting it is to pull out the real item.

We waited until the latter part of January to receive the Kindle.

The thing's cool. Mark enjoys it. The Kindle is basically the size of a trade paperback book. For book reading the normal cost is around $10/book, and they download in 30 seconds. It's also convenient for Mark while he's traveling (which is often) to read periodicals. He can pull up the Wall Street Journal and read it at breakfast. There's a monthly fee for subscriptions such as the WSJ, with a two-week free trial period. But you can also buy it for a nominal fee per day. Since we receive the newspaper at home, Mark simply buys it when he's on the road.

The Kindle's testing this cool feature called "Ask Kindle." You can submit any question you want and receive numerous answers within 10-15 minutes. For now this service is free. I have to wonder if the testing period will lead to a subscription fee for it in the future if it proves popular enough, since Amazon is asking for feedback on the service. For a pilot test question, Mark asked, "What's the stock market going to do next week?" We received three thoughtful answers--and one bizarre one. I'm thinkin' the latter came from some techie in Bangalore who hasn't quite gotten the English language down yet.

"Ask Kindle" came in handy last weekend when we were in Idaho and lost our Internet. We had lobster tails to make for dinner, and couldn't get online for tips on how to go about cooking them. Mark sent to Kindle, "How do you cook a lobster tail?" Within fifteen minutes we had our answer--both a boiling method and a broiling one.

We broiled. They were delicious.

And you thought the Kindle was only for reading.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Let There Be Snow

Finally I'm back on the blog. Sorry I've been away almost a week. Last Thursday we went to our Idaho home to check on it. A lot of snow had fallen in the area, more than northern Idaho has seen in years. The previous week we'd had to hire a Bobcat tractor to cut through all the snow on our driveway so we could get into the place. Our regular plowers had gotten stuck the last time they tried to plow due to another huge dump of snow. By the time the Bobcat cut a swath down our long driveway--and three workers shoveled snow off the roof around our deck and breezeway--we'd shelled out around $1200.

It's a real problem to plow that much snow from a driveway. Where in the heck do you put it all? The berms had to be cut way back so the regular plower could get in the next time it snowed. Otherwise the plow would have nowhere to push new snow.

You can see the before and after pictures. Before--the snow was halfway up our garage door. It took all day to do the work and was dark by the time they were done.

Anyway, once we got there this project was completed. Only on Saturday we managed to lose power because some snow plower out on the highway ran into a transformer. Once that came back on, we had Internet service for a few hours, then it left us and never did come back before we left. Now that we're back in California, a tech is finally at the Idaho house, trying to diagnose the Internet problem from the outside.

So there's my "the dog ate my homework" excuses as to why I haven't blogged.

In other news--I am about 2 1/2 weeks out from my next deadline on March 1. This is the second young adult suspense in the Rayne series. I've had a whopping six weeks to write it. (Now for all of you authors out there who spin out a full-length adult novel in that time while hopping on one foot--go stick your head in snow, I don't wanna hear about it.)

In yet other news (since I'm feeling oh-so-chatty today), last week my son and oldest child turned 25. I told him that's the cut-off age--he now has to start acting like a real adult. Except that as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I had to add that at 51 I'm still wondering when I'm going to feel like an adult. Shouldn't have spoken my thoughts aloud. Methinks I just gave my son a mighty big way out.

And in yet other news, getting back to that snow thing--four weeks from today on March 4th, it will be one year since my broken ankle saga began. I still don't--and never will again--relish the sight of a snowmobile.

And that's it on me. At least I ain't up and died. See ya back here tomorrow.

CFBA Blog Tour--Healing Stones

The first of CFBA's blog tours this week: Healing Stones, by Nancy Rue and Steve Arterburn.

I am about 2/3 way through reading this book and am really enjoying it. If you haven't read anything by Nancy Rue, you're missing out. She's written numerous adult novels as well as lots of books for kids, including the popular Lilly and Sophie series. Last year at ICRS my book signing at the Zondervan booth followed Nancy's signing for some of her kid books. You should have seen the line of girls who wanted to meet her. I didn't know that many kids came to ICRS with their parents, but apparently they do.

Listen, I write suspense, but Nancy's adult novels scare the heck outta me. The previous one I read by her was Tristan's Gap. These novels are so deep, and the subject matter is real life and raw in emotion. I read these stories and think, "There by the grace of God go I." Nancy isn't afraid to tackle difficult subjects. In Tristan's Gap it's the disappearance of a teenage girl from a strong Christian family. In Healing Stones, as you'll see below, it's about the fall of a Christian woman into adultery, and how it destroys her family.

For this new "Sullivan Crisp" series, Nancy has teamed up with Stephen Arterburn, founder and chairman of New Life ministries.

About Healing Stones:

With one flash of a camera, Demi's private life becomes public news. She doesn't know it yet, but her healing has just begun.

Christian college professor Demitria Costanas had vowed to end her affair with a colleague. But she gives into temptation one last time...and a lurking photographer captures her weakness for all to see. Quite literally, she's the woman caught in adultery. And almost everyone--herself included--has a stone to throw.

Enter Sullivan Crisp, a decidedly unorthodox psychologist with his own baggage. He's well-known for his quirky sense of humor and incorporation of "game show" theology into his counseling sessions. And yet there's something more he offers...hope for a fresh start.

Reluctantly the two of them begin an uplifting, uneven journey filled with healing and grace. By turns funny and touching, this story explores the ways humans hurt each other and deceive themselves. And it shows the endlessly creative means God uses to turn stones of accusation and shame into works of beauty that lead us onto the path of healing.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Books for Rent

Do you know there's a book rental company that works like Netflix does for movies? It's called

Subscription rates depend on how many books you'd like to have at one time. Books are shipped two or three at a time, depending upon your subscription. When you return those, the next two-three on your list are sent. Shipping/handling fees are included in the monthly fee. Four books at a time costs $15.99/month. The most popular subscription is 6 books at a time for $21.99. You can get up to 12 at a time for $37.99. There is no limit to how many books you can receive in a month.

Netflix shipping for movies is very fast--just one to two days, usually. uses media mail, and the shipping takes one to two weeks.

If you do a quick browse through fiction genres, you'll see plenty of Christian fiction. Almost all my books are on there. I do see some problems with their release dates not being correct. For example, they're already listing Amber Morn as an April publication (it starts shipping from the warehouse March 7), so that's correct. But some of their other titles slated for April 2008 publications were released last year.

The company also allows you to donate your own used books--as long as the book is a paperback in good shape and is already on their available list. For each book you donate, $1 is credited to your account.

Anyone out there subscribe to this?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Distinct Worlds

Over the weekend the New York Times ran an insightful article regarding genre novels versus "literary" writing. That article mentions a review written by John Updike a few years ago of a thriller. The article does not provide more information of this review nor give the link. However, it is referring to Updike's 2005 review of Robert Littell's Legends: A Novel of Dissimulation.

The NYT article and Updike's review speak of genre writers being restless to break outside their suspense genre's constraints--and question whether this is a good thing. Some of the points in the NYT article gave me pause, but what struck me even more was an excerpt from Updike's review. He's remembering devouring thrillers as a kid--how he could be entertained for hours without having his real world shaken:

Thrillers, as we shall call them, offer the reader a firm contract: there will be violent events, we will go places our parents didn’t take us, the protagonist will conquer and survive, and social order will, however temporarily, be restored. The reader’s essential safety, as he reclines on his red sofa, will not be breached. The world around him and the world he reads about remain distinct; the partition between them is not undermined by any connection to depths within himself.

Hm. I understand what Updike is saying, and in part I agree. There are times when suspense readers want to read books that completely take them outside their experiences and simply manage to thrill them, nothing more. However, feedback about my own novels indicates that a reader is more thrilled when something within the novel does connect "to depths within himself."

Doesn't this come down to the take-away value of the story? The character arc within a novel should say something about the human condition in general--and ourselves in particular--should it not? This is the difference between a book that is enjoyed for the moment and one that really sticks with us.

Of course, even those intended to offer some message won't resonate the same with every reader, since each of us comes to the book with different experiences.

Maybe Updike's opinion is partly due to his gender. Some male suspense writers seem to focus more on plot and action with less thought to character. And some male readers seem to prefer that.

Do you read a novel just to be entertained and nothing more? Do you enjoy a novel better when it strikes some chord within you?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Superbowl Ads

Well, the Superbowl only comes once a year. Here's my chance to pick and pan multi-million-dollar commercials.

My picks for favorite, in order.

#1: Sobe--"Thriller" geckos, second quarter.

Hey, geckos are in. And when ya get 'em dancin' to Michael....

#2: Budweiser--Hank and the dalmation, second quarter

Rocky never looked so good.

#3: Audi--first quarter

The Godfather makes a car offer you can't refuse.

#4: FedEx--the pigeons, second quarter

Only Hitchcock used birds better.

My pans, in order:

#1: Amp Energy, fourth quarter

The writers forgot a rule of comedy: if it looks like it hurts, it's not funny

#2:, second quarter

Who wants to "follow your heart" when it's the real, pulsing, bloody organ cut from your body?


The Bridgestone commercial (third quarter) would have been better if they'd run over Gene Simmons.

As an aspiring singer, when you get a national stage like a Superbowl commercial, you might want to write lyrics a little more creative than "bum, bum, bum bum ..." (Doritos, first quarter)

The Etrade baby was cute as long as he wasn't throwing up. And what is it with clowns being so frightening?

If you haven't seen these commercials--where on earth were you yesterday? Watch them here.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Coming Up--Amber Morn

Yesterday I received some copies of the cover flats for Amber Morn. Always a nice sign. Next step--a real book.

Amber Morn releases March 7 and should start showing up in stores a week or two later. This is the fourth and final in my Kanner Lake series.

It wasn't an easy book to write. Amber Morn features an ensemble cast, and it's the first time I've written a story like that. I suppose if there's one main character among them all, it's Bailey Truitt, since the trauma takes place in her coffee shop, Java Joint. But the POVs of all the hostages are included, as well as POVs from outside law enforcement, negotiators, etc.

I had plenty of research to do for this book. Once again Tony Lamanna, who has served as police chief of a small northern Idaho town the same size as my Kanner Lake, came to the rescue. Besides being able to guide me on how a small town would handle a major hostage crisis, Tony also is a nationally certified hostage negotiator. It was fascinating to learn from him the nuances of personalities and events that can occur during hostage negotiation.

One of the biggest things I learned is how fluid such a situation is. Major things planned to save the day can suddenly become moot because an angst-filled hostage-taker has just changed his mind on something, or upped the ante in some way. The hostages go through stages of emotions themselves, as we'd expect, but so do the hostage-takers. Those folks have a lot of adrenaline pumping right after their hit. It takes some time for them to calm down. Then the play of personalities upon one another can begin.

Imagine old codger Wilbur taken hostage. How would he react? Or S-Man, my science fiction writer ... Young reporter Leslie ... Retired teacher Angie, who's usually all fun and laughter ...

And on the other side of the story--what happens at the command post for negotiating? Who's allowed in? How does it all work? How does a negotiator talk to a volatile perp loaded with big guns and ammunition?

Yup, quite the learning curve for this pea-brain novelist.

And I did it all with a broken ankle. Which meant--no kicking cabinets.

This Week's CFBA Book Tour--A Passion Most Pure

Debut author Julie Lessman has already garnered writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She is a commercial writer for Maritz Travel, a published poet and a Golden Heart Finalist. Julie has a heart to write “Mainstream Inspirational,” reaching the 21st-century woman with compelling love stories laced with God’s precepts. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. A Passion Most Pure is her first novel.

About the book:

She's found the love of her life. Unfortunately, he loves her sister ...

As World War I rages across the Atlantic in 1916, a smaller war is brewing in Boston. Faith O’Connor finds herself drawn to an Irish rogue who is anything but right for her. Collin McGuire is brash, cocky, and from the wrong side of the tracks, not to mention forbidden by her father. And then there’s the small matter that he is secretly courting her younger sister. But when Collin’s affections suddenly shift her way, it threatens to tear Faith's proper Boston family apart.

Refusing to settle for anything less than a romantic relationship that pleases God, Faith O'Connor steels her heart against her desire for the roguish Collin McGuire. Collin is trying to win her sister Charity's hand, and Faith isn't sure she can handle the jealousy she feels.