Friday, December 30, 2011

And Last But Not Least...

FROM DARKNESS WON is the third and last installment in Jill Williamson's Blood of Kings trilogy and is also the last in my series of 2011's Best Books.

Story in a Nutshell
Hero Achan Cham steps into his role as the Crown Prince...just in time to head out to war. And if that weren't trouble enough, the love of his life is lost to him when she disappears in the veil. The fate of a nation hangs on the last battle, and so does his heart. What will the outcome be? You know the routine...pick yourself up a copy and read it.

What's So Great About It
The saga effect. I know, I know. That sounds kind of daunting. But honestly, this is one saga that speeds along faster than slogging through molasses. The character arcs from beginning to end are brilliant.

So there you have my faves for 2011. If you'd like to keep up with my book reviews in real-time for 2012, you can follow me on Goodreads. I post reviews for every book I read.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pick #4 of 2011 Best Books

Nick of Time is the sixth installment of the Bug Man novels. Yeah. I guess I definitely have a thing for series.

Story in a Nutshell
Nick is a forensic entomologist bent on tracking down the murderer of one of his colleagues. The problem is he's supposed to be getting married, not trailing a criminal. Caught up in the case, he finds himself on a manhunt that's drawing him farther and farther from the church where his bride is waiting. Will he make it back in time? You guessed'll have to read it to find out.

What's So Great About It
The dialogue. Tim Down's is the master of snark. His characters slice and dice wit so sharp, it'll leave you bleeding. And I love that the gal Nick is going to marry is every bit as sarcastic as he is...the perfect pair.

If you find that your own dialogue is lacking, pull one of the Bug Man novels off the shelf and take a few notes.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Bronze Medal

Really, all 5 books I mention this week are well worth the read. But since I need to have some kind of order, here's my third pick for 2011.

Gravestone is book 2 in the Solitary Tales series (hmm...I'm sensing a trend in my reading with the whole series thing). Book one was, you guessed it, Solitary. Disclaimer: If creepy is not your thing, then this isn't the series for you.

Story in a Nutshell
High schooler Chris Buckley's world falls apart when his mom and dad divorce and he's forced to move with his mom to the nowhere town of Solitary. No, there aren't any zombies, but the small town citizens sure seem like it. Making friends is tough, but one girl eventually befriends him...and ends up getting killed. Chris determines to find out just what kind of secrets the people of Solitary are hiding--secrets that just might land him in the grave.

What's So Great About It
It's haunting quality. This story, while not particularly pleasant, really sticks with me and I'm not quite sure why...which just might be a great projet to go back and figure that out.

I don't generally read horror stories but I'll be looking to get my hands on the next installment of this one.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best of the Best: Part II

Like I said, first place is a tie, so here's the second half of it. Lisa T. Bergren's River of Time Series is fan-freaking-tastic!

Book I: Waterfall....................Book II: Cascade...................Book III: Torrent
Story in a Nutshell
Two teen sisters, Gabi and Lia, are hurtled back in time to medieval Italy. Danger abounds but so do smokin' hot Italian knights. The girls get sucked into the political intrigue of the day but never fear...hero Marcello saves the day and sweeps Gabi off her feet. After a trip or two back to present day Italy, eventually mom and dad relocate to the past as well. Does everyone live happily ever after? You'll have to read it to find out!

What's So Great About It
The characters. I got totally attached to Gabi and Marcello. I rooted for them. Sniffled for them (stoic Scandinavians don't cry). And even felt the heartache at their forced separations. I felt like I was part of the family.

Good thing Lisa is working on book 4.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best of the Best: Part I

This week I'm swerving off the writing freeway and taking a little detour onto the reading road. Each day I'll name one of my top picks for the best books of 2011.

Hate to do this, but honestly, first place is a tie. So to be fair, I'll do this alphabetically. Today's pick is The Hourglass Door trilogy by Lisa Mangum.

Book I: The Hourglass Door
Book II: The Golden Spiral
Book III: The Forgotten Locket

Story in a Nutshell

Leonardo da Vinci creates a time travel portal that's used to transport prisoners to the future. Most are criminals, but one isn't...and it's up to Dante to stop the evil plan to destroy time itself.

High school senior Abby is attracted to the new Italian boy who starts half-way through the school year. Will it be a fatal attraction? Aha! You'll have to read the series to find out.

What's So Great About It

Besides the fast-paced plot, the thing I love best about this trilogy is the writing. I highlighted entire sections, underlined fantastic sentences, and drooled on pretty much every page of these books because the prose is that killer.

Seriously. When I grow up, I want to write just like Lisa Mangum. Here's an example:

"Dante's voice was a husk, a shell, a fragment of a whisper, but it was enough to snare my attention."

Now that's what I'm talkin' 'bout!

Even if time travel isn't your thing, pick this puppy up just for the sheer delight of the writing.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Real Reason for the Season

I can think of no better words to post for Christmas than this:

He was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

He was whipped so we could be healed.
Isaiah 53:5

Happy Birthday Jesus!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm Dreaming Of A...

Nope, not a white Christmas. Actually, I'm kind of glad it hasn't snowed. Less shoveling. No idiots spinning out on the road from driving too fast. And I can still wear cutesie shoes instead of Sorrel boots.

What I'm talking about is that I had a snippet of a dream just before waking up this morning. Not a full-fledged scenario. More like an emotional image that left behind an oily residue...which sounds yucky and somewhat creepy, I grant you, but oh what fodder for a manuscript!

Did you know that's how the Twilight series began? It all started when Stephanie Meyers awoke from a particularly vivid imprint of a dream.

Pretty much anything can be used as an impetus to propel your story forward. Some ideas other than dreams are:
- song lyrics
- kids books
- sermons
- bits of eavesdropped conversations (I know, naughty, but it works)
- e-mail or Facebook nuggets
- obituaries (sad but true...don't tell me they don't make you wonder)

And those are just a few. So go ahead, extend your writer antennas. You never know where your next fantastic plot idea might come from.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wish List

1. Hours of uninterrupted writing time
2. Plot twists that surprise even myself
3. Characters who behave exactly how I want them to
4. A killer theme that connects to reader's hearts
5. Words that flow like a gallon of spilled milk all over the kitchen floor

If these 5 little wishes came true, what a happy writer I'd be, especially at this time of year. Reality is, though, that I'm currently standing at the crossroads of Sluggish and Overcommitted. And unless I find a magic genie somewhere amidst the Christmas wrap and piles of dishes in the kitchen from cookie baking, those wishes probably aren't going to happen.

So, how to cope with the ol' crazy-busy schedule and make headway on a work-in-progress? Here's a more realistic list...

Apply Critiques
These are super easy to do in bits and pieces.

Spit Shine
Go back and polish up a paragraph or two. Slash and burn the fluff then replace with some killer prose.

Write Just One
Paragraph, that is. You might be surprised that two or more will follow.

Read it Again, Sam
Do a quick read through of what you've already written for coherency. Highlight places that snag you to go back and fix later.

Gain a Hat Size
Expand your brain cells by grabbing a new book on the writing craft and sneak in a page or two. While this isn't directly adding to your word count, it is improving the quality of your future word count.

These handy dandy tips might not make all your writing dreams come true, but they'll sure help keep your manuscript on track.

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, oh my what a wonderful day!

Hear that? Got the lyrics running through your head? Feel like kicking up your heels? What about this one...

Dunh dunh dunh daaaah. Dunh dunh dunh daaaah.

Beethoven's Fifth leave you feeling a little melancholy? A little dramatic? How about the Pink Panther theme song? What does that evoke?

And more importantly...what in the world is my point?

Music arouses emotions, and capturing those emotions with words is a writer's job. So work that angle when you're writing. Put on some background tunes to create atmosphere.

Each of my manuscripts thus far has had a soundtrack to go along with the story. GALLIMORE, my first book, was an actual soundtrack from the movie The Count of Monte Cristo. Whenever I sat down to work on my second piece, UNDERCURRENT, I popped in cd's from the Swedish band Vasen, who slam out Scandinavian tunes with a contemporary twist. There's one particularly moving piece that I imagine to be the hero and heroine's special song.

Currently, I don't have any inspiring music for my new Bow Street Runner series. But who knows...maybe Santa will hit me up with a loaded iTunes card, eh?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Great Elixer

DAY 37

Word Count: 23,632

Sentence of the Day: Wren's smile would shame the sun, and mayhap did, for along with it the hint of dawn began to bleach the sky from pitch to ash grey.

Humility. Pride. Two sides of the same coin...and every writer's got a pocketful of that change.

I got an interesting e-mail the other day from a writer student of mine. I'd been mentoring her on her first attempt at a novel this summer. When she first wrote it, her buttons practically popped and she was pretty sure this would be NY Times Bestseller material. Naturally I was proud of her as well, for that's quite an accomplishment for a fourteen-year-old.

Fast forward to a few days ago. She'd set the piece aside for a few months and recently went back to it. You guessed it. Humble Pie. Time gave her the insight to see the verbose and insignificant fluff in the piece. Why is that so hard to see in our own work the first go around?!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Victory is Mine Saith the Griep

DAY 36

Word Count: 23,442

Sentence of the Day: Ahead, near a cabstand that wouldn't house a hack for at least another hour, a lone figure lingered in the shadows.

Yesterday's experiment of shutting off the ol' internet while I wrote worked like crazy-go-nuts. I grand-slammed my goal of 1k. Granted, it wasn't nearly as much fun as chatting with my buddies, but satisfaction for hitting the bullseye sure tastes sweet.

So here's my time you sit down to write, remember why you're there. What your purpose is. Answering e-mails can wait. Checking on Facebook can, too. Social media is sometimes a sick addiction.

And speaking of addiction, I'm off to bake Christmas cookies.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Juggling is For Clowns

DAY 35

Word Count: 23,379

Sentence of the Day: He measured his words, doling out each one like a lifeline, hoping she'd grasp onto the strength in his voice.

This is it. The inevitable pre-Christmas I-can't-balance-my-life posting. How about you? Has the holiday frenzy invaded every corner of your life? Have you dropped any balls that should still be flying high?

I set a goal this week to write 500 words a day, Monday through Friday. As you'll note, yesterday I wrote a whopping big zero, zip, nada.

So, how to deal with missed goals?

Double-down. Today I'll double that goal and make it 1k. That will be possible only if I turn off the ol' internet and quit checking e-mail. Talk about time suckers.

Besides avoiding the information freeway, there's one other sure-fire way to achieve your realistic. I do happen to have a chunk of time today so one thousand words is conceivable. Tomorrow, not so much. And forget about the next two weeks after that.

Sometimes a goal of zero is the perfect amount.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Counting Words

You'll notice each day that I sit down to work on my manuscript, I keep a tally of how many words I accomplish. Keeping track of words is an author's business, but just like anything, squinting your eyes too keenly on that number creates wrinkles--in your writing, that is.

Check this out:

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

Those are ALL the words in one book. Granted, it's a kid's book (guess which one correctly--email me your answer at I'll send you an e-book version of UNDERCURRENT), but do you think the author stressed over the amount of words? Not so much. It's more about content.

Yeah, I'm beating the content drum again.

I read a lot, and I'm noticing a creepy little trend. More often than not, authors go for cliche. Trite. Words that take up space without imparting a whole lot of wow factor.

Before you pull out your pitchforks, I totally get that in a novel of 90k, not all the words are going to be stellar, or even mildly entertaining, but for the most part...shouldn't they?

Go ahead and focus on word count for your first draft, but let that be exactly what it is--a first draft. After that, go through and flag the mundane, the ho-hum, the yawners, and while you're at it, the repetitions.

The bottom line is make every word count instead of counting words.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Squawk Blocking

DAY 34

Word Count: 22,301

Sentence of the Day: As he suspected, Emily stood near the door, right where he'd left her, her gaze leveled at him like a well-aimed kidney punch--one that bruised even when he turned back to Moore.


How do you feel when you read that word? Heart rate rev up a notch? Shoulder muscles tense? Get a visual of your mother, index finger aimed at your heart, a list of shortcomings spewing out her mouth?

There is no get-out-of-criticism free card in the game of writing. And believe me, once you've published something, everybody is a critic.
So, how to deal with bad reviews and harsh off-the-cuff remarks that people sometimes make to your face?

Denial is an option, though not a very healthy one. Anger, withdrawal, curling into the fetal position, all viable alternatives but again...maybe not the most beneficial choices.

Personally, I like this quote from Seth Godin:

"If someone outside of your target group doesn't get the joke, don't worry. That's not why you made your art in the first place."

To effectively deal with the naysayers, you've got to be completely centered on what your message is and who your message is for.

Case in point, when I first laid eyes on the glaring red one star of an Amazon review for my debut novel, about feeling like throwing up. I forced myself to read the thing, and lo and behold (sorry, been hanging out in the Christmas story), the horrid critique was all about my story being too 'Christian'. Well yippie-dippy-doo-dah! This reader, while not liking the theme, actually got the theme, so I did my job well.

The trick of taking criticism is to move beyond the initial face-slapping sting and unearth the truth nugget. There's always something to be learned--

Unless you're a which case you know it all.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Best vs Most

DAY 33

Word Count: 21,750

Sentence of the Day: Men's voices spilled out an open drawing room door, one in particular lilting with a poorly concealed Midland drawl.

If you buy the assumption that more noise is not better noise, then is more writing not better writing?


Frequently I'm in awe of my writer buddies that slug out thousands of words a day on a consistent basis. Am I envious? You bet. I'm so green you could stick my feet in a pot of dirt and call me a Ficus. So this post may be my pathetic way of justifying my lack of producing gobs of copy at one sitting.

Or maybe I have a point.

No, I'm not dissing authors who are gifted enough to publish several books a year. The bottom line is where is your heart when writing? Think about it. Is your goal to pump out a jaw-dropping amount of words or to convey truths that will transform reader's lives?

Harper Lee wrote only 1 book. One. Yet that book remains a crazy bestseller and 50 years later still touches people's lives with a powerful message.

My point? Write your best, not your most. And if you're one of those amazing freaks of nature that can do both with stunning finesse, please excuse the drool leaking out the corner of my mouth as I shake your hand.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Build-a-Hunk Workshop

Malls. Gotta love 'em. I live in the land of the kingpin of them all--Mall of America...full of the usual Victoria's Secrets, not one but two Bath & Body Works, and of course the requisite Build-a-Bear Workshop.

Most cities have a Build-a-Bear, but if you're not lucky enough to be familiar with the stuffed animal retail business, let me fill you in. Think mall store full of cute little outfits on hangers, surrounded by deflated, fuzzy animal pelts. In the middle of the store is a big, fluffy cotton machine.

Enter a small child who, once over the horror of the lifeless stares from plastic eyeballs, picks out a limp piece of fur. Said child gives this to an adult who then jams it onto the machine and shoots stuffing into the fabric carcass. Voila. Instant lovable plush toy. And as a bonus, the kid gets to put a felt heart into their bundle of love before it's sewn up.

Mildly entertaining, but what's this got to do with fiction? Hmm?

Plenty. Creating a hero is a lot like going to one of these mall stores. First, the outside pelt must be chosen. Biceps, pecs, a six-pack, longish hair, and don't forget the chiseled facial features and all-consuming eyes.

Add to this mix a resonant voice, some talent, and the smell. Every leading man has a smell, whether it's spice, musk, possibly sawdust or leather. Take a sniff. Yep. Smells manly--and a good one at that.

There. Now we have the lifeless pelt waiting to pump in some guts.

My male characters tend to be deeply spiritual whether they've met their Savior or not yet. They also have dealt with or continue to overcome some kind of deep tragedy of the spirit.

And don't forget the bonus of a heart. My heroes must have sensitive hearts and questions that beg for answers lurking beneath their waistcoats.

It's these qualities, coupled with integrity, that bring my leading man into direct conflict with their heroine--who inevitably does not understand him--and into a fair amount of conflict within themselves.

Finally, before my hunk-of-man is complete, he must have some kind of flaw. A physical imperfection works, but a spiritual or emotional blemish is even better. As the relationship between hero and heroine deepens, those flaws become either a battle wound to wear with pride or a final issue that is laid to rest with humility.

The possibilities are endless and the combinations make for a lovable hero every time.

Whew...I'm sure glad this doesn't have to go on my credit card.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Worth Two Thousand Words (Inflation, You Know)

DAY 32

Word Count: 21,072

Sentence of the Day: Staring down the barrel of the loaded question, Nicholas tightened his jaw.

My writing buddy (yes, contrary to popular belief, I do have friends), Ane, has a little trick she uses to enhance her character's depth. She takes their picture...right out of a magazine. Every now and then, she buys a few trendy periodicals and pages through, looking for interesting people pix, then rips 'em right out and sticks them in a file. Next time she's creating a character for a story, voila. Instant inspiration.

I do the same thing, but in a different way. Since I'm too cheap to cough up 5 bucks on a magazine I'm just going to ruin, I prefer to peruse the ol' internet.

Here's the view of my latest hero and heroine.

So whenever I get stuck in the middle of a scene, I glance at my handy-dandy character photos and wonder what in the world they're thinking about their predicament.

But sometimes the problem is I don't have them in a predicament, in which case, photos like this are helpful:

DISCLAIMER: Don't try that last one at home, folks.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fear Factor 6

DAY 31

Word Count: 20,445

Sentence of the Day: He stood before her, holding out her pelisse like a mandate.


Writers are a pathetic group of psychopaths. First we're afraid to start writing, then we're scared to death that we won't be able to finish it, and finally we soil our breeches (sorry, I'm still in Regency mode) when we finally sell a manuscript and it becomes a book. Sheesh. What a bunch of freaks.

And believe me, I fly my freak flag high, especially with this fear. I would oh-so-much rather be squirreled away in a dark corner writing my next blockbuster than standing on a street corner hawking my book. But that's not the way the game is played.

When you do finally cross the finish line and your palms are sweating all over your very first novel, you're going to have to market it. Tone it down. I hear you. You signed up as an author, not a salesman. Read my lips: you're in the army now (the marketing armed forces, that is).

No, you don't have to broadcast how wonderful you are. That would be conceited. You do, however, have to let bookstores, radio stations, newspapers, media-in-general know what your story is about so they, in turn, can let readers know. But how does one go about doing that?

Besides asking your editor and agent (both storehouses of information), here are some resources:

And here's an idea that works great for me...once you've got those book signings lined up, take a buddy with you. Let them do the promotional talking for you. Once they've frothed up a few customers, you'll be surprised at the peer pressure effect on other shoppers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fear Factor 5

DAY 30

Word Count: 20,189

Sentence of the Day: "A person's character is most clearly seen not by what they show, but what they hide."


- Go to a writer's conference where you can meet face-to-face with an editor. I suggest the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference. It's worth every penny you have to scrounge to get there, so start fingering the couch cushions now for next September.

- Get an agent...which can be every bit as tough as getting a publisher. Start by asking writer buddies that like your work for a referral to their agent.

- Build a platform. Don't have a blog yet? Start one. Aren't on any social networking sites? Skedaddle over to your choice of chatter (Facebook / Twitter / Blogspot/ yada-yada). It's never too early to begin collecting a tribe of followers.

Yeah, I can hear you. What in the world does this have to do with getting a book published? Nowadays...a lot. Having established connections buoys your manuscript to the top of the slush pile because it gives you a marketing edge over an author who has none. Savvy?

- Spit shine your work to a fine sheen. Killer writing will slay an editor because story is still king.

Rabbit Trail Alert
Hey, did you notice the day count on today's post? I'm at 30. One month. And I've topped 20k words in those days. YEE-HAW! At this rate, I'll have an entire novel written in 5'ish months. Granted, those 30 days were actually spread over 2 months, making that a total of 9'ish months to get the thing done, but still...think I'll haul my backside out for a java and a slab of dark chocolate to celebrate today.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fear Factor 4

DAY 29

Word Count: 18,988

Sentence of the Day: He threw out the words like a sharp right cross, letting them linger for stunning effect.


If an empty computer screen with a blinking cursor simultaneously chills your blood and beads sweat on your forehead, you're in good company.

Ernest Hemingway, who stared down a rifle while hunting big-game in Africa, dodged bullets as a war correspondent, and taunted bulls in Spain, said the scariest thing he ever encountered was, "A blank sheet of paper."

So yeah, this is a very real, very common writerly fear. That being said, what to do about it? I mean besides slapping a paper bag over your head and inhaling deeply. Here are a few tricks that I use:

- Get outside. Go for a walk, a run, a rollerblade extravaganza. Sometimes changing your scenery and getting your blood flowing not only strengthens your muscles but your creativity as well.

- Move. No, don't pack up your household and your pet gerbil, just your laptop. Go to a different place to write. A change of scenery can physically change your point of view and spur on new thoughts.

- Pull down a favorite piece of fiction from your bookshelf, something you've already read, and glance over some inspiring bits of prose. Take 1 sentence, just one, and re-word it to make it your own. That may be all it takes to get you going again.

- Murder your inner editor. Go ahead. Here and now and in cold blood.

Which brings me to the second half of this fear...

So what if you write crappy? You don't have to show it to anyone. There's this thing called a delete key. The freeing act of typing without limits just might get you over the hump you're stuck behind, and you'll go sailing down the writing freeway, kicking out some amazing prose.

Warning: Just make sure you go back and erase all that free-writing from your manuscript. You don't want to venture into the publishing world with literary toilet paper trailing on your shoe.

And if you really need a kick in the butt to get over this fear, give me a holler. I'd be glad to oblige.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fear Factor 3

DAY 28

Word Count: 17,926

Sentence of the Day: Four glistening blobs of grey matter taunted him from their half-shells on a gilded-edged plate.


If you write it, they will come...readers, that is. This is an easy dragon to slay with the sharpened tip of some cold, hard facts.

Overall U.S. Publishing Revenues Are Growing
Publishers' net sales revenue has grown annually; 2010's $27.94 billion is a 5.6% increase over 2008.

Americans, Young and Old, Are Reading Actively in ALL Print and Digital Formats
2010 total net sales revenue in the consumer-focused Trade market is $13.94 billion, increasing 5.8% since 2008. Both adult fiction and juvenile have seen consistent annual gains.

Apparently people are reading--and quite a bit...which is great news for writers. Strictly looking at the way the numbers crunch, there are consumers out there who will want to read what you have to write. And there's no better time to dip your toe into the water with the rise of e-book sales.

So, now that you know the facts, next time this fear knocks at your door hefting a six-pack and looking for a pity party, direct it to the toga bash down the block.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fear Factor 2

DAY 28

Word Count: 17,706

Sentence of the Day: The voice behind crawled up her spine and settled at the base of her neck, raising the finest of hairs.


You're not. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23. It's only by Christ's work on the cross that any of us are 'good enough' in God's eyes.

Now that we've got that out of the way...wait a minute. Have we really?

Seems to me grasping the essence of the gospel is the only way to combat this fear, whether in reference to writing, relationships, or pretty much anything.

If God is indeed sovereign (and if that's up for grabs in your mind, check this out first: Is God's Sovereignty Limited?), your 'good enoughness' is really kind of a moot point. Seriously, does the world revolve around you or God?

So what to do when those creeping lizards of self-doubt skitter up one side of you and scuttle down the other? Whenever this kind of fear raises its ugly head, it's time to stop and take a reality check. Pull your eyeballs off yourself and refocus on God. Dig into the Bible. And remember...

If God is able to make you 'good enough' (and He's already a done deal), then He's certainly able to get you published.
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