Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole

Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole

There are so many reasons to read this book by literary agent Mary Kole. If you've been a writer for a while and already know much about the writing craft, you can probably skim that part. But there are so very many more reasons than that to read this book.

If you write for children and young adults, it should be essential reading material. I downloaded it to my Kindle. When I finished reading it, I had left 80 notes. It's that chock-full of specific information.

Here are some of the things that Ms. Kole addresses:

  • Optimum manuscript length for Middle Grade and Young Adult
  • Definition of Middle Grade and Young Adult
  • Age of MG and YA readers, and age of the protagonists in MG and YA novels
  • MG mindset, Teen mindset
  • Popular genres in each category 
  • The distinctions between literary ("quiet") and commercial fiction
  • Definition of "quiet"
  • The definition of high concept (books with an obvious sales hook) and definition of sales hooks
  • A definition and discussion of the Dystopian genre, and why it's so popular 
  • How and why story endings differ between MG and YA
  • Definition of historical fiction (anything set in the 1980s and prior) and caveat: The history must be integral to the story. If the same story can be set in the present, then do so.

She also goes into specific reasons why agents reject manuscripts: How to start well. Common opening cliches to avoid.

Here's a quote from her that piqued my attention on a personal level:

From a craft perspective, here’s why I’m such a stickler for a shorter word count: It’s always easier to add just the right thing to a sleek and streamlined project than it is to cut from an overlong one. A shorter, tighter manuscript often shows me that the writer has many skills in his revision toolkit. An indulgent longer text is usually a red flag telling me that the author is either a beginner or someone who will be especially precious when it comes to revision. I’d much rather work with the former, and I know a lot of editors who agree.

It gratified me to hear this because I have spent a considerable amount of time over the past year studying just this. I played with removing the subplots from my manuscript to see how it read in an ultra-streamlined, almost subplot free version. I discovered how easy it is to excise subplots, and then to drop them back in, judiciously, for a fuller story. 

Among my 80 notes, I also especially liked reading the following:
. . . some editors and agents are clamoring for strong contemporary stories where nobody has any magic powers and nothing falls out of the sky or crawls out of the ground. They (and readers) want real life . . . 
Teens feel everything very intensely, and two things in particular: An interest in romance and darkness.
My story isn't terribly dark, but it is definitely a romance, with all of the genre-specific scenes requisite to telling a romance, and that readers expect to find in a love story. 

Mary Kole works for MovableType Literary Agency, and also writes a popular blog,

Again, if you are writing for this market, should you read this book? Absolutely. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Hope Springs Christmas by Patricia Davids

A Hope Springs Christmas by Patricia Davids

This book will be released on December 1, 2012. 

This is only the second Amish inspirational romance that I’ve read, and both were by Patricia Davids. I don’t know much about the Amish, but her portrayal is completely convincing, bringing out not only their customs, but snippets of their Pennsylvania Dutch language. 

The seventh book in the series, Brides of Amish Country, this is widow Sarah Wyse and shy Levi Beachy’s love story. Sarah’s a young widow, and Levi was her husband’s best friend. He has also been secretly in love with Sarah since they were children.

When Levi's sister and Sarah’s friend, Grace, leaves home for a while to visit her grandmother, Sarah, whose job in a fabric store has ended temporarily, steps in to take care of the family. 

Grace wants to get married, but she fears she can’t, or who would feed Levi and their twin brothers? Who would help Levi at the buggy shop that Sarah owns, and Levi runs? Before Grace leaves, she gets Sarah to promise to find a wife for Levi.

Levi  would also like to leave the area and move west, but he made a promise to Sarah’s dying husband that he would look after her until she remarries. It’s been five years, plenty long enough to find a husband. But a man of his word, Levi's promise keeps him right where he is, and still loving Sarah from afar.  

Since her husband, sister and parents have all died in the past few years, Sarah feels as though death follows her like a dark shadow, and is reluctant to ever love again.

But she’s not afraid to look for a wife for Levi. After bringing him together with several possibilities, Levi catches on, and decides to turn the tables on Sarah.

Of course, we know what eventually happens. Watching a couple's love develop and unfold is the best part of reading a romance.

Though released during the holiday season, this book wasn’t as Christmas-y as many I’ve read. But that was fine. It was still a quiet, wonderful, heartwarming book.   

Book source: NetGalley     

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Snowglobe Christmas by Linda Goodnight and Lissa Manley

Two heartwarming Christmas novellas, set in Snowglobe, Montana.

Linda Goodnight contributed Yuletide Homecoming, which is Rafe Westfield and Amy Caldwell's reunion story. He broke her heart five years ago when he left her at the altar to enlist in the Marines. A year ago, and suffering from PTSD, he returned to Snowglobe to run a business with his brother. Now Amy has also returned, to take over her mother's Christmas Village-type store.

This novella is lushly descriptive of the best of Christmastime.

As to the romance, it takes some doing, but Rafe finally melts Amy's heart. And who wouldn't love a man like Rafe, and eventually forgive him for what he did? He's a do-gooder, volunteering at his church and for other organizations in need, including foster children. Plus, he's about to build a new house in a beautiful valley, and he needs Amy's help in planning the layout. These are only a couple of the many ways this handsome man wins back the love of his life.

If you need your spirits lifted, do yourself a favor: download the book to your favorite e-reader, make a cup of steaming hot chocolate, put your feet up, and prepare to feel loved, pampered and protected.  We women need stories like these at Christmastime, when we're running a mile a minute, trying to get everything done and meet everyone's needs but our own.
I will never, ever forget the joy I felt one year at Christmastime, when I was feeling this way, besides being basically snowbound with three small children. A package was delivered to my door in a plain, brown cardboard box. But it held such treasures: Christmas stories from Harlequin!

Now for A Family's Christmas Wish by Lissa Manley: I was sure when I started reading this novella that I couldn't possibly like it as much, or more, than Linda Goodnight's pitch-perfect, spot-on story. Was I ever surprised when I found myself so touched, moved and inspired by it that I cried throughout the last quarter.

Was this story truly a tearjerker, or did it simply find and pluck deep chords within me? Maybe it was the Snowglobe that played The Impossible Dream, my all-time favorite song, and Owen's Christmas gift to Sara.

Maybe it was Ms. Manley's expert choice of scenic material in the final quarter, situations which enabled these stubborn characters to trust God's plan for them and, eventually, their love for each other. I don't know what it was, but it moved me powerfully.

Summary: Sara Kincaid's father left her when she was a child, and then was later abandoned by her husband during her eighth month of pregnancy. As you might guess, she doesn't trust men. When she hires builder Owen Larsen to do some carpentry work on her Bed-and-Breakfast, she's pretty sure her heart is safe. After all, Owen's moving away in a week. Besides that, Owen himself is afraid to love again, after his beloved wife's death a year ago. Their small children help bring them together, and as the week rolls on, Owen and Sara fall in love. But it takes some doing on God's part to finally pull them back into each other's arms forever.

Review source: NetGalley.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Gift of Family: Two Heartwarming Christmas Novellas by Linda Ford and Karen Kirst

Back of the book:

These were released on October 1, 2012. Being series stories (which means distribution is similar to that of monthly magazines), they are no longer in print. Unlike magazine serials, they are available perpetually in e-book format.

Merry Christmas, Cowboy by Linda Ford

A wild snowstorm strands Colt Johnson in Eden Valley, where the storekeeper's daughter exudes welcome warmth. She's even offered to give the two orphans in his charge a Christmas to remember. An outcast, Colt doesn't dare hope for more--even though Becca's love would be a Christmas wish come true.

I enjoyed both of these stories very much. As novellas, each was probably only about 35,000-40,000 words, which severely limits the depth or scope in which an author can develop and explore her themes. Linda Ford examines what it means to be an outcast, or to feel like an outsider, in Merry Christmas, Cowboy. She shows God's love and acceptance of outsiders through Becca and her father's unquestioning acceptance of Colt and his two charges

Colt Johnson is a half-breed in a time when people of mixed race, particularly American Indian, are shunned and even persecuted. 

Because the format is so short, Ms. Ford was unable to go into that in much depth. For most of the story until near the end, the reader needs to take for granted that Colt is indeed an outcast, because the author said so, not because the reader has witnessed it in the unveiling story. But that's okay!

It is, after all, a romance, and so Ms. Ford folds her theme into the growing love between Becca and Colt. 

Because Becca's father operates a store in a remote area, Becca's life prospects are limited. To fulfill her mother's dying wish for her, she's on the verge of returning to the East to live. Until Colt shows up at the store around Christmastime with two newly orphaned children. As Christians, Becca and her father show Colt and the full-Indian children nothing but love and acceptance. Things they have never experienced from other white people, who only disdain them. 

The reader experiences Colt and Becca falling in love despite their outer goals and inner turmoils. As well, they become parent figures to the grieving children. Becca is determined to give them all the best Christmas ever. She succeeds, and in the process gets the greatest gift she could ever have. 

Back of the book:
Smoky Mountain Christmas by Karen Kirst

Cole Prescott's Gatlinburg visit will be just long enough to free his wife from their mistake of a marriage. Then he meets the daughter he hadn't known he had. Little Abby needs a father, especially at Christmastime. And all Cole wants is a chance to make a life with Rachel and Abby at last...

Rocky Mountain Christmas by Karen Kirst was every bit as good as Ms. Ford's novella. As a reader,  I actually related to this one more than I did to Ms. Ford's story, however that has nothing to do with the quality of either story, which were both wonderful, but rather my own particular compulsions for reading. Readers latch on more strongly to some authors because of the themes those authors share and explore.

Ms. Kirst's style was more romantic, which I liked. I also related better to Cole's inner turmoils than I did Colt's, and to the things that split him and Rachel apart, as well as to what each one needed to give up, in order to make their marriage work again. 

You can always trust Love Inspired's stable of authors to deliver uplifting, inspiring and romantic Historical Romances.   

Review source: Print copy, purchased at WalMart. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Four Steps to Line Edits that are Actually Fun

I discovered a great way to do line edits yesterday. I’m so excited about the results that I needed to share (even though I am trying to wean myself from writing about writing).--But hey, if writers can't talk to other writers about the shiny, cool things that excite us in practicing our art form, who can we talk to? 

Here’s the process:

STEP ONE: First, I uploaded my completed manuscript into my Kindle. If you have a different kind of reader, you can probably do the same, although I can’t tell you how. I can tell you how for a Kindle, below.

(If you are curious, and decide to enlarge the picture to read the text, no, it's not my book. I don't know what it is, but it does sound interesting.)

How to upload your manuscript to your Kindle:

  1. Find your Kindle Email address by going to Your Account>Manage my Kindle on your Amazon account.
  2. Click on Personal Document Settings. That’s where you’ll find your Kindle email address. Mine has a version of “my name”
  3.  Your regular email address needs to be listed on the “approved personal document email list,” which you find below your kindle email address. If it’s not there, add it.
  4. Send an email, with the attached file "My Book for" to your kindle email address. 
  5. Go to your Kindle and download your book. It could take a minute or two, so be patient. This won’t work if you have a Kindle App. It goes only to your Kindle. Sorry about that.
It is so cool to see your book in an e-reader. You will see at a glance if some of your paragraphs take up the entire screen. That’s a clue that you *might* want to break some of them up, although that depends also on the market you’re targeting and your pacing goals for the passage. Maybe you want it to 
be slow.

STEP TWO: E-reader in hand, read your book into a voice recorder. This is essential, and half the beauty of this technique. It struck me that some people might feel a little shy about doing something like this. My advice: Get over it! Learn to love the sound of your recorded voice as you read the fruit of your imagination. 

As I read my book aloud, my brain just naturally and fluently corrects my sentences. It drops unnecessary words. It fixes incorrect prepositions. It gives me a strong sense of where I should keep proper names, and where I should substitute them with pronouns, and vice-versa. 

My voice pauses where a comma is needed, or if a long sentence needs to be split in two. It perks up my dialogue.  If I stumble over a sentence, that’s a red flag. Read a passage until you come to a natural break, which is probably the end of a scene. Or if the writing is craggy, it might be only a couple of paragraphs.

If it's particularly craggy, I will pause and give myself direction as I read. This sounds like the following examples: “Delete next sentence entirely.” “Delete the telling phrase and keep the showing aspect in that sentence.” “Insert or strengthen character emotional response.” “Less is more: eliminate the first response and keep the second.” “Out of order sentences: reorder according to SR (Stimulus/Response) blocks.” [The need to reorder sentences is a big one for me. I note the need, but do not attempt to make changes at this point.]

Sometimes part of a scene isn’t sufficiently digested. I hear AUTHOR VOICE instead of CHARACTER VOICE. My teenage protagonists are quite bright, but sometimes I put wisdom in their mouths that they (probably) have not fathomed. Or if they have, it’d be on a more subtle, subconscious level, and would not be expressed using the same words. When I read it aloud, the need for those kind of changes becomes obvious.

STEP THREE: Bring your manuscript up on the screen of your laptop or desktop computer. Turn on the voice recorder and listen to what you just read while also reading it on your computer screen. 

When you get to a part that your reading voice changed, highlight it. Don’t stop and change it yet. It takes only a second to highlight it, and it doesn’t break your concentration as you continue to listen to yourself reading your manuscript for overall narrative flow.

STEP FOUR: After you have finished listening to the segment, go back to your computer screen and look at every highlight. Sometimes it’s a single word. You’ll remember what you wanted to say instead, or if you don’t remember, just listen to your recording again.

You can always stop listening to the recording at any point, fix the problem and then move on.  Sometimes, an entire sentence or paragraph will be highlighted. Listen again to how your reading voice told you to change it. Wash, rinse and repeat as often as necessary until the passage sounds exactly as it should. 

This was such a fun discovery for me, a great help in my line-editing process.

It reminded me of the 1650 storytimes I performed for audiences over an eleven-year period, when I read many thousands of picture books to children and their parents. Picture books have an embedded pacing to them, and the reader's voice just naturally speeds up and slows down at certain junctures. 

The same holds true, or should, for longer narratives. If it can be read aloud without the reader tripping all over their tongue, it may not be publishable still, but not because of log-jamming sentence structures.   

I hope that if you try it, you will enjoy the process, and the results, as much as I do.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Be Still My Soul: The Cadence of Grace, Book 1 by Joanne Bischof

Book Description:

Night’s chill tickled her skin. Lonnie pressed her hands together and glanced up. He was even more handsome up close. Having grown up the shy, awkward daughter of Joel Sawyer, she’d hardly spoken to any boy, let alone the one who had mothers whispering warnings in their daughter’s ears and fathers loading shotguns.

Pretty Lonnie Sawyer is shy and innocent, used to fading into the background within her family, and among the creeks and hollows of the Appalachian hills. Though her family is poor and her father abusive, she clings to a quiet faith.  But when handsome ladies’ man and bluegrass musician Gideon O’Riley steals a kiss, that one action seals her fate.  

Her father forces her into a hasty marriage with Gideon—a man she barely knows and does not love. Equally frustrated and confused by his new responsibilities, Gideon yearns for a fresh start, forcing  Lonnie on an arduous journey away from her home in Rocky Knob. 

Her distant groom can’t seem to surrender his rage at the injustice of the forced matrimony or give Lonnie any claim in his life.  What will it take for Gideon to give up his past, embrace Lonnie’s God, and discover a hope that can heal their two fractured hearts?

Gideon only ever cared about himself. Now that Lonnie is his wife, will he ever be worthy of her heart?

This 352-page book was published by Multnomah Press in October of 2012. 

My review:

The setting was the first thing that piqued my curiosity. I wasn’t aware of any romances set in Appalachia. In children’s fiction, Cynthia Rylant has brought that area to life. In adult fiction, Frazier’s literary masterpiece, Cold Mountain comes to mind.

Ms. Bischof’s descriptions of Appalachia are breathtakingly real. While I’ve never been there, she did complete justice to my literary imagination’s view of it, with its moist, misty, mountain forest terrain. Virtually all of her descriptions, whether they be of food, people, you name it, are almost like a Vermeer painting in their precision and detail. This was the book’s value for me. This was the one area where the book actually felt romantic to me, and lived up to its Inspirational Historical Romance label.  

Now for what I had trouble with as a reader: whenever I think of Appalachia, I think such things as poverty, illiteracy, moonshine, brutality, and incest. All but incest are present in this novel.  It was earthy, it was brutal, it was real.

That was an eye-opener for me.  I’ve been critical of historical romance at times because an author’s depictions of a place or an era, or character actions, are far more fantasy than fact. Not so with this book. It was so real that it was frequently unpleasant for me, despite the exquisite writing.

The story began with a shotgun wedding that shouldn’t have had to happen. Poor weak Lonnie is saddled with selfish, stupid, and terribly unlikeable Gideon. Gideon, who remains unlikeable almost to the end. Yet as a reader, I also felt sorry at times for Gideon, who never asked to be saddled with Lonnie.

This setup was Ms. Bishof’s opportunity to fully render her themes. Sometimes marriages do get off on the wrong foot. Frequently, both husband and wife are immature, selfish, and in need of character growth, redemption and forgiveness.   

Throughout the book, Gideon continues to make foolish mistakes, and God sends him thoroughly to the woodshed, so to speak, for his actions. I didn’t enjoy this aspect of the story. Certainly some of it was necessary, in order for God to set Gideon on the right path. But I began to feel that poor Gideon was presented as  far too much of a whipping boy, and Lonnie too much of a saint. Had the book been 50 pages shorter, and if Gideon had wised up more quickly, I would’ve enjoyed it more. I wearied of reading about his endless coming up against a set of cardboard villains, and his continuing stupid choices.
Ms. Bishof is as good at showing emotional nuance as she is at description, and so most of her characters were so real, you’d swear they are living, breathing people. Because she is so good at this, it surprised me that her villains were cardboard, although she’s not alone in this. Cardboard villains, unfortunately, tend to be a staple of romance.

Despite the book’s drawbacks for me—and they are drawbacks only due to my personal taste, and not the book’s actual quality—I would rate the book highly, even if I wasn’t overly in love with it. For some readers, Be Still My Heart will go on their keeper shelves.

I received this e-book free of charge through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are totally my own.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Mistaken Bride by Renee Ryan: Irish Brides Series: Inspy Historical Romance Book Review

Mistaken Bride by Renee Ryan
Book Two of Irish Brides Series

(This book was released in May 2012. Being a series title, it is no longer available in print. It is still widely available in e-book format.)

Back of the Book

When William Black's mail-order bride fails to appear at the Boston docks, he's relieved when beautiful, vibrant Bridget Murphy steps in. However, she has a surprise in store. She will be a temporary nanny to his young twins...but she will not marry without love.

Faith Glen, Massachusetts, is worlds away from the poverty Bridget knew in Ireland. And William Black couldn't be more different from her faithless ex-fiancé. Yet that integrity Bridget so admires binds William to a promise that could keep them apart forever. In this new land of opportunity, does she dare to wish for a happy ending?

The Murphy sisters, who left their home in Ireland in search of a better life in America, have now arrived in Hope Springs, Massachusetts. In Book One, The Wedding Journey by Cheryl St. John, Maeve, the doctor’s assistant, married Flynn, shipboard doctor.

Book Two is Bridget’s story. The moment she steps off the ship, she meets town millionaire and owner of a chocolate factory, William Black. He has sent for a mail-order bride who was on the ship that the Murphy sisters were on.* 

*Now if you are wondering why someone who is a millionaire, and as handsome and good as William Black, needs to stoop to sending for a mail-order bride, suspend your disbelief. Despite the disconnect, it’s a captivating story anyway. I am a new fan of Renee Ryan’s, and have since bought almost every book she’s written.

When William’s mail-order bride fails to appear at the Boston docks, and indeed, is shown to be the woman who died on board the ship, he makes a connection with Bridget Murphy, who agrees to be temporary nanny to his twins.

She will be the children’s nanny, but she will not enter into a marriage of convenience with him, though he at first suggests it. She will not marry him or anyone unless they are in love. Having been rejected by a fiancĂ©, she is understandably reluctant to enter into a loveless marriage. William has also suffered as a result of being bound to someone he couldn’t trust, notably his deceased wife.

Over a period of two weeks, love blossoms between William and Bridget. She completes their family, bringing his shy twins out of their shells and indeed, bringing William out of his workaholic, overly controlled way of being. 

When it seems that nothing stands in the way of them marrying, the unthinkable happens. A man of his word, William must keep his word, despite every inclination not to. I found the last couple of chapters to be especially devastating and powerful. But there is a solution, and the story ends as it should.  

Monday, October 01, 2012

How was Your Writing Week? Monday Goals Update 11/1/12

Babysitting my youngest grandson a week ago, I caught a cold. His mother said he was fine all week (good for him!), but I was fighting it. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I had a full-fledged cold.

Jogging: I was able to meet my goals before I started feeling too miserable. Although I jogged only 12 miles, it was to 75% of the weekly expectation. At that level, the Polar F60 gives you credit for having adequately met your goals. It doesn't play a victory tune and give you a trophy, like when you do better. But it does give you credit with a star or two.

I've now read all but Chapter 10 of The Elements of Expression by Plotnik, and everything from the afterward to the index. This book is truly entertaining, informative, and worthy of serious thought and study. Since I tend to sprint through life and books,  it didn't get the attention it deserved from me, but I did leave copious marks and notes in the Kindle. Whenever I want to return to the ideas that captured me, they're there.

I completed Sell Your Book like Wildfire, which is full of tips and ideas for doing just that. Even if you haven't published a book, it's full of ideas to implement, now. It lit a fire under me to start building a website. I downloaded three books on creating a WordPress website into my Kindle for when the time is right.

There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones. I'm at the 25% mark in this lovely book, a Young Adult Inspirational novel published by Thomas Nelson. It's very good, and I plan to review it soon. I had started reading Fever by Lauren DeStefano, Book 2 of the Chemical Garden (Dystopian) trilogy. I had truly enjoyed Book 1: Wither. But I could not get into Fever, which is so dark and macabre.

Compared to Fever, reading There You'll Find Me is a breath of fresh air, even if it deals with grief and loss.

Writing: There is good news on the writing front: I am no longer stuck. It was an excellent writing week. I revised 15,400 words, for a total of 43,200 (of 60,000). When I'm finished, I'll probably bump up the word total by another 1000 or so, to provide a tad more texture. Right now, it's lean bones.

How was your writing week? Did you meet your writing goals? Other goals?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Wedding Journey by Cheryl St. John: Irish Brides Series: Inspy Historical Romance Book Review

Back of the Book

The mysterious inheritance is the answer to a prayer. Now Irish lass Maeve Murphy and her sisters can come to America! She's sure happiness awaits her, even if it won't--can't--come from widowed ship doctor Flynn Gallagher. Yes, he made her his assistant, but she's not foolish enough to fall for the man all the eligible, wealthy female passengers admire.

Flynn Gallagher may have his pick of ladies, but only one cares as he does for the sick and poor. Flynn vowed never to marry another woman who could break his heart. With Maeve, has his heart found safe harbor at last?

This one makes me want to say, "Ah." An old fashioned love story. A very old fashioned love story, and I LOVED it.

This is the first book (of three) in the Irish Brides series, a continuity series about three sisters, written by three different authors. I don’t know the exact details about continuity series, but my understanding is that the Love Inspired editors think up the series, creating a series bible, and then ask different authors if they would like to write the different books. It sounds like a lot of fun to me!  

Cheryl St. John kicked it off with The Wedding Journey. I found it intriguing, and also very cool, that this was a “road trip” story that took place pretty much entirely from the time the sisters boarded a ship in Castleville, Ireland (in 1850) until disembarking in America. It’s the time of the Irish potato famine, and these very strong, very brave young women are destitute. The inheritance, a house, is their only hope for survival. 

This one is Maeve’s story. When the ship’s physician sees her expertly helping an injured person, he asks her if she would be his assistant on board the ship. Though reluctant, she finally recognizes that God is calling her to do so. While on board, Maeve meets many people, some of whom are friendly towards her and her sisters, and others who believe they are superior because the sisters are poor and they are rich.

It’s partly because Flynn, the doctor, comes from this class of people that Maeve feels she would never be his type, although he never behaves in a superior fashion toward her or anyone. Flynn has his own reasons for not wanting to be in a relationship with Maeve, but they are not at all what she thinks.

This is a romance, and so the destination--love, marriage, and happily-ever-after--is never a surprise. But the journey of falling in love is unique with every romance written.

I never give star ratings to books I review, but I will say that this was one of my favorite Love Inspireds, from a line that is full of wonderful, wonderful books.    

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Six Reasons to Love Throughline (Interactive Index Card Software)

While revising my manuscript over the past two weeks, I was chugging along, no problems, following my notes about what needs to be added/changed/deleted from each scene as I revise it. I had already dumped all scenes that do not fit into the revised concept for my story.

But then, on Monday, when I was four scenes away from the big turning point at half, I discovered I needed a way to see, in a highly abbreviated form, what's been happening in each scene, in each of the story's four throughlines. That way I will know if, emotionally speaking, I have adequately set up the big thing that happens at half. You might be a gifted writer who can keep all of this in your head. Unfortunately, I am not.

How to do that easily? I had originally thought that yWriter would do the trick for me. It has a story boarding component to it, but working with it, I felt boxed in. I had long since pulled everything out of it and gone back to using Microsoft Word.

So, what was I to do? I could use the painstaking, time-consuming process of writing it out on scene cards. Ugh. Are you as tired of that process as I am?

Then I poked around the web and discovered Throughline by the Wright Brothers, who also developed Dramatica Pro, which I love. Here's six reasons why I love "The Deck," as it's called, and you might too:

  1. You are working from your computer to create and arrange the index cards. No writing them in pencil until you fingers cramp, and then standing on your head, arranging all those cards on the carpet. The carpet, which you suddenly become all too aware that you haven't vacuumed for two weeks. Maybe more.  
  2. You can add and delete cards with a single click. If you want only the scene title to show up on your card, you can do that, and then double-click for scene contents. I like having it all up front, and so I write everything on the front of the card. Oh, the glory of having a bird's eye view of my manuscript, from my computer screen! 
  3. Editing content is SO EASY, compared to index cards. Add, subtract, cut, paste, change font, text color, size--if you want to get that fancy with it. 
  4. To rearrange, just drag and drop.
  5. You can have as many cards as you want in a row by re-sizing all from the lower right of the screen. Because I am now ordering my manuscript by Dramatica Pro's Signposts and Journeys, and every story is comprised of four throughlines, each with a total of four signposts and three journeys, I've set my cards (see above), according to that. (Note on image above: you are not looking at the complete manuscript, but only to the halfway point.) I've given each throughline a different colored card, so I am aware at a glance of what's happening in each one, and where the characters are emotionally in each. By Dramatica "rules," if you are working in Signpost 2, for example, then each of the four throughline Signpost 2 scenes need to be completed before moving on to Journey 2, although they do not need to be completed in the same order each time. The colored cards show me this at a glance. 
  6. You can also export this information and print it up.

Here's another great reason: It costs only $9.95, and you have it forever, for every manuscript you write. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Goal Update Monday, and a treat from George Winston

Hubby and I saw the incomparable George Winston in concert this past Tuesday evening. Like any artist at the top of his form, he is a good example of the virtuosity one can achieve after countless hours of practice. He adapts some pieces and writes others. His season suites are so evocative that I can hear, for example, the individual colors of leaves blowing in an autumn breeze. Or raindrops coalescing and then finally dropping.

As for my goal update:

Writing: Once again, I didn't come very close to reaching my 32-hour goal. I wrote for 25 hours. Almost every day during the week, hubby needed me to help move trucks, tractors and combines! It's my new, part-time job, which I have taken over for my 88-year-old father-in-law, and am happy to do so. On Friday, machinery moving took four hours, alas.

But I met my word goal, which is the important one: I have now revised 24,600 words. If I can keep up this pace, I will be finished in a month, which will give me another month to do a line edit. I'm planning to enter this manuscript in the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart contest, Young Adult category. The GH opens for enrollment on Wednesday; the full manuscript must be submitted early in December.

Blogging: No goal, except to keep it at or below eight hours each week. I spent 8.5--not too bad of an overage.

Jogging: Goal is 16 miles, no more, no less. I met that goal, although I'm going to change the program in my Polar F60 beginning tomorrow. I currently have it set for weight loss, but I now want to work on increasing my cardiovascular fitness instead. I'll be changing it to a more demanding program. I won't be jogging any more than 16 miles, but will be pushing myself harder to reduce my minutes-per-mile.

Reading: I finished Mistaken Bride by Renee Ryan and started Lady Outlaw by Stacie Henrie. This line from Lady Outlaw made me chuckle:
"Through the blue twilight smearing the western sky, Jennie spotted the familiar outline of the corral fence. Home."
This is an action-packed adventure romance, and so I wasn't looking for poetic prose. But this appears to be   the extent of her nod to literary description. Again, I'm not saying this as a criticism, but merely as an observation.

Life in General: Hubbie still hasn't had time to finish painting the outside of the house, and I haven't given a thought to the rooms inside that still need painting. Nor will we be able to fly down to Utah, as we'd hoped before fall planting season. We have run out of time for the time being.

How was your week? I hope you met all of  your goals, writing or otherwise. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Who are You Writing To?

When we’re working on a manuscript, it’s helpful to have a visual in mind of our audience. Charlotte Rains Dixon wrote a post on it recently, which I mentioned in last Friday’s link roundup.

I don’t have much trouble visualizing the teenage girls that I’m writing to as I revise my Young Adult manuscript. It's a contemporary romance about two teens, one with a very big dream and the other who, it would appear, is okay with “ordinary.” It takes place in think "Music Man" small town America.

I have seen plenty of girls (and their mothers) in the library where I used to work, who would enjoy this book, or one like it. 

They’re probably not the girls who frequent the library sporting shades of hair from blue to orange, and wear short, skin-tight skirts and army boots with four-inch heels. I have nothing against these girls, but they are probably not my target audience. 

The purple haired girls are the hip and trendy girls, or the geeky, maybe wanabe hip and trendy girls. It's possible that they might go for the type of book I write. My heroines are not Buffy. They are not Bella. They may not single-handedly save the world, but they're not passive wimps either. Their world is smaller in scope, school and community-sized, actually, but certainly important to them and the people sharing it. They are also girls who want and need a great boyfriend!

Mostly, I envision my audience to be the other girls, and there are just as many, possibly more, of them as the blue-haired girls. They are the popular girls and the girls who are being homeschooled, and/or are from strongly conservative backgrounds. They're the girls whose mothers try to exert some control over what their daughters are reading. 

When I was a children's librarian, these mothers frequently came and counseled with me about appropriate titles for their daughters, and  became irate when they discovered their daughters had stuffed books for an older, or more worldly-wise, YA audience into their checkout bags.

As authors, we need to be true to ourselves and write books that reflect who we are, our values, what we like to read and, what we want to offer our audience. We write to an audience that shares similar tastes and values.

Who is your audience? Who are you writing to?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lilac Wedding in Dry Creek by Janet Tronstad

Back of the book:

When she ran away from the juvenile home she was raised in, Cat Barker left more than an unstable childhood behind. She also left her first love, Jake Stone. The two had more in common than anyone understood, but neither knew how to trust. Now Cat needs help, and there's only one person she can turn to—Jake, her daughter's secret father. Though Cat can see the tender man she once cared for, she still fears love and marriage. Until a daunting challenge renews her faith—and teaches them all a lesson about trust.

This book was an exceptionally tender-hearted read, as well as a page-turner. Jake Stone and Cat Barker met when they were teenagers living in a home run by the state. There, they fell in love, but Cat didn't have enough self esteem to believe that he could truly love her, and so she ran away at 18. He was pretty sure he wasn’t good husband and father material anyway, as he was raised by an abusive father.

Years go by. Jake becomes a wealthy gambler in Las Vegas, sending Cat some money every year. When illness threatens her life, and there is no one to take care of Jake’s secret child, Cat takes their little girl to meet her daddy. Jake persuades Cat to travel with him to Dry Creek to attend his brother’s wedding. As Cat’s health worsens, Jake’s love and fears for her and their daughter grow.    

This is a prodigal son story, which seems to be a staple to inspirational romance, and I can understand why. In this story, Jake not only finds his way home to the small town of Dry Creek and his family, but to God as well.

Apparently this is the 20th book Janet Tronstad has written in the Dry Creek series, some contemporary and some historical. I will definitely be reading more. Wildflower Bride in Dry Creek is already sitting on a shelf, waiting to be read ... 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Goal Update Monday

Do you like to hold yourself accountable for how you spend your time? I do too. I'm planning to use my blog today, and if I decide I like doing it, every Monday, as a place for personal and public accountability. My goal is to spend 32 hours each week on my manuscript.

If you're interested in doing the same on your blog, or if you already do, drop in a comment. I'll visit you and give you praise or encouragement!

Writing: I did not meet my goal. I wrote for 23.25 hours and revised 12,000 words.

Blogging: I don't have a goal for this, but I love to read blogs. I am currently subscribed to 606 blogs. I am social and nosy, and I prefer reading blog posts to Facebook.

But I dumped a hundred or more blogs this past week (my total subscriptions had numbered 700+); they were fabulous blogs, but all of the category I had labeled as "Artful." When I was working full time, I didn't even try to keep up on the 250-500 new posts that show up in Google Reader each day, but now I have more time; I can actually do it, although I needed to dump the artful blogs (scrapbooking, home decorating, food, knitting, etc). Time spent blogging: 7.75 hours.

Jogging: Goal is 16 miles/week. I met my goal. In my Brooks Ghost Runners, shown at left. These shoes are wonderful.

Reading: I need to set up a reading goal. Currently, it's "catch-as-catch-can." I read some pages in The Mistaken Bride by Renee Ryan. It's book two in a continuity series (of three books) in the Love Inspired line. I'm enjoying it very much. Don't let the sleeping dog fool you. I'll be reviewing the series soon.

Life in General: Don't you just love the new name for yellow?

  • Saw all five of my grandkids on Saturday. 
  • Spent a couple of hours at the County Fair on Saturday. 
  • Went out to dinner with friends in celebration of Mike's and my 38th wedding anniversary. 
The big time consumer this week, and it's not done yet: Mike and I started painting our house, which will always be yellow. The part that is still unpainted (gray primer color), we cannot reach with ladders due to the slope of the land. Mike needs to rent a man lift to do that, as well as to paint the trim, the fascia, and to put up new rain gutters. Not sure if that will get done in the coming week; he'll probably be harvesting garbanzo beans instead.

Best wishes on the coming week, and may you meet all of your goals.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Big Sky Family by Charlotte Carter

Back of the Book: Single mom Ellie James has returned to Montana for a fresh start and a new job at a local school. She sure could use the support of hometown rancher Arnie O'Brien, especially when she faces the opportunity to step up as director. But this cowboy still holds a grudge from when Ellie left him behind eight years ago. Can Arnie trust God's plan and take a second chance on the girl who got away? He and Ellie will have to put aside the past to face the future together.

I knew I wasn't reading a typical romance when I discovered, almost from the first page, that the hero is a paraplegic, and will always be one. 

Whoa. And he is hero material? 
In an inspirational romance, absolutely. Yes. 

That's what I love about inspirational romance: the authors shine a light on real people in real-life situations. The love that grows, or is rekindled, in the case of a reunion romance such as this one, is based not so much on sexual chemistry (although that is always present, but underplayed). Instead, agape love is forged between them. 

Anyone who's been married for any amount of time realizes agape is the only kind of love that will endure the trials and tribulations a couple will assuredly encounter, probably many, many times, in their lives together. Faith in God and the enduring power of love is what inspirational romance is all about.

About the book ... It's about a lot of things, but nothing so much as Arnie learning to forgive Ellie for leaving him after his injury. It's also about Arnie learning to see himself as a man worthy of being loved, even if he cannot walk, and to accept Ellie's love for him

For Ellie, who had never really stopped loving Arnie (though he pushed her away after his injury), it's about being tested in her leadership abilities and discovering she's up to what's hoped for her. Given the chance to take on a job with quite a lot of responsibility, she is aided in her decision by Arnie's complete faith in her abilities. But not just faith, he's also willing to roll up his sleeves and help her be the accomplished businesswoman she is destined to be ... besides being Arnie's wife.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Home for Hannah by Patricia Davids

by Patricia Davids

Publication date: Aug 1, 2012
Inspirational Romance

Back of the Book:
Yearning to find a meaningful life in the outside world, nurse Miriam Kaufman strayed far from her Amish community. She also needed distance from Nick Bradley, the cop who had caused her so much pain. Back in Hope Springs to care for her ailing mother, Miriam needs Nick, now sheriff, to find the mother of Hannah, the baby abandoned on her porch. Nick is as wary of Miriam's intentions as she is of facing their past. Can two wounded hearts overcome their history to do what's best for little Hannah?

I cannot resist a BABY ON THE DOORSTEP hook. Who would be so desperate as to leave their baby on someone's doorstep, and why? 

The mystery is solved, of course, in any novel with this hook. But in a romance, it happens even as a man and a woman are trying desperately NOT to fall in love. 

I'll admit it. I'm new to Steeple Hill's Love Inspired line. Over the past 11 years, I was a children's librarian. The bulk of my reading was devoted to Young Adult, Middle Grade and Picture Books. But I love Inspirational Romance, and I intend to "catch up" on my reading ... and reviewing. 

I'd never read a Patricia Davids book, although she has written somewhere around 20 books so far. As well as the Baby on the Doorstep, the Amish theme intrigued me. This book is part of her Brides of Amish Country Series. Reading it, I learned more than I expected to about the Amish and their beliefs, but the facts were always deftly inserted and only where necessary. 

I discovered also that Ms. Davids's writing style matches the Plainness of the Amish, most notably their Plain Speaking. Unlike other romance writers whose style tends toward lush and lyrical, Ms. Davids does not. Her book reads more like a documentary, with a plot that was utterly believable, which didn't bother me in the least. I have always preferred verisimilitude to fantasy in the romance genre. Besides, there were mysteries to be solved, and the sooner the better. The plot needed to clip along speedily. There was only one place, really, at the end, where I wished Ms. Davids had slowed her pace slightly. I wish she had prolonged the hero and heroine's reuniting after the breakup, so I could savor it all the more. It happened too quickly to bring tears to my eyes. 

But there was another place where she succeeded, which took me entirely by surprise. Tell me if you don't think the following passage is utterly beautiful: 

Nick was singing softly in a beautiful baritone voice that sent chills up her spine. It was the old spiritual, "Michael Row the Boat Ashore." Miriam stood listening for several stanzas, captured by the beauty of his voice and the healing words of the song. Death was not an end, merely a river to be crossed.  
Mark and her father were waiting for her on a shore she couldn't see yet, but someday she would. If only she could be sure she could gain their forgiveness. 
How could she if she handn't forgiven Nick? She pushed the screen door open and walked out onto the porch.   

Well, maybe you need to read the book to feel the full context. I enjoyed A Home for Hannah, and I will definitely be reading more books by Patricia Davids. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Unlikely Wife by Debra Ullrick: Inspy Historical Romance Review

Back of the Book

The arrival of Michael Bowen's bride, married sight unseen by proxy, sends the rancher reeling. With her trousers, cowboy hat and rifle, she looks like a female outlaw—not the genteel lady he corresponded with for months. He's been hoodwinked into marriage with the wrong woman! 
Selina Farleigh Bowen loved Michael's letters, even if she couldn't read them herself. A friend read them to her, and wrote her replies—but apparently that "friend" left things out, like Michael's dream of a wife who was nothing like her. Selina won't change who she is, not even for the man she loves. Yet time might show Michael the true value of his unlikely wife.

The cover intrigued me first with this book. I’d never seen a woman in trousers on a cover. I read the back and learned she carried a rifle and couldn’t read. That seemed different. A young woman who disguises herself as a man is a fun and oft-used trope in romance, but I’d never run across a heroine not in disguise, and made no bones about dressing as she did.

Nor did Selina have plans to start wearing dresses to please Michael. Stronger yet, she had no plans to ever do anything because Michael told her to. The illiterate, hard-edged woman not be controlled by a man. Was she ornery, or what?

I didn’t relate well to Selina at first. I found I couldn’t “be” her as I read the story. If I met her in real life, she probably wouldn’t be in my circle of friends, although the women in the story had no trouble welcoming her into the family fold. 

Selina had some softer edges as well, some highly likable qualities, I discovered as I read. She worked hard, was good friend, and had a way with animals. I began to see all the things to love about Selina, and Michael saw them soon afterwards. 

I liked Michael all along, and felt really bad for him in the beginning, knowing that the soft-spoken, cultured woman he thought he had married did not exist, and would never exist, in Selina. 

I felt bad for Selina, who felt she was someone no man could ever love. She was a good person, and willing to make small changes to be more loveable, but she really couldn’t change her stripes. She couldn't be someone entirely different from who she was, nor should Michael have expected it of her. Any marriage where one person expects their mate to become someone entirely different is just plain wrong. 

In the end, Michael had to change the most. He had to grow to appreciate and love Selina as she was.

Debra Ullrick did a wonderful job of illuminating her theme of accepting and valuing people for who they are.
With this particular setup, she showed readers that sometimes God has decidedly different plans for our lives than we have for ourselves. Sometimes God’s plans take a good amount of getting used to. But if we are willing to open our hearts to His ultimate wisdom, we can grow to appreciate the difference between our idealized life and our actual one. And maybe, just maybe, the gifts of the real life are greater than anything we might have imagined. 

I read an interview with Debra Ullrick where the interviewer asked her about her favorite romance authors. There are, of course, many authors that Debra likes, but she was able to single out a handful for their poetic prose. I’d also include Debra in that category. She is a poet and writes beautifully.

But what set this book apart from other romances for me was her heroine. Selina was so spirited, and so unusual, that she practically leapt off the page.      

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ch-ch-ch-changes! Or, I'm Back!

I’m baaaaack! I’ve been retired now for a little over a week. My pace hasn’t had a chance to slow down yet, although it will, hopefully next week.

There’s been babysitting stints with both sets of grandkids, a grandson’s 8th birthday party, a daughter's 32nd birthday party, two dinners out with friends, my retirement party at work,  a shopping trip to Spokane with one of my daughters. Coming next week is a school shopping trip with my daughter-in-law and her kids.

The home renovators are almost done with our house. The windows are in. The siding is up (but not painted).  A new heating and air-conditioning unit has been installed. 

In September, we’ll have the builders build our deck. In the next couple of weeks, I need to paint and/or wallpaper five rooms, which makes me groan to think about. Maybe I will delay it. My son-on-law is due to put up new window trim next week. I'd hoped to paint first. Maybe I'll let him do his thing and just paint around the trim when I'm more in the mood to paint four rooms and re-wallpaper one.

One odd realization I’ve had about retirement is this: 

When I looked at the growing mound of dirty laundry in my closet yesterday, it was no longer clothes I’d worn to work. Instead, it was jogging shorts and tank tops, which get sweaty and need laundering after every wear.

I’ve jogged 29 miles since August 1, but without weight loss. I’ve always quipped that the only way I can lose weight is to dynamite it off. Hyperbole, of course, but getting truer all the time.  

Another unexpected change was the chance to take afternoon coffee breaks with hubby for a couple of days. 

At the library, the managers never take coffee breaks, although Circ staff, who are on their feet all the time, do. Hubby’s job keeps him on his feet a lot. Or it has lately, while getting the trucks and combines ready for harvest. He needed to come inside, sit down, and sip iced mocha.

For a few days, we enjoyed afternoon coffee together. But harvest started today, and so coffee breaks are over again for a few weeks.

I haven’t had time to do any writing, but I hope to in a couple of days. There's been bugaboo loose ends to attend to, such as re-tooling the blog. I've made an effort to brand myself both according to who I am now, and to appeal to the readers of the type of book I'll be writing: historical inspirational romance. 

There are plans for a new posting strategy and schedule. I’ve also learned some amusing things about my posting stats, which I'll share, along with my new schedule, tomorrow! 

For now, I'm off again. Some writing friends asked me to have dinner with them. Afterwards, I need to buy groceries and be home by 8:30 to finish making dinner for my harvesters.  

The tangy scent of sweet and sour spareribs roasting in the oven is drifting upstairs to my writing room ... They're gonna love it. Hubby loves my sparerib recipe.   
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