Friday, April 15, 2016

Hiatus

My readers will have noticed that I have not posted often, or at all, the last several weeks, and that my prior posting had become hit-or-miss at best.

Due to a personal trauma, and to the sudden worsening of several chronic health conditions with which I was diagnosed some years ago, I have chosen to take a hiatus from my blog.

It breaks my heart not to keep in touch with my readers and fulfill your expectations for writing- and reading-related posts.

I will do everything I can to get my health -- physical, emotional, and psychological -- under control, and will make an eventual decision about whether to continue this blog where I left off, in the same vein, or to close this blog "chapter" and, perhaps, open a new one elsewhere.

I appreciate your thoughts and prayers, patience with me, and respect for my decision.

Happy writing and reading!

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from March 14-18

5. "Action vs. Suspense" on Kill Zone (Joe Moore)

Link: http://bit.ly/1U2q8rY

Even romance novels have action --- things that happen. And every genre contends with suspense, which helps drive the plot forward and keep the reader reading. (In a literary novel, for instance, perhaps the suspense element makes the reader ask, "How will the character change throughout the novel?") But action elements packed one after another do not constitute suspense. Check out this post for the differentiation.


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4. "Want to Raise Your Brand Awareness? Put One of These on Your Blog" on The Write Life (Jessica Lawlor)

Link: http://bit.ly/1PnkTLw

Your brand today is one of the most important elements in your marketing campaign and platform. What are you known for? When readers pick up your article or book or poem, what do they expect from you? Here are several optional components you could add to your blog to increase your brand awareness even further.


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3. "4 Lessons for Authors on the Current State of Publishing" on Jane Friedman

Link: http://bit.ly/1pYeMsj

What do you need to know about the publishing industry right now? Are you missing something in your platform or marketing plan? How will you know? Start by perusing this excellent, detailed post from industry expert Friedman and see where you can most effectively up your ante.


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2. "Want to Write a Column? Here Are 7 Key Tips You Need to Know" on The Writer's Dig blog at WritersDigest.com (Noelle Sterne, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1PnlInC

Have you always wanted to see your name in the byline of a column, whether as a guest or on an ongoing basis? This article gives you detailed tips to keep in mind, whether you're just starting out or have been writing a column for months or years, from understanding how every column you write reflects you to maintaining momentum and producing interesting content.


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1. "6 Ways to Knock Your Next Guest Post Out of the Park" on The Write Life (Razwana Wahid)

Link: http://bit.ly/1WDG29W

There is perhaps no more perfect follow-up to the previous post (see #2 above) than this one, another by The Write Life, which remains one of my favorite go-to sites in the industry. You're writing a column, a post, an article, but do you know what to do to make that offering the best and most popular it can be, to keep readers coming back?


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That's the lineup for last week. What's your current work-in-progress? What do you wish you knew more about as you think about writing and publishing right now?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book Review: "Uprooted" (Naomi Novik)

Imagine a world in which one characteristic of the landscape --- geographic or otherwise --- dominated your life: how you traveled, what you watched for when you stepped out your back door to do chores, how you had to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Even who you saw again, or not, depending on that landscape's whims.



For the vibrantly imagined characters in author Naomi Novik's masterful novel Uprooted, that characteristic is the Wood, a vast forested expanse that creeps ever closer to the beloved valley where protagonist Agnieszka has lived all her life, and the reality I've described in the previous paragraphs ... theirs.

According to her brief bio, Novik grew up on Polish fairy tales, and Uprooted is a stunning testament to that childhood. Crafted with all the same dedication, care, and detail as anything by the known greats of fairy tale-writing in other cultures --- the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen --- Uprooted absolutely deserves a place on your shelves.

The work is rife with fairy tale elements, from magical abilities and the oppressive, domineering force of the Wood to wizards and kingdoms and towers, in the best tradition of the fairy tale world with which most of us are likely familiar, thanks to Disney's renditions of long-beloved Grimm and Andersen tales.

I can't tell you how delighted I was as I devoured the novel, probably in the span of two days and certainly to the detriment of my other responsibilities, by the unexpected twists and turns, the beautifully rendered story world, the masterfully crafted characters, and the overarching fairy tale atmosphere, if that makes any sense.

As a result of my reading Uprooted, Novik has become a new top favorite author in my estimation, and her work has a prize position on my bookshelves. In a world of e-books and e-readers, I bypassed those editions and purchased hard copies, which is one of the highest honors I can afford an author today.

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Author: Naomi Novik
Title: Uprooted
ISBN: 978-0-8041-7903-4
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1pifujM

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: "Taken" (Dee Henderson)

What if you knew that the life you were living was not the one you were meant to live? That you were somehow trapped in a world that wasn't yours, where you didn't belong?

How would you survive?

And more importantly, what would you do if you discovered an opportunity to escape?




Author Dee Henderson presents Taken, an exquisitely written work of Christian romantic suspense.

As a long-time fan of Henderson's books and a close follower of her publications, I will admit to feeling thrilled to get my hands on a copy of this, her newest novel. It pleases me to no end to report that I was not disappointed by the tale she has woven.

As in the majority of her books, Henderson doesn't shy away from incorporating her Christian faith, making it a seamless but integral part of the whole, right alongside her exploration of themes like family, loss, new beginnings, reconciliation, restoration, love, and learning to trust again.

You'll meet Shannon, who has recently escaped from a known crime syndicate headed by a notorious family whose members abducted her when she was a teenager, and Matthew, former-cop-turned-private investigator, whose own hideous experience with an abduction case was cloyingly personal and made him a natural choice for help when Shannon needed it the most.

And while the novel is more along the lines of an exploration of character and the rebuilding of a life than typical thriller/suspense elements like car chases and gunfights, I have no doubt that readers from all walks and backgrounds will appreciate the depths with which Henderson masterfully imbues her writing. Taken is a novel not to be missed.


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Author: Dee Henderson
Title: Taken
ISBN: 978-0-7642-1571-1
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1QR8FQT

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from March 7-11

5. "1 Key Question for Worldbuilding (+ A Handy Checklist)" on WriteOnSisters.com (Heather Jackson)

Link: http://bit.ly/1Rbr7DL

Even authors of romance and suspense and YA set in the typical modern world can benefit from this article, geared toward science fiction and fantasy writers, with its in-depth survey of all the categories you'll need to cover when you sit down to create your story world.


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4. "Self-Care for Writers" on Jami Gold

Link: http://bit.ly/1pG6RjL

It's easy for writers to face burnout and depression and loneliness and a lot of other potentially debilitating obstacles, whether medical or personal or relational or mental or emotional, or what have you. Gold offers stellar tips and the kind of empathy that suggests she's been there, too, in this excellent article on how to combat those obstacles.


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3. "How to Write a Novella: 6 Essential Tips" on Now Novel

Link: http://bit.ly/1T4qKfv

Perhaps the story idea rattling around in your head isn't quite "big-scale" enough for a whole novel. Consider writing a novella instead, not only for the option of a format that better fits your idea, but also because of everything you'll learn when you're forced to work within word count and other space constraints.


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2. "How Has the MFA Changed the Contemporary Novel?" on The Atlantic (Richard Jean So and Andrew Piper)

Link: http://theatln.tc/21hoWjg

This article has the potential for discussion and controversy, but what's the writing industry without a little controversy? These writers wanted to know whether the much-coveted MFA degree was actually making any difference in the books being published, or in the industry in general. Take a gander at the post and see what you think. You might be surprised.


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1. "The Fickle, Frustrating, Beautiful Arc of Your Writing Career" on Kill Zone (Larry Brooks)

Link: http://bit.ly/1VwFSmx

Larry Brooks is a spectacularly gifted author, and one whose guidance should always be given attention. This post challenges you to redefine your definition of success in the writing life, and asks you to reevaluate everything you think you know about writing. 


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There's the lineup for the week of March 7-11 ... which got lost in my drafts folder. Many apologies to my readers!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Book Review: "Son: A Psychopath and His Victims" (Jack Olsen)

There's nothing more frightening than being afraid to live your normal life.

For the citizens of the once-quiet town of Spokane, Washington, however, over a two-and-a-half-year period, that was the terrible reality: being afraid even to step outside, let alone go anywhere, and especially not alone.

Someone with twisted desires watched from nearby.



Award-winning author Jack Olsen conducted interviews, compiled research through innumerable hours of work, and crafted the results into the nonfiction crime expose Son: A Psychopath and His Victims, about serial rapist Frederick Harlan Coe.

The work is as disturbing and horrifying as it is thorough and well-written, although it feels incongruous to call such a treatise "well-written" given its hideous contents. Nonetheless, Olsen more than upheld his mandate, perhaps both personal and professional, to render an accurate retelling of the facts of the case and the experiences and profiles of the many victims.

His masterful writing --- even about someone so thoroughly twisted as Coe, with his dysfunctional family, failed relationships, unbelievable ego, and complete absence of conscience or empathy --- turned out to be a pleasure to read.

Dozens of women suffered at Coe's hands, even as he led an imaginatively constructed double life. In one, he was a prominent citizen in town, the son of the newspaper editor, liked by his friends, close to his family, and bursting every minute with another brilliant if far-reaching idea or career path.

In the other, though, his relationship with his mother had long ago crossed the line into emotional and psychological incest, codependency, and manipulation; his father was emotionally absent and willingly bailed Fred out of any scrape; his relationships were characterized by distrust, controlled by his rampant mood swings, and full of the unreasonable and even ludicrous demands of someone well out of touch with reality; and not a single one of his brilliant ideas proved rational.

Be forewarned: Son is an absolute tome, packed with meticulous detail and respectfully rendered accounts from Coe's victims and friends, and the content is some of the most psychologically frightening and nightmarish that I've read in a long time.

I can't tell you what inspired me to pick up the book at my local library to read and review, but I can tell you that in spite of the vivid and brutal pictures it paints of a terrorized town and the serial rapist who held sway over so many victims, I am the better for having been exposed to Olsen's expert telling of the story.

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Author: Jack Olsen
Title: Son: A Psychopath and His Victims
ISBN: 978-1-5011-1904-0
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1TIby7d

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: "Mermaid" (Carolyn Turgeon)

Perhaps you've wanted something more than anything else in the world. Maybe it was the chance to be admitted to the university that has been alma mater in your family for generations. Or the chance to take piano lessons. Or a promotion that would guarantee your introduction into the upper echelons of your chosen industry.

Everyone has wanted something. But to what lengths would you go to make that something yours?



This question is the greatest theme explored in Carolyn Turgeon's unexpected novel Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale.

Written in the style of a work of literary fiction, Mermaid is thick with lush description and its pace tempered by a slow-moving sort of ebb and flow (pun not intended) to the plot and story events. If you enjoyed reading the Emily of New Moon series by L. M. Montgomery, it's likely you'll appreciate the care with which Turgeon tells her tale.

And the work is beautifully re-imagined. Those who recall or grew up with the memorable Disney movie The Little Mermaid may find themselves stymied by some of the plot elements, and yet would find, upon further research, that most of those elements are truer to the original fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen than were those Disney used.

It's not exactly G-rated, after all, for the mermaid to have her tongue cut out so she couldn't speak again, and no doubt it was in Disney's best interest to smooth over many of the original fairy tale's rougher and more gruesome edges.

That aside, Turgeon does a masterful job braiding together the old and the new and presenting them all with her own unique spin. She explores themes like love, loss, friendship, betrayal, disappointment, sacrifice, and more throughout.

If you love those old fairy tales, chances are you'll enjoy Mermaid in a similar but different way.


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Author: Carolyn Turgeon
Title: Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale
ISBN: 978-0-307-58997-2
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1WV97hI

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Book Review: "Beauty" (Robin McKinley)

Suppose one of your dearest friends in the world got into trouble. Suppose further that the consequences of the trouble were irreversible, unavoidable, and wholly life-changing. Now suppose that you, and you alone, had the power to rescue your friend, at the cost of your own livelihood. 

Would you?




Author Robin McKinley offers Beauty, an re-imagined telling of the story of the age-old classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast

The work is written in the tone and style of an older generation --- think something along the lines of L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, rather than quite as old as, say, something written by Jane Austen or Emily Bronte.

That said, it's likely that Beauty will fall flat for some readers, who are more accustomed to the fast-paced, quick-witted commercial fiction published today. The story comprises a great deal of stage-setting before the familiar fairy tale elements come into play, along with quite a bit of description and backstory, and the characters are more two-dimensional than well-rounded.

Of course, for readers who enjoy an old-style retelling, or who love fairy tales one way or the other, McKinley's retelling is well-written, full of the kind of vividly rendered setting that one might find in a work of literary fiction, and remains true to the old fairy tale without redefining any of its main elements or boundaries.

If you'd like to pick up a quiet, sweet little work, and if you love the story of Beauty and the Beast, it's likely you'll find yourself satisfied with what Beauty offers.


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Author: Robin McKinley
Title: Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast
ISBN: 978-0-06-075310-8
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1OZD2lN

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.