Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: "Sigrit" (Ellynore Seybold-Smith)

Sigrit Lachmann is a young girl living in Germany with her older brother and their parents in 1944 during the war. When her parents, suspected of aiding a resistance movement against the Nazis, commit suicide, Sigrit's world is completely upended. She is prevented from staying with her maternal aunt and, instead, is separated from her brother and transferred to live with a family in Bavaria, where she must rebuild her life and learn all over again how to love and trust.

A beautifully written work of historical fiction, Sigrit by Ellynore Seybold-Smith is the heartwarming story of relationships in the midst of war, and how life really does move forward despite all the challenges we face.

The work is realistic and genuine, with sympathetic characters, especially Sigrit herself and particularly early in the novel, when it's easiest to feel for the devastation she's experienced. Seybold-Smith writes in a simple, minimalist style (think Hemingway at his best) and her extensive research into the historical period and European cultures about which she writes is very clearly evident in the work, seamlessly woven throughout the story.

In a future edition, the work would benefit from a close final proofread to catch the periodic typos and errors in punctuation. Further, sometimes a modern word creeps into the dialogue between characters despite the historic setting, and it's jarring to come across, even as infrequently as it happens.

However, for a quiet feel-good story about a young girl redefining what makes life meaningful in war-torn Europe, I'm pleased to recommend Sigrit for your consideration.

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Author: Ellynore Seybold-Smith
Title: Sigrit
ISBN: 978-1626940680
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from December 22-26

5. "How to Be More Productive" on Women Writers, Women's Books (Carrie Ferguson)


What do giving birth and being creative have in common? Check out this insightful post to find out!

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4. "Ten Ways to Get Writing" on Women Writers, Women's Books (Hazel Gaynor)


Down-to-earth tips and wisdom for how to actually get words on a page, which is, when you think about it, the only real way to accomplish this thing called writing. Which methods do you prefer? What others not listed work for you?

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3. "Author Feature: C. S. Boyack" on Nicholas C. Rossis


An interview with a truly unique author: Boyack, of the recently released The Cock of the South, talks creativity, inspiration, and the writing process.

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2. "12 Tips for Writing Good Book Reviews" on Women Writers, Women's Books (Stella Atrium)


Six to one, half-dozen the other ... Atrium provides six "do" and six "don't" guidelines for how to write a good book review, one that will express your stance on the work without getting too verbose or sounding petty. What do you look for in a good book review?

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1. "Writing the Unlikable Character (And Why You Should)" on Writer's Digest There Are No Rules (Adrienne Crezo)


Writer's Digest is the unchallenged expert in the writing industry, and I never fail to find applicable wisdom. Today's topic: why all-good or even mostly-good characters eventually bore the reader, and how to write an unlikable character that will captivate even the greatest skeptic.

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What did you like most from last week's lineup? What was most applicable to you where you are? What would you like to see featured more often?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Book Review: "Julie & Julia" (Julie Powell)

In some circles, memoirs are among the lesser-known works to be marketed and read. Nonetheless, the memoir is a tremendously valid genre, often exquisitely poignant, well-written, and not only entertaining but also thought-provoking.

Read a memoir, that in-depth snippet about someone's life, and you can empathize, even if your personal experience is not exactly the same. Then both of your lives and experiences have been validated, have been made significant.

More than ten years ago, in 2002, in a cramped apartment in New York City, Julie Powell, a relatively nondescript woman except for a certain uneasy feeling that life was passing her by, started a blog. She had to be schooled in what a blog was by Eric, her long-suffering, very supportive husband.

Nonetheless, inexperience didn't inhibit her goal: to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking within a single year. (For those of you doing the math, that comes to about 1.5 recipes per day.) She called it the Julie/Julia Project.

A year later, Powell turned her experience into a memoir, Julie & Julia.

Her memoir is warm, funny, unbelievable, and conversational; I imagine she must talk the way she writes, sort of in an easy rambling way. She chose to intersperse her own story with fictional snippets from the diaries and letters of Julia Child and her husband Paul, and the overall effect is to ground the reader in the idea of the two women's life stories running side by side, connected.

The humor with which Powell writes caught me off-guard when I first read the memoir. I had assumed that someone undertaking such a monumental, slightly insane task as cooking all the recipes in a huge cookbook in a single year would approach the project with hushed reverence and awe.

Not for Powell.

She tackles everything --- lobsters, marital problems, friends, eggs, crepes, aspics, New York City, plumbing mishaps, and more --- with a decidedly irreverent outlook and with brutal honesty: no secrets or facades here.

Julie & Julia is a memoir not for the faint of heart, but for all those who have dreamed an impossible dream and gone on to do something about it. Even in trying, you've succeeded at something.

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Title: Julie & Julia
Author: Julie Powell
ISBN: 978-0-316-04427-1
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

No book reviews or appreciable writing-related content today. Life is too short to work on (most) holidays.
Image courtesy of digitalart at

I'd simply like to offer you and yours my thoughts, prayers, and best wishes for a very merry and blessed Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve and Stillness

Take time today to sit still, even if it means hiding in the car in the garage, for a few moments. Reflect on what the season means to you, the family and friends around you, the blessings you and yours have felt and the miracles you've seen this year.

Image courtesy of Chris Sharp at

The holiday season isn't always happy and bright. Many of us miss loved ones, or traditions from years past. If that's you this year, be gentle with yourself. Take time out when you need it, even if the house is full of people and you're the designated hostess (or driver) and you have three things in the oven all at once.

Stillness is a gift. Simplicity is a gift. Serenity is a gift.

Take ten minutes today for yourself, and just ... breathe.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Book Review: "The Name Quest" (John Avery)

When you get to know someone well enough to call him or her a close friend, you've accrued a store of knowledge about that person. She likes vanilla more than chocolate, wears boots year-round, and only sings in the shower. He goes bowling every Saturday afternoon, spends weekday mornings at the local coffee shop, and sponsors a child in Africa.

Perhaps one of the quickest ways to get to know someone, however, is via his or her names.

Believe it or not, we all go by different names, depending on the situation and the people we're with. A woman named Martha might go by "Martha" or her initials in a professional context; be known as "Marty" to her family and close friends; and still be called "Sugar" or another childhood nickname by her doting grandparents.

Our names reveal a lot about us --- family names given to honor our ancestors, or unusual names because our parents were innovative thinkers, or middle names used as first names because you can't stand the first name your parents gave you, or initials because it was easier to write "D.J." than "Desdemona Justine" on your papers in school.

In the same way, the names of God reveal everything about Him --- His character, His attributes, His power, His majesty. Everything that makes up who He is can be embodied in one of His many, many names.

The Name Quest: Explore the Names of God to Grow in Faith and Get to Know Him Better, by author, teacher, and pastor John Avery of, is an in-depth exploration through the Bible and all the different names and terms used for God, from Alpha to Omega (Revelation).

With close readings and comparisons of the Scriptures from the Old Testament to the New, Avery ensures that readers not only come to know the names of God and what they mean but also what they meant for the people of Israel and what they mean for us today. Each new revelation is another glimpse of the all-powerful God of the Bible, another facet of His person, another dimension of His personality.

Extensive scholarly research and study for The Name Quest do not render the work an unreadable or unapproachable lecture or sermon. Avery has a more formal writing style than some in the field, but his is a weighty undertaking. Nonetheless, he also weaves into the fabric of the text anecdotes and personal examples from his own life, making the work feel applicable despite the depths of the subject matter.

This work would be a perfect undertaking for small group study, personal Bible study, or devotions; it could also easily serve in the place of a single-subject concordance because it is so thorough and credibly upheld.

Looking to learn more about the God of the Bible? Look no further than The Name Quest, and be inspired and amazed in your faith.

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Title: The Name Quest: Explore the Names of God to Grow in Faith and Get to Know Him Better
Author: John Avery
ISBN: 978-1-63047-159-0
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash review program in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from December 15-19

5. "10 Brilliant Strategies for Writing Viral Content" on (Deborah Jian Lee)


If you're a freelancer, blogger, writer, or even a businessperson, you're probably thinking content creation. Most people in this industry are. This post is chock full of excellent guidance, from spiffing up your headlines to eliciting reader emotions for innate connection.

Which strategy was most helpful to you where you are in your current career?

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4. "Stand Out From the Crowd: Simplicity Tips From Amy Lynn Andrews" on Problogger (Stacey Roberts)


Sometimes all the social marketing and platform-building creative writers tackle feels overwhelming. How do you keep up with everything you need to update, schedule, review, post, and publish? Sometimes, it makes more sense to simplify, and if you do it right, there's even more impact from doing less. Check out this post to find out more.

Are you surprised by Amy Lynn Andrews's philosophy? Why or why not?

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3. "How to Boost Your Content Reach with Social Media" on Social Media Examiner (Eric Siu)


In keeping with the idea of platform building and content creation, here's a refreshing post on how to get the most bang for your buck when you post to social media, from Twitter and Facebook to LinkedIn and Pinterest.

What are your preferred social media? Why?

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2. "How to Make, Meet, and Exceed Your 2015 Writing Goals" on Pen & Muse (Jolene Haley)


Most of us have resolutions or goals for the new year. When in doubt about how to tackle your goal-setting, keep in mind this post's three basic --- yet often overlooked --- points. You won't regret their application.

How do you invest in your writing career? What are some of your goals or resolutions for the new year?

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1. "The Top 10 Lessons I Learned From a Year of Productivity" on A Life of Productivity (Chris Bailey)


And, in keeping with making New Year's resolutions, what makes this honest, insightful post invaluable is not only its immediate content but also all the links Bailey provides to other posts detailing his experiences, experiments, and recommendations. When in doubt, aim for personal growth as an objective. It's one that will return to you with interest.

How's your productivity-to-procrastination ratio? How do you stay focused? When do you accomplish your best work? Why?

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BONUS: "Modern Entrepreneurs Need to Learn How to Write" on (Martin Zwilling)


The importance of writing as a skill in every single career field cannot be overstated. Communication is critically important, regardless of your job, duties, or responsibilities. Without the ability to write well, you'll fall behind when in competition with your peers for the next promotion. Check out this blunt article for more information.

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Now you know the best writing-related articles from last week. Which one was most valuable to you? Why or why not?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Randomized Title Rears Its Head

Thanks, as always, to Chuck Wendig and his weekly writing prompts for inspiration. If anything is likely to get me writing, it's something I've read from his posts.

This week's prompt is a random title generator. I rolled #9 and #4 (from respective lists). The result follows (I went with flash fiction, just under three hundred words total).


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The White Keeper

Jenny meets me in the glade. "Ten minutes," she said.

"I know." I lean back against the nearest sturdy tree and stare up at the colorless sky.

"Colin ..."

I glance at her.

Her royal blue lips draw my stare. She folds them inside her mouth, gently, just for a second. "You need to go."

My next gesture indicates the sky. "Why is it beige?"

"Why are you beige?" She shrugs. "I needed the blue."

"You needed it?"

"There aren't many of us left."

"That's not an answer."

"I don't have an answer."

I look away again. "What time is it now?"

"Six minutes."

"If I don't come back ..."

"I know." She doesn't touch me ... can't, by law. "You'll find someone else."

"And you?"

"Marry one of my own kind."

"If I don't come back blue."

Half-shrug this time, just one shoulder. She gives me silence.

I push away from the tree and take the path behind me to the ceremony site. Silence hangs in heavy folds in these woods.

Miriam meets me at the edge of the site. Her lips are entirely silver, her hair and skin just veined with it. That makes her royalty. She holds out her hands. "Stop."

I pause. "Is this part of the ceremony?"

"There won't be a ceremony."

A shiver tracks down the back of my knee. "What does that mean?"

"I can't let you pass." She shakes her head. "None of us knew."

"Knew what?"

"You're white."

"White?" My hands tingle. I glance down. Stark white seeps from my fingertips up my hands and arms. "How can I be white?"

Her eyes hold some ancient sorrow. "You're not welcome here among the colors. You're the new soul harvester ... the White Keeper."

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: "The Get Over Yourself! Handbook ..." (R. Milton Quibner and Mia Matters)

It behooves us all to pause and reflect on what happiness means to each of us. It often differs from one person to another, depending on expectations, priorities, background, upbringing, beliefs, and more.

What stumps us more often than not, though, is what constitutes happiness when in a relationship with someone else. Somehow, the addition of another person in our life equation throws us off. Now what?

The Get Over Yourself! Handbook on Creating Happiness in a Relationship, by R. Milton Quibner and Mia Matters, is a how-to guide for just that.

The authors have designed the work to address each of five different categories each person must consider when in a relationship with someone else. These five categories include physical health, career options, and sexuality, among others.

In essence, Quibner and Matters want to bring to light the kinds of practical, applicable considerations that people don't often take into account when wondering why happiness has eluded them.

Science and studies prove over and over that things like regular exercise, a healthy diet, consistent communication, and shared values help to keep couples' relationships healthy and stable, and yet so often we overlook those factors as being too simplistic.

We'd almost rather have the answer to why we're unhappy be some enormous trial or rigmarole ... anything besides a daily exercise regimen or honest communication about sex. It seems too easy.

The authors acknowledge the apparent ease but caution against taking each of the factors they outline for granted. It takes deliberate commitment, time, patience, and dedication to become healthy individuals in a healthy relationship.

While a thorough guidebook, there is room for improvement in a future edition of the work. First, the periodic typos tend to undermine the authors' authority as experts in their field. A close proofread would resolve the issue and lend credibility to their stance.

Second, while admirably brief, the manual lacks the personal anecdotes and experiences from either the authors or perhaps couples interviewed about the guidelines in the book. Without a personal touch, the tone of the work sometimes leans toward the condescending, though perhaps that's always a danger when discussing basic, real-life considerations such as these.

Third, and finally, though the authors themselves are admitted experts in the field of relationships, I've rarely read a book claiming to be comprehensive in a scientific field that totally lacked footnotes and citations to other works, studies, and statistics to uphold and strengthen the authors' own arguments. While it is tempting to take the authors of this work at face value, especially given the very foundational nature of their contentions, I always prefer to be reassured with the research of others as confirmation.

Nonetheless, the handbook demands consideration, given, after all, its applicability to a world of broken relationships, distrust, fear, anxiety, divorce, infidelity, desperation, and serial dating, to name only a few contemporary trials. Read and find out for yourself how applicable it could be to your life and relationships.

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Authors: R. Milton Quibner and Mia Matters
Title: The Get Over Yourself! Handbook on Creating Happiness in a Relationship
ISBN: 978-1-63263-616-4
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the authors in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: "Poison Makers" (Jimmy Olsen)

Edgar "EJ" Espinosa-Jones, a dual citizen between the Dominican Republic and America and a scuba diver who sometimes moonlights as a detective finds himself in hotter water than he ever expected when he accepts an acquaintance's request to investigate the recent death of the American ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

As it turns out, the ambassador's murder and subsequent disappearance are among the least of EJ's worries, especially when he realizes that almost no one in his life is telling the truth: not the woman he's been seeing in the Dominican Republic ... not the ambassador's daughter, who is convinced her father was murdered and agrees to be EJ's contact ... not the ambassador's two employees who, out of nowhere and with no apparent motive, attempt to kill EJ and his law enforcement friend during a routine interview.

Before long, EJ is shuttling back and forth between the Caribbean and the United States, interviewing scientists about evidence that proves zombies actually exist, attending dark voodoo ceremonies, searching for answers to all his mounting questions, and trying to stay (a) ahead of everyone who seems to want him dead and (b) alive.

There is never a dull moment in a book by author Jimmy Olsen. Poison Makers, a mystery-slash-suspense-slash-psychological thriller, is one that will keep you on your toes and turning pages long after you ought to have been fulfilling some other responsibility.

Olsen seamlessly blends excruciatingly thorough research, intriguing premises, nightmarish "what if ...?" scenarios that plague us only when we're too tired not to let down our rational defenses, and characters so three-dimensional and well-rounded that they leap off the pages, one after the other, in every scene, with every snappy line of dialogue.

His writing style is an amalgamation of descriptive literary, painting scenes and settings with refreshing eloquence, and fast-paced thriller. Together, these maintain tension and reader interest, and, truly, left me with no choice but to keep reading.

Protagonist EJ was also a tremendously fascinating factor in the work. Told in the first-person perspective from his viewpoint throughout, his mixed ethnic heritage, oddly endearing relationship with his mostly incompetent housekeeper, complicated relationships with his family and friends, and wry sense of humor make his a unique voice among characters of his ilk in other works.

But for the occasional typo, easily corrected in a future edition, the novel is flawless in its excellence. Olsen's writing is always worth a look --- check out my reviews of his other mystery and his short story collection --- but this time, he's really outdone himself. Make time to find and read this work. You won't regret it!

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Author: Jimmy Olsen
Title: Poison Makers
ISBN: 978-0-9801835-4-2
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: "Bloodgifted" (Tima Maria Lacoba)

On Laura Dantonville's fiftieth birthday, her beloved aunt reveals a lifelong secret that explains why Laura has always looked decades younger than her chronological age: Laura is descended from an ancestor whose blood contains life-preserving properties. Further, those properties make her valuable and a potential target, so she needs a guardian.

The next piece of news is not nearly as tame. Turns out that Aunt Judy has the same blood type, and she's stepping aside so her guardian can become Laura's. And ... oh, by the way ... the guardian is a vampire, and he needs to feed from Laura (as he fed from Judy) as part of the bargain.

What follows the revelation sends Laura reeling. Suddenly, she's a food source for a fantastical race of creatures she doesn't believe exists. Her boyfriend, a very normal human investigator with local law enforcement, doesn't want her to have anything to do with vampires. Meanwhile, her new guardian's sexy yet gallant behavior keeps her off-balance, even as she distrusts his motives.

Then she's attacked, taken captive, and held as bait, a bargaining chip in a far bigger-picture battle than she realized existed. A rebel group of vampires has risen out of the Brethren, and their intentions are terrifyingly clear: Use the powers in Laura's blood to slaughter the other vampires.

Bloodgifted is the first book in the Dantonville Legacy series by Tima Maria Lacoba, a work of urban fantasy and contemporary paranormal fiction, combining elements of mystery, suspense, and romance.

From the first entrance of protagonist Laura Dantonville and her self-deprecating opening line --- "Thou shalt not fear birthdays has been my motto for the past few years" --- I empathized and loved her. She's approachable, unique, quirky, and honest, with an excellent sense of humor and an admirable sense of loyalty and honor that nearly lands her in a lot of trouble.

Her counterpart, her vampire guardian Dr. Alec Munro, is the other voice through which the story is told. His perspective, conveyed through a parallel story line about every other chapter, is that of the reluctant hero, forced into a situation he doesn't want to deal with, until he finds himself falling for his ward.

Lacoba maintains tension throughout the story via the various subplots she intertwines to enrich the main plot. Those subplots include Laura's relationships with her family members, her fledgling relationship with her law enforcement boyfriend, her growing attraction to and love for Alec, and several murdered humans whose deaths appear to have been caused by vampires. Each subplot is artfully and organically woven with the rest, and all are brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

A future edition of the work would benefit very much from a close proofread to ensure that the errors --- some of which, like missing words and misplaced punctuation, prove distracting --- are resolved and don't detract from the story line.

That aside, though, Lacoba's is a fresh voice in the genre, and I look forward to reading future works from her!

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Author: Tima Maria Lacoba
Title: Bloodgifted
Series: Dantonville Legacy (Book 1)
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author via Goodreads in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from December 8-12

5. "Teaching Literary Analysis" on Edutopia (Rusul Alrubail)


A post such as this one might seem limited in its usefulness. Who sits down to determine how best to teach literary analysis except a professor or teacher of English? And yet how many of us are readers, book reviewers, critics, even if we're just writing informal opinion pieces?

The tips in this post were ones I needed to hear. Which one(s) apply to you where you are in your writing career?

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4. "6 Tips to Increase Work Opportunities for Freelance Writers" on Quill Content


From marketing to flexibility to proofreading to networking with fellow freelancers, this post is a gem of useful information, especially because it's so brief and concise ... evidence of much freelance work at its best!

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3. "How to Start a Wordpress Freelancing Business" on Torque (Brandon Yanofsky)


A number of experts in the writing world and even in other industries agree that WordPress is fast becoming the most universally accepted and used platform for blogs and websites. That being said, there's a lot to know about WordPress before you dive in. This post is an excellent primer in what to consider before you decide to start freelancing with WordPress.

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2. "What Makes a Story Event a 'Turning Point'?" on Jami Gold, Paranormal Author


Turning points in a story or novel make for increased tension, keep readers fascinated enough to want to find out what happens, and force characters to face every-escalating challenges. Author Jami Gold uses extensive examples and provides a thorough list of questions to ask yourself concerning whether the events in your work are effective turning points or not.

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1. "Entertaining Word: A Sonnet About Writing" on Malcolm Guite


This post contains a brief explanation of a beautiful poem Guite wrote that embodies the intimate process of writing. When was the last time you looked at your writing process from a different perspective?

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There's the lineup for last week. Let me know what you liked or disliked, and whether I missed anything critical.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Conference Insights: What to Look For in a Book Editor

October 2014 saw the first Writers' Retreat in the Rockies, hosted by Michelle Theall of Creative Conferences and Kerrie Flanagan of Northern Colorado Writers. Speakers included experts in craft, publishing, the editorial process, and more.

One such memorable speaker was Coralie Hunter, former book editor at Knopf/Doubleday. She gave a presentation about how editors (and agents) think, search for new authors and voices, approach their work, and why one work is rejected over another.

The most memorable thing she imparted, in my estimation, was her definition and explanation of what makes an excellent book editor for your work-in-progress.


Ms. Hunter contends that the best book editor of all is actually an expert close reader, someone willing not only to skim your work looking for and correcting typos and misspellings but also to do everything possible to make the work the best it can possibly be and still preserve the author's intended message, voice, and style.

A close reader is someone who will give each word, line, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, and section of your book the attention it deserves to make it the best it can be.

The best editor will recognize that he or she is a pseudo-reader first, someone in a position to look at your manuscript the way a potential reader wold, and a detail-oriented analyst second, and that the two aspects (the forest and the trees) have to come together to be effective.


What to look for in an editor?

According to Ms. Harper, an expert editor will be visionary: someone who can see the work as it could be and is willing to help get it there.

An expert editor will be an advocate: someone who commits to your work and your message and works tirelessly to ensure that each page conveys the same style and voice consistently.

An expert editor will be invisible in the final draft: someone whose influence is appreciated simply by his or her blatant absence. This point is much like that of the pit orchestra accompanying a musical production. The goal of the pit orchestra is to be invisible, and to play as well as possible the accompaniment music to what's going on onstage. If the audience notices the pit orchestra for any reason --- an out-of-tune note, a wrong entrance, a missed pause) --- there's a problem.

An expert editor will be objective with the craft of writing: someone familiar with the standards and reader expectations for your particular genre and with writing as a whole so that the final draft is publishable.

And an expert editor will be involved in the story line: someone as committed to the story you are telling as you are.

Things to Remember

Editors are human, too. We make mistakes. I've missed more than one comma in my time and had to go back for a second, third, and sixth read-through to ensure that I had done everything in my power to make the manuscript the best it could possibly be.

Some of us come across as nit-picky, never satisfied people. Keep in mind that if you want your work to be the best it can be, we need to be nit-picky to help you. If you wanted praise and accolades, let a friend read your manuscript; if you want it at its best, find an editor. We let you be creative while we handle the analytic side.

Finally, an expert editor will get you as far down the road to publication as possible, but even an expert editor is not a miracle-worker, and getting your manuscript professionally edited is not a guarantee of publication. There are thousands of writers in the world, and only so many available slots in a publisher's lineup.

Nonetheless, a professional editor will get you a great deal closer to publication than you might could get on your own.

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What do you look for in an editor? What qualities do you find most important? What qualities do you find least important? Do you edit your own work? Why or why not?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review: "Ask It" (Andy Stanley)

When faced with major decisions, situations or challenges or forks in the road that will most likely result in tremendous life change, it behooves us to stop and ask questions.

What am I doing here?

What am I hoping to achieve?

What are my goals?

Andy Stanley, author and founder of North Point Ministries, spends an entire book to discuss the subject. Ask It: The Question That Will Revolutionize How You Make Decisions, is a work of Christian nonfiction, as faith-based as they come, but with a perspective applicable to everyone who has ever faced a crossroads.

Stanley writes with wry humor, sound Biblical doctrine and exegesis, and the patience and concern of someone possessed with a truly compassionate heart for people. His work is neither condescending nor a dry, lifeless lecture.

Through anecdotes, personal examples, and scriptural accounts, Stanley explains the number one question people should ask themselves at the point of a decision. His continued analysis through the book addresses questions of morality and time, along with guidance and wisdom applicable to the everyday situations readers may and do face in today's culture and world.

Each and every one of us has been there. Right or left? Up or down? Go or stay? Speak or stay silent? Travel or not? College or career? Questions plague us, and the culture offers little help or guidance.

Stanley contends that the soundest wisdom comes from the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament of the Bible, and that one single question, and its three crucial components, will enlighten and empower everyone who adheres to the truths he unearths to make the best decision he or she possibly can in every situation.

This excellent, applicable, and eminently readable book is one you won't want to miss.

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Author: Andy Stanley
Title: Ask It: The Question That Will Revolutionize How You Make Decisions
ISBN: 978-1-60142-718-2
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: "Book 1: Lust" (Mike Wells)

Elaine Brogan grows up the apple of her attentive father's eye. Patrick Brogan rebuilds his entire world around his daughter at her birth, even to the extent of pushing away his wife Kathy, who abandons the family early in Elaine's life.

Patrick is also not above theft and embezzlement from the construction firm where he works, if it means keeping Elaine living comfortably and safely.

When Elaine's father is accused of passing counterfeit bills and sent to prison, Elaine's world disintegrates around her, especially after Patrick elects to commit suicide rather than live humiliated and trapped in a cell.

Now completely alone and without a guardian, Elaine chooses to go back to school to join the Secret Service, having discovered an aptitude for differentiating counterfeit bills from authentic ones. She's determined to find and punish the man whose counterfeiting led to her father's arrest.

Elaine fights her way through the training and education to become a Secret Service agent. Upon her graduation, she's assigned to an office in Montana and then reassigned, after an unsavory encounter with her supervisor, to Bulgaria, where she works with long-time agent Nick LaGrange, who is not all that he appears to be.

Lust is the first book in author Mike Wells' Lust, Money & Murder series. Wells writes with exacting care and a style that reminds me, in a very good way, of Hemingway: spare, minimalist, as though he's trimmed out every fraction of extraneous information.

In keeping with the suspense and thriller genre, the writing is tight; characters are minimally described but psychologically driven; dialogue is precise and moves the plot forward with each exchange. Wells' research (or life experience, or some of each) is evident in the cultural references woven throughout the story.

In critique, the work might, in future editions, benefit from a close final proofread to ensure that the occasional typo doesn't detract from the story line.

Having been sufficiently intrigued by this offering, I look forward to the opportunity to read the other two books in the trilogy.

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Author: Mike Wells
Title: Book 1: Lust
Series: Lust, Money, & Murder
ASIN: B005638LWK
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: "Season of Forgiveness" (Templa Melnick)

It's often the case that you have no real notion of the people you've met whose lives you've impacted.

Emma Johnson --- a rancher's wife, mother of seven rambunctious young men and boys from nineteen to two years old, Colorado pioneer woman, practiced healer, devoted Christian, and the focal protagonist, among several, of Season of Forgiveness by Templa Melnick --- is one such woman.

Season of Forgiveness is the first book in the Seasons in Riverbend series. Historical fiction, set in 1904 Colorado, it paints a picture of an ever-changing lifestyle fraught with hardship, challenges, celebrations, and small victories.

Emma is the quintessential capable pioneer woman, deftly managing a hectic household, maintaining some semblance of a social life with her colorful neighbors, and separating squabbling children. She even manages to find time to help three women, each having been abused or abandoned or both, and solve a devious scheme.

If I could wish one improvement upon the work, it would be, in fact, that Emma seems two-dimensional in many ways: the stereotypical staunch Christian without many personal struggles or faults. An example thereof is evident in her forgiving even a man who tried to rape and harm her; that conversation passes in the text with an ease that struck me as necessarily unconvincing, as I know very few Christians who could so cheerfully have done the same.

The story is densely written, as most historical novels are. Its sub-genres might be classified light suspense and family drama, but the work is above all faith-based, and Emma's faith is admirably portrayed.

Written in the much the same style as the Little House series, in which protagonist Laura Ingalls Wilder simply recounts the routines and expectations that defined her childhood and is not necessarily concerned with an overarching plot arc or personal character development, Season of Forgiveness is a feel-good novel, perfect for a rainy afternoon.

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Author: Templa Melnick
Title: Season of Forgiveness
Series: Seasons in Riverbend (#1)
ISBN: 978-98910141-74
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: "Come, Stay, Celebrate!" (Judith Galblum Pex)

Memoir is a powerful means with which to revisit your own life, choices, perspective, beliefs, and experiences.

For a memoir whose impact on you will become evident on the very first page, look no further than Come, Stay, Celebrate! by Judith Galblum Pex of the Shelter Hostel in Eilat, Israel.

With seamless historical context, current events as guiding points along the chronological continuum, unexpected humor, and endearing honesty, Pex relates her own upbringing and background as a Jew and a continual traveler, from one country and continent to another, meeting hundreds and hundreds of new people and gleaning from every encounter. In her travels, she met her now-husband John.

Their immigration to Israel in the 1970s and their simple, easygoing, nomadic lifestyle set in motion the groundwork for what would become the foundation of their chosen current way of living: as the facilitators of a Christ-centered hostel open to people from every nation, age group, and demographic.

The story of the Pex family, from its beginnings through John and Judith's conversion to Christianity, to the trials they faced as they struggled to find God's direction for their passion, is one that will capture your heart and remind you that --- in a world whose tendency is to over-complicate everything --- sometimes all you need is a smile and an honest invitation to touch someone's life and leave that person different.

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Author: Judith Galblum Pex
Title: Come, Stay, Celebrate!: The Story of the Shelter Hostel in Eilat, Israel
ISBN: 978-098910144-8
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from December 1-5

With apologies to my readers for my being out of state over the weekend and away from all Internet access until today ...

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5. "How to Write Better Articles" on LinkedIn (David Gargaro)


LinkedIn's new option for members to post content to a running feed of articles is a fantastic opportunity to get your ideas out there in front of an appreciative audience. That aside, this post is quick and concise, with five simple (but often overlooked) ways to improve your article writing. Which tip (or reminder, if you've heard it before) is most useful for you at this stage in your work? Why?

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4. "How To Tips for Writing & Optimizing Your LinkedIn Profile" on Rocks Digital (Debra Jason)


It's always worthwhile to be reminded how to best convey our personal selves, our brand, what we stand for, in Internet profiles, especially where LinkedIn (with so many professional networking opportunities) is concerned. What keywords are affiliated with your industry that you haven't yet used in your profile? How can you incorporate them?

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3. "Gestation of Ideas: On Vertical Writing and Living" on The Millions (Nick Ripatrazone)


This essay on author Andre Dubus relates his intriguing perspective on ideas for writing and the writing process itself, even unto an almost psychological method with which to flesh out the story line and characters as he works.

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2. "Get More Traffic by Adding 'Tweetables' to Your Blog Posts" on Michelle Schaeffer


I know you've seen the highlighted lines and phrases in blog posts and web articles these days: "Click here to Tweet!" is the message. With this informative post, you can create your own "Tweetables" and encourage readers to share your work with other potentially interested parties. It's user-friendly and intuitive to do (even for those of us who aren't as technologically-savvy as up-and-coming generations).

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1. "Query Letter Pet Peeves -- Agents Speak" on Writers in the Storm Blog (Chuck Sambuchino)


Author, blogger, Writer's Digest Books editor, and freelance editor Chuck Sambuchino compiled an invaluable list of comments from literary agents. The topic? How NOT to query an agent with your current project. We've all been to conferences to hear what agents want to read in the query letter, but this post takes the question one step further to the opposite extreme, for those of us who live life on the edge, or just prefer to do what everyone else isn't doing. Which guideline did you most need to hear, and why?

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There is the lineup for last week, with my continued apologies for its tardiness. Let me know what you found most helpful, or least helpful.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Nonfiction Writing

I'm out of the state this weekend, visiting a friend for the holidays (early for Christmas, late for Thanksgiving ... never mind, doesn't matter).

But I don't spend a lot of time on the blog talking about nonfiction, so I wanted to poll the audience today.

What do you write in nonfiction?

Travel writing? (Check out some articles here and here.)

Memoir? (I recently reviewed a memoir by Michelle Theall.)

Food writing?






Arts and crafts?

Something I haven't even mentioned yet?

What's spectacular or awful or amazing or heartrending or challenging or encouraging about writing nonfiction?

What resources do you recommend?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Review: "If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat" (John Ortberg)

Ever wondered what you could accomplish with your life ... if only you could conquer fear?

Ever thought about where you could be in ten years ... and wonder how on earth to get there?

Ever felt called to do something or go somewhere or say something to someone, only to talk yourself out of it the next minute?

Ever struck out and tried something new only to get discouraged and swear off all future risks?

You're in good company.

Meet Simon Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ in the New Testament of the Bible. He spent time wondering, worrying, afraid, and directionless.

But he didn't stay that way.

In his well-known work, If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat, pastor and author John Ortberg reintroduces readers to the story of Simon Peter's walk on the water to Jesus, and how that story speaks to calling and fear today.

With poignant theology, revealing analysis, and real-life applicability, Ortberg addresses each aspect of that Biblical account, from Jesus' words to the wind and waves to fear to the disciples who stayed in the boat and refused to risk.

Ultimately, Ortberg leaves readers with three messages. First,  fear is normal and to be expected, especially when there's change or risk involved. Second, life affords opportunities, some of which you'll find yourself uniquely equipped to handle, if you'll take the risk. And third, for believers, God is big enough to handle any fear, worry, objection, or hesitation you feel.

Ortberg writes with trademark compassion and patience. His approachable writing style kept me engaged throughout the book, and I never felt condescended to, preached at, or lectured. He sprinkles his writing with humor, but the heart of the book spoke to me very deeply. There are even study questions for personal application and meditation at the end of each chapter, to spend time cementing the truths.

If you appreciate Christian nonfiction in general, and anything by Max Lucado, a similar author, in particular, you'll appreciate Ortberg's work. Take time to check it out.

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Title: If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat
Author: John Ortberg
ISBN: 978-0-31034-046-1
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.