Especially for Writers

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Especially for Writers

Second round of edits on Ride to the Altar are done now. Whew.

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What Book Reviewers Want

 In “Critical Thinking,” a March-April Writer’s Digest article, Paul Goat Allen explains just what it is he looks for when reviewing a book. Paul is a freelance book critic for BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and the Chicago Tribune, so learning what he expects from a novel can give us a leg up when we’re writing something we hope is worth the coveted five stars.

Most of what Paul says we already know and should be incorporating into everything we write. If we haven’t learned the techniques required to show a book reviewer a good time between the pages, we need stop writing and start studying. That has always been my biggest word of advice: Study the craft. If you’ve released a novel that you didn’t study for and sweat over, you shouldn’t be too surprised when the highest reviews you receive are from friends and family.

To gain high reviews from readers you don’t know and from professional reviewers, you have to know what they want. Paul calls his five-point list the “Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs.” You can find the full article on the WD website, but here are the top two:

  • Readability

“Narrative clarity, narrative fluidity, having a coherent storyline” share top billing with “noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings.” Books that contain these elements are what he calls “unputdownable.”

This speaks strongly not just to the craft of writing, but the mechanics of it. Knowing how to hook your reader at the beginning of each chapter and how to end each chapter with a cliffhanger guarantees that the bookmark will never find its place in your novel. Understanding thought progression so that every page, paragraph, and sentence flows easily and organically assures your reader is never stumped over your intentions. These are some of the mechanical aspects of writing that you should learn so well their employment becomes second nature. Even then, an editor can let you know whether you’ve succeeded in making your book “unputdownable.”

  • Immersion

Let me just provide a few of Paul’s quotes directly from the article:

  1. I don’t want to experience the story as a detached viewer looking down at what’s happening—I want to feel like I’m in the story.
  2. The litmus test for this is easy. If I become so engaged with a book that I lose track of time … you’ve succeeded in drawing me fully into your read.
  3. Writers who are absolute immersion masters … are so good at captivating description  that weeks, months and oftentimes years after reading their novels I can still vividly recall specific scenes.

Aside from writing in a deep POV, something Paul doesn’t mention in his article, an author whisks his reader away by giving the illusion of actually being in the setting. A quick grounding of the reader in your story world is usually done within the first few paragraphs. But Paul says one of the problems he finds in books is the fact that “world-building and meticulous description at the beginning of a novel” doesn’t go all the way through. Once things heat up, the action overrules the sense of actually being there.

Crafting description can be tricky. Readers don’t want to wade through paragraph after paragraph of descriptive passages, but they do want to feel like they’re in the scene. Once the reader is grounded in the setting, the author still must maintain the illusion for her. Word choice makes a difference here. The word “troika” brings a different image from the word “buggy,” so learning the terms of your setting can help pull your reader into it. Props also help. In the right era, a quill trumps a Bic. You know the tricks. Employ them.

Paul’s article basically reinforces what we already know. But if this—or any of the points in his article—is news to you, you need to study more.

Writing for escape, which is what most fiction readers want, isn’t as easy as it sounds. When you have one aspect of the craft down pat, you discover you’re weak at another. This is constantly a learning process. And those of us aiming for those five-star reviews are always aware of our weaknesses and are always seeking to become better.

Aim high.

 

 

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Book Review: Liar’s Winter

Liar’s Winter, by Cindy Sproles, is one of the most exceptional novels in the Christian Fiction genre that I’ve read in a long time. It’s a story about prejudice: the ignorance behind it, the personal pain resulting from it, and the horrifying way it has of making otherwise good people become filled with hate and fear.

Cindy tells the story from the deep first person POV of Lochiel Ogle, who was stolen from her mother in infancy. She was raised by a man and woman who were of terrified her, and had a “brother” who brutally harassed her. She has a mark on the side of her face which, according to Appalachian lore, is the mark of the devil. All sorts of insane superstitions are associated with that mark.

She spent her life under the assumption that the way she was treated is normal. That it’s “love.” Only when her real father finds her does she learn what love is. He and his mother, her grandmother, have their work cut out for them. They have to undo the damage her “parents” did by showing her what true love is, while fighting against the image she has of herself which was thrust upon her by others.

Cindy doesn’t go easy on Lochiel. From beginning to end, what the girl endures is difficult, often physically dangerous and terrifying. Even the chapters dedicated to her “reprogramming” are hard to read because of how realistic the struggle is. When a person is ingrained with a low self-worth, it’s nigh unto impossible to see herself in a different, more favorable light. It’s hard enough accepting love from people who are there with you, but accepting love from a God you can’t see? That takes faith. Until Lochiel can accept love from her real family, she can’t conceive of love from an invisible God.

Throughout this book, Cindy maintains a deep POV. Many newbies think that just because they’re writing in first person, they’re writing deep. Not so. Writing in deep POV, whether in first person or third, is such an immersion into the character that the reader feels like one with her. Cindy achieved that. I didn’t feel like I was reading about Lochiel. I felt every pain that she did.  What’s more, because of the way Cindy crafted the book. I knew enough to dread things to come that Lochiel didn’t even realize. Cindy knows how to amp tension. There is very little down time in this novel.

One writing technique Cindy employed was to match the speech patterns of the mountain folks, which required her to do a lot of “g-dropping” from the end of words. Can you imagine how many apostrophes that would require? Fortunately, Kregel allowed her not to use them at the end of words. Once you, the reader, realize what is going on with all those missing Gs and apostrophes, you don’t even notice it anymore. Smart move, Cindy and Kregel.

Amazing 5-star book. Totally worth the read. Highly recommended. Highest accolades. Don’t know what else I can say to convince you to put it on your TBR list.

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The Care and Feeding of Book Reviewers

Author/Editor Pegg Thomas offers sage words of advice pertaining to one of the author’s biggest dilemmas—getting reviews. Check it out:

Pegg Thomas - Author

What do authors crave? Book reviews. Most especially, five-star book reviews, but in reality, any book review is a good one. Why? Because it’s book reviews – pure numbers – that boost a book’s visibility on sites such as Amazon, Christian Book, and Goodreads. People looking for books see what the search engines tell them are the top sellers, the most active, the books people are “talking” about in the cyber world.

How does an author get reviews? Begs, pleads, threatens (this only works with family and close friends), and whines. Does that work? Marginally. So what’s the better way?

How about cultivating relationships with people who do book reviews? There’s a revolutionary thought. Many authors build what they call their “street team” and offer them freebies and perks for being the frontline of their book’s release. These folks agree to post reviews, create blog posts, and share on social…

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New Duet: New Release by Cindy Huff

Cindy Huff’s contemporary romance, New Duet arrived May 1st on Amazon in e-book format. It already has 5-star reviews. Check out the wonderful cover.

Here is the back-cover blurb.

Isabella Melinda Wilson has been squeezed into the music ministry model of her controlling husband’s making. Before she can leave him, he leaves her a guilt ridden widow. Her mother-in-law is no comfort and presses the guilt button at every turn. Isabella flees to her sister’s home in Aurora Illinois insearch of her own identity and a new beginning.

Dan Sweeney has one goal. Be as normal as possible. After losing a leg, some fingers and his self-worth, he needs his service dog Brutus to help keep his PTSD at bay. Career-less and clueless about the future, he struggles to put his life back together.

Isabella isn’t looking for a new relationship and Dan feels unworthy of one. Can these two broken people heal into one whole love?

 

From Cindy:

Writing a contemporary romance after writing a historical romance was a challenge but so much fun. An editor at a conference asked me why I wrote a contemporary after writing a historical. I told him the  characters called to me. I had to write this story.

The struggles these characters face is in part things people I love have gone through. But the lessons they learn about life and faith are mine.

 

Cindy, Sandra Hart, Jennifer Uhlarik, and I have signed a contract with Smitten Historical Romance (a Lighthouse Pubishing of the Carolinas imprint) to each write a novella for their Cowboys collection. Cindy will be back in her specialty, and I’ll be writing my first official historical romance. This should be fun!

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Conflict in Romance

Romance. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. Whether comedy or drama, whether he’s getting her or she’s getting him, that’s the basic format, but not all three components have to be involved in the novel. Boy met girl and lost her before your novel started, and the story now is about getting her back. Or, boy meets girl, and spends the entire novel “getting” her, with an implied happily-ever-after.

But a story that jumps from “boy meets girl” to “happily ever after” isn’t much of a story. As with every novel, romance needs conflict—plausible, realistic conflict. Among newbie authors, there seems to be confusion pertaining to what makes for good conflict. On page 63 of her book On Writing Romance: How to craft a novel that sellsLeigh Michaels lists what conflict isn’t:

  • Fighting, arguing, or disagreeing.
  • A delay that prevents progress (which is only an incident, not conflict).
  • Failure to communicate.
  • The trouble-causing interference of another person.
  • A main character’s unwillingness to admit that the other person is attractive.

Tension caused by any of these listed is artificial and won’t endure throughout the novel—it’s not conflict, that which threatens the characters’ relationship.

The conflict in romance comes from several sources:

  • Character/personality differences—from something simple, like he’s a morning bird and she’s a night owl, to something more complicated, like she’s a lady of the evening and he’s a man of the cloth.
  • Situational problems—maybe she’s dying, maybe he’s married, maybe she lives on the east coast and he lives on the west.
  • Conflicting goals—he wants to tear the building down and create a parking garage, but she wants to save the neighborhood hangout. She wants her client to have a bigger slice of the pie than his client, he wants to cut her client out entirely.
  • Conflicting motives—he wants to feed the hungry, she wants a photo-op. She wants to convert the natives, he wants to sell them cheap trinkets.
  • Conflicting backstories—she had a fairy-tale childhood, he lived on the streets. He graduated college with honors, she has a third-grade education.

Whatever the conflict, it must be plausible and realistic. Whether it’s insurmountable depends on how you picture the end of your story. If you’re aiming for “happily ever after,” the conflict must be resolved in a forever-love way. If you’re aiming for bittersweet, you have two alternatives: the relationship didn’t work and both characters are happy with it, or the source of the conflict—death, for instance—makes a happy ending impossible.

So, we’ve got the basic components and the different conflict sources–now we can mix and match. Where do you want to start your story? Boy gets girl back? What separated them to begin with? Maybe he needed to grow up (conflict based on character), and now that he has, he’s ready to prove his worthiness. Maybe she was transferred to Tokyo (conflict based on situation) and he finds her there.

What if you want the boy to lose his girl? By the time the story begins, they’re already a couple. Maybe she’s comfortable with suburbia and he’s got his eye set on a mansion (conflict based on conflicting goals). Maybe they get thrown together to work on the same project—he’s more take-charge and bossy than she realized from their home life, and their conflicting personalities drive them apart.

Wherever you start your story, however many components of the format you want to include, be certain you have a conflict that is realistic and plausible.

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Especially for Writers

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Available through Amazon and these fine distributors.

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New Christian Titles for May 2018!

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Children’s:

Feebs to the Rescue by Kathy J. Perry — Feebs the kitten is new to the farm. She’s a long way from the farmhouse and doesn’t know her way home in the dark. Her new friend, Ollie the dog, needs help. Can she find the courage to lead a night rescue? (Children’s from Chickadee Words, LLC)

Nibbler and Captain Make Peace by Kathy J. Perry — Nibbler the beaver works hard to keep his lodge and dam perfectly patched. A river otter knocks a hole in his great work. Now he’s so angry, he could almost spit nails. Can he learn how to handle his anger? (Children’s from Chickadee Words, LLC)

Rascal’s Trip by Kathy J. Perry — Rascal the raccoon is sorry he ignored the warning signs He’s surprised by a whirlwind and he’s taken for the ride of his life. Now it’s up to the Bandana Buddies to help him learn the importance of thinking ahead. Can he stay out of trouble long enough to get back home? (Children’s from Chickadee Words, LLC)

Contemporary Romance:

Solo Tu: Only You by Narelle Atkins — Can two high-school teachers, a girl from Tuscany and a boy from Australia, risk everything for love? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

The Theory of Happily Ever After by Kristin Billerbeck — According to Dr. Maggie Maguire, happiness is serious–serious science, that is. But science can’t always account for life’s anomalies, like why her fiancé dumped her for a silk-scarf acrobat and how the breakup sent Maggie spiraling into an extended ice cream-fueled chick flick binge. Concerned that she might never pull herself out of this nosedive, Maggie’s friends book her as a speaker on a “New Year, New You” cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. Maggie wonders if she’s qualified to teach others about happiness when she can’t muster up any for herself. But when a handsome stranger on board insists that smart women can’t ever be happy, Maggie sets out to prove him wrong. Along the way she may discover that happiness has far less to do with the head than with the heart. (Contemporary Romance, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Hometown Reunion by Lisa Carter — Widowed former Green Beret Jaxon Pruitt comes home to face his toughest battle: reconnecting with his toddler son. He also makes an unwitting enemy of childhood friend Darcy Parks when he takes over the kayak shop Darcy hoped to buy! For little Brody’s sake, she’ll stay until summer’s end. But could a growing connection turn their temporary truce into an unexpected forever? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Room on the Porch Swing by Amy Clipston — When her best friend Savilla dies, Laura steps in to help Allen raise his infant daughter. She soon finds herself coping with the jealousy of her boyfriend Rudy, and her own growing attraction to Allen. Have Laura and Allen been brought together to console and support one another…or is there an even deeper purpose they must fulfill? (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Cowboys of Summer by Mary Connealy, Tina Radcliffe, Lorna Seilstad, Sherri Shackelford, Cheryl St. John, and Missy Tippens — Six of Christian fiction’s most beloved authors join forces to bring you a collection of humorous, romantic and heartfelt novellas set against the sultry heat of summer. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Bella Notte by Heather Gray — As a photographer who works primarily with fashion, Piero Carter is used to having his pick of beautiful women who want to be seen by his side. Felicity von Wolff is a makeup artist whose job takes her around the world. That’s all the adventure she craves. She has little use for Piero the Playboy. But when Felicity peeks over the wall she’s built to protect herself, she discovers there’s more to the people around her than she ever realized. What will it take for Piero and Felicity to stop hiding from life and open their eyes to the rich beauty God has in store for them? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Honeysuckle Dreams by Denise Hunter — Regardless of what any blood test says, Brady Collins will go to any lengths to keep his son. Even pretend his friend Hope is his fiancée. Local radio celebrity Hope Daniels has finally been offered her dream job. But if the truth comes out about her arrangement with Brady, she may miss the chance of a lifetime and stand in the way of a dear friend’s dreams. As Brady and Hope make sacrifices to help each other in their times of need, they risk uncovering a truth neither of them expects to find. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Finding Love on Bainbridge Island Washington by Annette M. Irby — A “broken” therapist with PTSD finds a fresh start at her family’s beach cabin, but when her parents hire her ex-boyfriend to finalize repairs on the place, they’re forced back into close proximity. He’s falling for her again. But can anything heal the past? (Contemporary Romance from Mountain Brook Ink)

And Cowboy Makes Three by Deb Kastner — Coming home with a baby and no wedding ring was just what everyone in Cowboy Country expected from bad girl Angelica Carmichael. But she’ll brave their scorn to fulfill Granny Frances’s dying wishes, even if it means ranching with Rowdy Masterson…her jilted ex-groom. Rowdy’s still bitter but this new, softer Angelica—paired with a precious baby—might be too lovable to resist! (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Falling for You by Becky Wade — A thoughtful rule-follower by nature, Willow threw caution to the wind four years ago when she entrusted her heart to Corbin — then suffered the consequences when their relationship fell apart. Now that a decades-old mystery has brought them together again, they’ll have to confront their past and the feelings they still harbor for one another. (Contemporary Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

General Contemporary/Women’s Fiction:

Long Way Home by Brenda S. Anderson — Stuck on a six-day road trip with the man who once bullied her, can Lauren Bauman learn that love keeps no record of wrongs? (General Contemporary, Independently Published {ACFW QIP Author})

The Hidden Side by Heidi Chiavaroli — The Hidden Side is about a family that is torn apart by the unspeakable actions of one of its members and how a woman from the past helps them to heal. (General Contemporary from Tyndale House)

Things I Never Told You by Beth K. Vogt — It’s been ten years since Payton Thatcher’s twin sister died in an accident, leaving the entire family to cope in whatever ways they could. No longer half of a pair, Payton reinvents herself as a partner in a successful party-planning business and is doing just fine—until her middle sister Jillian’s engagement pulls the family back together to plan the festivities. As old wounds are reopened and the family faces the possibility of another tragedy, the Thatchers must decide if they will pull together or be driven further apart. (Contemporary Women’s Fiction from Tyndale House)

Where Hope Begins by Catherine West — Savannah Barrington has always found solace at her parents’ lake house in the Berkshires, and it’s the place that she runs to when her husband of over twenty years leaves her. Though her world is shaken, and the future uncertain, she finds hope through an old woman’s wisdom, a little girl’s laughter, and a man who’s willing to risk his own heart to prove to Savannah that she is worthy of love.
But soon, Savannah is given a challenge that she can’t run away from. Forgiving the unforgiveable. Amidst the ancient gardens and musty bookstores of the small town she’s sought refuge in, she must reconcile with the grief that haunts her, the God pursuing her, and the wounds of the past that might be healed after all. (General Contemporary from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

General Historical:

Faithful by Carol Ashby — When a foolish choice lands one man in a fight for his life, unlikely friendships are born, love blossoms, and broken relationships are restored as his best friend’s faith and courage guide the quest to rescue him. (General Historical from Cerrillo Press)

Historical Romance:

All for Love by Mary Connealy, Kristi Ann Hunter, and Jen Turano — Three of Christian historical fiction’s beloved authors come together in this romantic and humorous collection of novellas featuring prequels to their latest series. Mary Connealy’s “The Boden Birthright” journeys to the Old West, where ranch hand Chance Boden’s determination to be his own boss is challenged by his employer’s pretty daughter. Kristi Ann Hunter’s “A Lady of Esteem” follows a Regency-era young lady whose chance at love and reputation in society are threatened by a nasty rumor. Jen Turano’s “At Your Request” tells of a young woman who is humbled at her newly lowered status in society when she is reunited with the very man whose proposal she rejected. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

The Perfect Bride by Debbie Lynne Costello — Avice Touchet has always dreamed of marrying for love and that love would be her best friend, Philip Greslet. She’s waited five years for him to see her as the woman she’s become but when a visiting lord arrives with secrets that could put her father in prison, Avice must consider a sacrificial marriage. Philip Greslet has worked his whole life for one thing—to be a castellan—and now it is finally in his grasp. But when Avice rebuffs his new lord’s attentions, Philip must convince his best friend to marry the lord against his heart’s inclination to have her as his own. (Historical Romance from Forget Me Not Romances)

Backcountry Brides Collection by Angela Couch, Debra E. Marvin, Shannon McNear, Gabrielle Meyer, Carrie Fancett Pagels, Jennifer Hudson Taylor, and Pegg Thomas — Travel into Colonial America where eight women seek love, but they each know a future husband requires the necessary skills to survive in the backcountry. Living in areas exposed to nature’s ferocity, prone to Indian attack, and cut off from regular supplies, can hearts overcome the dangers to find lasting love? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Rebecca’s Song by Dawn Kinzer — A small-town teacher who lost hope of having her own family, and a big-city railroad detective driven to capture his sister’s killer, must do what’s best for three young orphans who need them both. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Love’s Silver Lining by Julie Lessman — A soft-hearted suffragist incurs the wrath of a bull-headed bachelor when she reforms his favorite girl at the Ponderosa Saloon. (Historical Romance (Western), Independently Published)

Redeeming Light by Annette O’Hare — While Sarah weathers the deadly storm inside the lighthouse, her prayers are for Frederick, caught in the midst of the tempest. (Historical Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

To Claim Her Heart by Jodie Wolfe — Elmer Smith didn’t need a man when she competed in the Cherokee Strip Land Run and she sure as shootin’ doesn’t need one to keep her land either. (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

Romantic Suspense:

No Safe Place by H. L. Wegley — A young man returning from the far country trying to regain his honor, and a young woman with a heart broken by her parents’ rejection because of her newfound faith, each have what the other needs, but will the assassin who put them on his hit list allow them enough time to discover what they have in each other? (Romantic Suspense from Trinity Press International)

Speculative:

No Less Days by Amanda G. Stevens — As far as David Galloway knows, he can’t die. He wonders where he fits in the world, in God’s plan for the past and the future. He believes himself to be the only person on earth who hasn’t aged in over a century. He’s wrong about that. (Speculative from Barbour Publishing)

Young Adult:

Porch Swing Girl by Taylor Bennett — Left at her grandma’s house in Hawaii after a family tragedy, sixteen-year-old Olive Galloway is desperate to fly home to Boston and stop her father before he does anything drastic. (Young Adult from Mountain Brook Ink)

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Especially for Writers

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