WHISPERS IN THE CANYON Now Available!

I am thrilled to share the news that WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, the first book of the Donovan Family Saga, is now available on Amazon.com!

WhispersintheCanyonMed.jpg

In the 1880s Arizona Territory, Jesse Travers’ father dies and leaves her with a bankrupt ranch and a deep well of distrust.

Shunned by the village for her outlaw brother’s deeds, Jesse is not sorry to hear he’s been killed while robbing a bank. Strangely enough, it’s the man who shot him who brings her the news. Even more strange is this latecomer’s willingness to help her put her ranch back on solid footing. Lacking any other options and loving her canyon home, Jesse overcomes her trepidation and accepts his help.

Irish immigrant Adam Donovan inherited the gift of empathy from his Celtic forebears, and it’s not long before he ferrets out Jesse’s secret: she’s been deeply traumatized by abuse.

As they work together to improve her ranch, Jesse begins to trust Adam and feels the first stirrings of love―an experience she’s never known before. Then, as if to tell her she is unworthy of happiness, her past rises up with a vengeance and she is left with a terrible choice: retreat to a life of solitude and shame, or reveal her tragic secret in the minuscule hope of saving her relationship with Adam Donovan.

The novel is available as an e-book on Amazon right now, and it’s free if you have Kindle Unlimited!

 

Book Review: SOUL OF THE ELEPHANT by Pam Laughlin

In the first book of The Kind Mahout Series, entitled Soul of the Elephant, author Pam Laughlin introduces Hemit, a boy who lives during the British occupation of India. Hemit is rapidly approaching the age when he will choose his own elephant, and is at odds with his father over their training—Hemit believes that kindness will get better results than cruelty. While his father clings to the old ways, Hemit finds a kindred soul in the form of a mysterious hermit called The Husher who, with a mystical process, can reach the soul of the elephant.

Whether Hemit can keep his forbidden relationship with The Husher secret and be able to convince his father to change his ways are the central conflicts of the story.

Pam's Book 1

There are many fascinating aspects to this book, including the customs and food of a people with whom I was not acquainted before. Ms. Laughlin provides lush descriptions of the scenery and tantalizing depictions of their meals, as well as in-depth portrayals of the social caste system and the hunting process (the duck hunt especially intrigued me).

But in spite of, or perhaps because of, the simplicity of Hemit’s life, there’s a sense of imminent danger throughout. Nature sends lightning, rainstorms and floods; the British bureaucrats are both overbearing and condescending; and the elephants themselves can pose significant risks. Not to mention the tiger (or is it a were-tiger?) that preys on the villagers.

If there’s a negative to this book, it’s that some appealing minor characters appear here and there, but don’t have a significant role to play in the narrative. I’m hoping these characters have more to tell us as the series continues.

I recommend this book for its smooth writing and excellent imagery, as well as the sheer depth of knowledge it displays. I enjoyed every page of it.

Notes: From time to time I am asked, or volunteer, to write a review of a novel by another author. Please be assured that, although I may have an acquaintance with the author involved, the views expressed are entirely my own and are based on the book itself and nothing else. For it is only by being honest that I can expect my readers to trust me.

I was provided with a copy of this book by the author, with the provision that I write an honest review.

If you have a book you’d like reviewed and are willing to accept my unadulterated opinion, contact me through the website. I’ll be accepting adult full-length novels in all genres except Horror and Erotica, and posting no more than one review per month, on a book chosen at random from among those submitted. However, if your book is not chosen this month, it will remain on the list and have more opportunities to be “the one”. You may, of course, withdraw your request at any time.

Please note: due to poor eyesight and therefore limited screen time, I am unable to review any book for which a hard copy is not provided. My apologies to ebook-only formats: I wish I could accommodate you as well.

Does Your Story Need a Bad Guy?

A writer asks if his work might suffer because he doesn’t write “antagonists”, by which he means there is no specific person for his hero to fight. He writes books about climate change and how it affects his characters.

My answer: “Of course you have an antagonistit’s NATURE”.

Traditionally, there have been five types of antagonists in literature:

Man against Man

Man against Nature

Man against Society

Man against Himself

Man against the Supernatural

Recently, another antagonist has been added to the list:

Man against Technology

AI by geralt from Pixaby

Picture by geralt from Pixaby

Given those choices, how do we figure out which of those antagonists fits our needs?

Man vs Man: You can look at any of the Hero sagas for this theme, whether it’s Beowulf or Batman. It’s also a common theme in mysteries, westerns, and romances, where the villain (whether murderer, rustler or ex-girlfriend) must be vanquished in order for the protagonist to succeed.

Man vs Nature: This theme is found in Moby Dick and The Old Man and The Sea, but also in stories like Cast Away and The Towering Inferno, where the protagonist must either use the natural world to save himself, or fight a natural force to save someone else.

Man vs Society: Here, the most commonly cited author is Jane Austen, whose characters are always bumping up against the artifices of 18th century England. To Kill a Mockingbird is another fine example, as is Riders of the Purple Sage, where a woman is pitted against the strictures of Mormon society when an unscrupulous bishop wants her for her wealth.

Man vs Himself: While Hamlet is the most obvious example of this theme, Riders of the Purple Sage also shows us this conflict, as the woman’s non-Mormon champion, Lassiter, must give up his guns to gain her trust and, eventually, her love. Lassiter’s internal struggle to reconcile himself to a non-violent solution to their dilemma is just as strong as Hamlet’s, though his ultimate act is much different (no spoilers here!)

Man vs the Supernatural: Whether it’s called Fate, God, or a wizard’s spell, conflicts can be found from the myths of Prometheus and Loki, to the witches in MacBeth, through to Harry Potter. It also includes vampires, flying monkeys, as well as the zombie apocalypse.

Man vs Technology: Both Brave New World and 1984 demonstrate the challenges of technology changing our life in ways we could not anticipate. Other good examples of this conflict are 2001:A Space Odyssey and Frankenstein.

frankenstein-by skeeze from Pixabay

Picture by Skeeze from Pixabay

 

Now that we’ve explored the kinds of antagonists, the question is: can a book have more than one antagonist?

We’ve already seen two examples of antagonists in Riders of the Purple Sage. We could also see it in The Towering Inferno, where the protagonist is not only striving to save people from the fire, but trying to discover what went wrong, while the builder is hiding the cost-cutting measures he employed in construction.

In my forthcoming book, Whispers in the Canyon, the human antagonist is dead before the story begins, but that doesn’t mean his evil deeds died with him. My characters, Adam Donovan and Jesse Travers, must deal with the aftereffects of the abuse Jesse suffered at her dead brother’s hands.

These two also have problems with nature to be faced, and the Man vs Himself theme rears its ugly head when Adam begins to blame himself for not recognizing Jesse’s plight earlier.

So, if your manuscript doesn’t have a “good guy” and a “bad guy”, and there’s something other than that (or several other somethings) causing problems for your hero, never fear. The antagonist of your story doesn’t have to be human at all.

 

#Edit or #Revise? Why not both?

In the craft of writing, editing is accepted as a necessary evil. We all realize that our sentences must be properly punctuated, our noun/verb combinations must agree, our sentence and paragraph structure must meet certain recognizable norms.

Yes, there are exceptions. Books are written in verse. Writers experiment with no dialogue tags, single-sentence paragraphs, and chapters that consist of fewer than 10 sentences. And at least one author, Cormac McCarthy, has eschewed the use of almost all punctuation.

But for most of us, editing is an acceptable, if somewhat mundane, chore.

Revision, on the other hand, is greeted with wailing and gnashing of teeth. Revision is “hard”. Revision is “based on someone else’s opinion” and is “not the way I write.”

Yet revision can be the most satisfactory part of writing.

cat on book

I’m not talking about the “Revise & Resubmit” advice an agent or editor may give, and which any author is free to accept or reject. I’m talking about recognizing the shortcomings in our own work, and making a concerted effort to improve them.

In a previous post, I talked about the books, primarily mysteries, that my grandmother and my mother have bequeathed to me. A few days ago, I was reading one by Ed McBain, an author very popular in the 70s-90s, whose style of terse conversation and fact-based investigation is a bit Hemingway-esque. McBain’s most popular book is probably HEAT, and if you’ve ever seen that movie FUZZ where Burt Reynolds dresses up as a nun to catch the bad guy, you know the one I mean. But the point is, in this book, POISON, McBain waxed poetic over the weather. Not the spring or summer weather, or even autumn. But winter weather.

It was unexpected, and breathtakingly beautiful. I can do that, I says to myself. In my first novel, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, I have a scene where the winter weather is at the heart of a conflict. I can make it much more dramatic. I can almost make it a character – an antagonist – in its own right.

That started me off. The next question was: where do I have weather? Or time of day? Or anything that has to do with the characters’ surroundings. I can do this. I will do this!

In most cases, it doesn’t take much. The description of a table as old and scarred; of a porch as sagging around its posts; of a cabin with grass that’s been seared to gray. Sometimes the scene calls for more than a few words. As an example, I’ve made a change at a critical point in the story. I started out with:

When he left her, the night was at its darkest hour.

Everyone’s heard “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Most of us have spent at least one night awake, drunk or sober (oops, did I say that?) and have experienced it for ourselves. The sentence as it stands brings that idea to the mind of the reader.

But so much more has happened, so much terror and heartache was revealed in the previous chapter, that the opening was really, really trite. Revision created this:

When he left her, the night was at its darkest hour. The stars had faded, the tired old moon had set. But the night was no blacker than the wound on his heart.

And now, it’s not just a dark hour in the night. There’s a complete lack of light. And a more complete understanding of the character’s emotions.

Revising is difficult, yes. It takes a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a whole lot of willingness to look at those perfect words we wrote and find a way to make them better.

No one can deny the importance of editing – every comma needs to be in its place, every pronoun needs to refer to the right person. But revision – I’ve come to believe that’s what makes the difference between a good book and a great one.

What are you working on now, and what specific revisions have you made or do you intend to make?

#Writing: THE RULES vs. STYLE CHOICES

#amwriting #grammar #style #rules

In the past few weeks, I’ve seen too many articles that propound “THE RULES of Writing”. An overabundance, if you will, most of which don’t make any distinction between THE RULES and STYLE CHOICES.

THE RULES are universal. For instance:

– a sentence must have a subject and a verb;
– the subject and verb must agree;
– participles should not dangle;
– a sentence may have only one viewpoint: it cannot start out in first person and end in third;
– Etc., etc., etc.

It’s possible for a good writer to break THE RULES occasionally, but s/he must realize what s/he is doing in order for it to be effective. The universal RULES of writing can be found in any reputable GRAMMAR guide; one I like is Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL).

Anything above and beyond the universal RULES is a STYLE CHOICE:

– No adverbs? Style choice;
– No compound sentences? Style choice;
– No words over three syllables? Style choice;
– No dialogue tags but “said” and “asked”? Style choice;
– Etc., etc., etc.

STYLE CHOICES are found in “Style Guides” and are not universal rules. I, for one, would be much more apt to appreciate their advice if the guides followed these so-called “rules” in their own publications. But, almost universally, they don’t. More scholarly types than I have proven that even the ubiquitous Elements of Style by Strunk & White has broken most of the “rules” it espouses. Go ahead, try to count the adverbs in any guide that propounds “no adverbs”. Count the passive verbs in a guide that propounds “no passive verbs”. It’s almost impossible to write fiction (or to write about fiction) and follow these strictures at all times.

(Of course, there are many who get around the “no adverbs” stricture by substituting an adverbial phrase — eliminating an adverb like “tremulously” in favor of a phrase like “in a tremulous voice”. To me, that’s worse, as it adds empty words to the story.)

Adding to the confusion is that, in the history of literature, STYLE CHOICES are transitory. No one writes like Chaucer any more; few write like Faulkner or Austen. The current trend toward starkness and simplicity will no doubt be as short-lived.

Now, I’m not saying that STYLE CHOICES are wrong. On the contrary, each writer should make these choices for him- or her-self. If you want to use smaller words and shorter paragraphs, you are perfectly free to do so. But that doesn’t put writers who use longer words or longer paragraphs in the wrong. Or longer words and shorter paragraphs. Or longer paragraphs… or whatever.

Touting your own STYLE CHOICES to the world at large as “rules” is akin to attempting to convert someone to your religion, and my best advice there is “Don’t do it!”

You and your writer friends will both be happier with the outcome.

 

P.S. Can you find which of the RULES stated above is broken rule in this article? How many times has it been broken?

To Pants or Not To Pants – That is the Question

#amwriting #amediting

 There’s a great dichotomy among writers: plotters (those who outline) vs. pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants).  Most writers fall into one camp or the other and sing the praises of their choice.  Nothing wrong with that.  Everyone’s mind works differently, and what works for you may not work for me.

I’m one of those rare birds who uses both methods.  I plot out a short story or an essay like this – it’s the only way I can make sure I don’t lose track of my theme somewhere in the middle.  But when it comes to novels, I’m a pantser.

I start out with a concept, plus a beginning, an ending, and a few scenes in between. But once I start writing, I let the characters take me where they will.  That process sometimes means the intended scenes don’t make it into the manuscript and, at least once, it’s meant that the ending isn’t what I originally envisioned.

Yet I can see the point of plotting, especially when the story is complex or there are more than a few characters to keep track of.  Not too long ago, I read a book in which all but one of the sub-plots was left dangling at the end, and I remember thinking that the author could have made good use of an outline.  That’s one of the benefits of plotting – making sure everything that’s started has a resolution.

But as far as I’m concerned, whatever works for you as an individual is fine with me.

However, I recently read a blog post by someone who swears by outlines.  The blogger spent quite a bit of time belittling those who don’t plot ahead, saying things like “some authors can’t be bothered to outline”, “an outline is the only sure road to success”, and “I never read a good book that wasn’t plotted out beforehand”.

Really?  This blogger contacted every author whose book she ever read to determine if the writer used an outline?  And never enjoyed a book whose author said “NO”?  What about those dead guys, like Cervantes, Twain, Dumas and Voltaire, whose works are still held in reverence – did she contact them by séance?

Or did she maybe just assume that bad books are not plotted and good books are?  You all know what happens when you assume…

So, in support of all the non-plotters out there, here are some quotes about writing from your fellow pantsers.  Now I haven’t read all of these books, but I’m fairly certain most of them are pretty good.

***

I’ve never written a book with an outline or a predetermined theme.  It’s only in retrospect that themes or subjects become identifiable.  That’s the fun of it: discovering what’s next.  I’m often surprised by plot developments I would not have dreamed of starting out, but that, in the course of the writing, come to seem inevitable.  Susan Choi (American Woman)

I don’t plot the books out ahead of time, I don’t plan them.  I don’t begin at the beginning and end at the end. I don’t work with an outline and I don’t work in a straight line.  Diana Gabaldon (Outlander)

I cannot outline. I do not know what the next thing is going to happen in the book until it comes out of my fingers.  Patricia Reilly Giff (Maggie’s Door)

In fiction, you have a rough idea what’s coming up next – sometimes you even make a little outline – but in fact you don’t know.  Each day is a whole new – and for me, a very invigorating – experience.  Peter Matthiessen (The Snow Leopard)

I do not outline.  There are writers I know and count as my friends who certainly do it the other way, but for me, part of the adventure is not knowing how it’s going to turn out.  Joyce Maynard (To Die For)

I don’t outline; I listen to a kind of whisper inside the material.  Jayne Anne Phillips (Shelter)

Writing is a process of discovering. I could never outline a narrative; that just sounds boring.  There’s no joy of discovery in what you’re doing if that’s your strategy.  Bob Shacochis (Swimming in the Volcano)

I don’t outline at all; I don’t find it useful, and I don’t like the way it boxes me in.  I like the element of surprise and spontaneity, of letting the story find its own way.  Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner)

I don’t write a play from beginning to end. I don’t write an outline.  I write scenes and moments as they occur to me.  … I sequence them in a way that tends to make sense. Then I write what’s missing, and that’s my first draft.  Richard Greenberg (Life Under Water)

The important discovery I made very early is that my novels had to be written without any given plan or outline.  I can’t do it in any other way. But then they are dependent on the sentences, my intuition, and, as I have experienced many times, the subconscious.  Per Petterson (Out Stealing Horses)

The way that I write novels in particular is I don’t usually outline; I just write.  Part of the fun is discovering what’s happening in the story as I’m going along.  John Scalzi (Old Man’s War)

I never work from an outline, and often I don’t know how the story will end.  Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah Plain and Tall)

Choosing to write a play is some kind of surrender. I don’t make an outline.  I sit and work, and suddenly the door opens, and out it comes.  David Rabe (HurlyBurly)

When I sat down and wrote the first paragraph, I was like, ‘Oh, I can go with this.’  I didn’t do an outline. I didn’t do anything.  I just wrote sentence by sentence, not knowing where the story was going.  Colleen Hoover (Losing Hope)

THE BRICKMAKER’S BRIDE by Judith Miller, book review

#amwriting #amreading #bookreview

Brick

I picked this book up on a whim: the title drew me in. I regret to say I didn’t really enjoy it. The writing was too simple for my taste and though the plot had great potential, the twists and the ending were telegraphed early on and there was nothing unexpected happening at any point.

Of the characters, I liked Ewan best. Even though he was too preachy for my taste, I could admire him for his love of his family and his work ethic.

The overriding theme of the book seemed to be that good things happen because of God and bad things happen because of people who don’t do God’s will. I found this extremely simplistic and even a bit insulting, as it dismisses outright any set of beliefs that don’t include the Christian God. There are absolutely good people who aren’t Christians, and evil is sometimes done by those who profess deep faith in the Christian God. The theme could have been presented much more subtly; if emphasis had been shifted to the romance plot and character development, this would, in my opinion, have been a much better book.

2 Stars

WHAT BOYS ARE MADE OF by S. Hunter Nisbet, Book Review

#amwriting #amreading #bookreview

Is a chance to escape a life not worth living worth the danger of losing it altogether?

In the near future, a tripartite civil war in the US has left the village of Buchell in Appalachia under the boot of an oppressive cartel leader. The citizens have for too long allowed Jeff Petrowski to keep control of the town, for those who oppose him are nearly always found dead.

This is the story of Simon “Saint” Flaherty, a teenage boy whose one talent is fighting, and of Erin Livingston, who took Simon in when he was orphaned some years earlier. Against a background of fear, poverty, and fight scenes reminiscent of Roman times, the characters struggle to come to grips with their secrets and their changing relationship.

In this gritty novel, the atmosphere is perfectly matched by Nisbet’s writing, which surprisingly has a raw lyricism all its own. Told in multiple points of view in the first person present tense, it gives the reader a deep look inside the personalities of the characters as events unfold. The reader is caught up completely in the story, in the characters, in their dilemmas as they search for any way out of Buchell.

If I have one criticism of this novel, it’s that it ended too soon. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series.

Notes: From time to time, I am asked, or volunteer, to write a review of a novel by another author. Please be assured that, although I may have an acquaintance with the author involved, the views expressed will be entirely my own and will be based on the book itself and nothing else. For it is only by being honest that I can expect my readers to trust me.

I was provided with a pre-release copy of this book by the author, with the provision that I write an honest review. It has been my distinct pleasure to do so.

If you have a book you’d like reviewed and are willing to accept my unadulterated opinion, contact me through the website. I’ll be accepting adult full-length novels, and posting no more than one review per month, on a book chosen at random from among those submitted. However, if your book is not chosen this month, it will remain on the list and have more opportunities to be “the one”. You may, of course, withdraw your request at any time.

Please note: due to poor eyesight and therefore limited screen time, I am unable to review any book for which a hard copy is not provided. My apologies to ebook-only formats: I wish I could accommodate you as well.

At the Intersection of #Music and #Writing

#amwriting #amediting

It occurred to me the other day that the people who propound THE RULES OF WRITING are much more vocal than those of us who do not. Since I was listening to a John McCormack CD at the time (it’s almost Paddy’s Day, you know, and I’m learning two new songs), I wondered how those proponents of THE RULES feel about music.

There are all kinds of music for all kinds of tastes: from rap to opera, from big band to show tunes to rock, rock’n’roll, rockabilly, country, pop – the list goes on and on. My tastes are probably a bit limited, as I prefer music with a simple message and a complex but repetitive melody. To wit, I like traditional folk music. Whether it’s Irish or Cowboy music, Appalachian or Gold Rush, African-American spirituals or Bob Dylan, I love folk music.

But I also like mid-century Country-Western, doo-wop, contemporary ballads, show tunes and some classical pieces (though I prefer a single instrument to an orchestral arrangement).

It seems to me that almost everyone enjoys more than one kind of music. Just because you like rap doesn’t mean you can’t like show tunes. People who like swing might also savor classical music.

So what if I said that everyone should like Irish folk music and listen to nothing else? If I did, you’d laugh out loud, wouldn’t you? Give me the brush-off, a raspberry or even an inelegant gesture.

You wouldn’t accept anyone at all telling you what kind of music you have to listen to and enjoy.

Why is it then, that all writers are supposed to imitate one author? Why is only one author held up as the ultimate standard for writing well?

And why, if only one author qualifies for such a high honor – why is it not Shakespeare?

 

coffee & computer - Pexels

Photo courtesy of Pexel

Nope. It’s Hemingway. The Heming-way is the way we must write now. We must eschew adverbs, delete gerunds, avoid passive voice, reduce adjectives and write shorter sentences.

In addition, we must only use “said/ask/whispered” for dialogue tags (or use none at all), simplify our punctuation, and make our paragraphs shorter.

There’s even an app now called “Hemingway Editor © ”. It encourages shorter, simpler words and reports a “good” score as 6th grade reading comprehension level. That might be great for 6th graders, but really? The first sentence of this post is 27 words long and the app considered it “too complex” and too hard to read. The second sentence, it considered “very hard” to read. But I’d bet real money that you had no trouble understanding either of them.

Previous generations used reading as a way to increase their knowledge of words and language. Do we really want to encourage people to limit their vocabulary and comprehension? Do we really want to play to the lowest acceptable level of literacy?

It makes no sense to me.

If you were to catalog the classic literature of the early 20th century, Hemingway is only one of many authors you’d find on the list. Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Steinbeck, Joyce, Faulkner – all contempories of Hemingway, all hugely popular in their lifetimes. All still have a following today. And all have unique writing styles.

The Sound and the Fury – was there ever a better depiction of a Southern aristrocratic family’s dissolution?* Faulkner employed a number of narrative techniques, including omniscient POV and stream of consciousness. Why do THE RULES hawkers disavow him?

Look Homeward, Angel is my favorite book, hands down. Thomas Wolfe gives us an intimate look into the heart and soul of a poor, socially awkward boy with a miserly mother and an alcoholic father.** The writing is lyrical, melodic, majestic in its reach. The emotional scope of the novel is incomparable. Again, THE RULES hawkers decry.

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce manages to blend the most appealing aspects of the two works noted above. And the hawkers tear out their hair and scream “No! NO! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”

Why?

I’ve heard from several sources that contemporary readers prefer a style like Hemingway’s. Do they? Or have they just become so inundated with it that they don’t realize they have a choice?

We as writers have a choice. We are free to choose Hemingway – if that’s what we want. But I think it’s equally important to realize that choosing “other” is not a cardinal sin. We have an obligation – yes, an obligation – to create what is in us, regardless of THE RULES.

I don’t discount or disparage Hemingway’s talents at all. But I do object to them being held up as the gold standard. No single author deserves that, not even Shakespeare.

Believe me, if I could write like Thomas Wolfe I would.

So tell me, what kind of music do you enjoy? Does it translate to what you enjoy reading? or to the way you write?

 

§

*By the way, Hemingway Editor doesn’t think you can understand the first sentence in this paragraph, either.

**Per Hemingway Editor, this sentence is too long for you to understand, and “miserly” was identified as an adverb. Oy vez!