WHISPERS IN THE CANYON: Editorial Review

I’m thrilled to announce that WHISPERS IN THE CANYON has received a 5-star review from the Coffee Pot Book Club.

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“I didn’t want to kill him…”

But Russell Travers had already shot one man while he attempted to rob The White’s Station Bank, how many more would he have shot if Adam Donovan had not stopped him? Nevertheless, it does not take anything away from the fact that Adam killed a man, and now he has to break the news to Russell’s ailing father and wayward sister.

The dilapidated state of the Travers’ ranch comes as a surprise to Adam, as does the scrap of the girl who threatens him with a dirty Whitworth rifle. Adam had been led to believe that Jesse was a violent woman, but the reality in front of him, even if she did hold onto that rifle, negated the rumours. Jesse was not what he had expected, and that rifle looked so old and abused that he doubted it could even fire. No, Jesse was not what others said of her.

Jesse had cried when Adam told her that her brother was dead. But they were not tears of grief. They were tears of relief. For years, Jesse had suffered at the hands of her brother. At last, she was free of him, but his death hastened that of her ailing father, and Jesse finds herself all alone in a cold and unforgiving world, with a ranch that was falling down around her.

Adam cannot stand by and do nothing in the face of Jesse’s dire needs. His family rally around Jesse and help her to not only rebuild the ranch but make it profitable. And the more time Adam spends with Jesse, the more his heart tells him that this is the woman he was destined to be with.

Jesse had learnt long ago how futile hope was. She fears that as soon as Adam discovers what had befallen her by the hand of her brother, then he would leave, and she would be all alone again, and that she could not survive…

Whispers in the Canyon by Gifford MacShane is the emotionally evocative story of a young woman who learns how to trust and how to love after years of insufferable abuse at the hands of her brother.

Set during the 19th Century in Arizona, Whisper in the Canyon appalls, impresses and makes a reader swoon at the romance in equal measures. It has everything one could want from a historical romance and then some.

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Adam is instantly drawn to Jesse. He admires her bravery, but he also sees past the gossip and the rumours. He is a man who is confident enough to come to his own conclusions, and he has been taught to listen to his heart. I thought Adam was a wonderful hero. His patience and understanding were precisely what Jesse needed. Adam becomes Jesse’s constant in a confusing and terrifying world. I thought Adam was really rather wonderful.

Jesse is as broken as any soul can be, and yet her strength of character, her determination to rebuild her life, makes her one of the strongest heroines that I have ever encountered. The stigma that Jesse may have come across is tempered by the protective shield that the Donovan household wrap around her. Slowly, but inevitably, Jesse learns to trust her feelings, and to trust Adam. Adam is nothing like her brother, and often Jesse finds the difference staggering and somewhat confusing, as anyone would coming out of a very unhealthy and abusive relationship. Jesse and Adam’s story is a sweet and slow romance, with Adam ever mindful of what she had suffered. It was an enthralling love story that made this book wholly unforgettable and next to impossible to put down. Kudos, Ms MacShane.

Another character that deserves a mention is Katie. While Adam shows Jesse what real love is, his grandmother Katie helps to heal the scars that Adam cannot. I adored Katie, she is this wonderfully knowledgable lady who has a tremendously large heart. She takes Jesse under her wing, and along with Adam and the rest of the Donovans’, helps Jesse to heal. I thought Katie’s portrayal was marvellous.

The historical detailing of this story has to be commended. MacShane has taken considerable care to research the history of this era, and it shows through in her writing. MacShane has captured the very essence of 19th Century Arizona. Brilliantly written and fabulously executed.

Whispers in the Canyon by Gifford MacShane is one of the most compelling and moving historical western romance novels that I have ever read.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.

The Coffee Pot Book Club.

7 Great Authors Take on the “RULES OF WRITING”

We’ve all heard about the RULES we need to follow in order to be “good” writers. No adverbs, no passive voice, no split infinitives, show don’t tell, limit dialogue tags to “said” & “asked”, use only one POV per chapter―these are just a few of the absolutes we’re faced with every day.

I’ve heard some RULES that are downright silly, such as: only one comma per sentence; no more than 4 sentences per paragraph; no conjunctions. The latest one to make the make the rounds is “no gerunds”, where most proponents of the RULE think a gerund is any word ending in “ing”. (It’s not. In fact, the only two gerunds in this article are “writing” and “painting”. For more info, read this post.)

The problem, it seems to me, is taking the style choice an author has made and proclaiming it a universal RULE.

Yes, I said “style choice”. You can decide that adverbs are not for you, that you always want to show and not tell, or to use no dialogue tags at all. A thriller writer may make some choices that a literary writer might denounce. But imagine if everyone took their favorite style choice and pronounced it a RULE for all to follow. That would almost surely lead to a cookie-cutter approach to writing, and individual creativity would suffer.

What would the state of literature today be if Faulkner followed Hemingway’s choices? if Fitzgerald was ruled by Cervantes? if Cain followed Chaucer’s? Cormac McCarthy consistently uses only the period and comma as punctuation. Should we all, as modern writers, follow his example?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Don’t be so blinded by the authority behind a RULE that the choice you make hurts instead of helping. Focus on the rhythm of your work first―do you want staccato or lyrical? are you chasing a serial killer or relating a love story? or maybe both in one novel? There is no RULE that says you can’t have it all as you craft your manuscript.

The rhythm you seek will give you the choices that best benefit your story. Then you can join the ranks of these esteemed authors who know all the RULES and when to break them:

Truman Capote: Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the RULES to suit yourself.

Henry David Thoreau: Any fool can make a RULE, And any fool will mind it.

Scott Turow: I think that you must be aware of the existing conventions. …That does not mean that you cannot reinvent them in your own way.

Anne Rice: …any RULE you hear from one writer [that] doesn’t work for you, disregard it completely.

Neil Gaiman: The main RULE of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a RULE for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other RULES. Not ones that matter.

G. K. Chesterton: I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.

Joyce Carol Oates: Best tip for writers: not to listen to any silly tips for writers.

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.

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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)

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?

 

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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?

 

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*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!