Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Have Yourself a Merry Little

(my entry to faith*in*fiction and Fuse Magazine's Christmas story contest)

I looked regretfully at the gingerbread man before biting his head off. Bliss. Switching the decapitated cookie to my left hand, I steered my Explorer into the cul-de-sac, then reached over to shove the edge of the Saran wrap back under the cookie tray.

I chewed on a leg as I hummed along with "Jingle Bell Rock." Twenty-four hour Christmas music had a knack for lightening my mood. I eyed the last bit of gingerbread. Too bad the season didn’t lighten anything else.

Shrugging, I shoved the rest in my mouth as another song came on the radio. The first few notes told me all I needed to know. I swallowed the suddenly dry cookie and switched the stations. A merry little Christmas, indeed.

My parents’ house sprawled gracefully at the end of the street, a ranch with wrap-around porch and white picket fence. The prison of my teenage years. The haven where I would lick my wounds now.

A ladder stood in the front yard. Someone was helping Dad string up Christmas lights. I parked under the basketball hoop and walked over.

Dad gripped the ladder as the other man stepped down, then he enveloped me in a bulky hug. "Jana. It’s good to have you home."

"Thanks." I turned to the stranger and held out my hand. "Hello, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Jana Tate."

The man moved his scarf away from his face and Dad chuckled. "Why, Jana, don’t you recognize him? Troy Pearson?"

My hand dropped and I stepped back, tasting crumbs of gingerbread and feeling every ounce of the few pounds I’d put on since the breakup. Troy Pearson. My brother’s childhood best friend. And my worst enemy.

My eyes flicked over his face. He hadn’t changed much in five years. Same narrow eyes, identical smirk. Only now his face was red with cold when before it had been bronzed to arrogant perfection.

I deliberately turned back to my father. "I need to unload the Explorer." He nodded, and I crunched back to my vehicle. My feet beat out Troy’s long-ago chant against the snow: Fatty, fatty.

The December wind made my eyes smart. I opened the front door and reached for the box of kleenex at the foot of the passenger seat.

"I can help you carry stuff in." The familiar voice behind me had deepened slightly since I’d last heard it.

I tossed the tissue and moved to the back of the vehicle without turning around. "I can manage," I muttered as I shoved open the hatch. Pity the smaller boxes were on top.

"I know." Troy grabbed the box under the one I’d lifted and hoisted it with a grunt. I hid a sudden grin. Books.

I turned away and walked into the house, letting the door slam behind me and saying hi to Mom. As I walked down the hall to the guest bedroom – now once again my own – I ignored the footsteps following me.

Two hours later I emerged from my partially unpacked room and headed for the kitchen, stepping around the two men wrestling with the tree. Mom scraped the last of the mashed potatoes into the bowl before greeting me with a smile. "Could you put these on the table, Jana?"

I carried the potatoes to the dining room. Four plates graced the table. The bowl dropped in place with a thud. Of course my parents would ask Troy to stay for dinner.

I helped Mom get the rest of the meal on the table while the men washed up. Troy took Adam’s seat across from me, and I glared at his wrists.

Five minutes of silence prevailed as the food circled the table. I served myself tiny portions and watched Troy cover half his plate with potatoes. I grinned as I thought of the paunch he’d have by fifty. That sight would almost make up for the insults and practical jokes of years gone by.

Mom sipped her iced tea. "Have you heard from Adam lately, Troy?"

Adam. I’d heard from my little brother twice since he had left faith and family six years ago to search for himself. He must have forgotten to ask for directions.

Troy cut off a bite of chicken and nodded. "Last week. He’s in Nebraska."

My fork clattered onto my plate. Last week? I hadn’t heard from Adam in four years. So much for blood ties being the strongest. I allowed my eyes to focus on Troy’s detestable face. "How often do you hear from my brother, Troy?"

He shrugged. "Maybe once a month."

Once a month? This, this, peon chatted with my brother every month while I’d waited years? I scooted my chair out and tossed my napkin onto the table. "Please excuse me." I ran back to my room. Knowing from experience that the walls did nothing to muffle sound, I grabbed my coat and keys to seek refuge in my Explorer.

Once I’d shut out the quiet neighborhood, my lungs finally let out the scream they’d been holding far too long. Since Troy’s statement at the table. Since the day I’d lost my job and my boyfriend decided the distance from the city to here was too inconvenient. Since my brother had walked out of my life without so much as a goodbye.

I tucked my forehead into my palm, ignoring the cold and the idea of turning the heater on. I wanted to feel miserable. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, and the shreds of my life weren’t enough to trim a tree.

The minutes ticked by, and I gave in and shoved the key in the ignition. The radio came back on. From now on our troubles will be out of sight . . .

I slammed it off. It wasn’t going to be a merry Christmas – it was the worst one of my life.

Someone tapped on my window, and I rolled it down, expecting to see Dad. Troy stood there with hands awkwardly shoved into coat pockets. I turned back to the windshield, not saying a word, my finger ready to send the window back up at the earliest sign of an insult. Let him be the first one to speak

"Are you okay, Jana?"

Sure, the sensitive, caring male trick. "Why should you care?"

He stepped closer. "Jana, I know I was mean to you in the past, but I’m different now. Can’t you at least give me a chance?"

"A chance?" I turned to skewer him with my eyes. "When you’ve stolen my brother and are shoving yourself into his place in my family? I don’t think so."

He looked off into the distance with a frown. "Anyhow, I’m sorry. For everything. But you should go back inside – your parents are decorating the tree. I’ll see you later." He walked away, pulling out his cell phone.

"Later?" I called out, but he didn’t reply.

I shrugged and went inside. Bing Crosby blared from the stereo and a plate of cookies sat on the coffee table. Dad strung the last of the lights as Mom methodically unpacked ornaments. Her face relaxed as she saw me, and she came over and gave me a hug. I blinked away the tears. This was supposed to be a season for rejoicing.

I brought out my box of ornaments and pulled the tissue paper away to reveal snowflakes and bells, glass balls and paper cutouts. Some I had purchased for my little apartment tree, others dated from babyhood. Many of them were identical to Adam’s and each year we’d have to pick different sides of the tree. This time the thought brought a smile.

The phone rang. Dad, having stepped back to admire his handiwork, answered it, then handed it over my way. "It’s for you."

I pressed the receiver to my ear. "Hi, this is Jana."

"Hi, sis."

Adam. The front door opened and Troy walked in, a satisfied smile on his face, erasing his arrogant smirks forever from my memory. I reached toward the cookie tray for a gingerbread man. "Merry Christmas, Adam."

I bit the head off and closed my eyes. A merry little Christmas, indeed.

By Katie Hart

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Eye Color

There's a big discussion going on at faith*in*fiction about how eye color relates to fiction and the ratio of odd eye colors to romance novels. Personally, character descriptions that go on for paragraphs have always bored me. I prefer quick, vivid sentences that add a bit of insight into the person's character; either the person being described or the POV narrator.

Colors are vivid, so I use them for my characters. But I don't like weakening them with adjectives beyond the necessary light or dark or deep. While hair color is obvious, it means something more when one person notices another's eye color. It can be an early indication of romantic interest, or simply that one character sees someone as more than just their job or position.

I don't like using odd colors, though. I've never met someone (unless I didn't notice their eye color) with violet, orange, or black eyes, so I don't use those colors in my writing. (Though I must admit to wishing I had violet eyes at times - I love that color!) Since contacts are so common, artificial eye colors might make a neat twist (like in Dekker's Thunder of Heaven).

A great book that will be coming out next year - The Lazarus Trap by Davis Bunn. If you haven't yet, you should read his Elixir. You'll find a link to my review of it on the right, and later on there'll be one for The Lazarus Trap, too. I can't tell you much about the latter right now (since I still need to review it), but if you like suspense/action adventure, try out Davis Bunn.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Article Fiction

Delightful surprise in my morning mail - two issues of WIN-Informer with my article in them! Of course my family's like, "What? Where? Let me read it!" At least the ones old enough to appreciate a trends article. (Somehow I don't think six-year-old Lydia was very impressed. But she had other things on her mind, including playing Mary tonight in our church's children's Christmas program with a solo - she's a born actress.)

It does strike me a slightly humorous that I've had success with publishing articles, poems, and book reviews, while my main focus, fiction, sits on the shelf. Well, at least it's not always my shelf. Word has gotten around in our little 900-strong church that I'm a writer, and my first novel is making the rounds. Just tonight I was talking to a ten-year-old, and she said her whole family had read the copy I let her mom borrow. Very cool. Even if the book is never published, some people have enjoyed it already. And that's the whole reason behind writing, anyway. Money is nice, but an unread book is not worth the paper it's printed on.

Most of the "nonfiction" I've had published does relate to fiction anyhow. Fiction has always been my preference. Back in school, when Mom (I was homeschooled) assigned an essay I knew it would be boring and when I had to write a report I knew it would be a rehash of several history books. But a short story? I'd triple the required length then write a sequel just for fun.

My current lack of published results from fiction is probably because I've focused on book-length fiction for the past two or three years. But, thanks to and, two sites I visit daily, I'm taking a break and writing a short story for their impromptu Christmas contest. I hope you'll join in on the fun!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

He Who Lifts the Skies

I finally took a break from review books (including an extremely annoying six-book series my mother wanted me to review so she could buy them off me) to delve into a book that's been tantalizing me from my bookstand for weeks - He Who Lifts the Skies by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow. Sometimes when you wait to read a book it seems a serious letdown when it doesn't meet your overwhelming expectations. But my reaction to this book can be reduced to three words: I wasn't disappointed.

Kacy brings the ancient world to life in a way I've never seen paralleled. The characters are as real as your next-door-neighbors, yet the entire book (and the prequel, The Heavens Before) is permeated with a sense of wonder at things of which you've only read the bare facts in the Bible. Men living past nine hundred. Generations piling together as parents see their great-great-great-grandchildren. A city and a tower built in defiance of the Most High. Genetic differences appearing and lifetimes shortening. And that's only the setting!

Imagine being taken from your family and someone you are just starting to love by a man who stands for all you despise. Imagine that your brother and sister will do anything to help you submit to this mighty hunter who claims to protect the world from the righteous anger of the Most High and who kills, enslaves, or banishes for the slightest infraction. Imagine if your very touch brought death.

I'm sure to have more to write on this wonderful book, but it's late. And I'm sorry for the delays in posting - two surprise birthday parties (held here - one with 30 guests and one with 70) and Thanksgiving (including making 15 pies in two days) has kept me busy. And my work on Winter is going very slow.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Adding Harmony

I'm an edit-as-I-go writer. That's good in some ways. My first drafts are nice and I don't mind sharing them with people (helpful when I hook sisters or friends on an unfinished story - I can type into the night and email the next scene to them in the morning). I write chronologically, so I can build on the details from previous scenes without worrying if I'll change it later.

My second drafts look very similar to my first. I correct the typos others have found, smooth the wording in a few spots, and double-check historical details. Basically, it's the same, unless I'm writing a review and need to tighten the word count. Condensing my writing has gradually become easier for me - I don't even think about it much as I do it. And I'm getting better at guessing the 100 word mark.

Adding more words still looms as an unconquerable dragon, though. On piano, I love to pick out melodies of songs I've heard. Movies, mostly. Many years ago I figured out the theme music from the old Narnia movies and drove my siblings nuts as they tried to guess the "mystery song". It was pretty and simple. Then I added the chords, and the song suddenly changed. It became richer, almost more mature.

That's what I'm trying to do with my writing now. It's pretty - pretty simple - and way too short. Barebones dialog, action, gestures, and thoughts. A nice one-finger tune (think Schroeder and Jingle Bells in a Charlie Brown Christmas - "plink plink plink, plink plink plink, plink plink pling plong plink"), but who wants to immerse themselves in that?

So now I'm adding the harmony to my book, and it's harder than I thought. I scorn needless description, but it's definitely needed in my writing. Once I pencil in the basic chords, it should be okay. I can work from there. Maybe add a few bridges to vary the tempo. Or an intertwined tune for another instrument. I'm not sure. But that's the beauty of writing.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Romance, Jewels, and Italian-Style Crime

My family watched The Italian Job last night, at my brother's recommendation. Cool movie. Loved it. I enjoy movies with lots of neat gadgets and inventive heroes. I got a book several months ago for my birthday (The Jewel in the Crown) which promised the same thing, but I never got caught up in the emotions of trying to catch the double-crosser. Maybe The Italian Job gripped me more because more was at stake and more was lost.

In The Jewel in the Crown, the group of various experts were trying to salvage their security company by breaking through the Tower of London defenses and stealing the Queen Mother's crown (proving that their company was needed). Then the guy from the Scotland Yard who hired them makes off with the loot, and they have to get it back while being chased by police.

In The Italian Job, it wasn't a near stranger who stole from them, it was someone they'd worked with for a while who stole the gold, killed their head guy, and left the rest for dead (my apologies to anyone who hasn't watched the movie - but that's only the kick-off event). Or maybe I just liked the underplayed romance in The Italian Job, while the book had opportunities for hints of romance and completely ignored them. Oh, well, guess I shouldn't expect too much from a male author (sorry, guys, but I don't see any of you writing for Love Inspired or Heartsong Presents).

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


In a marathon race to the finish, I completed the rough draft of Winter Friday night. Finally! The writing's a bit sparse at the end, but I plan to add description to my bare-bones story. The characters, their relationships, and the action of the story is fully developed, but the settings are barely penciled in. Which is how I write. Why mess up when I'm in the groove by describing how things look?

Now it's on to getting caught up with review books and writing a book proposal for my first novel.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Climax Rush

I've finally reached the climax of my current novel. I'm not much of an outliner, but I've had this part of the book planned out for several months. I'm getting to it at last after a long delay (thanks to those endless book reviews).

The odd part is, I'm so excited about doing it that I want to race through to the end. Which, for me, leads to bad writing. Choppy sentences, repeated phrases, boring choice of words. I know I can fix it later, but I usually edit as I go. Once I've let it sit a day or so, it's pretty much kiln-fired. I can polish it a bit; sand off the rough edges; but anything more and I have to drop it on the floor and start over, or leave the flaws.

At the same time, I know I'll be sorry to finish this book. I've fallen in love with Rob and Winter, Cassie and the twins. At least with my first book I had the sequel well planned out, with many of the same characters. I know I'll come back to them. With Winter, the only sequel would be far too detached to make me feel better, or I'd have to stir up more trouble between Rob and Winter, and I think they've had their fair share already.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Blog Procrastination

Reason #1 - My parents don't like their 21-year-old daughter going to bed at three or four or five each morning, and have given me a curfew of 2AM. So it's often a choice for this night owl of writing or blogging, and you can see which I've picked recently.
Reason #2 - My 14-year-old sister signed up on AOL Instant Messenger and loves to take this computer off me. Even when she's only IMing our brother downstairs.
Reason #3 - This blog is too much like book reviewing, and I already do about two reviews a week.
Reason #4 - I've already discussed my most pressing writing pet peeves.

So . . . I've decided to be less rigid with this blog. Have more fun. Talk about myself and the (very) few things I do beyond reading and writing. Quit trying to avoid stepping on people's toes and say what I really feel about books.

Maybe I'll have more to share that way. I hope so.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Live History

Sorry for the lack of posts - but I finally have my reviews down to a manageable schedule. Hopefully.

Another of Cavanaugh's strengths is his ability to put likeable characters in tough situations. He is rather mean to them at times, especially for diehard romantics like me. Not sure what I'm talking about? Read his Songs in the Night series - his best so far, for ripping your heart out and sticking it back together.

Though he keeps his characters true to the time periods they live in (okay, maybe they push the norm a little, but that's what makes them interesting), they still feel like people you'd like to have as friends. He keeps them vivid and unique. Those are some of the best ways to make history come alive.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Companied Out

Four families over in three days makes for one very tired oldest daughter. And now my brother wants me to make ho-ho cake for his birthday. Thanks, Stephen.

I did enjoy the company, but not saying goodbye to my long-time friend, Hilary. What's it been, ten years? I'll miss you!

Writing-wise, I've gotten a lot done on my current book, though I really need to get cracking at book reviews. I'll have more on Cavanaugh next week.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Jack Cavanaugh

I'm peeking out of the review book mountain to discuss my favorite historical fiction author, Jack Cavanaugh. He is known for combining drama with historical accuracy.

Other authors use tried-and-proven general plotlines for specific time periods, Cavanaugh doesn't. Consider his first novel, The Puritans. Drew, his main character, infiltrates a Puritan community in order to find the identity of a pamphleteer, a plot you might expect to find during the Cold War or in a book about the persecuted church in China. Yet his plots mesh so perfectly with history that it doesn't seem out of place, just exciting and unpredictable.

Friday, August 27, 2004


Sorry about the lack of posts this week. I'm buried under a mountain of review books. Once I get out, I'll be able to tell you about them.

Sunday, August 22, 2004


Hope you all enjoy the new author links. They're not in any particular order, and include my favorite and not-so-favorite Christian authors. Many also have tips for writers on their sites. Please let me know if any of the links doesn't work. I'll be adding more as I read more books!

Friday, August 20, 2004


Ted Dekker's signature mark is the way he presents vital themes through his characters' lives in dramatic ways. Many well-known CBA authors have a common thread throughout their titles. Sometimes this can be used as a marketing tag: Brandilyn Collins - "Don't forget to breathe." Or it's simply an area of focus in an author's best-known titles: Janette Oke - prairie romances; B.J. Hoff - Irish immigrants. After a distinction is formed, it's hard to change. Imagine Janette Oke writing a thriller. Or Frank Peretti writing a western. Or B.J. Hoff writing chick lit. T. Davis Bunn dropped the T. for his latest thriller (and wrote juvenile fantasy under the name Thomas Locke), and Dee Henderson states on her website that she'll use a pen name if she switches genres.

All that to say: Now is the time to decide what you want to be known for with your writing. Not just your genre, although that may play a part if you stick to only one. Make it catchy, but make sure it fits your writing and doesn't promise more than you can deliver. Don't let it box you in, though. Use your phrase on your website but don't overdo it. Your readers may come up with one on their own. This is mostly for you to focus your writing - in the idea stage and when you present your work to editors.

This month has been full for me so far, and I have lots more writing to do before it ends. But there's been fun, too. Tuesday night I joined my sisters for a sleepover at their friends' house, and we watched movies till 6AM. Also went to a game night for the college-aged young people - about a dozen guys and girls playing double-deck Hilarium. Bad thing about college people in August, though. They leave. And our little black kitten, Caspian, after surviving an infected neck wound, only lasted a few days after an attack by our yellow lab. (Micah's in the doghouse - literally - and I hope he stays there for a while. Maybe we should change his name to Miraz.) Been plowing through more fantasy books, and have a bunch of reviews due. I really should go to bed before my post becomes completely disconnected, though. Night!

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Dekker POV

Continuing with Dekker this week:

In Ted Dekker's novels the point of view is usually half a step away from the character. Not that he doesn't do POV correctly - no headhopping here. There's just a slight distance - like looking through a character's eyes but not quite living in their brain. You feel their emotions, but you don't feel like they're yours.

I think this is because his books lean more toward the plot-driven camp than the character-driven. It's hard to describe action accurately if you're too caught up in the emotions of the moment. The tiny bit of distance is all Dekker needs. Close enough to feel, far enough to see.

The distance is somewhat of a boon. Your heart isn't ripped out when a character dies - Dekker wants to keep it racing instead. The books don't grip you emotionally as much as mentally. (And that doesn't include the spiritual aspect, which Dekker covers in a breathtaking way.)

Maybe it's a guy/girl thing, but I like being so emotionally involved with the characters that I breathe when they breathe. Maybe guys like a little more distance in their reading. But I'm willing to loosen the emotional bond for the thrill ride of my life.

Thursday, August 12, 2004


Thr3e, while not definitely my favorite (it ties with Blink), stands out in my mind as the most distinct of Dekker's works. The plot twists, a battle between good and evil fought in a most peculiar way, and the best surprise ending I've ever read. It's not the flat-out-"Really?"-Sherlock-Holmes type of ending, where you don't have a usable clue until the answer pops up from his brilliant mind and the case is solved. But part of it was a complete surprise, and part kept you figuring and refiguring as two theories provided proof in an alternating pattern similar to ping-pong.

No more hints. Go out and buy it.

I'm the sort of person who likes things the second or third time around, and that includes authors. It's a rare book that will make me fall in love with an author I've never read before. There are a few. Ann Tatlock's All the Way Home, for example. But generally, I like knowing a little bit about the author before they stick me on a galloping horse until the last page. I'm not the most adventurous person. Doing something for the first time gives me the jitters. If I do something again, it's usually because I know it's safe and well worth my time. It's still thrilling, but it has a slight homey feel as well. (I guess that's why they invented dress rehearsals.)

As I read more and more of an author's books, I understand their methods better, and usually after a while (the time depends on the author) I start disliking their work 'cuz it's so predictable. A few authors continue to surprise me, and the fact heightens my esteem of their writing. The Circle trilogy pulls so many elements from Dekker's other seven books that parts were predictable, though most of it was not. Thr3e wasn't predictable in the least, though I'd read six Dekker books before it. That's why I rate it above the trilogy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Hints of Narnia and Pray

I was perusing Ted Dekker's message board and came across a month-old post about his daughter. Seven-year-old Chelise has an extremely rare, incurable disease called Dermatomyositis. Roughly 3000 children in the US are afflicted by this malady which ravages the muscles and skin. It does respond to treatment in most and 90 percent of children go into permanent remission after a 2 to 3 year battle. There is no known cause.

Fortunately she's responding well to treatment so far. But keep her in your prayers.

I've noticed several hints of Narnia in The Circle trilogy, whether intentional or not. The 15 years at the end of Black bring to mind the 15 years the Pevensies reign in Narnia at the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the years having no effect in this world is similar, though the Pevensies don't gain back the years when they return to Narnia as Thomas does. How Lucy is drawn toward Justin in Red also smacks of Lucy Pevensie's and Aslan's relationship.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Dramatizing Truth - Ted Dekker

As promised, I'm doing Ted Dekker after I've finished his trilogy. Yes, I've read White. And before you become jealous, remember, you can be a book reviewer, too. I'm not stopping you. In fact, contact me if you're interested and I'll give you some tips on getting started.

If you haven't read Black and Red yet, I may be including a few plot spoilers this week, so you may want to turn off the computer and grab a book. I'll try not to give too much away.

I've read all of Dekker's novels so far, and The Circle trilogy pulls elements from all to create what may be his most powerful books yet. The love between Christ and His church from The Martyr's Song series (especially When Heaven Weeps), the colors and delights of the kingdom from Blessed Child and A Man Called Blessed, the international exploits and revealed future of Blink, and the mind-bending twists of Thr3e blend for a reassuring familiar yet radically new tale.

Don't be put off by Black's confusing and somewhat slow beginning. Just think of it as the long uphill climb at the beginning of a roller coaster. If you must stop for a break from reading, the first half of Black is the best place. For the rest, take a long weekend, take the phone off the hook, and lock the doors.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

VBS Week

Sorry, everyone, for the skipped days, but I'm taking this week off. I'm helping with VBS at our church in the evenings, which is the time I usually post. In the meantime, here's a link to check out: Enjoy, and I'll be back next week.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Teen Romance?

I, for one, am not a fan of teen romance. I didn't like it as a teen, and the teen romances I've reviewed have only annoyed me. Especially when the heroine likes a different guy each book.

But teen girls do like an element of romance in their novels. So, how do you do this without building up fantasies in girls' minds that their current relationship will last forever, when in reality they'll most likely break up next week or month?

Give the heroine a romantic interest, but don't have the guy ask her out. Dating creates an artificial atmosphere in most teen relationships, and you can keep your characters acting more naturally by having them just stay friends. But keep a hint of a possible future romance in the writing to keep girls reading.

Catherine Farnes does an excellent job of this. All her main characters are female, and there is always a guy somewhere in the story, though the friendship between them ranges from close to barely more than acquaintances. It's effective.

Well, I did meet my deadlines for the end of July, but next month is promising to be just as full. Tomorrow my family is hosting a huge picnic for the high school and college age young people in our church, and next week I'm helping with VBS. I also have much writing I'd like to get done, plus more reviews.

I am starting to expand my author links section, though I am only including authors I've read (which should make the list quite long). If you know of any author sites I should include, post the URL in a comment. Thanks!

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Using "I"

One way Catherine Farnes reaches the heart of teens is by writing in first person.  Teens have a narrow focus.  They see what's right here and now, sometimes more clearly than other people.  The present and immediate future concern most teens more than what's happening ten years from now.  Their horizons constantly expand, keeping their minds busy with today - which leaves less time for considering the past and future.

That's not saying teens don't plan and reminisce.  They do.  But to reach them where they're most comfortable, keep your writing immediate.

Teens are also focused on themselves, and I don't mean that in a bad way.  They need to understand themselves before they can make important life decisions, and books for teens reflect that.  A greater percentage of 1st person, journal-like books exist in the teen market than juvenile or adult.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Catherine Farnes

She's not a bestselling author.  Most bookstores only hear of her with special orders.  But her lean, powerful writing style captures the heart of teens.

Catherine Farnes has published six books through BJU Press, and her first, The Rivers of Judah, is my favorite.  Church politics and light romance enhance a story of blame, responsibility, and forgiveness.  Judah, a pastor's son, is blamed for his best friend's death in Alaska, and the guilt follows him to Rebekah's church in Colorado.

More than that, you'll have to read for yourself.  I highly recommend it and the entire series (Snow, Out of Hiding, and The Way of Escape follow it).  They're aimed at high school girls, but offer much to writers of teen fiction.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Characters Live On

As I conclude our look at Lewis' characters, I want to discuss his end of the Narnia saga - The Last Battle.  In this book, Lewis kills off nearly every single character he wrote about, yet they live on in the minds of millions of Narnia fans.  Why?  I believe the key is their uniqueness.

The more you know about a character, the more unique you can make them.  I found a site with a neat character questionaire:, but there are many others available.

I have many deadlines next week, so my posting should be a bit spotty.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


It's one of my favorite names in the Chronicles.  Melodious but manly.  A strange flavor but taken straight from our world.  Regal but not unreachable.  No annoying nicknames or whiny way of saying it.  A perfect name.

And our tiny black ball of fluff with claws, whiskers, and a little pink tongue doesn't quite live up to the name, but I hope he'll grow into it.  Melchizedek certainly grew into his, but Butterscotch fit the kitten but not the cat.  So choose your names carefully.  End of cat infomerical

Caspian is unique among Narnians.  He's the only character with his first name in a book title (though Prince Caspian when he's fighting for his rightful throne seems a bit out of place, but King Caspian would never work).  He appears in four books and plays a major part in two, more than any Narnian except Aslan himself.  He is the only Narnian to enter our world (Jadis does before Narnia was created, but she's from Charn).  We know more about his family and personal history than any other Narnian (though Shasta/Cor comes close).  All of the children from our world meet him before The Last Battle, except for Polly and Digory.  And there's more but I must stop for the night.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Strange Made Familiar

All right, everyone.  It's okay to sign my guestbook.  Really.  It doesn't bite.

And feel free to leave comments.  No matter how old the post.

If you have a website or blog that could help Christian writers or readers, add a link to this site and I'll be glad to return the favor.

Back to the subject at hand:

I don't read mythology, so Narnia is my only connection with many of the strange creatures Lewis introduces.

Some are not so strange.  Father Christmas adds just the right blend of familiar legend and historical figure to keep Narnia real but magical.  And dwarves and giants exist, though Lewis develops them to an extreme not found in our world.

Somehow, Lewis gets all the strangeness and familiar to come together into a unified whole.  Dancing fauns, dryads and dragons fit in perfectly with living stars, turbaned Calormenes, and talking squirrels.  I believe this comes from Lewis allowing the creatures he wrote about to stay true to themselves - talking dogs are still quite doggy, unicorns are noble and graceful, dryads look and act like trees.

Although a feeling of strangeness is important in fantasy and science fiction (especially the latter), readers need words on a page to form pictures in their minds.  All a reader knows is what is this world.  To make them see another world, some connections need to be made.  The same is true with other fiction, though the connections can be more overt. 

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Beauty of the Beasts

I'm continuing Lewis this week, which is actually good for my schedule.  I have many reviews due at the end of the month.  I keep saying August will be better, but it's starting to fill up too.  Oh, well.  By September many of my friends will be back to college or whatnot, so I'll have lots of lonely hours to fill.  Not that I really have a social life anyway.
Talking animals have been around since Balaam's donkey, and they peopled Lewis' early stories as well.  Aslan is in a league by Himself.  Lewis does an excellent job of making Him truly a lion and truly God.
Reepicheep is one of my favorite animal characters.  His valor mixed with his tinyness make him humorous and unforgettable.  Jewel is also a favorite.
I love cats, so it was disappointing to have Ginger as one of the bad guys.  But with Lewis' love of mice, what can you expect?  At least Aslan as a cat comforts Shasta among the Tombs of the Ancient Kings.
Who is your favorite animal in the Chronicles?  Why?

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Guys

I was interrupted, so I didn't get a chance to comment on Narnian guys.
Peter is the oldest child, in charge, and someone you can depend on.  He seems a little distant, but I admire the way he sticks up for Lucy.
Edmund and Eustace both are "perfect beasts" until circumstances force them to grow.  I like the way Lewis lets them suffer the consequences of their actions before they meet Aslan - no rapid-fire conversions here.  Sin causes pain, and the price is high.
Digory is adventuresome, and the only character you get a close look at both as a child and an adult.  He is also the only child with deep sorrow in his life - a sorrow that mirrors Lewis' own.
Shasta has a rags-to-riches tale, but his character growth on the journey north removes the triteness of his story.
There's also Corin, Caspian, Rillian, and Tirian - perhaps I'll get to them later.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Man and Marshwiggles

Puddleglum is unique among a cast of humans, talking animals, and mythological characters. He is so pessimistic it's humorous, even to a pessimist like me (my family has called me a marshwiggle at times). But his gloomy outlook only partially masks his loyalty and bravery.

Ten children dominate the series. Out of the girls, I like Aravis the most. She's plucky, arrogant, and endearing all at once.

Lucy seems almost too perfect, and as an oldest child I identified freely with her siblings' disbelief. She's the one I strive to be like.

Polly is a bit of a coward, but mostly compared to Digory. She's also a writer (remember her story in the Smuggler's Cave?), witty, and a great companion.

Jill cries a lot in The Silver Chair, but I love her role in The Last Battle.

And my heart weeps over Susan. To be a queen of Narnia and forsake it in the end seems the ultimate tragedy. But "once a queen in Narnia, always a queen in Narnia." Maybe the loss of her entire family woke her up. And the rings might have been recovered from the wreckage.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Clive Staples and Characters

Since I've just finished listening to the audio dramatizations of The Silver Chair and The Last Battle, and I've recently read A Field Guide to Narnia, C.S. Lewis it is this week.

They've just announced the actors who are to play the four children in the upcoming movie The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. None of them looked like I expected them to, but I'm glad they finally got Susan's hair color right. And Lucy is as cute as can be.

One of Lewis' trademarks is his memorable characters. Who can forget Puddleglum? Or Reepicheep? Let me know your favorite Narnian characters. We'll be discussing them the rest of this week.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


Here is Monday, and I haven't chosen the author for this week yet (I have plenty of excuses, though - company four days in a row, a picnic, reviews due, etc.). This a list of the novelists I'm considering for the weeks to come. Any preferences or ideas for writing topics to go with them?

Jack Cavanaugh
Ted Dekker (I want to wait until I read his trilogy first)
B.J. Hoff
Lawana Blackwell
Penelope J. Stokes
T. Davis Bunn
Michael Phillips
Judith Pella
Ray Blackston
Karen Hancock
Frank Peretti
Melody Carlson
Catherine Palmer

There are many more, I know, but I'm trying to choose authors that I've read a majority of their writings.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Intricate Settings

While details are good for portraying characters, they are even more important for settings. This is where authors need to do much of their research. What exactly does the interior of a Navy ship look like? A bank? An upscale office?

With smalltown stories you can guess or make up many details, but plots set in actual locations need meticulous research. You never know when someone who's been there will pick up your book. Dee Henderson experienced this - before one of her Uncommon Heroes titles was published, her editor allowed someone in the military to read it.

Historical fiction usually is difficult in this area. History books don't always tell you what you need to know, and then you're up for hours of internet searching for one little scrap of information. And sometimes you don't find it at all. I spent many evenings trying to find out which version of the Book of Common Prayer was used during the American Revolution, only to turn up nothing. I had hoped to quote from it in a Anglican church service, but I had to skip it. (If anyone possesses this bit of information, please let me know!)

Fantasy requires many details, though in this case you can make them up. But they cannot contradict each other. To keep everything in order, you almost need to write your own history and geography books for yourself. The main point is to create a feeling of "otherworldliness" without confusing the reader. Make sure you give the big picture along with your details.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Detailed Mystery

Details are important for novels with mysteries. They shroud clues like people hiding in a big city. Juvenile mysteries are easy to figure out simply because they're not long enough to include many details, so clues stick out like sore thumbs.

While Dee's novels are more suspense than mystery, she uses details to her advantage. The plot of The Truth Seeker is based on the little details Lisa figures out - from the number of threads in duct tape to the way someone's bones break.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Dee and Details

I'm back again after a long weekend of relatives, picnics, and berry picking. Picnic food is not my favorite. I don't eat condiments or any form of them (besides mayo in tuna fish salad), so that rules out macaroni salad, potato salad, baked beans (I know what my mother puts in them). I also am somewhat allergic to eggs (by themselves, not in baked goods), so no deviled eggs. I also don't eat potato chips (who needs the fat if you don't love them), and since I chipped a tooth on pretzel salt I've avoided pretzels, too. So basically my plate holds a plain hotdog (or hamburger if we're having them) on a bun, jello or fruit salad, and dry corn chips. If it wasn't for speedy cleanup due to disposable dishes, I'd mind a lot more.

The above paragraph illustrates one of Dee Henderson's trademarks - details. Every detail you bring into the story is an opportunity to connect with your readers. Mention a character is a lefty, and all lefthanded readers feel sympathy. (Any other lefties tired of the way all the writing on pens is upsidedown? Comment with your outrage below.) Show your character humming a popular song, and all those who love it will feel like humming along.

There are a few downsides to details. You may need to get permission to use trademark names or copyrighted songs. Details can date a contemporary novel, and it's hard to find them for many historicals. But they are worth the time and effort.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Villains and more

A few last character roles to be discussed:

The villains. The hero and heroine have an ample number of characters out to get them. First there's the younger "bad guy", a skilled fighter the hero's age, usually an assassin, who the hero has to fight somewhere near the end.

Then comes the power-hungry villain - cunning and twisted. Usually it's a man, but sometimes it's a woman such as Lady Irene in The Royal Pavilions series. They are often related to or in guardianship over the hero or heroine. They are also older, more along the age of the mentor.

Sometimes the luckless suitor is also a villain, like Philip in The Royal Pavilions series (can you tell which Linda Chaikin books I read this weekend?). A rare twist in the East of the Sun series is a suitor becoming a type of mentor.

A varied array of bad guys adds intrigue to the story, especially if they have different goals and double-cross each other. An extra villain is also a quick way to spice up an uninteresting section in the hero's or heroine's life. But be certain that it incorporates well into the plot.

There's also the heroine's rival, a woman who likes the hero and is inferior to heroine in many ways. The heroine's jealousy of the woman helps speed up the change from hatred to love.


I plan to use weekends to discuss off-topic subjects if I have time. I still haven't chosen the author for next week, but Dee Henderson is a possibility.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Warrior Priests and Luckless Suitors

Chaikin doesn't leave her heroes and heroines alone on their journeys - she provides a spiritual mentor for one or both. Many of them have trained as priests, and are nearly as adventureous as the hero himself. These men become sounding boards for the younger main characters and spiritual reflections are more plausible coming from their older mouths.

The heroine also usually has another love interest, a more passive man she assumes she'll be marrying. Another reason for her to hate the hero, as he usually fouls things up.

Looking ahead to next week - are there any authors you'd like to see discussed?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Gallant Rogues

Chaikin's heroes are larger than life - skillful, mysterious, powerful, courteous, and arrogant. These attributes both attract and repel women, so it's no wonder love/hate relationships exist throughout her novels.

The most attractive thing about her male characters is their sense of adventure. They embody perfectly the ideology expressed in Wild at Heart by John Eldridge. They grab life by the horns and don't let go. While living life to the fullest they do step on a few toes, namely those of the independent young women they come across.

These women are the typical counterpart to the heroes - stubborn enough to clash with the arrogant rogues, sweet enough to bring out their gallantry. Evy in the East of the Sun series is an exception - she has a quiet steadfastness, but she's less headstrong than Chaikin's previous heroines.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Christy and Chaikin

The Christy Award winners just came out - some books I liked, some I didn't. As a Cavanaugh fan, I wish he would have won, though Fire by Night was great, too. I hope he wins next year - having an entire trilogy with Christy Awards would be nice. I did think Flabbergasted was a better first novel than Welcome to Fred, but I enjoyed both. Three deserved to win.

Linda Chaikin is this week's author, and character roles is the writing topic (I'll do Dekker after I read his trilogy). Linda is prolific author with the knack of stretching one couple's love story into three novels. How does she do that? By making them hate each other at the beginning. You get a lot more writing material if your couple hates each other, form a tentative truce, become friends, then fall in love, rather than making them fall in love at the beginning and having to contrive ways to make their relationship last a book or two.

Having them hate each other isn't a cure-all, though. If your readers become used to your hero and heroine hating each other at first, any guy your heroine hates immediately becomes a romantic possibility. As with any trick of writing, use what works for you and your story.

Why do Chaikin's heroes and heroines hate each other? More tomorrow . . .

Friday, June 25, 2004

Weekly Topics?

I'm hoping to organize this blog a little better, and wondered if anyone had ideas for topics lengthy enough to discuss over a week's time. I thought of choosing one author a week for reading discussion and picking one of his/her strengths as the writing part.

Let me know what you think of the idea.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Writing Order

One of last things I do to complete my rough draft is divide it into chapters. In my mind they're almost meaningless - the most use I have for them is splitting a scene to create a cliffhanger.

I usually develop my title as I enter the climax, though I play around with it throughout my editing. I call the book by the main character's name during the bulk of the writing.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Time Travel

I've always been interested in time travel stories. I recently watched Kate and Leopold, which has the premise of "meant to be" time travel - it doesn't affect history because the person already entered the past, even though they haven't left the future yet. The "portal" time travel device employed is one of my favorites so far.

After that I read a Christian time-travel novel I've had sitting around for a while, Twice upon a Time. A man travels to past for about a minute and his friend stays. When the man goes home, he finds out his son drowned four years ago, though the man saw him alive just yesterday. No one else in the world knows anything happened, and the man has to go back and figure out what his friend did that changed history. He's the only one who knows that his son's alive since he went back for that one minute. It's quite complicated.

But in the young adult time travel novels I've read, there's very little about changing history. The most mentioned is an object brought from the future and accidentally shown to someone. Is this because young adults can't grasp the concepts? Or aren't the books long enough to go into this?

Perhaps time travel changing history is only a plot device used when need, ignored when not.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Small Gains and Great Rewards

I'm trying to make this a daily blog, but my modem/phone line is not cooperating. Despite this, my writing today has been full of unexpected rewards.

I finally decided that I wanted Winter to tell Rob about the job on Friday, not Saturday (see book tenatively titled Evergreen published a year or two - hopefully - in the future), so now I know exactly what I'll be writing about up till Saturday night. Gives me time to plan the argument.

My sister, Anna, read what I've just written, and is begging me to write more of Winter's story. Rebekah, another sister, reread the ending of my first novel, and wants me to write the sequel ASAP. The cure for writer's block? Nagging sisters.

And I was assigned two articles that pay fairly well, and also include free books! (I write, not to keep bread on the table, but books on the bookshelf.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Character Sheets

Every novel contain dozens of characters, from the main character without whom there would be no story to the checkout clerk who might not even be mentioned in the story. Then there are the faceless crowds - everyone attending the same school or church, living in the same town or city.

The best method for distinguishing between major or minor characters and background characters is whether they're named or not. One exception to this is when you write from the mystery villain's POV - he (or she) never names himself.

You should know a great deal about any character appearing frequently in your writing. I make character sheets to keep all this info straight. I start with the basics - age, hair color and style, eye color - and move on to more complex stats. Are they lanky, petite, or stocky? Do they talk a lot or not at all? Are they impulsive? What is their educational and religious background? Who are their friends/enemies and why? I leave a blank area at the bottom for misc. info - the why behind the person they are, what's happened in their lives so far.

I made up a sheet on the computer with the most pertinent questions, then I copy it for each character I want to profile. If the families of the main characters don't come into the picture much, I make one sheet for each family in addition to profiles for select members. This helps me make sure the families are genetically correct as well - no brown-eyed children of two blue-eyed parents, unless they're adopted.

Monday, June 14, 2004

1st vs. 3rd vs. Multiple 3rd

Point of view. It's many a writer's sticky wicket, and sometimes even published authors don't follow the rules. I personally like multiple third-person POV, which offers the freedom to get inside many characters' POVs at separate times. I try to keep mainly to two POVs, as many POVs prevent readers from connecting with the characters.

The two POVs are the standard characters when you have a romance plotline, the hero and the heroine. I'm only using the two for my romance novel, but I added several other POVs to my lengthy historical novel - a few scenes of the villains, one of the hero's father, and many near the end for the hero's sister (to add another side to a pivotal historical event and to whet reader interest for her story, which is the sequel.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Plotting Myers-Briggs Style

I'm curious to know whether personality type has anything to do with how writers plot. I'm a Perceiver, and I plot using a very loose outline. Do Judgers use strict outlines?

What about the other aspects of personality? Perhaps Sensors have little trouble creating lush settings (unlike me). And could Feelers be better at writing tear-jerkers?

I'd welcome any comments on this topic.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Music and Writing

I love listening to music when I write. It helps defuse lingering bits of writer's block and sets the mood for the scene I'm working on. I'm careful with what I listen to at different time, though. Unfamiliar music is too distracting. I play high-energy pop for action scenes and love songs for romantic ones. Fights get Michael W. Smith's Freedom Battle on repeat.

I stick mostly to Christian rock and pop, though I use classical when I need to concentrate on a difficult scene.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Rich Text

No, I'm not talking about rich text format, though I do use that to email some of my reviews. I mean text that lives and breathes its setting, with details enriching the plot. I just read two books that exemplify this perfectly - Tomorrow's Treasure and Yesterday's Promise by Linda Chaikin.

I've read most of her earlier books, and noticed her characters seem to have identical roles in each book - a gallant rogue, a headstrong lady, a wimpy suitor, a wise mentor, a cruel dynasty-builder, and a backstabbing villain. But the East of the Sun series surprised me with its character depth and development.

The setting detail in the second book centered on South Africa, though part of the book took place in England. It made the book not merely a story, but an experience, though it made me chomp at the bit to find out what happened.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Reader Bond

Your readers must care about the people in your book, or else there's no point in writing. You can have a thrilling plot full of surprises and packed with interesting info, but readers will drop it in a flash if they don't care about the characters. Your hero's in danger, sick, or dying, but the reader doesn't give a hoot. It's just words on paper.

Creating reader bond is an elusive art. Numerous techniques aid it - such as showing, not telling - but it's often a writer's blind spot. One way to help is to follow strict POV - keeping inside only one character's head each section of writing. Hit "enter" twice before changing point of view.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Middle Earth and more

Back again after our phone line quit working.

I've been working on The Hobbit lately - it took a while to get into but I'm moving along at a fairly fast clip now. I've been a Narnia fan for many years, but this is my first stab at Tolkien. I'd heard that Tolkien didn't like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which did not make me inclined to read his books, but the two friends' styles of writing are very similar. I still prefer Narnia at this point, and believe I always will.

As one of the oldest forms of Christian fiction (i.e. Pilgrim's Progress, though it also can be classified as allegory), fantasy is finally making a comeback in the CBA market, most likely helped by the success of the Lord of the Rings movies. And with the upcoming Narnia movie, it's not likely to die down soon. Not all CBA publishers are interested in fantasy, check each individually.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Distracting Fiction

Penelope J. Stokes quotes the author of a well-known book on writing when he says fiction should be a "vivid and continuous dream." I agree with that statement. The worst books are those that constantly jog your attention from the story. As a book reviewer, I have to analyze all types of fiction from bestsellers to self-published. One fault self-published books nearly always have is lack of this vivid, continuous dream.

Another book I've read recently, Perpetua, had great potential to cause distraction. It's set about 200 A.D. in Carthage, and dozens of terms, familiar to the 2nd century narrator, would confuse most modern-day readers. Writing definitions within the text would turn fiction in a Roman Empire vocabulary lesson, and a full glossary at the end would be a pain to wade through. The author's solution? She mentioned most of the items by a "neutral" contemporary term (such as dining room, house) within a paragraph or two, then included a footnote definition at the end of the chapter. The method, while a bit cumbersome, added a sense of exploration, like learning the code of a secret club.

Saturday, June 05, 2004


I hate middles. Writing them is like a murky bog the sun only shines on occasionally. Of course, if I planned out my novels scene by scene ahead of time, I wouldn't have that problem. But that method would ring every last bit of imagination from me and by the time I started writing I would have lost all enthusiasm for the project.

It's funny, though. Every writer I've heard who uses detailed outlines thinks they are the only way to go, while those who don't believe it's a matter of preference. Maybe the latter group is used to thinking outside of the box.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Sparse and Pan

My prose tends to be tight. I write dialog and action, keeping my description to a bare minumum. Later I have to go back and fill in colors and smells. It's like a movie script - only brief mentions of props have to change into an intricately detailed visual experience.

Speaking of movies, I just watched the new Peter Pan. The complex sets perfectly matched the stunning acting, though a few lines spoken didn't seem to fit the rest of the movie. The featurettes on the making of the movie only added to the experience. You could see how it came alive. I wish the best novelists would do that with their writing - allow others to see how they create the magic.

Thursday, June 03, 2004


Starting a blog and a novel is a very similar process for me. I have an idea of where I'm going but nothing is definite yet. There's past experience I can draw on - for novels about a dozen short stories, for a blog years of daily journal writing. Both take preplanning, though with both I tend to jump right in too soon - but the writing enhances the planning process.

Today for example. I'm a third of the way done with my shorter contemporary novel, and just finished plugging in a few more of the details on a subplot I came up with about 12,000 words in. I've been trying to think of a latent long-term goal for my main character for months now, and finally one popped into my head. Not sure if I'll use it yet, but if I'd waited to finish my planning before I began, I wouldn't have written 18,000 words in the past months and probably the idea would never have come to me.