Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Book Tour -- Renovating Becky Miller

A few months ago I shared with you all about how blog buzz encouraged me to buy a certain book, namely The Secret Life of Becky Miller by Sharon Hinck. Though the days of being a young mom juggling pre-schoolers is way behind me, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and was thrilled to have an opportunity to review the sequel Renovating Becky Miller on its debut tour this February. I have to admit that one reason I'm keeping an eye on Sharon Hinck is that she has a fantasy trilogy coming out this year as well. I love her writing voice and I'm excited to see how it will translate into a fantasy setting.

That doesn't stop me from finding much to love in stories about Becky Miller in the meanwhile. In this second book, Becky and her husband, Kevin, decide that buying an old farmhouse and fixing it up will be the therapy they need to get out of the rat-race a bit and slow their lifestyle. These people are crazy! But some of us have thought the same thing...and then learned how much work renovating a house will be. Along the way, Becky discovers a few areas of her personal life that need renovating as well. Not everything is as easy to fix as a house, though. In fact, there are things she can't fix at all. Learning to depend on God (who CAN fix it) is a great lesson for Becky to learn. And it's one of those that I keep on learning, over and over again. Does that make the book a heavy read? Not in the slightest. In great mom-lit style, Sharon demonstrates the laugh-yourself-silly method of showing deeper truths.

Hubby and I renovated a house in the late 90s, then promptly sold it and purchased our current place. We bought it for the forty-acre property, not for the house. We couldn't face renovating again quite that soon after the last one, so we've been making do and are just now embarking on the Big Remodel of the farmhouse. Reading about Becky and Kevin's experiences made me wonder about Sharon's background in renovating, so I asked her.

VRC: How extensively have you renovated a home?

SH: My husband and I got in training for the real event by doing fix-up work at various apartments we rented over the years. When we purchased our first home, it had been a rental that had been on the market a long time. It was amazing how much work a tiny little house could create. Our first plan was to add a closet to the main bedroom – so Ted set about happily knocking out walls. But soon we realized the whole house was infested with fleas, mold was a problem, and huge slugs kept creeping under the back door and into our kitchen. What we thought would be a “cosmetic fix-up” in the bathroom ended up being a complete rip-out and re-do when we discovered all the walls rotting behind the tub-surround.

At our second home, we put walls and ceilings and floors into the unfinished basement, completely ripped out the kitchen, and put in a new kitchen one cabinet at a time as we were able to get them from a “scratched and dented” cabinet warehouse. We tore out a wall to create a pass-through into the dining area. We also re-roofed that house ourselves.

Our current home had a dark narrow kitchen with one wall completely brick. The weekend we moved in, Ted took sledge-hammer and crow-bar to that wall and pulled it all down (with an earth-shaking crash) and begin installing a completely new kitchen. He learned the wood floor in the rest of the house DIDN’T extend under the cracked old linoleum, so he also ended up installing a wood floor to match...one board at a time...in the kitchen.

Have I scared you yet? Just remember Becky’s renovating rule of budgeting the gross national product of a small country – then doubling it.

And of course, everyone knows the rule about remodeling projects taking three times as long as your longest estimate. :-)

VRC: You say home remodeling takes three times as long as the estimate. Our rule of thumb has always been double the expected cost, and multiply the timeline by ten! There are just so many surprises when fixing up an older house.

Sharon, I must say you've done it again. In The Secret Life of Becky Miller, I totally didn't see the last few chapters coming. Once again in Renovating Becky Miller, there were surprises. Not the kind of surprises that didn't fit the story, but just not what I thought I'd seen coming. Do you have any tips for writing unpredictable endings?

SH: I’ll let you in on one of my favorite secrets. Sometimes when I’m writing a novel, I let family members (especially my husband) read each chapter as I get it written...then I ask them, “what do you think will happen next?” I want to see what they expect as an “obvious” next occurrence, and then I brainstorm different directions to go. Not to “fool” the reader...but just to keep from becoming predictable. And I love watching for “God surprises.” They happen so often in my life, I want to reflect that in my novels, as well. Where a character sees maybe three possible choices, yet God has in mind an option better than all of them combined...but DIFFERENT.

VRC: So you're telling me that you don't extensively outline the novel ahead of time? How can that be? Is it LEGAL to not outline? I'm in shock!

SH: Illegal, immoral, and reprehensible. That’s me.
When I do careful outlines and plot out scenes, it feels too much like writing a term paper. I have a B.A. In education, and a Masters in Communication (Theatre/Journalism) so I’ve written TONS of research papers. I don’t want to write that way anymore. :-)

I confess that I often have a general arc in my mind – a sense of where the main character is going – but I LOVE the discovery of letting a story unfold and take zigzags. Sometimes something will be in a scene – I just know I’m supposed to mention it – but I don’t know how it will become important until much later. Then, sure enough, a character reveals something that makes me realize WHY I wrote what happened many chapters earlier.

Instinctual writing is much scarier and messier, though. If you CAN work happily using outlines and plots and character charts – go for it. You’ll avoid ulcers.

VRC: Because we're jumping into our second extensive renovation ourselves, I feel for Becky, but I fail to see how she ever thought renovating would be easy for folks who weren't already avid do-it-yourselfers. Yet we all tackle much of life in a similar way: with rose colored glasses on, seeing things the way we want to see them. Optimism seems necessary just to get through daily life, but it's how we react when optimism isn't enough that really proves who we are and what our foundation is.

SH: Wow! Well said. I think that’s exactly right. Nothing wrong with being a bit of idealist (Becky sure is, and I confess I am, too). But what happens when things don’t go the way you expect? For example, Becky’s faith is very vital to her. But some of the things she experiences lead her to feel confused and hurt. “Hey, God! I’m doing all this for You. Can’t I get a little help here?” LOL!

Like Becky, my faith-life is central to me, and I’ve had to wrestle with disillusionment when I thought I had God all figured out (blessing my little agenda) and things went a different way than I expected. Illnesses that don’t heal, problems that aren’t fair, relationships that hurt. I’ve had honest questions for God. Honest tears. But never felt chided for asking them.

Also, just like good-hearted Becky, I told myself my excessive efforts to serve were coming from deep devotion-- wanting to show my love for God and others. That was part of it. But actually my motives were more tangled. I wanted to feel needed. I wanted to know I mattered. I’ve spent too much energy in my approval addiction.

Now I’m trying to rest in the truth that I’m precious to God – NOT for what I do, but because He chooses to love me. I’m still not always wise about saying “no.” I’m still a muddle of genuine compassion mixed with dysfunctional desire to fix everyone. I don’t always get that sorted out very well. :-) But that’s okay.

VRC: How many books did you have written before landing that first sale? You have, what, six books coming out in under two years? What are your future writing plans based on?

Good question. People don’t realize I’m a rather slow and meticulous writer. The Secret Life of Becky Miller was my fifth completed manuscript. I had it finished (along with a good start on Renovating Becky) by the time the contract was signed. I also had three finished books in the Sword of Lyric series for when I signed that contract last summer. Of course, a completed manuscript is only one step in the process of revisions and honing. Right now all these manuscripts are completed and turned in, but I have plenty of work ahead as each is at a different stage in its life-cycle. I was HUGELY aided by both publishing houses being accommodating and supportive in laying out a schedule that worked for everyone.

The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Bethany House - June 2006)
Renovating Becky Miller (Bethany House - February 2007)
The Restorer (Book One in the Sword of Lyric series) (NavPress - May 2007)
The Restorer’s Son (Book Two- Sword of Lyric series) (NavPress - September 2007)
The Restorer’s Journey (Book Three – Sword of Lyric series) (NavPress - January 2008)
Key of Mom (Bethany House - February 2008)
Penny’s Project (Bethany House - September 2008)

My future plans?
A long nap. :-)

Okay, okay. I confess. I’m doing a little new writing on a manuscript... Too soon to know if it will go anywhere. But it’s fun to play.

Thanks SO much for inviting me to visit, and for your interest in my slightly off-center “stories for the hero in all of us.”
Hugs, Sharon

If you are interested in reading other stops along Sharon's Around the World Blog Tour click here. She's been a busy gal this month, visiting with so many of us, answering questions, sharing her joy and delight in life. You'd think that after 26 stops, questions and comments would start to repeat themselves. I've been following along (though rarely commenting, sorry...) and I've been really surprised how little overlap there has been. Thanks so much for stopping by, Sharon! Need a throat lozenge? (Or a finger massage?)

Monday, February 26, 2007


There's always the chance that my lack of sleep is related to stress. I don't really see how, though. There isn't much that's shockingly different about this month as opposed to other recent months. I'm not worried about jobs or hubby or money (for once). I doubt if I'm losing sleep over the upcoming renovation, though I finally placed the order for the kitchen cabinetry a few days ago. Even the farm hasn't been all that stressful. Five of our fifteen cows have calved thus far. The first had twins and we lost them both. Twins are unusual in cows and so losing them isn't a huge shock. The other four calves are strong and healthy and running through the snow, their little tails flying high like flags.

Is there anything stressful in my life? Only if you consider the upcoming contest that I've been preparing Marks of Repentance for. While the first 25 pages certainly still need some work, they're not due any day soon and I still love the story, so I don't really see the contest as a huge stressor. However, if stress is the problem, then this is about the only thing that could be causing it.


So I found it interesting to read these verses from The Message, a contemporary English version of the Bible:
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. (Romans 12)

"Here you go, God. Have my sleep (or lack of it). Have all of my ordinary life. What you do for me is better than anything I can do for you. So be it."

Saturday, February 24, 2007


I hereby give you the option of listening to me continue to whine about my sleep problems. If you want, head over to my other blog. I'll spare the rest of you!

In other news, hubby now has the glorious cold I had last week. I'd be more sympathetic if I had the energy to spare. Mostly I'm glad he's not hungry, cause neither am I. Hate that he has to miss work, but when you're sick, you're sick. He doesn't skip on a whim.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

About me

1. What is your occupation? - flooring sales

2. What color are your socks right now? - white. Like every other day September - May.

3. What are you listening to right now? - silence...or maybe the furnace fan kicking in! The click of the keyboard...

4. What was the last thing that you ate? - My favorite breakfast. (It's big!) Bring 1 cup of water to a boil, add a dash of salt and a diced apple. Then put in 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, stir, and turn down the element. Ten minutes or so later, place in a (big) bowl with a chopped banana. Top with cinnamon and Splenda and a large-ish dollop of vanilla yogurt. Mmm.

5. Can you drive a stick shift? - Yep, and I love it. We usually own at least one standard vehicle; currently it is a 1996 VW Passat.

6. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? - sage green. Because I'm wise. Or something.

7. The last person you spoke to on the phone? - Lynn (my sister-in-law), about the order for our kitchen cabinetry.

8. Do you like the person who sent this to you? - My daughter? Pretty much!

9. What is your favorite drink? - One mocha a day. And a lot of water.

10. What is your favorite sport to watch? - hockey. I'm Canadian, after all.

11. Ever dyed hair? - Hanna dyed highlights into my hair last spring. It would be fun to do it again.

12. Pets? - George the cat. Looks Himalayan and is almost 13 years old. Too bad he isn't more attached to his hair.

13. What was the last movie you watched? - I don't watch many. I think it was Cars.

14. What do you do to vent anger? - Eat? Trying to break that! Exercise works, if I can make myself do it.

15. Favorite toy as a child? - paper dolls and books

16. What is your favorite season? - Spring, pleasant weather, growing things (but no mosquitoes yet!)...my birthday.

17. Hugs or kisses? - snuggle snuggle snuggle

18. Cherries or blueberries? - fresh eating? Cherries every time. Freezing for winter? Huckleberries.

19. Do you want your friends to e-mail you back? - like Hanna said: maybe I should email them back...

20. What is your favorite tv show? - Home to Stay with Peter Fallico

21. If you were to go overseas for a vacation where do you want to go? - Europe. I think we North Americans have absolutely no concept of history. I'd love to see places where the roots go into millennia. (My town is barely 100 years old!) I'd also love to see Australia.

22. Where do you live? - on a farm near a small town in British Columbia, Canada

23. When was the last time you cried? - I'm not sure. Several months, anyway. I think.

24. What is on the floor of your closet? - the leaves to extend my dining room table...and my laundry basket.

25. Who is the friend you have had the longest that you are sending this
to? - Anyone who wants to, please hop in. Mention it in comments and we'll truck on over and have a look.

26. What did you do last night? - Wrote an email to my sisters, checked out my daughter's interpretation of Taifa from Marks of Repentance (see previous post), talked with hubby about the upcoming renovation, did the dishes, and went to bed early.

27. Favorite smells? - The forest, the ocean, and freshly cut grass

28. What inspires you? - Nature. My family. My faith in God.

29. What are you afraid of? - Hm. Rejection probably.

30. Favorite dog breed? - Dogs? Hello, dogs don't purr.

31. Number of keys on your key ring? - 12. 5 for our two vehicles and the bike lock; work, home, in-laws, mailbox, 3 for church.

32. Favorite day of the week? - Can't say I have a favorite, but it always seems to be either Monday or Friday. The weeks go by so fast! I like work and I like weekends so it doesn't much matter.

33. How many states/provinces have you lived in? - BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Missouri

34. Favorite holiday? - Christmas!

35. Ever driven a motorcycle or heavy machinery? - No and no.

36. Ever left the country? - Yes, we live close to the USA. I've also been to Bolivia.

37. Favorite kind of music? - I don't listen to much music. When I do, it's usually rockin' worship music. I mostly use it to clean house by!

Blog Tour -- Where the Map Ends Day 3

In an effort to create a full feature website at Where the Map Ends, Jeff Gerke has included interviews with various authors, a few short stories, and a writer's tool-kit. He says that forums are coming soon--a place where I'm sure I'll want to hang out. He is waiting for demand, he says, so put me on record as A Demanding Woman. There are other forums meeting the need, apparently, but as far as I can tell (I've peeked into a couple of them) they seem to be more geared to short story writers. I would love a site that is focused on novel writing. Now I currently hang out at Forward Motion and I love it there. I've been a member for five years and a moderator for two of them and it does meet many of my needs. However, I'd love a place that focuses more tightly onto my dreams and goals.

Also in Jeff's visions is a small press (print-on-demand) dedicated to Christian speculative publishing. I mentioned yesterday a post at Gene Curtis' blog. POD presses have gotten a bit of a bad name, but I, like Gene, think this move may not be a bad one. Gene says what is needed are three things: seed money, great talent, and a sound business model that meets the need of this specific niche. In Jeff's writing tips he says that about 97% of CBA readers are: "White, conservative, evangelical, American women of child-raising to empty nest years." So I'm a white, kind-of-conservative, evangelical Canadian woman of recent empty nest years. Close to demographic, but not right on. What makes me love fantasy instead of more *normal* women's fiction? (I do love some, though: check back on Tuesday when I'll be talking to Sharon Hinck about her second Becky Miller novel...) I have no idea why I'm wired like I am. I just know I like it, and apparently I'm not in the majority. What was the purpose of this paragraph again? Oh yeah. To say that I'm in a niche market and that perhaps a non-standard way of getting books to me (or my books, God willing, to other people) will work well in this scenario.

Last major point of the day. I stopped by my daughter's blog.
If you haven't checked out Hanna's Life is Cool, please do. She has a cry from the heart to find a community of Christian artists who love fantasy and science fiction. Hanna has actively begun targeting publishers in search of freelance art projects and so is constantly working on her portfolio. Shortly after Christmas she was looking for inspiration for a new art project and telling me how much easier it would be if she had an assignment. I said, "Would you like to do some art for my novel that I'm currently revising?" And she said yes. Below is the beginnings of this *book cover* and I am absolutely in awe of my daughter's talent. This digital painting is Taifa from Marks of Repentance.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Blog Tour -- Where the Map Ends 2

Well, you see...I had my posts made up last week, not knowing I would be sick and therefore away from the computer on which they were stored. So I'm posting two on the same day. Sue me!

I'd thought I was fairly well read in the CSFF genre; after all, it isn't that big. However, Where The Map Ends lists a lot of books that I'm not familiar with. It's time to expand my reading once again. I especially appreciate that Jeff has set this section up as either graphic or links only, depending on the speed of one's internet connection. This means that I can access this part of the site on dial-up. Jeff has also done brief write-ups for many of the books--a useful addition. They're not full-fledged reviews, but more of a taste test.

Jeff has included a section of speculative art as well. Very cool, although my daughter's site isn't on it! Also listings of other media: ezines, graphic novels, book cover designers, websites, manga, computer games, and machinima. Don't know what that is? Neither did I! Jeff says: "Machinima is a relatively new art form created at the intersection of computer animation, filmmaking, and computer games."

I found a review of one of Jeff's novels at Grace Bridge's. As an author that has been launched in part by Jeff's skills, Sharon Hinck posts an interview. Rachel Marks posts a two part interview. Eve Nielson also has an interview. Mirtika Schultz has a terrific Jeff-style giveaway yesterday (too late, I know), today and tomorrow as well as a terrific interview. I tried to enter today but Blogger was being...well, Blogger. I'll try again later. The last site I'd particularly like to draw your attention to is Gene Curtis, who discusses Jeff's vision for a pod press. More on that tomorrow.

Blog Tour -- Where the Map Ends

Where the Map Ends
Home of Christian Speculative Fiction

Jeff Gerke has built a beautiful website playing off the theme of going where no one has gone before. Okay, maybe that's not quite it. Others HAVE gone before, but there is no map. Some have disappeared into the mist never to be seen again. There are reported land sightings, monster sightings...but has anyone ever actually fallen off the edge of the earth? Jeff Gerke offers a place where adventurers can share the information they do have about what lies beyond the edge of the map.

Who is Jeff Gerke and why should we care about the edge of his map? Jeff Gerke is a lover of speculative fiction, a Christian, a writer (check out Jefferson Scott), an editor for CBA publishing houses, and currently he is a freelance writer of and advocate for Christian speculative fiction. He has designed his website to become a hub for those gathering supplies and information for the great trek beyond the edge of the map.

Some of those interested in the trek beyond may be found here:

Nissa Annakindt
Jim Black
Grace Bridges
Jackie Castle
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
Chris Deanne
Janey DeMeo
Tessa Edwards
April Erwin
Kameron M. Franklin
Linda Gilmore
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Leathel Grody
John W. Otte
D. G. D. Davidson
Christopher Hopper
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Sharon Hinck
Jason Joyner
K. D. Kragen
Tina Kulesa
Kevin Lucia and The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John Ottinger
Robin Parrish
Cheryl Russel
Hanna Sandvig
Mirtika Schultz
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Daniel I. Weaver
Timothy Wise
Wayne Thomas Batson

Saturday, February 17, 2007

For all you artist types...

What do you use for a canvas? Besides, like, real canvas, or the computer monitor...

Here's a couple ideas: You could paint on hands. Or, if that sounds too easy, you could paint on cats.

I'm not sure why you'd want to, but you know, you could. Maybe other places too. I dunno.

More Bleh

So I officially have the worst cold it has been my non-pleasure to have for several years. And I'm out of kleenex. Yes, I know tp works, but really, I prefer kleenex. But who drives to town just for kleenex when they feel this cruddy?

So, yeah. Doc gave me sleeping pills. So why did I take one and lay awake for a couple hours last night? Stupid cold. I couldn't breathe. Breathing is even more important than sleeping. Hubby's home and I felt like all my snuffling was keeping him awake so I eventually went downstairs and slept on the couch. I'm here to tell you that while the sleeping pill did not magically induce sleep, it DID render navigating the staircase into an adventure.

Hubby's gone to town for kleenex. Oh, and a couple other things. Can't remember what.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I believe sleep is under-rated by those who get enough of it. For years, that was me. I'd crawl into bed and ten minutes later I'd be long gone into dreamland, only to awaken with the morning alarm clock. Even in The Baby Years, I had no trouble falling back asleep after the baby alarm went off during the night. Then I began to notice (horrors!) that two or three times a year I just couldn't sleep. I'd spend the night solving all the world's problems, one after the other, in a brain that simply would not stop zipping around. I knew better than to complain about it too thoroughly though. Not too much sympathy was wasted on me.

The last couple years have been different. It must be the magic of the late-40s and the nasty M word staring me in the face. Slowly the balance of sleepy nights has shifted to the place where now I treasure the rare occurence of a full night's sleep. In the past few weeks, I haven't had one. Not even one.

This is getting old faster than I am. I've been falling asleep just fine most nights, but not sleeping deeply. Then I'll wake up in two hours. And fall back to that mostly asleep place (but not restful). And wake up in two hours. Repeat as necessary to get through eight hours. The herbal sleep aids aren't helping noticeably, other than that I'm (perhaps) sleeping more deeply in those two hours. So my brain has been getting foggier and foggier, I've been getting more headaches, and now I think I'm coming down with a cold--first time in several years. I'd really like to sleep.

My other peri-menopausal symptoms are quite light but they do exist, so I'm assuming that the sleeplessness is related. I REALLY don't want to go on Hormone Replacement Therapy. I'm not sure what young guys talk about at work (nor do I want to know!) but the guys my husband works with are busy comparing their wives' menopausal symptoms. So Jim comes home with a brochure for ProMensil. The guys assure him this is the answer to my problems! Of course the local natural health store doesn't carry it.

Anyone out there tried ProMensil or any other natural form of HRT? I could use some advice or testimonials. Thanks.

Happy Valentine's Day

I Corinthians chapter 13 is the acknowledged *Love Chapter* in the Bible. Here it is from The Message:

The Way of Love
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Book Tour - Christian Writers' Market Guide

This is a book I've been hearing about and I jumped at the opportunity to review a copy. You guessed it, though. The litany is the same: it hasn't come yet. Just as a prep to the review, check out the website. Sally Stuart has been operating this service to Christian writers for 21 years. I'd say there's a good chance she knows her market!

The book itself-- Christian Writers' Market Guide --expands on the information found on the website. Data includes book and periodical publishers' listings, agent listings, submission guidelines, writers' resources, conferences, contests, and more.

I'm thinking this will be an extremely useful book. I'm looking forward to putting it through its paces!

Latest in Spec

If you're interested in what's happening in the world of Christian speculative writing, check out the newest publication to tell you all about it. It's called Latest in Spec. It's a short (free) ezine that is planned to be like the classified ads of CSFF, telling folks what's new, where to find it, and where to find reviews. I'm not sure how often it will come out--monthly? quarterly?--but it only takes a few minutes to read. Check it out if you're interested.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Crits and Re-Writing

Getting critiqued is an interesting experience. It's not precisely new to me; I've had folks reading and critting my work for about four years now. This last week, however, was the first time I'd had a whole bunch of people I didn't know pick at just one short section: 25 pages to be precise.

Once upon a time I heard a joke (that might well be true) about parenting. They say, if you want to know how to raise a child, ask someone who has ONE. The more kids someone has, the less they usually claim to know about child-rearing, because each child is so different. It makes it hard to make authoritative statements.

So I get my first critique back and discover--SHOCK--that the pages aren't perfect yet. Okay, on closer look, I can see where they might have gotten some of those questions from. And there are a couple of other issues. Right. I can see a plan of sorts. Like the parent of one child, I know how to do this.

Second crit returns. I discover to my amazement that some of what the first critter loves, the second critter hates. Er...and vice versa. Add a third crit to the mix, then a fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. (Still waiting on number eight, but I don't think he can confuse me more than I am already. Maybe.) Characters, setting, plot points, hook, dialogue, culture...all of these things are pulled in multiple directions. Love/ hate/ indifference. Some want a better sense of setting first. Some want the character's motivations to be clearer. Some want everything clearer. Some say, leave some mystery already.

One consistent thing has come out. I'm shy on sensory detail. That's about the only thing folks agree on. In theory, I can deal with that. The rest of it?

Pretty much everyone had one stellar point that was different than everyone else's. Even so, they conflict. And in the end, whose story is it?

I'm about on overload. I've rewritten so many versions of the first four or five pages I can no longer find the one I'd like to build on. (A solid night's sleep might help with that. I'm kinda shy on that aspect lately too.)

If this sounds like I'm whining about too many crits, that's not really the effect I'm after! I've never experienced this inundation of crits before, and I'm mostly amused at how different they all are. I can clearly see that it's not possible to please everyone, and that means the folks up the line as well: contest judges, agents, editors, random readers. Reading is such a personal thing.

My writer friends and I have been discussing lately that the writer only tells 50% of the story. The reader brings 50% to the table as well, and the writer has no control over what the reader brings. All we can do is present our own half of the story as clearly as possible and leave it there.

Now that I've seen what seven readers bring to my story, I've seen some of the places I can clarify, help them to see MY 50%. Onward and forward. Once I find the file with my favorite version of the first pages...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Book Tour - The Longing Season - Day 2

The story of The Longing Season is set in the 1700s and takes place in locations throughout the world from England to Africa to the New World. Christine Schaub writes both of Newton himself (and his leaving England to escape from his father's constant disapproval) as well as the woman Newton declares love to before leaving. Mary Chatham treasures Newton 's declaration and the few letters she receives from him before he seems to disappear, never losing hope that he will return to her. If you like historical novels or are particularly interested in the history of hymns, you will enjoy this novel.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Book Tour - The Longing Season

Christine Schaub is writing a series of books called Music of the Heart. In it she explores the stories of how various hymn composers came to write a particular hymn for which they later became famous. In The Longing Season, Schaub chronicles the story of slave trader John Newton and the famous hymn Amazing Grace.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Revision progress?

My kid made a good point in comments a few posts back. The book reviews have taken over the world! Well, In My Little World, they have. I've spent the past few weeks head down at my desk, working hard on the revision of Marks of Repentance in preparation for the upcoming contest. My blog hopping has become an occasional crawl. Forum browsing...very little. And that has translated into very little blog writing as well, other than the obligatory ones.

I'm almost 14K into this revision pass. The crits on the pages I'm planning to submit are trickling in. I'm seeing some trends for sure. (Sensory input, anyone? Apparently I write in a vacuum!) Other comments are much less consistent, to the point where one critiquer thought a character was well fleshed and another thought he was one-dimensional. Ouch, not even TWO dimensions! Certainly there is much to think about, but I intend to let the comments brew for a couple more weeks before tackling them full force. Meanwhile I am trying to get a bit of distance so that once again, I can read (and analyze) what I actually wrote instead of what I think I wrote.

You know the old adage about not being able to see the forest for the trees. These days I feel like I can't even see the trees, just individual leaves and twigs. There is nothing but foliage--a single word here, a single word there. I need a magic spyglass that allows me to zoom in and out at will. (**Waits impatiently for someone to hand one over...)

How do folks multi-task writing projects? I wish I knew. Some days (weeks) I feel swallowed whole.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Book Tour - Germ

Today I am honored (and relieved!) to have guest blogger Jean from Rantings and Ravings of an Insane Writer. She's actually READ the book, or at least most of it, so that's a good start:

I discovered Robert Liparulo right here on this blog when Valerie featured Comes A Horseman, Robert’s first novel. As I recall, Valerie was a little creeped out by it, but it sounded perfect to me. I bought the book and was not disappointed. As a result, when I saw Robert’s latest release, Germ: If You Breathe It Will Find You, in Books-A-Million when it first came out, I didn’t hesitate to grab a copy and add it to my stack of purchases. Then it joined my TBR (To Be Read) pile – which seems to grow exponentially. I’d get a little tickle in the back of my mind, “Why don’t you read Liparulo’s new book” but I hadn’t pulled it from the pile. Then Valerie dropped me a note Monday night asking if I was interested in guest posting this week, since she knew I’d read the book already.

Oops. I wanted to do the guest post. I wanted to read the book. I dropped a quick note back saying, “I’ve started reading. I think I can get you something if I have just a little time.” She told me I had until Friday. I confess, it’s 8pm Thursday night where I am, and I haven’t finished the book yet. I am at page 359. There are 490 pages in this novel, and I’m entranced. Pacing is solid, but as a reader, you have the sense of non-stop action. The phrase “everybody dies” comes to mind often. With the subtitle of “If You Breathe It Will Find You,” should this be a surprising thought? But, seriously, everybody doesn’t die. At least I don’t think so . . . I do have 131 pages to go . . . they could all die. Here’s a clue: When I was checking how many pages were in the book, I caught a glimpse of the last line – it’s in italics, so I believe someone’s alive enough to think. Maybe.

You can read the canned descriptions of this book on Amazon – they accurately capture the essence of the book. I’m not sure if the comment about needing a tighter page count is necessary. Some readers may find that to be the case, but, so far, the ebb and flow – and there’s much more flow – seems about right to me. There’s a hinted at romance, so I think the romantic interests may survive until the end of the book. Although, where I’m reading now, one of them is in the clutches of evil, so there is room for doubt.

Designer viruses tuned to your DNA? And somebody may pick you randomly or specifically target you. The thought of this becoming reality makes identity theft seem like child’s play. I hope the reality of this is further off than I fear, but read the story yourself and ponder on the articles that have been in the headlines recently. The intersection of those thoughts and this book are the makings of true horror. Do you dare . . . breathe? Do you have a choice?