Monday, March 30, 2009


Some stories are bigger on conflict than others. But whether you're writing action-adventure or relationship stories, there had better be conflict. I'm one who avoids it like the plague in real life, so I've had to learn to enjoy inflicting it on my characters. I like nice people, but stories have to be populated with the less than perfect to be of any interest. I'm curious why this is so--why we are bored stiff reading about the kind of people we want our kids to turn out like? And yet it's true--stories without conflict don't catch hold of the reader and propel him or her to the other end like a rocket launcher.

Conflict doesn't have to be big stuff. There doesn't have to be a dead body on every page to keep momentum. In fact, that's the kind of conflict that will turn me off, as a reader. Not everyone, of course. Conflict can be as small as characters arguing over what's for dinner. I think the main thing is that the minor conflicts need to play into the major conflicts. Why are the characters arguing over dinner? Is it a symptom of a problem in the relationship? A refusal of one to acknowledge the life-threatening allergies of the other? Or something else? Because honestly, if *what's for dinner* makes no difference to the growth of the characters or to the main story plotline, it doesn't work as a source of conflict.

Sure, it allows the maxim of conflict on every page to be fulfilled, but a novel is more than random conflict. They have to build and intertwine and matter to one another. If the conflict is merely an irritant and doesn't actually matter, it isn't the kind of conflict they're talking about here.

In the same way, if the characters keep tripping over dead bodies, the story had better be about the dead bodies. They'd better not be in there to represent conflict unless it matters to the story's plot line. There's lots more to writing a novel than stringing 100,000 words together. Even pretty words. Or gritty words. They need to be more than loosely related vignettes, at least in genre writing.

That's my thought for tonight!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Book Tour--Turning the Paige

Turning the Paige

When I saw this title in the upcoming blog tour list, I took a second look because I have a character named Paige in one of my works-in-progress. Then I noticed that Laura Jensen Walker's character is a divorced woman of 35 who moves back in with her aging high-maintenance (read: passive-aggressive manipulating) mother, and I thought that I might enjoy the tale.

Turning the Paige is a great read in many ways. I got sucked straight in with this opening:

My mother killed my marriage. Stomped all over it with her Pepto-Bismol pink pumps and ground it to divorce dust.

Okay, maybe that's not entirely fair. Mom wasn't solely responsible for the destruction of my marriage. Like many couple, Eric and I had some problems. But the biggest one was my mother. I turned the page in our wedding album on what would have been our five-year anniversary to a close-up of the two of us--happy, bright, shining, and in love. So in love. But that was then and this is now.

My fingers moved up the glossy page to the cleft in Eric's jaw. I loved that Kirk Douglas cleft and had spent many happy hours kissing it. And the delicious lips above it. Now someone else was kissing them.

I slammed the album shut. And as I shoved it back into the closet, the phone rang. I walked over to the nightstand to check the caller ID. Probably a telemarketer.

As the phone continued to ring, I squinted at the name. Now where'd I put my reading glasses? By the time I finally found them, the answering machine had clicked on.

"Paige?" My mother's querulous voice filled the air. "Are you there? Or are you out again? Seems like you're never home anymore." She released a loud sigh. "I was hoping you could come over for just a minute and pull down my other quilt from the top of the linen closet. This one's getting too hot and heavy." She lobbed one of her famous guilt grenades. "Oh well, guess I'll just have to make do. Talk to you soon."

My turn to expel a loud sigh.

Paige also has a sister, Isobel; though she lives many miles away she plays an important role in the novel. I enjoyed the story up until the last few chapters. They seemed to be a travel guide to Scotland that, while interesting, didn't keep the plot moving. Something else in the very end came as a bolt out of the blue to me, totally unforeshadowed. Even so, the ending was satisfying and I'd read another book by this author.

This novel is part of a women's fiction series called Getaway Girls, in which Paige and her friends have a book club and often plan adventures that echo those in the books they're reading. I can really see this kind of series working in women's fiction, because you get to know the various characters but focus on different ones in each book. I was also amused that one of the other women in the series was named Chloe. I've got a Chloe and a Paige in the same novel, too!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Walk Along the Beach

When the calendar turns to spring, apparently it means it. Saturday it rained most of the day and well into the night, but then cleared off. Sunday after church we decided to head for a walk to one of our favorite places (we have a lot of those!) where the river channel meets the lake. Everything is very low water this time of year, held back by dams in preparation for glacial melt over the next few months.

One of the cool things in our area this time of year is that trumpeter swans rest here on their way back to their Arctic breeding grounds.

More photos are in an album at Facebook.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Genesis contest

Having experienced a measure of success in the ACFW Genesis contest the past two years, this year I decided to try out some of the other genres I've been writing in. This morning I got my third (and final!) entry into the '09 contest. I've had a lot of help over the past couple of months from my critique partners as I've polished three sets of 15 opening pages and their accompanying single-page synopses. Now they're out of my hair and can be ignored until the first round results are released in early May.

Next week I'm back to the romance rewrite, currently sitting at almost 45K out of 60. Back to critiquing, back to workshop writing, back to rebuilding my website, and back to *normal* writing life. Whatever that is.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hunter Brown Day 3

So today it is time for my infamous practice of posting the first few paragraphs of a novel and picking them apart. We'll get that over with first. Here is the opening of Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow:

It was the last day of school and I was running for my life. My friends and I had just pulled one of the best pranks ever. It's not like we were trying to get in trouble, it's just that we were determined to get even with the school bully before summer break. After all, Cranton had gone out of his way more than once to make my life miserable this year so it wasn't as if he didn't deserve it. Besides, the last day of school was the perfect time for payback.

Stretch and I had planned out the whole thing weeks in advance. We called it Project:Fireball, and elaborate scheme that required hijacking a bag of brownies from my sister's bake sale and modifying them with a bottle of Stu's Unreasonably Wicked Hot Sauce. All we needed was a decoy. Kitty Swanson, the most popular girl in the whole school, had been Cranton's crush for the entire year and was the perfect candidate. The objective was simple enough: inject the brownies with hot sauce and leave them in a bag on Cranton's "reserved" cafeteria table, along with a note from Kitty in the girliest handwriting we could manage.

Stretch and I watched with anticipation, recording every moment of our latest attempt to humiliate Cranton on my video camera. If everything went as planned we would be posting the footage on our Web site for the whole world to see. It would be the thirteenth and final installment of our online video series. Our subscriber list had grown considerably over the school year as we devised and recorded some of the greatest pranks ever achieved by a student at Destiny Hills High School.

Thinking back over the whole novel, I'm not sure this lead-up directly feeds into the main plot. It does show that the narrator, Hunter, is a prankster with a history of being the underdog and trying to get even. Does this pull you in?

The first few pages really felt like a knock-off of The Never Ending Story with a couple of major plot points in common: getting trapped in a dumpster or garbage bin in an effort to escape the bullies, and finding themselves in a magical bookstore with a magical book.

I'm really happy to announce that the book, while obviously allegorical (and therefore a little predictable, but maybe not to tweens!), struck off into more original territory after that. One of my favorite bits involved the fantasy mounts of Solandria (giant iguanas, pg 255-6):

"Man, I'm going to regret this," I said, closing my eyes and cracking the reins. The creature lurched up the tree with a jerk, and before you could say, "What am I getting myself into?" it scampered up and came to a sudden stop. My head was aching, and when at last I opened my eyes, I discovered why. I was hanging precariously upside down on the underside of a tree limb--the very same limb that Hope was currently occupying above me, or was that below me? How is this even possible, I wondered, looking down, which was up, at the Ugua's grasp on the branch. It reminded me of the little gecko I'd found climbing the walls and the ceilings of my grandparents' condo in Hawaii three years ago. I never did figure out what kept the gecko up there.

I looked up, which was down, at Stretch, who was still uncommitted, staring up in disbelief.

"Come on, Stretch," I called down. "It's not as bad as it looks." Who was I kidding? I was terrified.

All in all? I think this novel by The Miller Brothers will be a great read for its target audience, kids age 9-12 or thereabouts. The second installment in the series will soon be available.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hunter Brown Day 2

What is Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow actually about?
Strange visions...hideous monsters...startling revelations...Hunter Brown never expected a summer like this, and it's only getting started! After one of his infamous pranks backfires, Hunter unexpectedly finds himself in possession of an ancient book and key. Little does he know the mysterious book is a gateway to Solandria, a supernatural realm held captive by the Shadow.

In Solandria, Hunter joins forces with the Codebearers, a band of highly trained warriors who form the Resistance to the Shadow. But before he can complete his training in the Code of Life, Hunter is sent on a mission far more dangerous than he ever bargained for. Now with his life in peril and the future of Solandria hanging in the balance, Hunter is headed for a showdown with the Shadow and a battle to save his soul from a fate worse than death!

Is Hunter's knowledge of the Code deep enough to uncover the secret of the Shadow, or will the truth be more than he can bear?

If I were a kid in the target age for Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow, I think I'd love the website that the authors, The Miller Brothers, developed for the Codebearers series. Here things come to life, and I discover that The Miller Brothers are first and foremost animators, which explains the cover of the novel to a large degree. They designed it themselves, and it matches the website. Or vice versa.

Have a look at this great video imbedded on the main page:

There are games and forums and a whole great little world hidden away on this website. Check it out!

You can also read the entire novel online by clicking here. The animation involved in the turning pages is quite awesome!

Why would The Miller Brothers give away their novel? They're hoping (I'm guessing here!) to encourage folks to purchase this book for the kids in their life. You can buy autographed copies through the site. The bound novel has great *feel*, browned edged pages, brown on cream typeset. Besides, it's just fun to hold a novel in your hands. And rumor has it that there are clues in the book that help with the games on the website. Clever!!

Can you think of any reasons to give away novels online? I'm interested in any or all opinions on this matter.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is touring another YA fantasy book. I share my novels with several families with teens and tweens so I'm not generally against reading these books and talking about them, though I'd prefer more adult-oriented novels for me.

When I opened the package containing Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow, my first response was that it was a cute cover but I didn't remember that the book was geared for children. However, I order the books a couple of months in advance, so I figured I'd just forgotten. I wasn't in the mood for a kids' story so it took a few days for me to open the book and start to read.

Have a good look at this cover. Can you see why I was surprised to discover that the characters are fourteen years old? I held the book up for my husband to see, and asked him what age the cover looked like it would appeal to. He came up with the same number I had: that it looked like it was for eight-year-olds.

Please remember it's been nearly 20 years since we've had an 8yo in the house, so we may not be the best folks to guess at characters' portrayed ages. But my gut instinct was that no 10-14 year old (the target age for books about a 14 year old) would want to be caught reading a book that looked like it was intended for an 8 year old.

I went to the publisher's website and found that they don't publish a lot of novels and wondered if they were simply inexperienced in the way of appealing covers. Then I went to the website for the novels and revised my opinions again! Tomorrow I'll talk more about the website and what it adds to the experience of the books. And what that has to do with the book's cover.

Here's what other bloggers are saying:
Brandon Barr, Keanan Brand, Melissa Carswell, Amy Cruson, CSFF Blog Tour, Stacey Dale, D. G. D. Davidson, Shane Deal, Jeff Draper, April Erwin, Karina Fabian, Marcus Goodyear, Todd Michael Greene, Katie Hart, Ryan Heart, Timothy Hicks, Jason Isbell, Cris Jesse, Jason Joyner, Carol Keen, Mike Lynch, Magma, Rebecca LuElla Miller, Nissa, Wade Ogletree, John W. Otte, Steve Rice, Crista Richey, Chawna Schroeder, James Somers, Rachel Starr Thomson, Steve Trower, Speculative Faith, Fred Warren, Phyllis Wheeler, Jill Williamson

Sunday, March 15, 2009

There's more to life!

Although the main focus of this blog is the written word, there is more to my life than writing and reading. More than walking, too, though it does take up 1.5-2 hours of nearly every day for me since I joined a few friends last year in an online walking blog. I'm currently about 2/3 of the way north on the Appalachian Trail!

I've talked a few times about the farm, about the garden, about healthy eating. A few years ago I dabbled in a recipe book project but realized after a few months that I didn't have the drive to make that succeed. I've recently moved the recipes out of the closed forums and into a publicly accessible wiki: Healthy Recipe Box. If you'd care to browse through the recipes I've got stored there and use them, go ahead. You don't have to sign up for anything, and I won't even know you're there unless you wish to comment, in which case you'll have to join the wiki so that I can grant you the power to comment.

Most of the recipes there are fairly low G.I. (glycemic index), and most of them are ones we eat fairly regularly. I keep adding recipes as I come across other family favorites. I hope you enjoy our *down-home* recipes.

But that's only part of the story, of course. Where do the ingredients come from?

In our case, a lot of our food comes from our farm and garden. Jim and I grow our own beef and many of our vegetables. We live in a fruit-growing area: apples, cherries, peaches, pears, apricots. In the summer we don't spend a lot on groceries. We watched the back-to-the-land movement in the 70s and 80s from our rural background, wondering how folks had gotten so far away from knowing where their food came from.

In the past few years, since the books 100 Mile Diet and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle came out, there's been a huge resurgence toward local, organic, sustainable eating. That's a good thing. We haven't jumped on this thing with whole abandon, but are definitely increasing awareness once again, thanks to our kids. We're also looking at more ways to use the forty acres we have to contribute to our own food and that of other local residents. If this is the type of lifestyle that interests you, you might want to follow our new blog, Scratch. I won't be talking about most of those issues here much, so don't expect cross-posts.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pern novels

In response to my MICE post on Sunday, I said I wondered if Anne McCaffrey's Pern series had come about from a milieu (setting) spark, so I wandered over to her website and found the answer in her FAQ posts. Here's what she says:
Back in 1967, I was sitting in my living room in Sea Cliff, Long Island, wondering what sort of creatures I could use in my next story. Since S-F is a “what-if” form of fiction, I suddenly wondered, “what if dragons were the good guys?” Then I had to develop a planet which needed a renewable airforce against some unknown menace and came up with Pern, dragons, Thread and humans who Impressed a hatchling in a lifelong symbiotic relationship. Rather wonderful to have an intelligent partner that loves you unconditionally. Who wouldn’t like a forty-foot telepathic dragon as their best friend? By the time my (then) children got home from school, I knew how it would all start: “Lessa woke cold.” I finished Weyr Search by summer and John W. Campbell bought it immediately for ANALOG Magazine and asked me to do more stories about Pern.

Guess that answers that. Pern started out as an idea series, not milieu.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Ha, I bet that got your attention! I'm talking about Orson Scott Card's four-cornered story foundation, not four-legged cat food.

MICE stands for: Mileu (or setting), Idea, Character, and Event. Novels need to have all of these in place to be a well-rounded story. (I'd like to say they'd have to have all four to be on a store shelf, but I'm sure someone could point to an example of a book that doesn't!)

What I'm curious about these days is: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The rage these days is for character-driven stories. Trust me, I totally understand that. I like nothing more than to get right in there in characters' heads and experience life through them. It's why I prefer novels in tight third POV or even in first to pretty much anything in omniscient.

But is it necessary to have the character appear in the writers' mind first for the story to be character-driven? I'd like to think that, no matter what the starting point, an experienced writer can pull all the parts of MICE together seamlessly so that it isn't obvious to the reader where the story came from originally.

That said, I tend to come up with ideas first, then audition characters to find the ones who'd like to explore my ideas. What comes first in your mind?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Story Math

So the original romance novel that I wrote during NaNo was about 54,000 words. The market I'm aiming for is 55-60K. I threw out a bunch of scenes and added new ones. Apparently they are longer ones!

Today I discovered that, at 38K, I've reached the half-way point of my printed-out copy of the original draft. Kinda scares me. I can't afford this book to come in at 76,000! I'm on scene 25 of 53, which seems to tell me about the same thing, lengthwise.

On the other hand, half of the original length is 27K, so if I add 27 (what's LEFT to rewrite) to the current 38, I get 65, which should be much easier to whittle down to 60 than 76 would be.

I'm always on the other end of this stick, trying to lengthen without padding! It's new to be worried about over-length. However I slice it, though, I have a whole bunch of words to go, so I refuse to sweat about it this week. When I actually get through Scene # 53 is when I'll figure out a plan of attack.

I'm still on target for finishing this pass by the end of March, unless it really does turn out to be 76... Nah. I'm NOT going to worry about that today.

I'm not.

Still, that's kinda long, isn't it?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Book Tour--Love Finds Humble, Texas

Summerside Press is publishing a series called Love Finds You:
Want a peek into local American life--past and present? The Love Finds YouTM series published by Summerside Press features real towns and combines travel, romance, and faith in one irresistible package!

How does it work? Well, (Love Finds You) in Humble Texas is the only book in the series that I've read.

I mentioned recently that I don't read a lot of romances--not because I don't love love as much as the next gal, but because it seems a bit of a stretch to invent so many ways to keep a couple apart realistically for the sake of the story. And yet, the convention of a novel requires that there be true conflict. Preferably something that isn't obviously too manufactured. (Well, that's kind of funny, being as of course the author is manipulating it all, but you know what I mean...don't you?) Being as I'm rewriting a romance novel of my own these days, I'm constantly watching out for what is *realistic* and what isn't.

So the set-up for this story is that two sisters--one an image consultant and very *together*, and the other a retail worker who lacks self-confidence--both fall in love with the same man. Miss Priss saw him first, decided he wasn't the guy for her, sets him up with her sister, then decides she loves him after all and wants him back. The humble, introspective sister is very kind and allows this to happen...if the guy is willing. But of course they don't tell him what's up.

To me this arrangement took a bit to get off the ground. When Trudie, the heroine, allowed her younger sister Lane to get another chance at the gorgeous Mason, I wasn't invested in her character enough yet to see this as believable. Once the story got rolling, it mostly worked, but the introduction to the issue felt awkward to me.

Here's the opening paragraph:
Trudie Abernathy always wondered about two things. First, how was it that some people could live charmed lives while others accumulated troubles like those beetles that spent their time rolling up balls of dung? And secondly, how could one person fall in love as effortlessly as a sneeze, while another hobbled along on love as if it were a twisted ankle?

One of the premises of the entire series is that the interesting name of the featured town be a significant part of the story. Thus Trudie of Humble, Texas, is the *humble* sister, but in the end things work out well for everyone. I read the novel in a couple of evenings and found much to enjoy. Enough to make me wonder what cool town names haven't been written about yet in this series!

Anita Higman is the author of over 20 books ranging from romances to mysteries to devotionals to plays to children's books. Wow, busy gal with a diverse set of interests! She lives in Texas. But not, I believe, in Humble.