Friday, May 30, 2014

The Dictator's Daughter - a sample chapter

Oh, you guys, this is terrifying!
This is the first time I've sent a piece of fiction out into the wild... But, like ripping off a bandaid, it has to be done sometime, right? So, with no further foot-dragging, here is Chapter 2 of The Dictator's Daughter.


The Brotherhood monastery was an ideal place for Liri and her guards to learn and train. Both scholars and soldiers, the monks stressed education of the body as well as the mind. The monks’ trademark walking staff was actually a weapon. All students learned how to use the long, wrist-thick pole, starting each day with basic defensive exercises developed by the monks over the centuries.
Every evening Liri met with her bodyguards in an inner courtyard for training exercises that went beyond the walking stick to include archery, sword fighting and close quarters combat.
The monks were under no illusion as to who Liridona was and why the three men with her were allowed access to her private quarters and the monastery’s inner grounds. President General Valon himself toured the monastery and paid twice the usual tuition to insure his daughter had the very best education and the most defensible rooms. He also paid full tuition for each of the three bodyguards and agreed to the stipulation that they would also genuinely study while there – or face expulsion like any other student, in addition to whatever punishment Valon found suitable for a guard who failed his duty.
That particular evening was sword practice. Liri was not surprised, given Max’s revelation, when Adrian launched immediately into an interrogation concerning her lunch partner.
“Who is he,” Adrian demanded, bouncing on his toes to get as close to her face as possible, not even bothering to greet her first. 
Although Liri had never fully trusted him, she could see the rage in his startling green eyes behind the thick fringe of heavy black hair. It caused an uneasy quiver in her chest.
“Why, hello, Adrian!” Liri said with false brightness to the shorter man, stepping way from him toward the rack of practice swords. “How was your day? What did you think of Brother Bora’s analysis of the Battle of the Shore?”
“I thought it was very interesting,” Olek volunteered when Adrian growled under his breath and turned away. Liri thought about Max’s evaluation of the broad-faced blond, and wondered what exactly went on behind that thick forehead. “Especially the counter attack the by the combined forces of monks and soldiers that eventually pushed the enemy into the sea.  Although it did surprise me that the military would submit to the leadership of the monastery.”
“I found it interesting, too,” Engel said. “Although I’m somewhat surprised you heard a word of it – with the randomly grinning and doodling the whole hour and a half.”
“Engel, of all people, you should know how well I already know that story,” Liri said as she selected a dummy sword from the rack. “It’s been my favorite since childhood. I used to make you play the invaders to my defending forces on the shore of the palace pond!”
“Yes,” Engel answered with a laugh. “And you still ended up in the water at least half the time!”
Liri grinned at him. “Brother Bora should be grateful I was in such a good mood this afternoon,” she said. “He barely touched on the role of the Sisterhood. You can be sure he’ll get his education in my term paper next week!”
“I’m sure,” said Adrian, still nursing a growl in his voice, while selecting his practice sword from the rack and swinging it over his head in a mock parry.
“To answer your curiosity, I had a very interesting conversation at lunch, not that it’s any business of yours.” Liri said. “However, since you’ve probably already sent an update to my father, you might as well do your background research on Max – but if I don’t get the exact same report you send home, I will make sure you don’t return here with me in the fall.”
Olek nodded, understanding a direct order when he heard it. Adrian’s nostrils flared a little wider letting Liri know her assumption was correct. Engel just grinned, like someone who was going to get a lot of mileage out of an inside joke.

“Now,” she said, swinging the sword into first pose, “Let’s get to work.” 


So? What do you think? Would you read more? Or should I spare the world further anguish and bury it in the back yard?

Jane Wells has always gravitated toward reading material that pushed other people’s buttons. In 2nd grade it was a dinosaur book that upset her teacher at a Baptist school. Now it’s vampires and dystopias that catch her imagination. In them she finds parables and allegories illustrating God’s ancient plan in a language that is uniquely modern – and easily understood by people who may have never set foot inside a church. Glitter in the Sun and Bird on Fireare the results.
Always a writer, Jane’s “real jobs” have included newspaper journalism, youth ministry, sewing machine sales and marketing for a publishing house. Currently she is back to “just a writer” again, while juggling all the typical domestic duties of wife and mother, homeschooling two boys, managing two needy Golden Retrievers and answering to one very demanding cat.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Clarifying What's Passive

By Rebecca LuElla Miller

Instruction manuals and conference workshop teachers say to avoid passive voice, and there's a good reason to do so, but in order to follow that bit of advice, we need to have a clear idea what we're talking about. As it turns out, writers of all stripes -- including experienced novelists, MFA grads, freelance writers, and editors -- can be confused about the term "passive" when used in reference to writing.

Passive voice is a grammatical term identifying a particular subject/verb relationship---a specialized one that runs counter to the usual active voice.

Typically, the subject of a sentence is the agent that does the action of a sentence. In the examples below, the subject of each of these simple sentences is the agent doing the action.

  • The writer cleaned off her desk. [Who cleaned? writer]
  • The editor marked the final page of the manuscript. [Who marked? editor.]
  • The publisher congratulated the team on a job well-done. [Who congratulated? publisher.
 In sentences utilizing the passive voice, however, the subject is actually the recipient of the action. Again, examples may be helpful.

  • The book was published by WaterBrook. [The subject book is the object of the action was published rather than the agent doing the action.]
  • The email was sent from her phone. [The subject email is the object of the action was sent rather than the agent doing the action.]
  • Another writer was added to the group without advance warning. [The subject writer is the object of the action was added rather than the agent doing the action.]
Writing instructors discourage passive voice. Since the subject is, for all practical purposes, supine, there's not much for a reader to see in a sentence with a passive verb. Sentences, like good stories, need action. They need an agent who goes out and makes something happen. Passive characters make for boring stories, and passive subjects make for boring sentences.

So far, so good.

But here's where problems start cropping up. Some writers (and even some editors) have taken the concept of active subjects to mean that all sentences must have action verbs. Any verb of being, then, gets lumped in with the passive voice. Here are a few sentences with verbs of being.

  • Despite everything that happened, the speaker still wasn't late to the conference.
  • Her children are all gifted writers, singers, or artists.
  • I am certain about this one.
In each of these sentences, there is no action, so consequently, the subject is not passively standing by having some action foisted upon it. Rather, these sentences identify a condition or a state the subject is in. These are legitimate sentences and perform necessary functions in our writing. Still, they play a minor role and should not be overused.

Another form that gets dumped in with passive voice, and isn't, is a helping verb working with a present participle (-ing form of a verb).

  • The writer is finishing the last chapter.
  • Her friend was posting on Facebook late at night.
  • The members of his critique group were giving line edits instead of overall impressions.
This kind of sentence is clearly not passive. In each of the examples the subject is the agent doing the action, and there is a strong action verb.

Is there a reason to steer clear of these sentences? Perhaps, but for an entirely different reason than for the erroneous accusation that they are passive.

Sentences with ongoing action, which is what this verb construction communicates, are a little harder for readers to visualize. The beginning of a thing, we can picture, but what do we see when the action is ongoing?

In addition, if an entire paragraph or page or scene contains numerous sentences with this construction, the repeated -ing acts like any other repetition: it becomes annoying.

Believe it or not, there's one more sentence construction that gets accused of being passive, and it is innocent of the charge. These sentences are the ugly ducklings of writing. They have everything wrong with them -- no action verb, the subject in the wrong place, and a bland, unspecific word up front. I'm talking about sentences that start with There is or Here are and the like.

  • There were three Facebook friend invitations in her email box.
  • Here is your coffee.
  • There aren't any more books available.
These sentences are as legitimate as any other. They serve a necessary purpose, but like other sentences with verbs of being, they should not be overused.

So here's what we covered:

  • Sentences with verbs in passive voice aren't as strong as verbs in active voice. A writer would be wise to rewrite them.
  • Sentences with state of being verbs are perfectly fine but shouldn't be overused.
  • Sentences with helping verbs and the present participle (-ing) form of a verb, while not passive, nevertheless should be used sparingly, largely because of repetition but also as a means to help readers visualize scenes.
  • Finally, sentences with construction similar to there is ... may look passive, but they aren't. The subject comes after the state of being verb, which adds to the impression that there's a passive something going on. But remember, with no action verb in sight, there is no possibility of a passive subject.

- - - - -

A former English teacher and an aspiring epic fantasy author, Rebecca LuElla Miller has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 2004. She has covered high school sports for a Los Angeles area newspaper group, published articles and short stories in several print and online magazines, and placed in the top twenty-five in the 2006 Writer’s Digest Short, Short Story contest. Most recently she is the author of Power Elements of Story Structure. She currently blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

Her editing credits include non-fiction and fiction alike, most notably four titles in the Dragons in Our Midst and Oracle of Fire series by Bryan Davis and two novellas in the Mission League series by Jill Williamson. You can learn more about her editing services and read her weekly writing tips at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

Monday, May 26, 2014

We're giving away 50+ books!

Summer's here, with her long days and warm weather. The barbecue blazes and the kids run through the sprinkler.

Meanwhile, you finally have an extra hour or two to read. Maybe you're taking a plane flight somewhere, maybe you're staying home on vacation, or maybe you're just spending a day at the nearest beach.

However you're going to celebrate summer, we want you to have some good books to read!

So, we're giving away 50+ books! (Eeek!)

The books? You can take a look at them below...And you can read about them by clicking HERE.

How do you win one of these amazing books, you ask? Simply check out the rules in the Rafflecopter below and enter! This contest ends on June 27 and you have LOTS of chances to win! 50 BOOKS. 50 WINNERS. Help us spread the word!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fiction Friday: The Telling

On the northern fringes of Death Valley, the city of Endurance is home to llama ranches, abandoned mines, roadside attractions... and the mythical ninth gate of hell. Little does Zeph Walker know that he is the only one who can close it. Here's the opening scene to Mike Duran's second novel, The Telling.

* * *

He used to believe everyone was born with the magic, an innate hotline to heaven. Some called it intuition, a sixth sense; others called it the voice of God. Zeph Walker called it the Telling. It was not something you could teach or, even worse, sell—people just had it. Of course, by the time their parents, teachers, and society got through with them, whatever connection they had with the Infinite pretty much vanished. So it was, when Zeph reached his twenty-sixth birthday, the Telling was just an echo.

That’s when destiny came knocking for him.

It arrived in the form of two wind-burnt detectives packing heat and a mystery for the ages. They flashed their badges, said he was needed for questioning. Before he could object or ask for details, they loaded him into the back seat of a mud-splattered Crown Victoria, and drove across town to the county morgue. The ride was barely ten minutes, just long enough for Zeph Walker to conclude that, maybe, the magic was alive and well.

“You live alone?” The driver glanced at him in the rearview mirror.

Zeph adjusted his sunglasses. “Yes, sir.”

“I don’t blame you.” The detective looked at his partner who smirked in response.

Zeph returned his gaze to the passing landscape. Late summers in Endurance were as beautiful as a watercolor and as hot as the devil’s kitchen. The aspens on the ridge showed gold and the dogwoods along the creeks had already begun to thin. Yet the arid breeze rising from Death Valley served as an ever-present reminder that beauty always lives in close proximity to hell.

They came to a hard stop in front of a white plaster building. The detectives exited the car and Zeph followed their cue. A ceramic iguana positioned under a sprawling blue sage grinned mockingly at him. Such was the landscape décor of the county coroner’s building. The structure doubled as a morgue. It occupied a tiny plot of red earth, surrounded by a manicured cactus garden complete with indigenous flora, bison skulls and birdbaths. Without previous knowledge, one could easily mistake the building for a cultural center or art gallery. Yet Zeph knew that something other than pottery and Picassos awaited him inside.

The bigger of the two detectives, a vaquero with a nifty turquoise belt buckle and matching bolo tie, pulled the door open and motioned for Zeph to enter. The man had all the charm of a cage fighter. Zeph wiped perspiration off his forehead and stepped into a small vestibule. “This way.” The cowboy clomped past, leaving the smell of sweat and cheap cologne.

They led him past an unoccupied desk into a corridor. Bland Southwestern prints adorned sterile white walls. The stench of formaldehyde and decay lingered here and Zeph’s stomach flip-flopped in response. The hallway intersected another where two lab technicians stood in whispered conversation. They straightened as the detectives approached. After a brief nod from one of the white-jacketed men, Zeph’s escorts proceeded to an unmarked room.

“We got someone fer you to I.D.” The cowboy placed his hand on the door and studied him. “You don’t get sick easy, do ya?”

Zeph swallowed. “Depends.”

“Well, if you’re gonna puke, don’t do it on these.” He pointed to a set of well-polished eel skin boots. “Comprende?”

“No, sir. I mean—yes! Yes, sir.”

The detective scowled, then pushed the door open, waiting.

Zeph’s heart was doing double-time. Whose body was he about to see? What condition was it in? His mind raced with the possibilities. Maybe a friend had suffered a car accident. Although, he didn’t have many friends to die in one. Perhaps the Hitcher, that mythical apparition who stalked the highway in his childhood, had claimed another victim. More likely, Zeph’s old man had finally keeled over. However, he was convinced that his father had stopped living a long time ago.

Zeph drew a deep breath, took two steps into the room, perched his sunglasses on the top his head . . . and froze. In the center, framed under a single oval swath of light, lay a body on a autopsy table—a body that looked strangely familiar.

“Take a good look, Mr. Walker.” The detective’s boots clicked with precision on the yellowed linoleum. He circled the rolling metal cart, remaining just outside the reach of the fluorescent light. “And maybe you can help us figger this out.”

Yet Zeph remained near the door, hesitant to take another step.

“Go ahead.” The second detective sauntered around the opposite side, gesturing to the body. “He ain’t gonna bite.”

The detectives positioned themselves on either end of the table. They watched him.

A black marble countertop, its surface dulled by a thin blanket of dust, ran the length of one wall. In front of it sat a single wooden stool. The low-hanging lamp bleached the body monochrome. Zeph had seen enough procedurals and CSI knock-offs to know this was not an autopsy room. Perhaps it was used for viewings, maybe occasional poker games. But as the detectives studied him, he was starting to wonder if this was an interrogation room. Scalpels, pincers, saws. Oh, what exotic torture devices one might assemble from a morgue! Nevertheless, this particular room appeared to have not been used in a long time. And by the fevered sparkle in their eyes, these men seemed inspired about the possibility of doing so.

Zeph glanced from one man to the other, and then he edged toward the corpse. Its flesh appeared dull, and the closer he got, the less it actually looked like skin. Perhaps the body had been drained of blood or bleached by the desert sun. He inched closer. Sunken pockets appeared along the torso, and he found himself wondering what could have possibly happened to this person. The head lay tilted back, its bony jaw upturned, cords of muscle taut across a gangly neck. A white sheet draped the body at the chest and just above it a single bloodless hole about the size of a nickel notched the sternum. He crept forward, trying to distinguish the person’s face. First he glimpsed nostrils, then teeth, and then . . . something else.

That something else brought Zeph to a standstill.

How could it be? Build. Facial features. Hair color. This person looked exactly like him. There was even a Star of David tattooed on the right arm, above the bicep—the same as Zeph’s.

What were the chances, the mathematical probabilities, that one human being could look so identical to another? Especially in a town the size of Endurance.

“Is this . . .” Zeph’s tone was detached, his eyes fix on the body. “Is this some kinda joke?”

The detectives hunkered back into the shadows without responding.

Goose bumps rose on Zeph’s forearms as the overhead vent rattled to life, sluicing cool air into the room. He took another step closer to the cadaver until his thigh nudged the table, jolting the stiff and bringing Zeph to a sudden stop. He peered at the bizarre figure.

Their similarities were unmistakable. The lanky torso and appendages. The tousled sandy hair. Thick brows over deep-set eyes. This guy looked exactly like him! However, it was one feature—the most defining feature of Zeph Walker’s existence—that left him teetering in disbelief: the four-inch scar that sheared the corpse’s mouth.

Zeph stumbled back, lungs frozen, hand clasped over the ugly scar on his own face.

“Darnedest thing, ain’t it?” The cowboy sounded humored by Zeph’s astonishment. “Guy’s a spittin’ image of you, Mr. Walker.”

Zeph slowly lowered his hand and glanced sideways at the man. “Yeah. Except I don’t have a bullet hole in my chest.”

The detective’s grin soured and he squinted warily at Zeph.

“Indeed you don’t.” The second man stepped into the light. “But the real question, young man, is why someone would want to put one there.”

* * *

Mike Duran is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Godzilla vs. Story

People went out in droves to see the new epic battle of Godzilla and his revamped foes. Me included. I had mild expectations, thinking it would be on the caliber of Pacific Rim or Battleship, not anything too deep, but fun. And didn't the preview make it look scary and visually awesome? But what I encountered was a strange battle of my mind instead, with a lot of "huh?" and "what?" rolling around my brain. I felt as if I was watching a series of events explained by The General or The Scientist who somehow, miraculously knew #AllTheThings. While the man who knew nothing was somehow, miraculously always in the wrong place at the wrong time. As well as his wife and child, later on. 

This is, in my opinion, a fatal flaw that I see in a lot of stories lately, and makes it difficult for me to connect in any real way. The shock and awe becomes the Implausible, with little or no explanation. I can handle one coincidence, maybe two, but continuous such events stretch my patience. 

In our stories, as we read or write, we expect several foundational elements to the structure. If those elements are missing, the story itself falls flat. Here's three core things I, personally, find important. 

1. Motive (or Why Edward Doesn't Eat People): Random won't cut it. If it's unexplained or stretches credulity a reader won't be able to relate. Edward doesn't eat people because he fears for his soul. We as the reader know this—he won't stop telling Bella all about it. So, we get it. We may not like it, but we get it. ;)

2. Pacing (or Why Hobbits Talk About Food): Don't run me ragged. Let me pause and soak in the world and the characters every now and then. Let the story be about more than go, go, go. Frodo isn't running head-long to Mordor, he and Sam and Golem have moments of oddity and whimsy on the dark journey to break up the monotony. Pippin and Merry love to obsess over their pipes. We see them and we get to know them, we don't just scream our whole way to the end.

3. Expectations Met (or Why Harry Potter Had To Die): We need to know what's coming and see it coming along the way. BUT even when it hits us, we should have an element of surprise. This is probably the most difficult thing to accomplish. However, when it's done, and done well, it raises the story from satisfying to Epic. The stories of Harry became larger and larger with each installment, until the journey, the world, and the characters were truly personal. This created an effect that culminated in the last battle, where we all knew that it could not end well. STILL, we also knew it would all be okay. And in the end, it was so. Satisfying adventure, becomes Epic Experience. 

Now, obviously, these are just the things I look for personally in a story. I am finding more, however, that these things are thinner and thinner in the Hollywood writer's tool box. I know sensational sells but isn't the art of weaving a tale also worth a gander every now and then? It's true, there is nothing new under the sun, but our book shelves and box offices are screaming for a fresh look at Story once more. 

Rachel A. Marks is a writer and artist and mother of four. You can read more about her and her work on her website: 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Homage to Pulp Fiction

by PJ Regnier

I’m a sucker for pulp style fiction. Whether it’s Conan the Barbarian or John Carter, I love reading a good adventure tale.

Some might say the stories are simple or lack depth but frankly I think they’re missing the whole point. It’s adventure for the joy of the journey with engaging characters that leap into action and never look back. To me, the stories are pure, straightforward, bold journeys into unexplored lands.

I feel the freedom of the writers as I explore the fantastic worlds they seem to splash onto the pages with bold strokes of the pen. It’s almost as if they’re writing simply for the enjoyment of it and not worrying if anyone will ever read, much less critique, their tale spinning.

Although I will readily admit that learning the fundamentals of plot, structure, character development and all the other foundational techniques are important, I like to relegate these gatekeepers to the editing stages.

I think my ultimate goal is to write rough drafts as though I were a kid merely delighting in the adventure, free from any constraints.

As I was finishing this post, I looked up quotes by Edgar Rice Burroughs and found a fitting one that sums things up nicely.

“No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment. If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature, or its kind. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature.” 

― Edgar Rice Burroughs

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Author: You Can't Afford to Be a Social Media Illiterate

I used to hate Twitter and often vowed to remain Twitterless. Now, I have well over 1,000 Twitter Followers and am a fairly big Twitter fan. A few other things happened since then. I have purchased an SEO friendly web template, embedded social media widgets below every blog post, joined LinkedIn, Goodreads, Pinterest and Instagram, developed an RSS feed, and expanded my Facebook presence.

So what happened? How did I go from being generally resistant to social media, to jumping on the bandwagon?

Well, basically, I just got serious about my writing career.

Call me a sellout or a shill, but I came to realize what most experts are saying: The market is changing and authors need to adapt. Because of the decreased investment of publishers, platform development has become a necessity for the aspiring author. Nowadays, publishers want to know that authors are working the system, using all the tools at their disposal. And really, the market was wide open.

The only real obstacle was me.

Once this sunk in, I realized I could either rage against the machine or get in line. I chose the latter. And it’s paid off. But not everyone is so easily swayed.

I spoke via email to an author recently about ways to increase their web traffic and expand their web presence. They did not know basic HTML, were not interested in optimizing their website, did not Tweet, retained a rather small circle of Facebook friends (and liked that), and generally viewed social media with disdain. When I pressed this author about expanding their use of social media, they fell back on four common objections: 

  • I don’t have the time for social media. 
  • I’m not computer savvy. 
  • Social media takes away from actually writing. 
  • Social media requires marketing skills, which I don’t have. 

Okay, if you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, perhaps I can understand using these excuses. Apparently, social media is a luxury for some best-selling novelists. But if you’re a new, midlist, or unpublished novelist, believing the above excuses are self-sabotage. And let me be clear: These ARE excuses. But I’m NOT computer savvy, you object. I’m NOT a marketer, and I really DON’T have time for Tweeting and Facebooking and blogging. I can’t be a writer AND be a social media expert.

Maybe that’s part of the problem: We think we have to be experts, as if only savants can master social media.

Listen, I can sympathize with these objections… if they were leveled by your 92 year-old grandmother. However, managing a blog, Tweeting regularly, learning basic HTML or web design, and building your own platform, doesn’t require some unique, high-level skill set. Yes, it involves time. Yes, it involves a certain acumen. But this is not gene research, people. I’ve been married for 33 years and I can assure you, understanding HTML is a lot easier than deciphering female communication. So when I hear authors go on about computer illiteracy and reasons they avoid social networking, all I tend to hear is blah, blah, blah.

Several of my Facebook friends happen to be children of people I know. Not long ago, one of those kids (a 20-something) began posting some risque pictures and saying some naughty things. Hey, she’s an adult. However, I happened to speak to the parent about this and they shrugged. “How am I supposed to monitor her when I can barely check my own email?” As if ignorance is a reasonable rejoinder. Memo to parents: If your child is computer literate (especially a teen living under your roof) and you are not monitoring them on the grounds that you are a computer illiterate, please check yourself. Parents CANNOT afford to be computer illiterates nowadays.

Well, the same is true of authors. Authors cannot afford to be social media illiterates.

If you choose to remain Twitterless, blog irregularly, shrug off platform building, and disavow social media, you forfeit the right to bitch about your writing career.

Of course, these things are no guarantee of increased sales or a bigger fan base. In fact, the author who is shrill, one-dimensional, insecure, and uncreative, will only amplify their issues with social media (which may be one reason why writers subconsciously avoid social networking). Nevertheless, there are very few legitimate reasons why an aspiring author should not be growing in social networking.

Part of the beauty and power of social media is that it is accessible to the average person. You don’t need a degree, a diploma, a brand name, or tons of money. Yes, it takes time. It takes persistence. It takes creative energy. And I’m guessing you have those things. Everything else is just an excuse.

* * *

Mike Duran is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Making a character

Last week we read Rebecca LuElla Miller's excellent post, Characters can be Cliches, Too.
So, now, I'm wondering, where do you get your characters from? That voice in your head, what is its genesis?
In my first novel (the one that will probably never see the light of day - except for my friends' amusement) I'll admit the main character is the woman I wish I were. She is brave, athletic, politically savvy, and powerful. Her love interest sprang out of what I imagined might be the motivation of a guy I observed at college. He was very handsome, but always sat alone. A song by the Black Keys, Broken Halo, helped flesh out his motivations.
While I would love to put myself  in a historical novel, I'm going to resist. I  need new people to play with. 
One of the coolest aspects of the novel brewing in my head is that my family lived in Northern Michigan during the era - and my great-great grandfather was the sort of guy you can't make up. If I transcribed his life no one would believe it! I'm fairly certain lumber camp foreman/riverboat captain Melancthan Dodge is going to make at least a cameo appearance.
For the rest of them I'm pondering a quote I heard recently, "what lie does your character believe that causes them to behave this way." To which I'm adding this, "what truth drives them forward anyway."
Where did your favorite characters come from? Did their development surprise you in any way? Please answer below!

Jane Wells has always gravitated toward reading material that pushed other people’s buttons. In 2nd grade it was a dinosaur book that upset her teacher at a Baptist school. Now it’s vampires and dystopias that catch her imagination. In them she finds parables and allegories illustrating God’s ancient plan in a language that is uniquely modern – and easily understood by people who may have never set foot inside a church. Glitter in the Sun and Bird on Fireare the results.
Always a writer, Jane’s “real jobs” have included newspaper journalism, youth ministry, sewing machine sales and marketing for a publishing house. Currently she is back to “just a writer” again, while juggling all the typical domestic duties of wife and mother, homeschooling two boys, managing two needy Golden Retrievers and answering to one very demanding cat.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fiction Friday: Breaking the rules

By Merrie Destefano

There came a point in my writing career when I got frustrated with rejections. My 9-to-5 job was as a national magazine editor, so I was pretty sure I had learned how to write. Well, I knew the basics anyway. You can always learn more. But a recent rejection of one of my manuscripts stung more than I expected, especially when the acquisitions editor said the story was too internal.

That was the kind of story I liked to read, where you got deep inside a character and learned what he or she thought and felt.

I almost wanted to quit writing fiction. Instead, I decided to write one more manuscript, breaking all the rules (that I had been told) and creating my own way to tell the story. The result was AFTERLIFE—my first novel, published by Harper Voyager. Since then I’ve had reviewers call the book experimental, which it was in a way. 

I decided I would have scenes with lots of action and forward motion, but interspersed between these would be the occasional scene that was complete back story, told from one character’s point of view. These scenes allowed me to world build and to be as internal as I wanted, so it allowed me to write the story the way I wanted to.

While writing this book, I took other chances too. I had decided this would be my farewell song, my last manuscript, and so I didn’t care if anyone else liked it or not. Surprisingly, when I decided to write the book my way, breaking every rule that had bothered me, other people loved the result.

So, today I’m going to share one of those “rule-breaking” chapters from Afterlife, where I let the main character speak in his own words about the resurrection process that his family employed. In my mind, this book is science fiction, although it has been labeled urban fantasy. I hope you enjoy this snippet!

Chapter Eight

I was eleven years old the first time I saw a Newbie, the first time I saw life and death trade places. I guess my life had been pretty sheltered up to that point.
            A state-appointed teacher came to our Cell, wearing one of those government suits with the high collar, his breath a mixture of coffee and mint. My brother Russell and I, we sat in the back and pretended to pay attention while the guy peddled the Ideal Plan, we even made faces at each other behind his back. We only had seven kids in our Cell, but we could tell that we made him nervous. Seven kids in one room was enough to unnerve almost anyone. I’d heard of Cells with as many as 16 kids, but personally I don’t know if I really believe it.
            We each had two bodyguards inside the room, armed and able to kill with their bare hands in less than three seconds if necessary. And outside the room there were at least 15 more. A crackle of handset communications buzzed continuously between the teacher’s sentences, a hoarse whisper of monotone voices.
            “—Sadie took her medicine, yes, I will get her there in time—”
            “—piano lessons at three. Of course—”
            “—Jeffrey is listening to the teacher, Mrs. Damotta—”
            The Ideal Plan had been enforced for the past 15 years, so I had to study it just like everybody else, whether I wanted to or not. The teacher did his best to explain everything, all the way from Life Number One to Life Number Nine, covering everything from sterilization to college to the legal procedures involved in fighting a death cert case, then he gave us each a contract. My best friend, Pete Laskin, signed his that same day. I heard that his mother cried for a week when she found out, but it didn’t matter. They kept us separated from our parents for a full month, so we could think about it without their influence. Sadie Thompson, a 12-year-old, dream-come-true who barely knew my name, laughed and signed hers almost immediately, dotting the ‘i’ in her name with a heart. Russell, who was 13 and of an age to make his own decision, immediately folded his contract into quarters and handed it back. Unsigned. No thank you, Mr. Government Man. Can I go home now please?
            At eleven years old, I was the youngest in our Cell. Everyone else had to make up his mind within our month of isolation. But I had a full year to make my decision.
            So that was when Dad started taking me to work, on the pretext that it was time for me to learn about the family business. I’ll never forget that first day. Mid-October. Dry leaves whisked across the streets, crackled beneath my feet and turned to dust. The sky burned blue and bright overhead. A cool breeze poured between the buildings like fresh water, a welcome respite after the unending summer. People had been dying all over New Orleans from an abnormally long heat spell. Mostly old people, but a few babies had passed too.
            Fresh Start had been busy, everyone working double shifts. Two extra crews had been flown in from Los Angeles. I’m sure that’s why it happened. Somebody was too tired and the out-of-state crews didn’t know our procedures.
            I have to believe it was a mistake. The other possibility, that my father let it happen on purpose to teach me a lesson—well, I just can’t go for that. Russell, in one of his dark moments, said that Dad did it to show us that life is, and should be, unpredictable, that we never should have pretended to be God.
            Mom refuses to talk about it. I have to admit I admire her for not taking sides. I know she had an opinion about all of it, she always did. But for whatever reason she let Russell and me make our own decisions, about Fresh Start, about the Ideal Plan, about what happened to the Newbie on that October day.
            The inside of the plant was everything I hoped it would be. All stainless steel and molded plastic in the industrial sections; all luxurious leather and ceramic tile in the public areas. Not that anyone would want to, but you could eat your lunch on the floor anywhere in that 200,000-square-foot facility back then. It was that clean. And the smell was a bizarre mixture of dentist-office-scary and new-car-exciting.
            For years, whenever anyone found out that I was Chaz Domingue, of the Fresh Start Domingues, a hush would sweep through the room almost as if something just sucked out all the oxygen. A long quiet would follow. And then when people started to talk again they would be ever so polite, opening doors for me, asking me if I would like some candy, asking my opinion about the weather. I liked the attention at first, but by the time I was a teenager I realized it was based on a combination of fear and envy. So I quit telling people my last name. Sometimes I pretended to be someone else entirely. When I got older I even pretended to be a Stringer, just because I wanted to fit in.
            But on that October afternoon, when the sunlight was slicing through the warehouse at a steep angle, when the sounds of the city seemed muted because so many people had died, on that day I decided that I never wanted to jump. No matter how much I wanted to be like other people. No matter how much I wanted to live.
            That day, one of the Newbies got stuck in between lives. In some nether world, where dark swirling creatures spin traps like spiders. She got caught. Her old body, withered and white with decay, lay discarded on the other side of the frost-etched glass. Her new-cloned body, as beautiful as Eve herself, lay expectant on a metal gurney, modestly covered in white linen. Neither body breathed, neither had life. All the equipment was suspiciously silent, no beeps to register heartbeat or brainwave patterns. Too much time had passed. The technicians began to get nervous, but Dad just raised one hand to quiet them.
            “Give her a minute,” he said, a tone of assurance in his voice.
            But several more minutes passed and the clone continued to stare, sightless, at the ceiling.
            And then, like it was straight out of a nightmare, she started to talk. The machines refused to admit there was life in either body, yet some alien consciousness caused the clone’s mouth to move and a hollow voice to speak.
            The things she said have haunted my dreams, might just follow me all the way past Judgment Day into the great beyond. Might bring torment with me, like shackles, into God’s kingdom, whether he likes it or not.
            “I can’t ... I can’t break free,” she said, still staring up at the concourse of pipes and ducts that traversed the warehouse ceiling. “I’m tangled in something. It feels like a web.” Tears streaked her face. Slow, glycerin-like streams. “They’ve been chasing me and I’m so tired of running, of trying to hide. Oh, please get me out of here! I don’t know where I am. There’s no light, just a dark glowing horizon, like fire in the distance. And these creatures—” She moaned, a heartbreaking cry, long and low and inhuman. I found myself wondering if we were really listening to a woman or if some spirit from beyond had commanded an audience. “They’re like spiders, but much bigger. I saw one of them eat a man. It ripped his head right off.” Her eyes closed.
            Meanwhile, my father ran around the room, fiddling with dials, gesturing to the other workers to try and save her.
            “It’s so dark. So cold,” she whispered, her voice hoarse. “And I’m so alone.”
            Most of them stood frozen, like me. Listening.
            Then she turned toward one of them, looked right at him. Allen was his name. She reached one arm out, then shrieked. And she was gone.
            To this day I still imagine her trapped in a twilight world, waiting for someone to rescue her. But I know now that no one ever will. God wouldn’t have left her there if she were one of His. Even if we had messed with His plan, with His order laid down from the beginning, He still wouldn’t have abandoned one of His chosen.
            That’s the only way I can rationalize all of it.

Merrie Destefano is represented by Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency. Merrie’s published work includes Afterlife and Feast (both with HarperVoyager), FathomThe Plague Carrier and Waiting For Midnight (with Ruby Slippers Press), and How To Draw Zombies (Walter Foster). She’s also the editor of Victorian Homes magazine and founding editor of Cottages and Bungalows magazine. She is the founder and owner of Ruby Slippers Media and Ruby Slippers Press, and her website is here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Characters Can Be Clichés Too

By Rebecca LuElla Miller

When I was growing up, westerns dominated the small screen. As my experience expanded, I realized that it didn’t take much to figure out who the good guys were and who were the bad guys.

Good guys—white hat, shirt neatly tucked in, guns riding high and often two strapped to the belt (they were always extremely good with guns), friendly, polite (especially to women, old men, and children), law-abiding.

Bad guys—black hats, rumpled shirts (also often black), guns riding low, black horses (usually slow), a five-o’clock shadow or a couple days growth of beard, surly, chews and spits, leers at women, mean even to friends, cheats at cards.

Stereotypes. That’s what the characters in westerns became, and I suspect part of the reason the public lost interest in westerns was the predictable nature of the stories told about these stock characters.

The thing is, it’s easy to fall into producing assembly-line characters. When we think about villains, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t “lovable.” So we shape them to fit the need at hand. Therefore, they are often mean-tempered, ugly, squinty-eyed, fat, rude, selfish. Whereas the good guys . . . Well, you see the problem.

How can a writer steer clear of stereotypes?

First, each character needs to become an individual. No two of us are alike, nor should the characters in our novels be alike. But more than our different looks, we show ourselves as individuals by our actions. Hence, the characters that stand out as memorable are the ones that act in ways that are unique, unexpected, and homogenized.

Often the things that make a person unique are considered quirky or weird by others. The TV program Monk became popular in part because of the quirky title character—a brilliant detective who solved crimes a la Sherlock Holmes but was plagued with obsessive compulsions and a long list of fears. He was unforgettable.

Quirkiness doesn’t have to be that extreme, though. A kindly June Cleaver-ish stay-at-home mom could be dyslexic and unable to read. A successful car salesman could be inept at handling his own finances. The star high school quarterback could hole up in his room with a book on the weekends.

Where does the writer come up with quirks in a character? From real life. As a starting place, think about people you know and the ways they do things differently from others.

Quirks can also lead to unexpected qualities which create unexpected actions. The dyslexic mom, for example, refuses to help out in her son’s classroom even though she’ll volunteer her time at the homeless shelter and participate in walk-a-thons for breast cancer research. She’s involved, civic minded, but steers clear of her son’s school.

Sometimes, however, the character may violate his own list of taboos which creates another kind of unexpected.

Again the main character in Monk serves as a good example. From time to time one of the people he cares about—his brother, the captain who hires him, his assistant—gets into serious trouble and he has to climb a ladder (he’s afraid of heights), go into a sewer (he’s afraid of germs), or ride an elevator (he’s afraid of confined spaces). Of course each trait deviation is clearly and properly motivated, but the fact that he does what he fears is unexpected.

Sometimes, however, he doesn’t come through, or does so only because of incessant  prodding from another character. Thus, his change in his routine way of living remains fresh and unpredictable.

A third way to make a character memorable is to homogenize them—stir together both strengths and weakness. Notice, this is not the same thing as saying they need to have a mixed bag of good traits and bad traits. Strengths simply mean that the character is very good at something particular. So the villain might be a better swordsman than the hero, or he might be a master at manipulation and control (think, The Godfather).

In the same way, each character needs to have weaknesses and fears. Even Superman had a physical vulnerability (his “allergy” to kryptonite) and a fear of putting the people he loved in jeopardy. Creating characters who are a composite of qualities makes them much more interesting.

Scarlett O’Hara was an obnoxious flirt and didn’t know her own heart when it came to men, but she was resilient and strong-minded and determined. Was she a heroine or a villain? Sometimes she seemed like one only to show herself to be quite different a few chapters later.

What about Bilbo Baggins? He was reluctant, timid, and enamored with ease . . . except he was also clever and adventurous and trusting.

When an author avoids clichés in writing, his prose takes on a freshness that makes it a delight to read. When he peoples his fiction with fresh characters, they take on a life of their own and become memorable.
What memorable characters can you think of that show uniqueness or the unexpected or the homogeneity of strengths and weaknesses?

- - - - -
"Characters Can Be Clichés Too" is an excerpt from book two of the Power Elements of Fiction series, Power Elements of Character Development, which will release this summer.
- - - - - 

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Rebecca LuElla Miller has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 2004. She has covered high school sports for a Los Angeles area newspaper group, published articles and short stories in several print and online magazines, and placed in the top twenty-five in the 2006 Writer’s Digest Short, Short Story contest. Most recently she is the author of Power Elements of Story Structure. She currently blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

Her editing credits include non-fiction and fiction alike, most notably four titles in the Dragons in Our Midst and Oracle of Fire series by Bryan Davis and two novellas in the Mission League series by Jill Williamson. You can learn more about her editing services and read her weekly writing tips at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Author Wayne Thomas Batson unveils his new series and reveals his writing secrets

By Merrie Destefano

Have you ever wished you could ask one of your favorite authors to reveal some of their writing tips? If so, today’s your lucky day! 

We’ve got an interview with Wayne Thomas Batson, best-selling author of the Door Within trilogy, Isle of Swords, Isle of Fire, The Berinfell Prophecies, Sword in the Stars, The Errant King, and Ghost.

Today also happens to be the release day of DREAMTREADERS, the first book in his new series. One of the things we’re requesting is if you want to purchase his book, please consider buying it today on Amazon.

Here’s some info from Wayne about The Blitz, a contest he’s running on his blog here:
Here's the Amazon link for Dreamtreaders:

And now, for that author interview, where Wayne accidentally…I mean, on purpose…reveals all his writing secrets including how he came up with the concept for his new series, PLUS tips for writing Middle Grade stories.

RSM: I love the concept for Dreamtreaders! I also read the sample chapters online and it looks fantastic. How did you come up with the idea for this series and how long did it take you to write the first book?

WAYNE: Thank you kindly, Merrie. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the sample chapter. The idea for the Dreamtreaders Series came from a little video I happened upon while surfing. The subject was Dream Science. I’ve always had vivid dreams, so I thought the video was pretty compelling. I had heard of Lucid Dreaming before, but not with the kind of detail presented in the video. Within minutes of watching the video, the entire plot of Dreamtreaders Book 1 popped into my head. I started thinking: What if there was a greater purpose for dreams? What if there was more danger involved with dreams than we ever thought possible? It was really kind of on a whim that I wrote up a brief proposal. I really didn’t think anything would come off it, but Thomas Nelson / Harper Collins loved the concept right away.

The first book took me about 3 months to write. I already had an outline, so I shot through pretty quickly. Thankfully, I had great editors like Steele Filipek and Amy Kerr to help me bring the story up to its full potential.

RSM: What do you think is the difference between writing for a Middle Grade audience, versus either a Young Adult or an Adult audience? What tips would you recommend for our blog readers who want to write for Middle Grade?

WAYNE: For me, there’s not much difference between Middle Grade / Young Adult readers. You can’t underestimate either. Kids are incredibly perceptive. You really need to honor that in your stories. Writing for adults is a whole different ballgame. Adults like the thrills, adventure, and creativity just as much as YA readers, but adults demand a level of sophistication that is different. You need to weave in layers of inference so that adults can figure things out on their own. You need to be more subtle too. If you have themes you are interested in, go for it, but hint at it, don’t drown them. 

Tips for Middle Grade Readers:

1) Make sure you HOOK them early. I mean first sentence, first paragraph, first page, first chapter. Make sure you have some very cool unusual events going on right away. While kids are perceptive, they also are kind of quick to assess the interest level of the material. If it’s a yawner up front, they will drop it like rotten tuna sandwich.

2) Don’t forget the power of humor. Middle Grade books can be so heavy handed. Dogs dying, people getting diseases, concentration camps, government takeovers, dystopia! EEK, run! You’ve got to lighten up here and there. I teach middle school, and my students literally ask me sometimes: “Why are these books so depressing?” Not my books, mind. I always lighten the mood with humor. It really helps.

RSM: Those are great tips! Thanks, Wayne. I’ve always found outlining for one book hard enough. How do you outline for a series?

WAYNE: When outlining for a series, you need to use broad strokes. In other words, capture the headlines of each book. What are the major things you expect to happen in each book? How can you have a beginning, middle, and legit end for each story while maintaining a “greater story” for the series? Once you have the broad strokes, you can then paint in the details when you approach each book for a manuscript pass.

RSM: I think it's great that you're working with Thomas Nelson again, this time on the Dreamtreaders series—TN is an amazing publishing house! But I've noticed you also have some self-published projects. Some are short stories, like The Blackwood, and some are full length novels, like The Tide of Unmaking (co-authored by Christopher Hopper) and Ghost. How and when do you decide to self-publish projects?

WAYNE: There are several variables that I consider to determine the direction of publishing: traditional path or self publishing. 1) Is there publisher interest?  2) If yes, then what are the terms? Is the royalty /advance good enough?  3) Is the concept I have in mind appropriate for one of the publisher’s age categories?

If all the answers to the above are yes, then I might go traditional. If any of the answers are no, then I’ll likely self pub. Another deal breaker with traditional publishing is creative control. If the publisher won’t allow me to take the story where it needs to go, then I might do it myself. My Dark Sea series, for example, deals with themes TN didn’t want to touch, so I went somewhere else.  Then, the market changed and ebooks put such a dent in print sales that I ended up getting back the rights. I plan to completely repackage and self-publish the seven book Dark Sea Annals series.

I like to keep a foot in every market possible. Diversification isn’t just for stock portfolios. Print publishers still rule a huge market. Why not be a part of it? 

RSM: I completely agree about diversification. In fact, most authors I know are doing both traditional and self-publishing. Is Spearhead Books your own imprint? Can you tell me a little about the decision to create that publishing company and what your goals are?

WAYNE: Spearhead Books is a joint project from The Miller Brothers, Christopher Hopper, and me. We aren’t a publisher per se, but we are creating a brand for Christian readers to be able to trust. With self-publishing growing like it is, we wanted to create a one-stop shop for trustworthy, positive fiction. 

RSM: It sounds like an awesome joint project and our blog readers can check out Spearhead Books HERE. You have an impressive selection of books! Thank you very much for answering all of my questions, Wayne! 

WAYNE: You’re welcome. Always good to connect, Merrie. Thank you for the opportunity.

If you want to learn more about Wayne’s books, check out: Enter The Door Within, Heed the Prophecies, and Sword in the Stars.