Monday, November 29, 2010

Great Reads Monday - Redeeming Grace by Smoky Trudeau

Smoky Trudeau is the author of two novels and two nonfiction books especially for writers.  Her stories and poetry have been published in literary journals and online e-zines.  She was a 2003 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Finally succumbing to her bohemian spirit and need to live near the mountains and the ocean, Smoky moved to Southern California in 2008, where she lives with her husband and daughter in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains beyond. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking in the mountains, camping in the Sierras, splashing in tidepools, and fighting the urge to speak in haiku.  You're going to love her book, Reedeming Grace - this week's Great Read!

The tragic deaths of her mother and two younger siblings have left Grace Harmon responsible for raising her sister Miriam and protecting her from their abusive father, Luther, a zealot preacher with a penchant for speaking in Biblical verse who is on a downward spiral toward insanity. Otto Singer charms Grace with his gentle courtship and devotion to his brother, Henry. But after their marriage, Otto is unable to share with Grace the terrible secret he has kept more than twenty years. Otto believes he is responsible for a tragic accident that claimed the life of a young woman and left Henry severely brain damaged. Luther's insane ravings and increasingly violent behavior force Grace to question and reassess the patriarchal religious beliefs of her childhood. Then tragedy strikes just when Otto's secret is uncovered, unleashing demons that threaten to destroy the entire family. Can Grace find the strength to save them, and in the process find her own redemption? Redeeming Grace is set on Maryland's eastern shore in the late 1920's. The book will appeal to lovers of literary fiction who enjoy theological debate and who understand happy endings, in novels as in life, sometimes come at a heavy price.

One reader says:

"Love, pain, guilt and secrets, guilt are skillfully woven throughout this story which takes place in rural Maryland in the 1920's. Smoky Trudeau manages to walk a very fine line without ever crossing it. Her villains are quite mad but not unbelievable. Redeeming Grace is a story of marital love, understanding and forgiveness. Throughout the moments and days of contentment and joy are memories of tragedy and loss. Partially known secrets and a feeling of impending danger make this book an unforgettable page turner." - M.S.

Visit Smoky's website to read more!

Or buy Redeeming Grace today on!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Great Reads Monday: A Chaunce of Riches by Chelle Cordero

Chelle Cordero is a freelance journalist and author. Her articles have been published in various Gannett publications, regional and national trade magazines. She is also the author of many novels and short stories.  Chelle and her husband live in Rockland County, NY, where they raised their two children.  I'm happy to share her book, A Chaunce of Riches, with you - another great read!

The day that Ben Johnson was hired as a bodyguard for some rich widow and her kid, he never expected to be working for the woman who had abandoned him just when he had needed her the most so many years before. Damn it all, he still wanted her. Samantha Chaunce never thought she would see him again. She never thought she would have to explain why she married the rich man over the man she had sworn she once loved. And she certainly never expected to find out that her rich husband had been murdered and fingers were pointing to her former lover.

One reader says:

"Personal conflict kicks off at the very start of Ms. Cordero's A Chaunce of Riches, as widower Samantha Chaunce comes face to face with a man from her past - Ben Johnson. She told him she loved him oh-so-long ago, and then she departed in the arms of another.

"Nothing is simple in the complex tale of love, danger, and this shared, almost-mourned, past....  However, the two main characters are both strong, edgy people, and their history together creates a rather unusual relationship between the two. There is anger, resentment, yet, somehow, there is an enduring trust that becomes more and more important in the face of danger.

"The very focused plot keeps us madly turning the pages, right to the very end. Yet, it's the romantic in us that is waiting, and so hoping, that they are both the people we think they are...that somehow, out of all this emotional clutter, disaster and more, they can find their way to true feeling. The story is simply super on all counts. Mark A Chaunce of Riches a Must-Read." - J. Thomas, The Long and Short of It Reviews

Read more on Chelle Cordero's website.

Or buy today on (available in paperback and on Kindle)!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Great Reads Monday - Forest Song: Letting Go by Vila SpiderHawk

Vila SpiderHawk is the author of three novels, a book of short stories and a cookbook.  She lives with her husband in the woods of Pennsylvania, in a log house of their design.  They share their home with five cats and enjoy frequent visits from their many woodland friends.  I'm thrilled to be able to share with you her latest work, Forest Song: Letting Go.

She left her birth home to learn the ways of the woods in Forest Song: Finding Home.  She grew into her powers as protector of the denizens of the forest in Forest Song: Little Mother.  And now, Judy Baumann faces the horrors of World War II: the concentration camps, Jewish ghettos, and the other persecution of the Jews.

Join Judy as she struggles to survive death-defying challenges, overcoming betrayal and loss with courage, cleverness and humor.

One reader says:

"Amazing but true.  SpiderHawk has again written an outstanding novel that touches the very core of loss, yearing, learning and beginnings.

"It has been my privilege to own all of Vila SpiderHawk's wonderful books and this one, as I myself am getting on in years, touched a deep vein of recognition in me.  It deals with loss, new beginnings and blossoming awareness of ability and truths.

"As with all her work, Vila SpiderHawk's ability to bring the reader deep within, with her color descriptions is an utter joy.  This is a truly inspiring novel and I highly recommned it to anyone.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again...Vila just gets better!  Of all her novels, this one touched me to my very soul.  There were times when I smiled, times I associated closely with the characters and times when I cried in sympathy, because always, there is somewhere a place that we too have visited.  In this, her most recent book, I was drawn into her web and held utterly spellbound from start to finish." - J.H.G.

Visit Vila Spiderhawks's website to read more!

Or buy today on (available in paperback and on Kindle)!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Characterization and Attitude

We all know what it means to have attitude. And I'm sure we all know what it means to give attitude, too! But what does attitude have to do with your characters?

Don't look at me in that tone of voice!

Okay, first let's make sure we're all on the same page regarding the definition of "attitude," because it's used it in different ways.  Attitude can mean a personal viewpoint or general opinion about something.  It can also mean a challenging or arrogant manner.  And it can mean a physical posture or bodily position. 

So "attitude" is not only the way a person thinks about something, or the arrogant manner in which they're expressing themselves, it's also the way they are physically standing or holding themselves.  And how can you use that when you're writing?

Let's workshop it - with attitude to spare!

Try combining all three of those ideas and applying them to your character.  Let's say you're writing about a woman who's having an argument with her fourteen-year-old daughter.  What's the daughter's attitude?  Let's break it down:

Her personal viewpoint is that she wants her curfew extended to one a.m. so she can go to her best friend's birthday party. 

Is she displaying a challenging, arrogant manner?  You bet your boots she is!  But how does your reader know that?

Well, what's the typical physical posture of a girl arguing with her mom? 

Joanna's hands welded to her hips as her elbows fanned the kitchen air. 

Grace looked up from the bread dough she was kneading.  If that child rolled her eyes one more time, she was definitely going to suffer some serious vision damage.  Or at the very least she'd be grounded for the rest of her life.

"You're fourteen, my dear daughter," Grace said, with as much patience as she could muster.  "There's no way you're staying out until one in the morning!"

Joanna's mouth pulled up on one side as she gave vent to her weakest argument yet.  "Oh please, Mother, you wouldn't dare keep me home," she smirked, "everyone's going to this party."

Okay, obviously those two have a lot of issues to work out.  And I didn't exactly play to subtlety there, with the arms-akimbo, eye-rolling, smirking teenager.  I'm sure you've got a good idea of Joanna's character (at least in relation to curfew and the importance of big parties).  But did you also get an idea of Grace's character?  The bread-kneading, line-holding mom?  Well, that brings up an interesting point, which is this:

You get a good idea of someone's character by their reaction to the attitude of another person.  It's not just the actions your characters take, it's their reaction to the actions of others which will give the reader a concept of who these people are.

But what if the character in question doesn't have quite as much of a challenging arrogant manner?  What if he or she is, for lack of a better term, a human doormat?

Let's workshop it again - and don't give me any of your attitude!

So let's say your character is Harvey, a storeroom clerk in his late forties.  A shipment has come in without the proper paperwork, and technically he's not supposed to accept it.

His personal viewpoint is that he should not sign for the delivery.

Is he displaying a challenging, arrogant manner?  In this case, no.

And what about his bodily position?  Well, let's see:

Harvey wiped his palm on his khaki shorts and pulled the clipboard closer for another inspection.  "I have specific instructions not to accept any shipments from your company that don't have the proper TPS forms."  He heard the quiver in his voice and swallowed, trying to steady it.  Dealing with these paperwork issues always made him shaky.  What if he screwed it up - again? 

He forced his rounded shoulders square and handed the clipboard back, using the most decisive motion he could muster. "Sorry."  It didn't help that now his hand, as well as his voice, was shaking.

The brownshirted delivery man held up his hands like somebody at gunpoint.  But this guy wasn't surrendering.  "No can do, bra," he said with a smile.  "Can't take it back, gotta leave it here."

The sweat made its way from Harvey's palms to the back of his neck.  He could feel it beading on his upper lip.  Was this guy serious?  What was Harvey going to do if the delivery guy wouldn't take the package back with him?  The meatball sub that Harvey had eaten for lunch was starting to come back on him, emitting a foul acid that crept up his throat.  He needed to have a glass of milk and lie down.

"I guess I could find a place in back for it, as long as you promise me you'll bring those forms tomorrow."

"Sure thing bra," the delivery guy said.  "No problemo."

Poor Harvey.  He's sweaty, slump-shouldered and has stomach problems.  And do you think that delivery guy is going to bring in those forms tomorrow?  No, me neither.

Lack of attitude can tell your readers just as much about your characters as attitude can.  When something unpleasant confronts Harvey, does he attack or retreat?  He probably lies down with a glass of milk.

But what about Joanna, from the example above?  How would she have handled the delivery guy?  Well, she probably would have made some cutting comment about his shorts not being kind to his knobby knees, and then gone back to filing her nails. 

Summing up the attitude issue

With attitude and characterization, keep these things in mind:

  • The person's posture and physicality: what does it say about them?
  • Their reaction to events: when confronted with something pleasant or unpleasant, how do they react?
  • Getting what they want: how do they go about it?
  • Remember that attitude is not necessarily a bad thing!  If Joanna used those same mannerisms when dealing with a bully at school, we'd be cheering for her.

When was the last time you saw someone "giving attitude"?  What did it tell you about them?  And what did it say about the person on the receiving end of that attitude?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Featured Novel: 'Take the Monkeys and Run!' by Karen Cantwell

I'm so tickled to start a new feature here on my blog. Every Monday I'll be featuring a different novel by a friend of mine.  And since I have a lot of friends who are great writers, that's a lot of wonderful books to share with you!  So let's kick this off with a roller-coaster humorous mystery: Take the Monkeys and Run by Karen Cantwell!

Soccer mom and film lover, Barbara Marr is on the brink of a dream:  launching her own movie review website.  But on her 45th birthday, this stay-at-home mother of three unwittingly launches herself and her suburban housewife friends into the middle of their own explosive action adventure just like the movies – except these bullets are real. 

One reader says:

"This story about frazzled suburban mom Barbara Marr (who's been left flat by her husband with the proverbial three kids, a mortgage and a cat) perfectly combines the funny sensibilities of the Woody Allen movie for which it's (sort of) named with the antics of "The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight." When Marr discovers strange nocturnal goings-on at the house next door (nicknamed House of Many Bones, for reasons best left to your imagination) and a backyard overrun with monkeys the following morning, she simply must find out what the heck is going on. Naturally, she seeks the help of an old flame from college and a cast of colorful neighborhood characters.

"This awesomely funny book pays homage not only to classic comedies, but also action films. Karen Cantwell's story strikes an excellent balance between warm family scenes and zany, more dangerous ones. (And, as it happens, Marr is a wannabe film blogger. Hmm ... go figure. :)) As I read the book, I enjoyed many laugh out loud (as in actual laughter!) moments.

"If you're a Janet Evanovich fan, this one is a must read. Not only does Cantwell ably mix humor and action, while sending up the latter genre (and seemingly paying homage to one movie in particular -- won't name it for risk of spoilers ;)), but she brings the story to a conclusion that practically screams  'There will be a sequel!'  I, for one, can't wait to read it!" - D.M.

Buy today on (available in paperback and on Kindle)!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Laying the Groundwork for Your Novel: The Basics of Plot and Storytelling

Horror.  Science Fiction.  Romance.  There are many kinds of stories to tell, and although every story is unique, there are, generally speaking, some elements that are universal:

- The Hero
- The Journey
- The Prize
- The Great Obstacle

The Hero

Or, I should say, the Hero(es)-slash-Heroine(s) - what some writers refer to as the "H/H."  This is the protagonist, the person your story is about. The H/H is your Frodo Baggins, your Elizabeth Bennett, your Harriet the Spy, or even your Benji!

Of course, the hero doesn't really have to be heroic - at least not in the usual way! He or she could be Ebenezer Scrooge. Or Dexter, for that matter. But your "H/H" does have to be empathetic. Your reader must be able to feel for him, or at least get a laugh out of him. Ebenezer Scrooge won my heart as soon as he said to Jacob Marley, "There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!" Despite the fact that Dickens had shown Scrooge to be a despicable human being, when I read that line I thought, "Well, there's something to that guy. If nothing else, he's funny." And because of that I was willing to go on the journey with him, and even to root for him.

The Prize

We all want something.  Health, happiness, long life.  And a million dollars.  Sometimes we want to foil a bank robbery, solve an ancient riddle before time runs out, or marry the man of our dreams. 

In Lord of the Rings, the prize was getting the ring to the fires of Mordor.  In Pride and Prejudice it was a good marriage with a suitable spouse.

Sometimes the prize starts out to be one thing and turns out to be another.  In Lassie Come Home (a personal favorite of mine when I was a child), the prize seems to be for Joe to get his dog back.  But it turns out to be much more: it's the reuniting of the hearts of a family, and the rejuvenation of an entire town.

Whatever the prize is for your hero, make sure you know it, even if your hero doesn't yet. 

The Journey

All heroes are headed somewhere.  They're not just sitting on their hands while events unfold around them.  They are going somewhere, whether it's a physical journey or an emotional one.  And usually that journey is toward their Prize, whatever that is for them.

In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara's prize was Ashley.  Her emotional journey took her through the Civil War, three marriages, the death of two husbands, childbirth, the death of her daughter, and a relationship with the unforgettable Rhett Butler.  And how did her journey end?  With the realization that her actual prize was Rhett himself. 

Sometimes a journey is both physical and emotional.  In that case, each journey has a prize of its own.  For Lassie, the physical journey had only one prize: to be in her usual spot when Joe got out of school.  The prize for her emotional journey was the return to her loving family and, as mentioned above, the return of a town to something of its former glory.

The Great Obstacle

If Frodo and company had just been able to hop into a limo and ride to Mordor in air-conditioned comfort, would we really have lasted through three novels?  Of course not.  And so we have our Great Obstacle, in the power of Sauron, who sent forth many other obstacles to impede the progress of our noble heroes. 

In The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family also faced a multitude of obstacles: lack of money, great distance, the flaws in their own family coalescence, the heartless opportunism of others, and the abject poverty of an entire nation. 

But regardless of whether you're writing a literary masterpiece, a tale of adventure and fantasy, or a simple homespun romance, every story must have a great obstacle.  Sometimes the greatest obstacles are the hero's own character flaws which are preventing him from reaching his goals.
Of all these - the Hero, the Prize, the Journey and the Great Obstacle - is there one that you think is more important than the others?