Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book Review: Descent by Julie Cannon

Caroline Davis and Shannon Roberts are competitors for the world championship of the downhill mountain bike racing tour. They were lovers in high school until Caroline’s father caught them in the act. For ten years, they didn’t see one another, Caroline was racing in the US while Shannon was on the European tour. Now they are competing in the grueling 10-race championship. Each woman knows she’ll retire after the final race. What neither had expected was to realize the feelings they’d had for one another in high school were still alive and well. The various venues of the tour, set on three continents, are the backstop for a story of enduring love.

If you are into bike racing, you’ll love "Descent" by Julie Cannon. If you don’t know anything about bike racing, you’ll learn about this interesting sport. You’ll finish the book with a new respect for the sport and the women who participate in it.

Aside from several editorial gaffes that take the reader out of the story, the writing is repetitive and cliche-ridden. It is saved, though, by the race scenes, and the book ends up being a good, fast read.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Indecision or What's Your Title

“Indecision may or may not be my problem,” according to Jimmy Buffett.

Indecision is Not My Problem

With rare exception, indecision has never been one of my problems. That rare exception being what to title my works in progress.

I told a friend, a published author, that the other day. She laughed herself silly. Then she said that these days, she comes up with the catchiest title she can that is even remotely related to the contents of her book. I thought we all did that, I said. She said she only does it to catch her agent’s eye. After that, it doesn’t matter. Thus far, her agent or publisher has changed every one of her chosen titles.

Lesson Learned

The lesson to be learned from her experience is that, apparently, we authors have little say in what our books are entitled. That being the case, there is no need to agonize over the perfect title.

Saga of “Fraught with Peril”

I had a manuscript entitled Fraught with Peril. I called it that because I could think of no other title. I was, however, never happy with the title. I fretted over that title the entire time I was writing the book. When it was completed, I sent it out to a couple of agents. Rejections came back very quickly. I asked myself if I were an agent and had a query come across my busy desk, would I even bother to read the query about a book with the word “fraught” in it’s title. The answer was no. I would assume it was an overwrought romance too full of cliches, or maybe it was a historical romance that had too many long-ago forgotten words like ‘fraught” in it. What it really was about, however, was murder and mayhem with a romance as a subplot.

After the rejections, I put the book on the virtual shelf because I’d moved on to the next project and had neither the time nor the inclination to work on Fraught. Recently, while I waited to hear from two publishers who had my two latest manuscripts, I pulled Fraught off the shelf and reread it. The plot was still interesting, but there were some obvious areas that needed work. “Hmmmm,” I said to myself. Could I fix this book? I thought I could. A month later, after working on it every day, I had improved the book.

I still had one problem with the manuscript, though. It was still titled, Fraught with Peril. I was still unhappy with the title. I still couldn’t decide on a good enough title. I redid my original query letter. I wrote a synopsis. I read the book again. Still nothing came to me.

Inspiration Strikes

One morning, as I strolled around a park with my dogs, hoping for inspiration, it came to me. As I stood watching a hawk watching my two dogs. I was sure the hawk was thinking the smaller of the two dogs would make a tasty snack. That’s when inspiration struck. I had a new title for the book. I could finally toss out the Fraught with Peril title and replace it. Three years after completing the book, I corrected my query letter. I corrected the synopsis. I began the querying process.

When I’m Told What the Real Title Is

I’ll let you know if changing the title helped get the book published or whether the titles we choose for our books remain a “working” title and agents barely notice it, and it won’t have a real title until the agent/editor/publisher tell me what it is.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review: Rum Spring by Yolanda Wallace

Dylan Mahoney and Rebecca Lapp have been friends forever. That’s where their similarities end. Rebecca is Amish, Dylan is not. Dylan is gay, Rebecca is not and knows she’ll marry a local boy and have kids. Dylan is a film buff, Rebecca has never seen a film in her life. When Rebecca’s rumspringa, a four-year period when Amish teenagers determine whether they want to join the church or live in the “outside world,” comes around Rebecca agrees to spend weekends with Dylan and her parents. Dylan confesses her love to Rebecca, who can’t reciprocate. Dylan vows to convince Rebecca to give up her religion, her family, and her life in order to be with her. Rebecca chooses her family and her religion over Dylan, who then must get on with her life.

Unfortunately, Dylan seems unable to think about anything but what she wants. She doesn’t show any empathy for how hard it must be for Rebecca to choose between her family and religion to choose Dylan.

The book spans several years and the jumps between times were sometimes jarring taking a paragraph or two to realize we’d time traveled. Wallace tells us that Rebecca is conflicted about Dylan and what she wants, but the reader doesn’t “feel” it. In another context, Dylan would be seen as a bully or a control freak - wanting what she wants and expecting the object of her desire to succumb. The reader is told that Dylan loves Rebecca from an early age, but, at times, she seems a tad too obsessed with being with Rebecca. Wallace doesn’t give either character any depth, nevertheless each character is likable and the reader roots for each to make the right decision for her.

If you are fascinated by the Amish lifestyle, this book might be a good addition to your collection. If you want a story about young love thwarted, but winning out in the end, you’ll enjoy this book.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom #7 - Overcoming Fear

Tux, my intrepid stalker of bunnies and ducks, dachshunds and fallen tree boughs, squirrels and blowing bits of paper has finally met his match. He has been cowed by - wait for it - a smoke detector with dying batteries.

When the smoke detector first chirped, we all sat straight up in bed (it’s was after 1:00 a.m.). Since then, the detector has only chirped, for the most part, between 10:30 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. We can’t get it to stop because we can’t get the cover off the *&)%$ thing because we’re too short to see where the cover release button is despite being on a step stool. That was three days ago.

Now, when the detector screams at us, Tux runs to my side and begins to quiver. At first, I thought it was because of the freezing cold outside. It quickly became clear, however, that the chirping smoke alarm had him in its thrall. So the great black and white and brown hunter has been bested by the screaming smoke detector.

Lesson to be learned here? No matter how brave you are, there will always be something that will scare you enough to reduce you to a quivering mass of Momma’s boy (or girl).

It is what you do with your fear that determines whether you’ll be defeated or be triumphant. If your fear forces you to do things you swore you’d never do or keeps you from doing the things you want to do, it wins. If the fear forces you to do something you never thought about doing or that you thought you couldn’t do, you win. If you let it dominate your life and turn you into a quivering mass of inertia, it wins. If you overcome the fear, you win.

Let the person, thing, or event that scares you become a character in the book you’re writing. By writing about it, you’ll hopefully find that it becomes less frightening and more of a challenge to be overcome. The latter may take a while - a few days, weeks, months, or even years - before it is conquered, but you’ll wake up one morning and know that you no longer need to write about it because its no longer scary evil. In some cases, if it’s a person who has had you scared to act, that person has become pathetic in her/his need to dominate and control. That person becomes the perfect villain in your books. You win.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Review: Beacon of Love by Ann Roberts

Stephanie and Paula were inseparable best friends from grade school through high school. Then Paula wanted to take their friendship to the next level and Stephanie couldn’t. After graduation, they went their separate ways. Twenty-five years later, Stephanie has returned to their hometown, leaving her 18-year-old son and cheating husband in Phoenix. Paula returns to town when her mother, Francine, dies. The two women, who have not forgotten, are reunited at Francine’s funeral. Each woman must deal with loss and new passion. When Stephanie’s husband appears demanding that she return to him or he will expose her as a lesbian, Stephanie must make a decision that will not only affect her life, but Paula’s as well.

Roberts has written a multi-layered book that twists and turns like a mountain road. Each chapter has a new - and unexpected - revelation that will keep the reader turning pages to find out not only what the author will reveal next, but what the characters will do with the new information. None of the revelations are contrived or convenient, all make sense within the context of the story.

This is a well written book about love, loss, redemption, and parenthood. Rivers intertwines her characters like a helix and slowly unveils the truth about each one. For instance, Debbie, Stephanie’s mother, continues to embarrass her daughter at every turn just as she did when Stephanie was growing up. In the capable hands of Roberts, Debbie, like the other characters, is a complicated character who, in the end, is revealed to be flawed, yes, but also deeper than what she appears to be on the surface.

Roberts doesn’t waste words in her writing. She uses words wisely to reveal her characters and her story. For instance, she writes, “The greedy monster that was time ate up their friendship . . . .” This image of time as a “greedy monster” reveals so much about friendship in general and the friendship of Stephanie and Paula. Nicely done.

This is one of those books that sneaks up on the reader. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, it doesn’t shout at you, nor does it hit you over the head. It is, however, well written and in a quiet way, the characters and their story will stay with you long after you finish the book and put it aside.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Writers' Forbidden Words

A few months ago, I read an article that listed the words that we writers were forbidden to use. After that, I kept stumbling over other lists. The same words kept popping up the various lists. I kept wondering how one could write an 80,000+ word novel and not use some of those words. I’ve listed the words we’re not supposed to use below. One so-called expert even has said that the word “the” should be deleted.


In a 1995 article entitled “Writerisms and Other Sins,” CJ Cherryh called the following verbs “dead” and “colorless”

  • walked
  • turned
  • crossed
  • run, ran
  • go, went, gone
  • leave, left
  • have, had
  • get, got


Some “experts” really hate adverbs. These adverbs appeared on many people’s lists:

  • absolutely
  • actually
  • also
  • always
  • anxiously
  • completely
  • constantly
  • continually
  • continuously
  • eagerly
  • finally
  • frequently
  • hopefully
  • incredibly
  • ironically
  • just
  • literally
  • merely
  • nearly
  • never
  • not
  • now
  • often
  • really
  • so
  • that
  • then
  • totally
  • unfortunately
  • very

More Pesky Verbs

  • believe
  • feel
  • locate
  • need
  • seem


  • about
  • all
  • almost
  • always
  • amazing
  • any
  • big
  • every
  • just
  • short
  • small
  • smart
  • tall
  • wonderful

Our Favorite "Bad" Words

Sometimes, we writers consciously or more often, unconsciously use the same words over and over. I tend to like “just” and use it just as often as I can during the first draft. It’s during the first edit that I start deleting it. By the third edit, the word has been purged from the manuscript.

Which of the words listed above do you tend to use over and over in a manuscript? How do you get rid of them? Or do you?

How do you get around not using these words? Or do you even try? Some people keep a thesaurus near the keyboard. Others will sit and stare into space until an alternative word comes to them. While others wait until what they hope will be the final edit to begin weeding the offensive words out of their manuscript.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Review: Desire by Starlight - Radclyffe

Jenna Hardy, who is best-selling romance writer Cassandra Hart, has managed to overcome a childhood full of abuse and poverty. She has life under control, with no intention of letting go of the reins. In the middle of a signing tour, however, her life begins to spin out of control. After a fainting episode, she is told by an ER doctor that she must reduce her stress, begin to eat more than junk food and caffein, and slow down.

Gardner Davis, coroner and veterinarian in rural Vermont, calls Jenna to tell her that a distant relative has died and Jenna is the dead woman’s only heir. Reluctantly, Jenna agrees to go to Little Falls to deal with her relative’s estate. Jenna feels the tug of attraction for the handsome vet who is hiding a past that nearly destroyed her. While she is in the small town, Jenna reluctantly begins to see her life for what it is and what it isn’t. Gard, like Jenna, thinks she has her life under control.

Both women have told themselves so often that they don’t need anyone in their lives that they’ve come to believe it - right up to the point in time when they meet.

Little does Jenna know that a trip to a small town will change her life, and Gard’s, in unimaginable ways.

Radclyffe spins a tale of discovery and, of course, romance. Fans of Radclyffe won’t be disappointed by this outing - there is romance and lots of sex. However, the storyline of two strong women discovering what life has to offer, that change isn’t always awful, and that letting someone in isn’t always a disaster is diminished by the emphasis on the love scenes, which are plentiful, explicit, and seem to overwhelm the story. Radclyffe is a strong writer and her characters are, as always, interesting.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thief of Time

“The greatest thief this world ever produced is procrastination, and he is still at large.” - Josh Billings. Henry Wheeler Shaw, also known as Josh Billings, was a nineteenth century humorist and writer who was overshadowed by his rival, Mark Twain.

As writers, we often let the thief called procrastination steal from us. There are times when anything is more important, even washing the car or, God forbid, housework, than sitting down in front of our computer and writing. There are a thousand and one things we can think of that need doing rather than writing. By the end of the day, though, we realize that the thief has not only stolen our time, but our words and voice as well.

Keeping the Thief at Bay

How do we keep the thief at bay? The honest answer is that we don’t. There will always be days when everything - indeed, anything - seems more important than writing. Sometimes that’s even true. We may need a break every once in a while to renew our creativity, to solve a plotting dilemma, or simply do a bit of retail therapy. Taking a break is only a problem if we do it too often for too long.

Since writing is a solitary activity, it can sometimes be highly frustrating, too. If you can’t figure out what to do in your day job, you can ask a co-worker. If you get stuck while you’re writing, you have no one to rely on but yourself particularly if it’s one a.m. on a week night.

Reading to Thwart the Thief

There are ways, though, to get through some of these tough periods. Reading is a good one. Nearly everyone who considers themselves an “expert” on the writing life will tell us to read as much and as diversely as possible. Read not only in your own genre but in genres you’ve never considered before. I, for instance, am reading a steampunk novel and am enjoying it tremendously. But for writing, I don’t think I’d ever have picked up a book in this genre.

Writers’ Groups Stave off the Thief

Another way to deal with the wily thief is to join a writers’ group. There’s bound to be one near you. It could be a writers’ guild or think about the local chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Yes, romance writers. You may never have read a romance novel in your life and may never ever read one, but the women, and yes, men, who write romance are dedicated writers who produce worthy products. And, in case you haven’t heard, romance books are keeping the publishing world afloat in these tough economic times. Don’t rule them out as a source of inspiration, help, and understanding.

If you live where there are no writing groups, join an online group. Nearly as effective as a “live” group, a quick Google or Bing search for your genre will net you groups from which to choose. Join one. Get involved. Learn. Laugh. Know that you are not alone.

Creatively Overcome the Intrepid Thief

Finally, use some of that creativity that brought you to the blank page in the first place to figure out how to overcome the thief. Perhaps taking a ten minute mini-break to fix a cup of tea will work for you. Other ways to break the procrastination cycle might be

  • Stand in your back yard and see what’s new. If you don’t have a back yard, stand on your front stoop and look around your block, what do you see?
  • Take a walk. If you’ve got a dog, he/she will love you for it.
  • Go to a park, large or small, it doesn’t matter. Soak up some of the peace to be found there, listen to the sounds all around, from the birds in the trees to the creatures in the undergrowth.
  • Visit a garden and smell the flowers.
  • Go to an art museum, a library, or science museum.

These are the kinds of activities that will free your mind and you may even find the solution to your plotting problems without even thinking about it.