Archive for July, 2009

30
Jul

Book Review: ‘Lady of Milkweed Manor’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

Lady of Milkweed Manor – Julie Klassen (Historical Fiction)

This is definitely not my usual kind of ‘historical fiction’… regency ladies in their poufy dresses, ‘proper’ speech & mannerisms, etc… but there I was at the bookstore spending the church budget on new books for the library, and the woman ringing me up at the till saw that I had this book & the author’s next one in the stack, and promptly began gushing about them. She was so enthusiastic about this author that I found myself saying “well, I guess I’ll have to try them” and agreeing to come back and let her know what I thought. Well, since that’s the only Christian bookstore in town, and I still have more cash in the library budget, I figured it would be awfully hard to avoid her… and I just knew I’d feel guilty if she asked me what I thought and I had to admit I wasn’t really interested in reading the books after all. Especially when she was so excited about them… so, when I got home, I picked up Lady of Milkweed Manor and began reading… and read some more… and kept reading… and finally had to go to bed. The next morning, I… uh… didn’t start work until I’d sat down and finished reading the book. Oops.

“Huh,” I thought, “Guess it was worth my time after all…” And so, I’ve placed the second book on the TBR list. I won’t say a whole lot more about it – I don’t want to give the plot away, but if you’re interested, there are several good reviews on LT that give a bit more detail. I was glad I read it without knowing anything about the plot, probably since I might not have bothered otherwise. It was a pleasant surprise, and very well written for a first novel.

And I’ll admit it… I was actually bawling my eyes out near the end (and I think mumbling “no, no, NO!” as I read), when the author made me think something was going to happen/had happened that actually didn’t. My goodness… skillfully done. Recommended, even to those who don’t usually like this kind of regency-style historical fiction. Guess I learned a little something about my literary tastes with this one!

Rating: 4 coffees out of 5

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28
Jul

“OooOOOooh!”

   Posted by: Faith    in Everything Else

Yesterday, I was catching up on my Google reader feed, and happened to come across a post written a few days ago by Susan at Notes from Innisfree. To my surprise, I was one of her chosen recipients of the ‘Superior Scribbler Award’, a sort of “blog-style chain letter award” that’s been going around lately.

The blog award rules are as follows:

  1. Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
  2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to this post, which explains The Award.
  4. Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Thank you Susan!!! I’m honored… especially when I’m such a new face (is that the right way of putting it?) on the blog scene. Not that I’m new to blogging, I’ve been doing this for awhile… but it wasn’t until recently that I decided to connect with other bloggers on a regular basis. Heck, I only set up an RSS reader a few weeks ago (the horrors! I know!). Pretty bizarre for someone who spends the majority of their day on the computer, isn’t it?

And so, I come to what should be my next step with The Award, passing it on to others. Okay, let’s see… nope, she already has it… how about… oh, she already has it too… maybe… nope… oh, crud. Looks like nearly everyone I follow already has this award?!? What does this say about my blog reading choices? Lol. Like I said, I’m new to this game…

Ah hah! I’ve found a few that I’d like to pass this on to.

  • Amy Jane @ Untangling Tales. Amy Jane blogs about writing, books, life, and the stories she’s working on. Her posts are calm, fluid, and engaging.
  • Kari @ Imperfect Clarity: Perceptions of a Wannabe Writer. Kari blogs about writing, posts interviews with authors, and has the occasional contest! Her posts are honest and entertaining.
  • thekoolaidmom @ In the Shadow of Mt. TBR. Book reviews, funny posts & videos, and the occasional giveaway! Lots of extras at this blog make it a fun place to be.
  • Susan @ Susan’s Multiply website/blog. Susan is a wonderful, warm woman who I met on Librarything.com. She posts her reading lists, thoughts on life, and anything else that strikes her fancy. She also has some beautiful photographs of her home, cats, and places around Romania!

And those are my choices! Hope you enjoy reading these blogs, and thanks again to Susan for bestowing the honor on me & my little corner of the Interweb.

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26
Jul

Book Review: ‘Nine Ways God Always Speaks’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

Nine Ways God Always Speaks – Mark Herringshaw & Jennifer Schuchmann (Christian Living)

This was an ER book from LibraryThing, and I admit I was a bit skeptical when it came. I sometimes enjoy reading somewhat-fluffy Christian non-fiction (let’s face it – there’s a lot of it out there, and the majority is crap), but I wasn’t sure what to expect from these authors. Tyndale Publishers is usually fairly trustworthy, however, so I plunged ahead.

You may read from other reviewers that it was too ‘trite’, ‘scripturally unsound’, ‘juvenile’, and so forth. Alright, I see where that comes from. The language of the book was not academic, and the authors frequently took stories from Scripture and tried to re-tell them in modern words (ie. the angel coming to Mary). Now, I understand that some people might take issue with the authors trying to get their point across by saying Mary ‘heard voices’ instead of emphasizing the angel… but I think what they were trying to do is give the perspective of someone who might have heard Mary trying to explain why she was pregnant and unwed. I don’t doubt plenty of people thought she was crazy and hearing voices. Make sense? Some anecdotes like this were perhaps not expanded upon enough to get back to the original sense of the text, but I can see where the authors were coming from.

That said, this was clearly not intended to be an academic text. The ‘juvenile’ tone (or, I might say, friendly and contemporary) of the book indicates that it is aiming to appeal to the everyday person who wonders if they’re hearing God, or if God can really speak to someone today. This isn’t a book for pastors, or professors, or theologians, or even Bible college students. This is a book for the average individual who has genuine questions about God’s voice. So, of course the authors aren’t going to take a ‘higher tone’ with their writing. Of course they’re going to ‘dumb it down’ a bit, because the point is in the core message of the text: God speaks, and here are some different ways he’s done so throughout history.

The majority of the book is anecdotal, using stories from history, Scripture, the authors’ own experiences, and the experiences of others that they’ve heard on speaking tours/at conferences/through emails to them/etc. Then they expand on how God spoke in that story. And you know what? I really appreciated that the authors didn’t discount any method, in the sense that God can use any situation to His advantage to get His point across.

Yes, the book was written for hoi polloi. But that’s just it: God can speak to anyone, at any time, for any reason… and that’s a message that the everyday individual – perhaps more than a pastor, or a teacher – needs to hear.

Rating: 3 coffees out of 5

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24
Jul

Taking Risks

   Posted by: Faith    in Creating Coldcuts

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it means to take more risks with my writing. I feel that I need to branch out, dive deep, and search the inner recesses of my psyche… I want to create stories that have purpose, writing that has meaning, ideas that comb the murky depths and make my readers gasp in horror, awe, delight, and disblief. I want readers to think, “how could she write something like that?” while being compelled to turn the next page.

We’ve all read books like that. Those are the stories that we read and wonder how an author could put those words on the page without crumbling into a million pieces, or without falling prey to the dark void. The plot twists are unimaginable, the villains are truly evil, and the situations, setting, and action are all reflective of a realistic, very human, very harsh, very scrutinous look at the world.

I am a pessimist by nature. For years, I looked out at the world with darkened eyes, seeing little that brought me true joy. This should have enabled me to create those riskier concepts that could have propelled my work forward, but at the time, I wasn’t ready to take my writing seriously. Many changes over the past few years, while not re-wiring my brain to negate the pessimistic outlook, have caused me to look at things differently. It takes work, but I try to see the good in people, places, situations, and circumstances.

Unfortunately, this has affected my creativity. How do I revert to that darker, riskier way of looking at the world? How can I make conflict real, how can I make my villains real, without it? I need to take more risks with my writing, but I don’t know how.

I found an article about risk-taking in writing by Judy Reeve, posted on her website, and I encourage you to head over there and read the whole thing (along with plenty more useful articles on the writing process!). For now, I want to share a few paragraphs that really spoke to what I’m trying to figure out for myself:


“If you’re not willing to take risks, chances are your writing will be bland, shallow and boring. Even to yourself.

So, what does it mean, taking risks in your writing?

This is where you move out of safe, familiar territory, into something that feels a little dangerous. Risk-taking differs from individual to individual, so it’s difficult to say exactly what “taking risks” means. One writer’s risk is another’s walk in the woods. And another writer’s walk in the woods feels damned risky to a third.

Following are some of the ways it might feel when you are taking risks in your writing: Maybe your hands tremble and your handwriting gets a little out of control. Maybe while you’re writing, your breathing becomes shallow. Or you stop breathing completely. Sometimes you can tell when you’re taking risks because this is where the censor will step in: “Hey, you can’t write that.” Or the critic: “That’s certainly not a nice thing to write.” Or the editor: “You might want to be a little less specific there, maybe use words that aren’t quite so… well, graphic.” Hearing these voices can almost guarantee you’re working in risky territory.

You may stop writing what you’re working on, or it may deviate off into some safer territory, meaningless details or worse, generalities. You may feel restless and want something – a cup of coffee, a cigarette (and you don’t even smoke), something to eat, anything to alter the direction of the writing and the way you feel.

Taking risks means telling the truth, whatever your truth is.”

How do you take risks in your daily writing? How do you find the strength to “tell the truth”, and how does it make you feel during the process?

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22
Jul

*facepalm*

   Posted by: Faith    in Everything Else

My deepest, humblest apologies to those of you who have stopped by my blog, taken precious time out of your day to read & comment on posts, and then found that your comment never showed up, even several days later.

It turns out that ALL comments since November have been rerouted into the spam folder, for no logical reason that I can currently comprehend. I’m doing my best to figure out and fix the problem, but until then, I promise to spend at least 15 minutes per day sorting through the spam comments and finding YOURS, and approving them to post. I found a number of them today, and have replied to as many as I could.

Again, I apologize. I had no idea this was happening, and I didn’t catch it until today. I really am very grateful for all your visits and comments, and I hope that this won’t deter you from coming back in the future. I’ll do everything I possibly can to approve all comments at the end of each day (at least)… and hopefully get the filter fixed in the meantime!!!

Thanks so much for stopping by.

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Wesley the Owl – Stacey O’Brien (Nature/Science)

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Several people told me this book was amazing, and I’d even read about it months before that and thought it looked interesting, but nothing, and I do mean nothing, prepared me for how much I would learn and be awed by in this book. Every single page taught me some other incredible thing about barn owls (which I promptly shared with whoever was closest to me – I think my husband is sick of barn owl stories at this point, hah!), and although I don’t entirely buy all of O’Brien’s philosophical speculation in the final chapters, by the end of this book (and Wesley’s life – and that’s not a spoiler, because all animal books have this at the end) I was bawling like a baby: Out of emotional attachment to the owl I’d just read about, out of a deep sense of loss for the author who’d spent 19 years with this remarkable creature, and out of a sense of amazement and wonder toward one of this earth’s creatures that I would have otherwise simply taken for granted.

I strongly believe that many people have lost their sense of connection with animals and nature, and take these things for granted. There is an intelligence and personality in so many animals that we interact with or see from afar, on a daily basis, and we think nothing of their presence in our lives. The story of Wesley the owl, and how he learned – interacted – changed – developed – LOVED – and connected with the world around him is truly stunning. You will never look at birds, owls in particular, the same way again, and I hope that this book will help others reconnect with that childlike sense of amazement of the natural world around us.

Rating: 5 coffees out of 5

Exploring the Old Testament – Volume 1: A Guide to the Pentateuch – Gordon Wenham (Biblical Studies/History)

I had to read this for a course I was taking on the Pentateuch, and for once… it was actually quite an enjoyable textbook! Wenham breaks down the various aspects of each book in the Pentateuch without dwelling on minute details that bog down so many other commentaries & explorations of these first five books. He also included comparative historical detail, with reference to outside ancient literary works, and also made mention of archaeological controversies over various elements found within the text. All in all, an excellent guide to the Pentateuch for someone looking to do an overview of these five important and influential ancient scriptures.

Rating: 3.5 coffees out of 5

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20
Jul

Jumping on the Bandwagon

   Posted by: Faith    in Everything Else

Have you heard? Been reading your copy of ‘Shelf Awareness’ e-newsletter every morning, if you’re a librarian or bookseller? Done a Google search for YA publishers lately?

If you haven’t kept up with what’s going on, it’s pretty big news: Harlequin is jumping on the YA bandwagon with a new imprint, called Harlequin Teen. The website isn’t complete yet, and there are only 3 titles officially announced so far, but this is big stuff. With the popularity of teen/young adult fiction, I suppose it was only a matter of time before everyone jumped on the bandwagon… and for ‘unagented’ authors like myself, a new imprint such as this is a hynotizing, flashing neon sign.

Before you jump out of your seat in outrage, thinking of all the horrible possibilities for teen-directed Harlequin romances, I’ll remind you that in the past decade, Harlequin has branched out create a new image. Yes, they still sell smut, but they also have imprints for Christian romance, fantasy/paranormal fiction, chick lit, historical romance, and now… teen fiction.

For this imprint, they’re looking for:

“Fresh, authentic teen fiction featuring extraordinary characters and extraordinary stories set in contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, science-fiction and historical worlds.”

Hmm. Interesting. The first book in the imprint comes out July 29th, called My Soul to Take, about a teenage bean sidhe (ie. banshee). Now that sounds like an interesting concept! (I wish I’d thought of it… hrrmph.) To help promote this first novel, the author is offering an 80-page e-book prequel for free on the book’s website – which I plan to read. If it’s not half bad, I plan to pick up the book when it’s released, and see how that is. If it’s not half bad as well, I plan to wait for the August & September releases, read those, and see what they’re like.

The good thing about Harlequin imprints is that they take unsolicited manuscripts, and many a writer has begun their career with Harlequin. In the past, that’s meant writing smut and moving upward, but thanks to their new imprints, that isn’t always the case…

Then again, it’s still a publisher known for the “romances” it publishes. Would I be comfortable, morally speaking, being published by a place like this? That’s a question only I can answer for myself (and you for yourself), but it’s something worth considering in the process.

At the very least, it’s a new opportunity to think about, pray about, and examine carefully. Many changes in the publishing industry have recently been viewed as negative – small presses closing, imprints shutting down – and it’s easy to forget all the new and exciting things that are happening. This could be one of them! And I, for one, will be watching closely.

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Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones (Children’s Fiction)

This was the first book I’ve ever read by Wynne Jones, and I can gladly say that it won’t be the last. That doesn’t mean I loved the book, however… in fact, I found that it dragged in a few places, and I had a hard time liking the main characters at first. After awhile, they grew on me, and I finished the book thinking “that was pretty good, I’d like another, please” – so I’ll give her another go and see how it is. I might even track down the film that was made based on this book…  I hear it’s actually quite good!

Rating: 3 coffees out of 5

Stupid American History – Leland Gregory (History/Humor)

I received this book through the LT Early Reviewer’s program, and… well… at least it wasn’t a lengthy read. At best, it’s bathroom reading material, but beyond that…? The humor isn’t all that funny, and the “stupid history” anecdotes aren’t always stupid. It was mediocre, mildly entertaining at times, and thoroughly frustrating to someone who is used to reading books that actually reference their source material.

Yes, that’s right. Gregory provides absolutely zero references for his ‘history’ book, which – even in a popular history, bite-sized information style book – is incomprehensible, not to mention just plain sloppy and ignorant. Even the Uncle Joe’s Bathroom Reader series provides references for most of the material in it. If you don’t source, how can we know that you’re telling us the truth? What if someone wants to read more about a certain ‘historical anecdote’, how will they know where to start looking for the so-called ‘truth’ that Gregory reveals?

That – plus a completely illogical way of organizing the anecdotes (ie. there was no organization) – made this ER book more frustrating than fun. Stupid American History is right.

Rating: 1.5 coffees out of 5

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16
Jul

Speak Up!

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

In a previous post, I mentioned the issue of writers as speakers. Let’s face it: If you’re an author, you’re going to be doing public speaking, whether you like it or not. No question. It could be a lecture, a book reading, an interview, or a sales pitch – but public speaking is going to become your new best friend.

Why?

Because public speaking sells books. Public speaking generates awareness about your topic (if it’s non-fiction) or interest in your material (if it’s fiction). Public speaking improves your platform as an author, and that’s really what it’s all about these days. Unfortunately, most writers tend to run screaming at the thought of standing up and talking… all alone… in front of hundreds of people. I know what you’re thinking: Can’t someone else read it for me? Why can’t I just write the speech and then have someone else say it? Writers don’t want to talk to people for real, that’s why they’re writers!!!

Not in today’s publishing industry, sorry to say. You may be a writer first, but you’re a speaker second. And in order to be an effective speaker, you need to learn a thing or two about becoming a dynamic public speaker. Again, you ask: Why? What’s the point?

If you can’t learn to be an engaging and exciting public speaker… who’s going to stick around to listen? Do you think anyone will want to buy your book if you stare at your page, speak in monotone, and fumble over every second word? I’m sorry, but your audience members are going to start staring at their watches and daydreaming about the evening’s dinner plans. Of course, you won’t notice – your eyes are glued to the page.

What does it take to become an effective public speaker? David Malasarn over at The Literary Lab wrote an excellent blog post a few days ago dealing with this exact topic, pertaining in particular to book readings. In my experience, even the best book ever written can become boring and lifeless when read by someone who looks and feels uncomfortable in front of an audience. Here are a few little techniques I employ when speaking (or, reading out loud) to an audience:

  • Make eye contact.

From the moment you step behind that microphone, to the time you step off the platform, you need to make eye contact with your audience. I would say that the most important moments for this are: right BEFORE you speak, and as SOON as you finish. When you step up to the microphone, gaze over your audience. Smile. Look people in the eye. Introduce yourself & the work/passage you’re reading while looking at the audience. If you absolutely cannot look at individual people, train your eyes to look just above their heads, but just – it will still look like you’re addressing the audience, but too far overhead will make them wonder what’s on the ceiling that happens to be so interesting…

At the end of your reading, look up! Say “thank you” to the audience (not to the ceiling, or the paper in front of you, smile (yes, again!!!), and then step down.

What about while you’re reading? I’m trying to suggest baby steps here, but honestly, you should be looking up at your audience while you’re reading. Presumably you’ve practiced your reading enough times to know it fairly well, so that you don’t have to read word for word off the page. Looking up and making eye contact with audience members is one of the author’s most powerful tools when speaking. You’ll be able to see if people are interested, if they’re having trouble following, if they’re on the edge of their seats… and even if your story is crud, if you gave a dynamic reading, guess what? They’ll probably still buy your book. You’re selling a product. Make it exciting, even if it isn’t.

  • Intonation makes or breaks your reading.

If you read your passage entirely in monotone, you’ll lose at least 50% of your audience (but I’m guessing far more) within the first ten minutes. People’s attention spans, regardless of how exciting you are, tend to wander around 35 minutes into a speaker’s presentation, so you can imagine how quickly a boring speaking will lose his or her audience. Make it exciting! Get loud with the action, quiet with chilling suspense, alter how quickly or slowly you read according to the needs of the text. You don’t need to do accents or voices – in some cases, this might just annoy people (think of a few audiobooks you’ve tried to listen to lately… yeah, exactly). But give your story life in real time! The more invested you are in the reading as a speaker, the more invested your audience will be. And guess what happens then? That’s right: They buy your book.

  • Slow down.

Practice before you get there. Read over your piece once, twice, a hundred times, until you know it inside out and can get through it without stumbling. And then? Once you’re up in front of that microphone, smiling at your audience, first sentence ready to roll off your tongue? Take a deep breath… and read. Slowly. No, slower than that… almost, almost… are you hitting every syllable (within reason, of course)? If you start to trip over words, you’re reading far, far too quickly and will lose your audience. Look at a nearby clock. Did you have 15 minutes slotted, and you’re already halfway through the piece after 5 minutes? You’re still too fast. You need to read at a pace that is too slow to your own ears. Don’t be ridiculous about it – no one likes a speaker who drones on forever – but the correct pace, the perfect pace, will seem far too slow to you at first. Get used to it. The best way to do that? More public speaking!

If you’re a competent writer but an incompetent public speaker, you’re going to find yourself struggling within this industry, especially in today’s market where the author is required to push 50-60% of her own books. You do that by getting out into the community, talking to others, and using your platform to build your profile to the point where people want to read your books. Public speaking is perhaps the most crucial way to do this, but if you don’t get it right… you’ll find your efforts do more harm than good.

Who knows… after a few tries, you might actually enjoy it!

***

Question: What has your experience been with public speaking? Do you enjoy it? Is it your worst fear? What steps have you taken to conquer your fear, and what are your tips for others who are still trying to overcome it?

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14
Jul

Book Review: ‘Potatoes Not Prozac’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

Potatoes Not Prozac – Kathleen DesMaisons (Health/Self-Help)

This book was recommended to me by a friend who knows all about my ridiculous mood swings and occasional lapses into mild depression. I’d been wondering for some time if they were being triggered (or perhaps just worsened) by the food I was eating, so I wondered if changing my eating habits would make a difference. The first few pages of this book described my symptoms perfectly… and I realized that, without a doubt, I am what is called a “sugar-sensitive” individual. Mmm… oh dear, even thinking about sugary foods is making my mouth water right now… okay, okay, book review. Stay focused.

So, the premise of this book is not to be a “diet book”, but to change your eating habits so that your blood sugar is stabilized, your seratonin doesn’t spike and drop (which can cause a lot of problems in mood, energy, etc), and your sugar cravings are controlled. Apparently she’s done quite a bit of research into sugar sensitivity and actually uses the program she’s described in this book to help alcoholics become 100% reformed (is that the right word?). Apparently 90% (or some crazy stat like that) of the people she’s treated never have a relapse, as compared to only 20% in a typical AAA program. But anyway, that wasn’t why I was reading this, just thought I’d mention it because it was interesting. Also, apparently this system is excellent for weight loss, because it reduces cravings and offers healthier alternatives for those times when you really just need to eat something. Again, not why I was reading the book, but my friend read it looking for some weight/health suggestions – and she was very pleased with what she read – and I believe has implemented some things mentioned in the book.

The title itself, “Potatoes Not Prozac” really just refers to a concept DesMaisons introduces in her final step of the book (I believe there are 7 steps), which involves eating a potato before you go to bed. The idea is that potatoes are nature’s perfect food, and eating one before sleeping will release regular amounts of seratonin while you sleep, helping you feel better and wake up refreshed. This part of the book was really the only thing I took issue with, because I heard from another doctor (on a radio program) that there is no scientific proof that this kind of thing has any effect whatsoever. I also mentioned the concept to a medical student, who laughed… so, while I can’t recommend eating a potato before bed (who knows, maybe it does work for some people?), I would recommend reading this book if you think you might be sugar sensitive and are looking for change/improve your diet.

That said, it doesn’t mean that I’ll be giving up ice cream or cake anytime soon. It just means that I’m going to be more aware of the effect that sugar has on me (ie. just thinking about walking through a bakery makes me salivate) and can make wiser choices according to my food “needs” and “wants”.

Rating: 3 coffees out of 5

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