Encourage Each Other…

The title of this post comes from the Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the church at Thessalonica: “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (5:11, NLT). I’ve just been greatly encouraged by someone I had the privilege of encouraging, so wanted to share with you.

I first became aware of DJ Edwardson’s work because he “liked” my review of Sinclair Ferguson’s very helpful book, John Owen on the Christian Life on Goodreads. This is not something you see every day, so naturally I looked at DJ’s profile and was pleased to discover he writes speculative fiction (which I love and aspire to write myself).  I read a couple of his short stories and appreciated them very much. Then I read his first fantasy novel, The Last Motley, which I loved and recommend. We ended up messaging about writing and books, and long story short: I sent him a link to my portal fantasy/allegory mashup Dragon Slave.

Although I was a complete unknown and don’t have many reviews, DJ took a chance and actually read it. Turns out he loved it and wrote a wonderful review.

I am so encouraged by his interest – especially because his response demonstrates God’s favorable answer to the prayer I prayed throughout the ten years I spent writing the book: that God would grant me the wisdom to represent Him faithfully, and that the result would encourage other believers (in a way similar to how much of C.S. Lewis’s work has encouraged me).

How kind of God to have allowed me to finish and publish a work that actually has encouraged another traveler on the Road to the Kingdom of Light! I don’t deserve the privilege, but I’m very grateful for it.

 

NEW! Review Page

I’ve just published a new page called “Reviews,” which lists the names of some of my favorite indie/small pub house authors, and links to some of the reviews I’ve published about their work on Goodreads.

I don’t intend to try to create an exhaustive list of all reviews I’ve written (as that is available on my Goodreads shelf, if you’re interested) – but thought it would be fun to hit some highlights!

COMING SOON (Lord willing!): Another new page called “FREE,” featuring (you guessed it!) free stories you can download at your leisure! This will be a modest effort at first (as it will take time to write a back catalogue!), and I have a bit more work to do to prepare, but I’m hoping to launch FREE sometime in March (again, Deo Volente!).

 

2019 Work in Progress

The last time I wrote a post like this (one year ago) I ended up developing health issues that prevented me from going forward with anything at all!  So I feel some trepidation about writing another WIP post. (Not sure if this is some latent superstitious quirk or not!)

At any rate, my goal at the moment is to write the third story in my World of Wonders Collection (this one is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty). I’ve outlined most of it and have a pretty good idea of what I want to do with it.

Beyond that – I’d like to be able to finish my retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses (which I think is nearly done).  It was also intended to be part of a series – although a different series.  But we’ll see what 2019 actually holds as the days, weeks, months unfold… and hopefully the Polar Vortex does not!!!

Wishing you all the best as you launch your own endeavors in 2019 in whatever kind of work you’ve been given to do.

Best Read of 2018: The Last Motley

The Last Motley by D.J. Edwardson, available on Amazon.

Despite the unexpected health issues that forced an unplanned hiatus from going online for part of 2018, I was still able to download a number of books! Among the new (to me) titles I read, a few stood out:  in particular, Jack Lewis Baillot’s wonder-filled retelling of Beauty and the Beast/Christmas novella Finding the Magic, Intisar Khanani’s magical fantasy novel Memories of Ash, Ness Kingsley’s zany comedic fantasy quest Our Intrepid Heroine, and Suzannah Rowntree’s novella-length retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, the darkly fantastic The City Beyond the Glass.

The very best story I read in 2018, however, was The Last Motley by D.J. Edwardson. Here’s why:

1)  It is a well-written, classic fantasy quest set in a well-wrought world.  (Check out its page on Goodreads, where it is receiving stellar reviews! Many describe what a good read The Last Motley is in far more erudite prose than I will ever produce.)  If you love this type of story, The Last Motley is well worth the price of admission. The Epilogue alone is one of the most beautiful passages I’ve read in years.

Moreover, the focus of the quest is a child in peril, which is not a scenario this reader is likely to walk away from without seeking resolution! The inherent tension and sense of threat build from the very first chapter – and just at the point where I started to feel I could use some relief….

2) Nagan appears on the scene. He was totally unexpected, and turns out to be one of the funniest characters I’ve encountered in recent books. Many of his lines are LOL hilarious!  I was not expecting this, nor would I have believed so much humor could be woven so seamlessly into a plot that is overshadowed by so many real dangers.

Nagan himself is not immune to these threats – nor is he merely a comedic prop, for his character follows an arc I found myself caring about very much. The author does a masterful job of making comedy and potential tragedy work together in a single multi-layered tale. It just works on every level, and the book is all the richer and more engaging for it!

3) But what elevates this story above the horde of fantasies being published these days is the author’s choice of protagonist: instead of the standard-issue, know-it-all, angsty/callow youth, the protagonist of The Last Motley is a mature man of faith, a devoted husband, and a loving father. In fact, it is his fatherly instinct that makes him peculiarly suited for this particular quest.

Today’s popular culture all too often gleefully depicts fathers as the butt of a cosmic joke, the epitome of idiocy compared with their all-wise progeny. While it is true that many men never live up to their responsibilities to their offspring (choosing instead to bury themselves alive in their careers, or spend most of their free time vegetating in front of a wide screen as gamers or passive media consumers), the unsung heroes of our day are those men who quietly do their duty by their children, shaping their lives in countless positive ways–including their willingness to confess their faults and take steps to correct them.

For all of these reasons, I encourage you to read The Last Motley, and I hope you’ll let me know what you think of it!

Finally, I just want to thank you, D.J. Edwardson, for singing the virtues of flawed but faithful fatherhood in your beautiful story.  I hope you go on to write many more equally edifying and encouraging works!

 

Wonder Mountain Christmas Published!

Wonder Mountain Christmas (my novella-length retelling of Cinderella, featuring some of the same characters you met in Show of Wonders) is now available on Amazon.  You can also view it (and review!) on Goodreads.
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Book description: Min’s childhood in foster care was marked by loneliness, relieved only by her escape into books about the magical worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth. Now that she’s of age, she’s looking for a home in the mountains she’s dreamed of all her life–only to find that working as a server in a luxury ski resort is not only lonely, but thankless and humiliating.

And then, one snowy Christmas Eve, a stranger skis into the bar where Min is working and offers her a strange invitation that could change her life forever–if she has the courage to accept it.

Join Min in this heart-warming Christmas story as she searches for her true family and the home where she belongs!

Special Offer: Wonder Mountain Christmas is only 99 cents through January 6th on Amazon! Merry Christmas to you, and hope you enjoy it!

 

Show of Wonders Published!

At long last, Show of Wonders (my novella-length retelling of Snow White) is available on Amazon. I’ve also created a page for it on Goodreads.
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Book description:  Bianca loves taking care of animals backstage and out of the spotlight for the traveling circus called Show of Wonders. But then an unexpected event causes her to become a reluctant performer under the big top.

As Bianca’s popularity with audiences grows, she threatens to displace the reigning star of the show, a beautiful high-wire walker – who also happens to be Bianca’s stepmother. When Bianca discovers her stepmother’s jealousy won’t stop short of magic-fueled murder, she must rely on her own wits – and the help of some mysterious strangers – to survive.

Show of Wonders is available in e-book format on Amazon. Novella: 72 pages; 20,400 words.

Looking forward to hearing what you think of it!

Thankful to be a Finalist!

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2018 has been the most challenging year of my life due to a series of unforeseen illnesses that literally knocked me off my feet. And offline as well:  I’ve not been able to update this site since February, and I also had to stop beta reading for other indies and reviewing their work. But the most painful loss has been that I haven’t had the strength to write at all until the past week or so.

Before this trial began, however, I was able to submit a story for the Rooglewood Press Five Poisoned Apples writing contest (a collection of Snow White retellings). Although my story, Show of Wonders, was not one of the five winners that Rooglewood will be publishing as a collection (in December), I am thrilled to report that Show was selected as a finalist entry! (You have to scroll down nearly to the end of the list of Finalists to find Show – possibly because I finalized my entry just short of the contest deadline!) Not only that, but the judge awarded Show 49 out of 50 possible points, and said:

“This story was so original and immersive, it made for a great read!” 

Because of the judge’s positive response, I’ve decided to publish Show myself. I’m currently working on a cover, and if I’m able to get that done (meaning, my physical strength holds up and I can relearn the image editing program I haven’t used in more than a year!) I might even be able to get Show out sometime over the long Thanksgiving weekend.

So although of course I was disappointed that Show won’t be published by Rooglewood, at the same time being selected as a finalist has been the most encouraging experience I’ve ever had as a writer. Not only that, but I realize now that if Show had won I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep up with Rooglewood’s editorial deadlines (given my health problems). So in a very real sense, this has been a “best of both worlds” experience.

And I am truly thankful for it!

Next step: Look for another contest to enter in 2019!

 

Why I Read the End First (Finally! Part 2)

Note: I originally intended to publish Part 2 in March 2018, but unexpected illness prevented me from doing so and unfortunately has kept me offline for most of the year. I’m doing a bit better now, so – finally, Part 2!

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In the first part of this two-part post, I confessed to reading the end of most novels immediately after reading Chapter One, and explained the first reason why. In this post I’ll explain Reasons 2 and 3, but before I do, I want to answer a related question: “Do you mean to tell me you read the end of everything first?”

The short answer is: no. The shorter the story, the more likely I am not to read the end, unless I have reason to believe the author is steering into dark and murky waters where I might not want to follow (more about this under Reason 3, below).

For example, I recently discovered DJ Edwardson, a fellow indie speculative fiction writer who, like me, writes from a Christian perspective. At the time of this post, he’s offering two free short stories. Because they’re short I was able to read each in one sitting (although not the same sitting), and so I read both from beginning to end (like a “normal” person!). In the case of one story, in particular, I was very glad I didn’t read the end. (If you’re interested, here are links to my review of “The Spirit of Caledonia,” and also to “The Artificer’s Apprentice.”)

That said, let’s wrap up Reasons 2 and 3:

The Second Reason I Read the End: If I begin reading a novel and find myself enjoying it, I’m sad to say I have very little self-discipline about putting it down and walking away to take care of other things in life. And unfortunately, I’m no longer able to read all night and leap out of bed in the morning to continue on my merry way, clothed and in my right mind. (I suppose I could try to get up in the morning, but the result would be more pitiful than merry!)

Finding myself in the middle of an unresolved plot with no power to reach the resolution as quickly as possible not only feels painful, but interferes with my ability to concentrate on what I should be doing: paying bills, performing life-sustaining chores, listening to my husband…. The best treatment for this condition is to read the end, for it diminishes the pain of having to put aside a book that I don’t have time to immediately finish.  Once I know where the journey is going, I find I’m able to bear the anguish of separation and mentally put the story on hold until I can pick it up again. (I don’t know what I would have done if I’d lived during the Victorian period and had to read Dickens in serial form. I don’t think I would have survived Great Expectations!)

The Third Reason I Read the End: Life is short, and I’m getting older (I won’t say “old,” because I don’t think my folks are amenable to the idea that any child of theirs could be “old”!). So if there’s a way to quickly determine that I’m going to dislike or feel apathetic about where a book is taking me, I’m not going to spend those precious hours making the entire journey to confirm my suspicions. I simply do not have the time.

The wisdom of taking this approach came home to me recently when I read the end of a very popular psychological thriller. Chapter One was interesting, but I wondered where the author was going with the story. So I read the end next, and boy, was I glad I did! The end was not only dark; it was inky black-utterly nightmarish. UGH.

“Inky Black Nightmare” is not a vision I’m interested in pursuing in fiction (either in reading or in writing). There is plenty of real-world “IBN” featured in headlines about endless wars and rumors of wars (between individuals and nations) every day. No need to invent more!

What I’m looking for in fiction is the gleam of light in the midst of darkness. The hint that all is not lost, we can wake up from the nightmare, and when we do, we’ll see that help is on the way. That’s the story I believe, and those are the stories I most want to read.

So there you have the reasons I re-read: it’s a compliment to a story (and its author) if it can survive the dreaded “End-Reading Test” and prove itself re-readable; I read the end for the sake of humanity (mine); and I read the end for the sake of sanity (again, mine).

And now it’s time to log off so I can (you guessed it!) read the end of the last story I downloaded….

Why I Read the End First (Part 1)

It would probably be more accurate to call this post, “Why I Read Chapter One and then Immediately Read the End,” but that doesn’t sound very snappy, does it?

If you’re the sort of person who views the world through a “two types of people” grid (e.g., “There are two types of people in this world: dog people, and cat people”), then you may already know that reading the end is one such polarizing issue. For in my experience, there are two types of people in this world: those who unfailingly read a book from start to finish, and those who read the end long before they read the middle. (In my case, often before reading Chapter Two.)

Over the years I’ve been amazed by the reactions to my admission (confession?) that I often read the end. Some people are astonished (“Why would you do that?”). Others are appalled (“How could you do that?”). Quite a few have absolutely no interest in hearing my reasons; they seem to feel punishment should immediately follow confession of the “crime” without any sort of hearing whatsoever. (But if you’re one of those people, then you probably stopped reading this post after glancing at the title, so I’ll assume that if you’re still with me you are interested in my reasons.)

It’s not as though most stories rely on any genuine element of surprise, anyway. Think about it: genre fiction, by definition, follows particular patterns. Before you even pluck a cozy mystery off the shelf, you know the murderer will be brought to justice. Before you download the latest romance novel, you know the lovers will get together. Before you plunge into a traditional epic fantasy, you know the hero will achieve the quest, even if s/he must pay a price.

“But wait!” (I can hear the protests now; believe me, I’ve heard them before.) Even though the murderer will be caught, you don’t know his/her identity in Chapter One (at least, if the author has any skill at all you don’t). You don’t know the exact nature of the obstacles the lovers will face. You don’t know exactly what the hero will battle before s/he completes the quest; you might not even know the goal of the quest!

And if, for you, these kinds of surprises are the most important features of a story, then of course it makes sense that you read your books from start to finish. And I say: bless you! Have at it! Enjoy!

But the stories I love most didn’t find their way into my heart due to any element of surprise. Which leads us to:

The First Reason I Read the End: Let’s look at a different issue through the polarity grid. There are two types of people in this world: those who read a book once and are done (no matter how much they enjoyed it) because they “already know how it ends,” and those who reread the books they love.

I’m a life-long member of Team Reread. I’ve always reread the stories I love, and I’ve been known to reread the stories I love most on a regular basis. In fact, when I was a child I became used to hearing my mother, on observing the cover of whatever familiar volume I was curled up with on a Saturday afternoon, cry out: “Are you reading that again?”

Well, yeah. And here’s why: if I love a story, it’s probably because I like (or at least respect) one or more of the characters. Often, I love their humor. I appreciate the challenges they face, and what they go through to reach the outcome of the story. And (most importantly) entering the story is like entering a familiar world. In the case of some fantasy fiction in particular, I wish I could visit that world (e.g., Narnia). But the only way I can visit is to read the book, and if that means rereading The Chronicles of Narnia so I can go to Narnia, then I’m going to reread The Chronicles of Narnia! It makes absolutely no difference whatsoever that I already know how all of those stories end.

I know I’m not the lone member of Team Reread. And if you think about it, the existence of Team Reread is proof that many of our most beloved stories don’t stand or fall on the element of surprise. Looking at this from another angle: if a story’s primary appeal is that element of surprise, then it probably won’t become a favorite story, because it won’t be something you’ll want to reread. You won’t enjoy spending more time with those characters; you won’t want to revisit their adventures in those places. Visiting once was okay, but you’ve seen all you cared to see-and you certainly wouldn’t want to live there!

I’ll explain Reasons 2 and 3 in the next installment.