Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October Mini Book Reviews--K. Callihan, C. Holmberg, S. Meissner, L. Saville

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Just when you've run out of books...

I have a few for you to consider. There's something for every taste in this list. Enjoy!



THE PAPER MAGICIAN Charlie Holmberg: Older Middle Grades fantasy

 The Paper Magician is the story of a young magician apprentice and her journey through the heart as she learns the magic of folding. While I'd peg it as Upper Middle Grades, I think lovers of Harry Potter would enjoy it at any age.



EVERNIGHT Kristen Callihan: Historical Paranormal Steam Punk Romance

Kallihan's Darkest London series continues with her usual genre bending. The romance is on the side of steamy and the plot is a baroque as her readers have come to expect. Evernight takes two unlikely lovers and builds a tale of love, torment, sacrifice, and resilience.

A FALL OF MARIGOLDS Susan Meissner: Women's Fiction

If you haven't read any of Meissner's books, A Fall of Marigolds is a good place to start. Meissner is a master of stories with two setting--in this one we have a 9-11 widow and a nurse working at Ellis Island in 1911. A Fall of Marigolds is a beautiful story of two young women--Taryn and Clare--who must discover the freedom to love and be loved will never be found if we are stuck in between choices. This is a must read! I'd give it ten stars if I could.


HENRY AND RACHEL Laurel Saville: Literary Fiction

Henry and Rachel is an intensive character study told in eight POVs. The language is rich, detailed, and hypnotic. From the jungles of Jamaica to the cold apartments of New York, Henry and Rachel traces the story of Rachel and shines a light into a deeply repressed character.


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Next Week: Author Interview with Kathryn Craft!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October Tip: The Main Characters Readers Hate

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Our main characters are important. (I can hear you, "How important are they?" ;-) Without them, our readers have no door into the story, no way to experience the plot and setting. There are many ways to craft these important people. (Yes, they are 'people'! If they aren't real, who would want to spend any time with them?)
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There are also a lot of ways to mess them up. Anne R. Allen has a great post on five ways writers mess up their Main Characters. If your MC falls into any of these categories, you need to rethink them.
  •  Mary Sue: The character who embodies the author's secret wish fulfillment. Readers find them too good to be true. And they're right.
  • The Special Victim: These characters are never at fault for their predicament and they're never the one who saves themselves. My take on this type of MC is to say 'ho hum.'
  • Perfect Pat: This character can do no wrong, reacts to everything with perfect gratitude, perfect skills, and is loved by everyone. Really? Again, this is a boring character.
  • Looky-Loo: When the protagonist is there to tell the story, never affecting the action, you have a Looky-Loo. The story would be better from a closer POV, in my opinion.
  • Literal Larry: This character is the one that tells every last event in their life until all the story is is one of unimportant, mundane action.
Now for the hard part? Just where in this list does our MC fall? I'll admit that my main character has been in danger of being Perfect Pat. I've had to dig into her dark side. Yes, my dear, sweet retired teacher has a dark side. She's a bit judgmental at times. She has a wicked temper that she doesn't manage to control all the time. And she's been known to blurt those little questions that we're never supposed to ask one another. Oops! And hurrah! Every time she falls into the less then perfect category, she grows another layer, another reason to cheer for her to climb back to her better self.

So, where does your MC fall? Are you looking at one of our feeble five? Or do you have a red-blooded person leading your story?

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Next Week: Mini Book Reviews with everything from women's and literary fiction to an upper middles grade tale. See you In the Shade! ;-)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October Poem, Update

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Welcome to the heart of Fall. At least that's how October always strikes me. With the leaves turning and the bright, clear blue skies, October shows Fall's sunny side. November won't be as forgiving. ;-)

So, in honor of the seasons turning, I thought this poem would be appropriate. 

In a Clean Mirror


Misty visage, abstract face,
Who is that person floating in space?
What impressions can I receive,
If obscuring clouds are all I perceive?

Is it Winter’s white crown embracing an old face?
Wrinkles and hollows showing
Serene wisdom finally in place?
Or only Autumn’s gaze glaring back,
Watching leaves fall and wither,
All hopes and dreams crumbling, black?
Or Summer’s sun shining on happy times?
Promise rising and growing,
Sounding clear joy as wind among chimes?
Or Spring’s happy, angelic grin,
Playing hide and seek
With fireflies lit by the cool flame within?

I wipe away the steam and blotches of old toothpaste.
Trying to separate the images I see is a waste,
For all the images are true.
In a clean mirror, forever’s the view.

--Zan Marie Steadham
September 2008



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WIP Update:
Mother's Day, the new name for the first of my Cherry Hill stories is moving along at  rapid pace. I'm already 129 pages into my edit/reread/hole filling. And, wonder of wonders, the holes are filling in nicely. New ideas spring to mind often and I think the story is beginning to really gel. Changing the focus to the new/old themes has been rewarding. 

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Next Week:
I have a discussion on the character types readers hate in Main Characters. You'll want to read it, I promise. It sure opened my eyes. ;-)

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Thanks for the feedback last week! It's been invaluable. I now know how to use Facebook and Twitter as a comment ID option. Just comment and read the message. ;-)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bonus Tuesday: Snip, An Update, and Input Request

{Note to followers: if you want an email to reach you every time I post, there's two ways. (Thanks, Ane M., for reminding me of this.) Either follow again or go the the left column and subscribe for emails. Thanks.}
 
 It's been an earthquake month in my writing world. My WIP is six and a half years old. Wouldn't you think it's about time I really understood the story? ;-) It started with a working title of MOTHER'S DAY. The basic story was of a recently widowed, retired teacher who was still aching over the fact that she is childless. When she meets an abused foster child, she begins a journey that leads her to become a foster and adoptive parent. Slowly it evolved into a story about abuse in all its various guises and the working title changed to FRIENDLY FIRE.

This month I attempted writing a synopsis and ran into to a huge problem--I had too much story for one book. ;-) And so, with the help of some friends, I revamped and rejuvenated the original theme and MOTHER'S DAY is on again. Now my Cherry Hill series has grown to a potential list of five books centering on the Chandler and Talley families.

I thought I'd get your input on the one paragraph "back cover" version of MOTHER'S DAY:

 Newly widowed retired teacher, Laura Grace Chandler's long-buried ache of childlessness is becoming an open sore. But after meeting Samantha Smith, an abused foster child, she finds that abuse is rampant in her hometown. And she’s at ground zero.  Though Laura Grace isn’t a mother, she knows the look of a child whose parents are missing in action; she’s seen hundreds of children in this position during her thirty years of teaching. Samantha has all the signs. As she gets to know the girl, Laura Grace is drawn to be the mother this child needs.  But to dive into the breach and become this child’s shield, she must open herself to heartache—again.


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I'd love some more input from you, my loyal readers. Since I've been doing the new topic rotation at The Shade (June, July, August, and September) I've noticed that author interviews get the most page views. Mini book reviews and snips weeks come in second. The tips week is lagging behind. 

Comments on the actual blog have been lagging. Though, comments on Facebook and Twitter have been growing. I've been working on promotion through those two outlets and Google + as well. Though, now that I've found the answer to "How do you add share buttons to the bottom of each post?" I'm hoping traffic picks up.

So, what do you think? Is the new schedule working? Do you have any suggestions? Please give me some feedback either here In The Shade, on Facebook, on Twitter (#InTheShade), or at Google +. I can't wait to see what you think?

Speaking of blog posts, check out Rachelle Gardner's post on "13 Simple Tips for a Better Blog"

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Next week: Snips!
Peek-a-Boo!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September Author Interview--Lara Lacombe

Lara Lacombe is one of my Forum, blogging, and Facebook friends. Her romantic suspense stories are quick and enjoyable. Check out here blog HERE.

IT'S A RACE AGAINST TIME—AND A FATAL OUTBREAK—IN THIS THRILLER OF A DEBUT
In one passionate night, Special Agent James Reynolds and scientist Kelly Jarvis went from friends to lovers. Then Kelly walked away with only an apology. Now James is charged with solving a bioterrorist attack—and Dr. Jarvis works at the suspected lab.


Is Kelly an accomplice or a victim? Just what are her secrets that drove her from James's bed? Soon one thing becomes clear: the ghosts of her past have nothing on the terrorists targeting her and Washington, D.C. Another threat bathes the city in red alert, and now there are lives at stake, in addition to hearts….

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Torn between duty and desire, two strangers must risk all for love. 


Nuclear physicist Dr. Claire Fleming has one rule: never get close to anyone. But when her colleague is murdered and she's targeted next, she must place all her trust in FBI agent Thomas Kincannon. Soon Claire forgets her tenet as she fantasizes about Thomas's touch.
Thomas is wildly attracted to Claire. But his life and his job are too complicated for any romantic entanglements. Despite this, they share a mind-blowing kiss, and there's no turning back. When Thomas's niece is abducted, the stakes become dangerously higher as Claire insists he trade her for the child. Somehow, Thomas must find a way to rescue his family and protect the woman who let her protective walls down just for him.

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ZM: Your novels are delightful, tense romps! I find I can’t put them down. What draws you to romantic suspense?

Lara:  Thank you, Zan Marie!  I’m so happy to hear you enjoy them!

One of the things that drew me to romantic suspense is the inherent conflict in these stories.  Conflict is such an important element of a good story, and with romantic suspense, there’s generally one or two external conflicts driving the plot.  Plus, it’s really easy for characters to get into trouble, and that’s always fun as well.

ZM: Your heroines are all so brainy. How has your personal connection to science helped you develop your leading ladies?


Lara:
I think being a scientist has made it easier for me to get into my heroine’s heads.  I think most people don’t know what it’s like to be a practicing scientist, and it’s gratifying to hear that readers enjoy getting to know a character who has a somewhat unusual job.  Plus, as a professor, I always try to make sure that I get my details correct so that people can (hopefully) learn something new.

ZM: What was your path from drafting the first book to publication? Who is your agent? How did the contract with Harlequin come about?


Lara: Oh, man.  Do you want the short or the long version?

Basically, I started to write DEADLY CONTACT in 2011, and I attended the RWA National conference in 2012.  At that point, I had a full draft of fifty thousand words, and I was looking to pitch to Harlequin.  I met with an editor at the conference, and she told me that the word limit for the line I was hoping to sell to had just been expanded to 75K.  Cue my heart dropping.   Fortunately though, she asked me to send the manuscript to her and she’d take a look.  I did, and a few months later she emailed me with a list of issues to fix and an invitation to resubmit.  It took me a while, but I addressed all her points and sent the book back in.  I was gearing up for another wait, but she contacted me after a week and made an offer!

At this point, I started to panic.  I didn’t have an agent, and had just started seriously looking for one.  Amara Royce (another Forum friend!) mentioned that her agent, Jessica Alvarez with BookEnds, was acquiring, so earlier in the week I had sent her an email.  When I got the offer from Harlequin, I sent her a series of increasingly panicked messages.  Fortunately, she didn’t hold my crazy against me and she responded.  We chatted for a bit, and I really liked her.  I signed with her and she took over the legalese from there!

ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?


Lara: My favorite author?  I’m not sure where to begin…

Seriously though, there are so many authors I admire.  Diana Gabaldon, Jim Butcher, Larry McMurtry, Joanna Bourne, Christopher Brookmyre, Geraldine Brooks, Charlaine Harris.  The list goes on and on.  Romance is my first love, but I’ll read in just about any genre.

The thing that draws me is story.  If the story is good, I’m hooked.  Writing is second—I love a well-crafted sentence, and I learn so much from reading good writing.  I try to take the lessons I absorb and apply them to my own work.  I’m not sure how successful I am, but the nice thing is I can always get better.

ZM: Tell us about what’s next for your books?


Lara: My third book, LETHAL LIES, will be released this December.  I’m also happy to report that I just signed another 2-book contract with Harlequin Romantic Suspense, which means additional books next year!  I’m really excited to share these stories, and I hope people enjoy reading them!

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Zan Marie!


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What do you want to ask Lara about her books?

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 Lara Lacombe earned her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology and worked in several labs across the country before moving into the classroom. Her day job as a college science professor gives her time to pursue my other love--writing fast-paced romantic suspense.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

September Mini Book Review--Ev Bishop, L.A. Heller, S. Monk Kidd, T. Walsh

Here's a healthy dose for reading with the rain sets in. Enjoy!



BIGGER THINGS Ev Bishop--Women's Fiction

Bishop deftly deconstructs all the faulty self-images women fall prey to, especially the ones associated with body image. All three of her focal characters have a secret and are fully rounded, understandable, and growing. This is a lovely read.




 THE NEVER NEVER SISTERS L. Alison Heller--Women's Fiction
 No two people grow up in the same family--even if it's the same one. The Never Never Sisters is a good exploration of this idea. Good read.


 THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES Sue Monk Kidd--Literary Woman's Fiction

Kidd conjures up a magical coming of age story that takes a deep look at the feminine divine. The collection of images of bees and women is intense and powerful. This is a must read.

THE MOON SISTERS Therese Walsh--Women's Fiction
This is a complex story that follows Olivia and Jazz Moon through the stages of grief. Neither sister has the complete picture. The Moon Sisters is a deeply felt read that will stick with you.

Which of these good reads catches your eyes the most?
 
Happy Reading! Next week I'll introduce you to Lara Lancomb, a romantic suspense author. ;-)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

September Writing Tip Week: How To Start Your Novel

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We all know that the first 250 words of our novels can make or break getting an agent, publisher--but most of all--readers. So, how do we make sure our beginnings are pulling readers in? Thanks to the weekly Industry News from Women's Fiction Writers Association, I found a great blogpost on Anne R. Allen's blog. In it her guest, Janice Hardy, analyzed four failings of opening pages.
  1. Having too much backstory and information
  2. Crafting a one-dimensional scene
  3. Using a fake opening
  4. Having a lazy protagonist
Our next step is to analyze the way we usually open. I have to admit I'm most prone to including too much backstory and information. Cutting out the fat and saving it for later is a challenge. Thankfully, I've been a member of writing groups who have helped me see all the necessary bits that needed to be cut. My buddies at the Books and Writers Forum have been the victims readers of many of my failed attempts. 

So, I invite you to weigh in. What do you think about the first 250 words of FRIENDLY FIRE?

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A cloud of sweet baby powder tickled my nose as Jen’s daughter Kayleigh helped a toddler to the serving tables. I hugged my arms to keep from grabbing the child from the teen and burying my nose in his bright silky hair. So many little foster children and none of them would spend Mother’s Day with their moms tomorrow.
 

How many times had my best friend Rosemary told me I needed to get out and back into the swing of things? Her constant concern chafed like a new shirt.
 

The foster family respite party wasn’t what she had in mind. All these poor children. So, what had I been thinking to choose this party of all places? Yet, here I was, pushing cookies, home-baked of course, on grade-school kids at the church’s foster family party.
 

Though I wasn't a mother, I knew the look of children whose parents were MIA. The tall thin blond at the end of the table was a poster child for them all. Her shoulders hunched as the noise of little children at play ricocheted off the fellowship hall’s block walls. Of course she was a foster child, too. But, unlike the others, she wasn’t playing. She didn’t even have a plate of goodies. Her only movement came from her curls that were caught in the current from the air conditioning.

My Tom, God rest his soul, would have sat cross-legged on the floor playing games with the kiddies or giving piggy back rides like some of the men were. We’d poured out our love on other people’s children for over thirty years in our classrooms. Now all I could do for them was bake cookies for them.

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Here's another nifty link for you. Check out The Secret of How to Make Your Book Un-PutDown-able.

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Next Week: September Mini Book Reveiws!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Very Special Day

Since September has a fifth Tuesday, I thought I'd swap the topics and give you a very personal post today. Thirty-seven years ago on September 4, 1977, I married the perfect man. Yes, I know, perfection is in the eye of the beholder, but I promise you that John is the perfect man for me. He's loving, caring, sacrificing, loyal, and always supportive. I owe my entire writing life to him and his support. 

So, I thought I'd share a few pictures from our happy day. We met at what was then West Georgia College, now know as the University of West Georgia in a political science class titled Foreign Relations. Since we're from two different towns in this area, we were blessed to share this class. By the way, the first day of class was on my twentieth birthday. Now that's a gift that keeps on giving. ;-)

May you all find the happiness we've shared. 


I love you!
The entire wedding party on the steps of Kennedy Chapel
Oh, how young we were! And we'd do it all over again.

Yes, it's the perfect setting for a small wedding

Next Week: A Writing Tip ;-)