Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Book Review: My Sister Dilly by Maureen Lang

Maureen Lang's new book is due out in October, 2008. Here's my review:

I’ve had the privilege of reading and reviewing Maureen’s novels since On Sparrow Hill came out a couple of years ago. One thing you can always count on with Maureen’s work is she puts a lot of heart into her stories. Her storytelling has a way of digging deep into the reader’s own heart to find what’s buried there. My Sister Dilly is set in the Midwest. I grew up in the Midwest, and I can vouch for her descriptions and skill at immersing the reader into that setting. Her descriptions were so realistic, down to the personalities of some folks there—people working hard throughout their lives and finding the help God offers, but not always understanding His heart. (Which can happen anywhere.) I also really appreciate her ability to infuse her stories with life-changing messages without leaving room for defensiveness from the reader. She writes real stories, seemingly about real people, and the reader is left pondering those characters long after the book has been placed on the shelf or into the hands of the next reader, or friend. There are few authors (which I have found) who so skillfully accomplish what Maureen does in her novels. Every time I read one, I am changed.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Book Review: The Queen of Sleepy Eye by Patti Hill

I have to begin my review by saying this novel is very different from Patti’s Garden Gates Series in tone and flavor. I loved her earlier writing and was excited to see she had a new novel coming out.

Written first-person, The Queen of Sleepy Eye is a coming-of-age story with very real characters. Patti deftly immerses the reader into her character’s worlds. You feel you’re reading a true account of real people as you work through. Personally, books set in the 1970s are not my favorite (and I’ve just finished two of them for review; sounds like a conspiracy!). For romance lovers, there is some here, surrounding morality issues. But this is women's fiction, not romance. What kept this romance lover reading was wanting to find out how these characters were going to face their weaknesses and live up to their potential, or see if they would continue to settle for second best and live down to their failures. I look for hope in Christian fiction. I believe it’s the key element (immoral scenarios/language aside) which separates our work (as in musical genres—secular compared with Christian) from secular novels. Patti did not disappoint. She didn’t tie everything up perfectly with perfected characters (what’s realistic about that?). Instead she took her characters through some dark moments and decisions and let us watch them climb back out, aching for them along the way.

One of Patti’s strengths is her characterization. In her Podcast at her website, you can hear the background info about this book. (www.pattihillbooks.com) You’ll learn how the title came first, then the setting, then the source of tension. The characters were hatched last and skillfully so.

For readers who appreciate a good coming-of-age story with realistic characters, I recommend this book. Look for its release September 1, 2008.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Vacations

Okay, I hadn't planned on not having any computer time while away for the last 10 days, but that's what God had in mind for me. I forgot my computer's cord and the battery won't hold a charge (I know, time for a new battery pack), so I didn't even bother booting up. There I'd be, waiting for everything to settle after booting up and viola! I'd be kicked off. So, I read novels for review, instead. Very fun!

Oh, and I did a bunch of research for a hopeful series for a publisher I'm pitching to. The series would be set rather locally in beautiful places (islands). As part of my research, our family went on a whale tour and saw Dall's porpoise, so we'll be going back out at some point (guaranteed---if you don't see whales, you go until you do!), so that'll be fun. It was a whirlwind of four islands in 10 days. Such a blessing to live in the Pacific Northwest.

Here's where we went:


See the little boat to the right of that pic? That's a ferry. We boarded there on Fidalgo Island (okay, make that 5 islands we visited, forgot about that one) and we sailed to Friday Harbor on the large island to the left (San Juan Island). Then, the whale tour left Friday Harbor and went north around Spieden Island (fascinating history there) and back again. We did see bald eagles and two different kinds of seals. It was very cool seeing the sleek backs of the Dall's porpoise arcing the water. I made great contacts for my writing. That novel's about written, but now that I've had fresh experience, I can include those points. Then we went down through Whidbey Island (south of the San Juan archipelago) for more research and ended up on Bainbridge Island. Very beautiful places. And it all started on Samish, one of our favorite spots which isn't a true "island" at this point, but who knows, may be once again some day.

That's why you haven't heard from me in a while. 442 emails later, it's good to be back!!

Happy reading and hey, take a vacation even if it's a short trip somewhere (gas prices being what they are) and enjoy a break!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Guest Author: Kimberly Stuart

Today, I'm pleased to host Kimberly Stuart, author of the new book "Act One: A Novel in Perfect Pitch."

Rarely does this singer get to read a novel which lilts along in my own language. Okay. So I don’t sing opera(!) but I do love music. So, reading this novel in first person (even though the heroine was a bit snobbish—hey, that only makes her transformation more fun to observe—was a delight!) But even if you aren’t a singer or musician, you’ll love this story. And first-person? Bring it on. Not an easy choice in POV, but Kimberly makes it work. I laughed out loud too many times to count. If you’re looking for a quirky and quick read, a fun and yet poignant story, don’t miss this one!

Here's a bit about her:

Kimberly Stuart makes her home in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, Marc, and their two children, Ana and Mitch. She began her writing career by journaling during her daughter’s first year of life. At the never-subtle urging of her mother, she entered the University of Iowa Alumni magazine’s annual nonfiction short story contest. After winning the contest, she attended the Blue Ridge Writer’s Conference in North Carolina, where she met some key players in the publishing world who were able to jumpstart her career. She is the author of Balancing Act and its sequel, Bottom Line. Stuart’s most recent novel, Act Two, released May 2008, and is the first of three titles to be published by David C. Cook. She continues to revel in God’s grace and counts among her treasures nap time, imported chocolate, and a good story.

For more information about Kimberly, visit her website at http://www.kimberlystuart.com.

The following interview will give you a great taste of her writing style--

What do you like to do in your spare time? Hobbies?
I’m going to forego commentary on the slightly injurious nature of the phrase “spare time.” I am the mother of two (three in August) young children and they, at least, do not see the value of those words. But hypothetically speaking, were I to come upon a windfall of time, spare or otherwise, I would run, not walk to our local bookstore and immerse myself in a good book. After several hours of literary indulgence, I’d skip down the street to the bakery and talk shop with the owner, pretending I know more than I do and serving happily as a taste testing lab rat should he or she need one. After a pecan roll or maybe a Dutch letter, I’d meet my husband at the market for some shopping, head home with him to our kiddos, and cook up something lovely to share with them. Husband, kids, books, food—a perfect stretch of moments strung together in one afternoon. MAN, I need to book a babysitter more often!

If you had to write your memoir in six words, what would they be?
Wanted Angst, Clung Instead to Humor.
In high school and early college, I wanted nothing more than to be the tortured artist. I read and wrote horrible, dark poetry, tried to find the paradox in everything from God to navel oranges, and made my remarkably sunny parents nutty and fretful, usually within one dinner conversation. If you were so inclined, you could dunk yourself in my many journals of self exploration, a journey which, turns out, is frightfully dull when done alone and in denial of how diverse God’s fingerprints really are. It was only after several years of marriage and the birth of my daughter that I fully let go of the idea of being someone I’m not, tossed my inner longings to wear only black and moan songs by Ani DeFranco, and instead embraced laughter and humor as God-drenched gifts to humanity. Laughter truly is medicine and finally I’m ready to take and give a generous dose on a daily basis without feeling like I’m missing the artistic boat.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a child, I wanted to be a “seener” (singer). Mostly, I wanted to be Amy Grant. That’s right, people: I was into STRAIGHT UP AMY GRANT. The hard stuff, the early years, like “My Father’s Eyes,” and “El Shaddai.” I rocked out (with choreography) in our basement, next to a record player roughly the size of an Escalade and was wholeheartedly convinced of my musical and entertaining genius. If only I could have met her at the right time, perhaps post-Gary, pre-Vince, we could have toured together! She totally could have used a back-up dancer/singer! In fact, if you’re reading this, Amy, I’m still available!

Where are you headed next?
God willing, I’ll be giving birth to our third child in August, so I’m afraid I won’t be heading anywhere too quickly. Lactation seems to preclude so many of life’s adventures…In addition to caring for our growing brood and being really snippy with my husband for a few months due to sleep deprivation, I have two more books to write with David C. Cook. Act Two is the first of three, and I must ask you humbly to buy it within the next four minutes as it is time-sensitive material. And it’s a pretty good summer read, if I must be so bold. After Act Two will come two more. This will make a grand total of five books so far from the pen of Kimberly Stuart. Don’t place any bets that I’ll try to have as many children as I do books. When it comes to babies, those in print are much kinder on a uterus.

What would you say to someone who wants to become a published author?
Hone your craft. There are lots of fancy stories about getting one’s foot in the door to a publisher, how to get an agent, how to market oneself and one’s story. But the best way to ensure you’ll be ready to take on the publishing mayhem is to work your tail off at writing. Become your toughest critic (short of paralysis, of course), get up the guts to share your work with someone smarter and more well-read than you, spend the hours good writing requires. Most of a writer’s life is very quiet, unromantic, and isolating. Unless you’re ready to devote yourself to the less glamorous parts of writing a good story, you’ll be spinning your wheels for the time when a good break comes.

Where did you get the idea for the book?
I can’t possibly reveal that to the blogosphere, and I say that only partly because I’ve always wanted to use the word blogosphere. The other reason is that this one percolated for awhile. There was no lightning bolt moment. But I will say that I’m always interested in putting quirky characters in situations that make them woefully uncomfortable and allow the reader to laugh with gusto both at and with the character. A New York opera diva on a farm seemed like a situation that might work for that purpose.

What are the major themes of the book?
Grace, redemption, my love and respect for both urban and rural dwellers, and the under-used gift of laughter.

Do you sing also?
I do. I studied voice through college, sang in the St. Olaf Choir (um ya ya), and continue to sing in church. My mom is a professional violinist, so we were cheerily forced into playing one stringed instrument and piano, for starters. Sadie, the protagonist in Act Two, took her love for music straight into a career, which was a step I did not take. But it was a riot entering her world and watching her both succeed and squirm.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
It was intense. Lots of dangerous, Indiana Jones-type adventures, plenty of nights under the stars and without food or running water. Actually, I traveled to New York and was shuttled around by dear friends who love their city and were infectious in their excitement. I loved my time there and still wish I could drop off my laundry for someone else to do, begging out of the chore because my building just didn’t have a washer and dryer. The laundry, the insane number of fantastic restaurants, the ability to wallow in theater, dance, live jazz, high fashion—if I could only afford half of a studio apartment, I’d drag my family for an extended stay. As for research on Iowa….

Have you lived on a pig farm?
I grew up in Iowa, though not exactly on a pig farm. Des Moines has roughly 400,000 residents, which would prove a challenge for group farming. But my roots are rural. All of my grandparents grew up on farms, as did many of our friends and neighbors. For Act Two, I relied heavily on dear friends who own a pig farm in northwestern Iowa. Anything I got right on this end is due to their diligence. Anything I goofed is my fault entirely. My husband will tell you I don’t always listen well.

Readers---- pick up her book(s). I can especially vouch for "Act Two" but I'm thinking, especially after our interview, that I need to get my hands on her earlier work as well.

And Kimberly, thank you for visiting and for writing fun stories. We need more laughter in the world! Write on!

Waiting

They were just waiting on the sun.

My lilies have been waiting to bloom—staying, seemingly in a state of perpetual green bud.

And for several days we’ve had clouds, rain and chilly temperatures.

Until today.

This morning the sky dawns clear—a perfect, crystal blue with so much potential. And my lilies’ buds are bulging, pinking and threatening to bloom.

Last night, at last count, the temperature was 58 degrees and dropping. This morning, perhaps it’s 60 degrees so far, and climbing. My lilies have never been happier. They are bursting with anticipation of opening to the sky and drinking in the sunshine.

I’m waiting on promises from God. See, to the lily, summertime means sunshine. They’ve been waiting for their promise. Today, it arrives. This weekend we celebrated Campmeeting, our church’s version of old fashioned tent meetings. And the messages which came through the preacher’s anointed to bring encouragement and words from the Lord were just what this Lily needed to hear. Breakthroughs are here. The promise is right at the door.

Sometimes it’s just one step that brings freedom.

Oh, I long for the moment the promise breaks clear because of the rich thanksgiving I know I’ll offer in the joy of receiving. But in the meantime, I’ll worship. Because when Jesus comes, the waiting is not merely bearable, but pleasurable. And I can have as much of Him as I want.

“For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” 2 Corinthians 1:20

In Jesus all God’s promises are fulfilled. I’m just waiting on the Son.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Guest Author: Marlo Schalesky

Hey, it's my 100th post!!!

How fun to celebrate that milestone by hosting a wonderful new-to-me author named Marlo Schalesky. Her latest book "Beyond the Night" was a fantastic read.

Here's my review:

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, yet that was what first attracted me to this work. What’s not to love? But on the inside, Marlo’s novel “Beyond the Night” was a deeply engaging novel, cover to cover. She believably placed her characters in the 70’s and took us through their struggles, motivating self-evaluation in the reader as well as thankfulness. Her story captures the essence of love without fear. More than all that, I left her novel hungry for time alone with my Savior. Great work, Marlo! Thank you.

Here's a little about Marlo:

A graduate of Stanford University, Marlo recently earned a Masters of Theology with an emphasis in Biblical Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. She also runs her own construction consulting business as well as an engineering firm that she and her husband own. Married nearly twenty years, she lives with her husband, Bryan, and their four daughters in California.

Here's an interview:

Q. Marlo, you’re a woman full of surprises! What made you decide to work in the construction industry? Isn’t that a field normally dominated by males?

A. Well, something has to pay for my Starbucks venti white mochas! But seriously, when I met my husband at Stanford years ago (Note: A number of incidents in Paul and Maddie’s love story in Beyond the Night grow out of my story with Bryan . . . I’ll let the reader guess which), he was majoring in Engineering, and I majored in Chemistry. After graduating, he got a job in sales in the construction industry (roofing); I did chemical research. We discovered that there was a lot of chemistry involved in roofing. So, about ten years ago, we decided to open our own engineering firm that specialized in roofing and waterproofing. From the contacts and experience I gained there, in January of 2007 I opened my own construction consulting firm where I can use my left-brained skills (writing novels uses up all the right-brained energy) to earn a few bucks and pay for those fancy coffees. And I have to admit, I enjoy doing something that’s so different from my writing.

It’s refreshing to deal with numbers and forms, caulking and chemicals, instead of only words and ideas. It makes for a nice balance in my life.

As for construction being male-dominated – it certainly is as far as actual construction workers and facilities managers. But there are plenty of women working in the administrative aspects of the business, which again makes for a nice balance. It’s fun to meet different kinds of people, and a number of them have also become my readers. Others just think I’m crazy – trying to run a business, writing novels, and take care of my four little daughters. But, hey, with God all things are possible . . .

Q. How did you decide to write a series of novels with surprise endings?

A. It was all God’s fault. And it started with a dream. Not one of those “I have a dream” kind of dreams, but a real, honest-to-goodness, it’s-3am-and-I’m-asleep kind of dreams. I dreamt Paul and Maddie’s love story. And when I woke up, I couldn’t get the two of them out of my head. I thought about them in the shower, on the way to seminary classes, in the grocery store. Everywhere! For weeks, I found myself replaying tidbits of their story in my mind, until I finally figured out that maybe God wanted me to write their story.

“But,” said I to God, “there’s not enough here. It’s not compelling enough.”

“Yes,” said God to me, “but Maddie’s going blind.” (Well, maybe it wasn’t so much in those words, but just in the revelation of what was going on with Maddie.)

“Oh,” said I, “That’s very interesting. But it’s still not enough. Not quite.”

Two more days went by, and Paul and Maddie’s story still kept teasing my mind. “It’s not enough,” I kept saying to God. “There’s got to be more.”

And then I saw it – the big twist. The incredible truth that I had no idea about before. It took my breath away. So, after I finished picking my jaw up off the floor, I sat down and starting working on the proposal for Beyond the Night.

As I fleshed out the story, I realized that this is exactly the type of book I’d like to keep writing – something with the poignancy of a Nicolas Sparks love story (without the sap!) matched with the knock-your-socks-off twist of a M. Night Shymalan movie (without the horror!). That kind of story excited me, spiritually, emotionally, mentally. And I figured that there had to be more people like me out there – people who want to be both moved emotionally and surprised and delighted intellectually. People who want to be changed, challenged, and caught with wonder by a story. People who just want something more in their stories, because the typical story is just not quite enough.

Happily, Multnomah agreed. When my agent sent them the proposal for Beyond the Night, they asked for two more ideas in one week. But how could I come up with two more stories like that in such a short time? It usually took months, even years, for me to find the right story. But God was faithful again. On the first day of that week, the storyline for Book 2, Faces in the Sand, came to me. And on the last day of the week, I got the idea for Book 3 (with five very nervous days in between). Multnomah contracted all three, and now I’m pressing forward, writing these books that God has given me to write, and praying every day that I’ll see the story as He has dreamed it. And I’m hanging on to the belief that He who gave me this mission will be faithful not only at its inception, but in the execution and beyond.

Q. You’ve been in the publishing industry for a while now with four previous novels and a nonfiction book to your credit. How has your publishing experience lined up with expectations? How has it not?

A. You’ll find that most of my books include a theme about life not turning out the way you plan or expect. That’s because God has given me the equivalent of a PhD in “My plans are not your plans, saith the Lord . . .” And my publishing experience has been a significant course in that learning process.

Nothing in my experience with publishing has gone according to expectation. At first, that was just because I was na├»ve. I thought I just had to write some good stuff, and I’d get a contract for my first books, which, at the time, was an end times series (this was before the Left Behind craze). So, I went to conferences with my proposal and heard from all the editors, “We aren’t interested in this type of futuristic fiction.” What they meant, of course, was they weren’t interested in that type of story from a newbie like me.

So, I tried historical fiction. And got a contract just as expected. Except the contract was canceled . . .that was unexpected. And it hurt.

Eventually, another publisher contracted that book and it became my first published novel. I received a few other contracts, had those books published, and then came another rude awakening in the form of sales figures. I expected to write a good book and have it do well. But that’s not how it worked for my third novel. Because of internal publishing house changes, sales went badly. And there wasn’t anything I could do about it. That was hard because I’d written the story as an act of faithfulness to God’s call, I felt He was pleased with it, I’d done everything I could in promotion and marketing, and still it “failed.” Ouch!

At that time, I was told to expect the numbers for that book to prevent other publishers from wanting to publish future books of mine. “It would have been better for you if that book hadn’t even been published,” they said. But God was about to crush that expectation as well.

A publisher contracted my next historical novel, I wrote it, and then just before it was scheduled for release, the company went through a large restructuring – they cut fiction, most of the members of the PR department left, the fiction editor left, and my book was stranded. I hadn’t expected that either.

But God was up to something in the meantime – a new story idea that I simply had to write. A story that so moved the Multnomah team, even in its synopsis form, that they wanted to publish it despite my previous sales numbers. They wanted that story, plus two more. The story was Beyond the Night. It came as an unexpected gift from God.

And just like everything else in my publishing experience, it has taken me by surprise. Pre-readers are calling me and emailing saying how the story has moved them, impacted them. But it’s not because of my great planning. It’s because God has again done something that I didn’t foresee, didn’t expect. And I thank Him for it.

Thank you for visiting, Marlo! We wish you all the best!!