Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fatherly Platitudes

Ah, the wisdom of the ages, spoken through me as a member of the grand old fraternity of fatherhood...

My oldest son has a tendency to get his expectations WAY up there, and if he gets disappointed he can become quite upset. The first soccer game of the season was canceled due to rain and cold. Both he and his younger brother were crying, as they had their soccer gear on all day in anticipation for the start of the season. I offered them the choice of a treat or playing soccer with me in the rain, and they chose the soccer ("Good one," I said to myself sarcastically as I dripped with moisture).

Last week soccer got canceled again, this time for lightning storms. My middle boy handled this one better, but the oldest got throwing his soccer gear around, acting mad. When his mom sent him to his room for that, he started with a very rare screaming fit, that continued until I came home.

I had him cool down so he wasn't throwing a fit, then sat with him to comfort him. In my enlightened fatherly sense, trying to explain the idea of making the best of a bad situation, I shared the time-honored saying with my progeny:

"Son, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

He cried a minute more while pondering this. Then he answered in a wailing voice, "What good does lemonade do if I'm in my soccer gear ALL DAY and we don't get to play!" (referring of course to the first weather-canceled game).

Man. These pearls of wisdom are trickier to dispense than it seems.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

CFBA Tour - Try Darkness

There's a saying that those who can't do a certain something end up being teachers of that topic. That certainly isn't true of this week's CFBA Tour author, James Scott Bell. He writes for Writer's Digest magazine and has published "How To" writing books through their imprint. He got to that point by developing into a fine author in his own right.

His latest book is Try Darkness, the sequel to last year's Try Dying (one of my favorite books in '07). Bell is a former trial lawyer, and this series features Ty Buchanan, a former big-shot lawyer who is currently helping down and outers while living as a guest at a monastery and uses a coffee shop as his office. He is approached by a woman being forced out of a hotel that won't allow long-term tenants (illegally). The woman has a young daughter in tow named Kylie. Ty promises to look into this case, along with other jobs such as defending a murder suspect. The woman ends up dead and Kylie, who has no known last name, is left with no one to care for her but Buchanan. The search for answers takes him from the haunts of forgotten veterans and crazy people to the yachts of the rich and famous. The answers are not always what they seem, and Ty finds that he has a darkness on the inside he must battle as well.

I hadn't read any of Bell's fiction until last year - a fact I continue to regret. I had never read much in the way of legal thrillers before. If other authors aren't up to par with Mr. Bell, I may not want to still. Try Darkness comes across even better than the first book. He hooks you with the opening line and has the reader wriggling on the line by the closing.

Ty Buchanan is a smart-mouthed, fast thinking young lawyer, and his verbal sparring and conflicted character is very enjoyable. Bell has a penchant for sharp, witty dialogue. This is a book to study for how to write good dialogue. I laughed out loud in several passages. The characters are well-developed, from the pious, basketball playing nun Sister Mary Veritas, to Sam DeCosse the real estate magnate, to crazy Disco Freddy down at the run-down hotel. The book also brings Los Angeles to life, from the desert on the outskirts to the rich exclusive neighborhoods in the hills.

The plot is fast paced with short, punchy chapters and enough twists to keep a contortionist occupied. I tried but couldn't guess the "whodunit" for the main storyline. I enjoyed the book through and through. The only picky little complaint I have is that many people in the book liked to "blink" when Buchanan zinged them with a witty line. That observation is probably due to a wannabe writer who can't turn off the internal editor, so enjoy the well-crafted story.

My final verdict (groan) is that Bell has written another winning story and has developed Ty Buchanan into a very likable roguish leading man. This book is in serious running for my favorite of the year so far. I look forward to the next book in the series, especially since he truly does leave us dangling...

If you would like to read chapters 1 & 2, go HERE


JAMES SCOTT BELL is a former trial lawyer who now writes full time. He has also been the fiction columnist for Writers Digest magazine and adjunct professor of writing at Pepperdine University.

The national bestselling author of several novels of suspense, he grew up and still lives in Los Angeles. His first Buchanan thriller, TRY DYING, was released to high critical praise, while his book on writing, Plot and Structure is one of the most popular writing books available today.

“Bell has created in Buchanan an appealing and series-worthy protagonist, and the tale equally balances action and drama, motion and emotion. Readers who pride themselves on figuring out the answers before an author reveals them are in for a surprise, too: Bell is very good at keeping secrets. Fans of thrillers with lawyers as their central characters—Lescroart and Margolin, especially—will welcome this new addition to their must-read lists.”
“Engaging whodunit series kickoff . . . Readers will enjoy Bell's talent for description and character development.”
—Publishers Weekly
“James Scott Bell has written himself into a niche that traditionally has been reserved for the likes of Raymond Chandler.”
—Los Angeles Times
“A master of suspense.”
—Library Journal
“One of the best writers out there, bar none.”
—In the Library Review

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

CSFF Tour - What about Dragons?

Here's day 2 of the tour focusing on Donita Paul's latest book, DragonLight.

I had a couple of responses to the "are dragons appropriate for Christian fiction" question. Thanks guys. My opinion fits in with both of the comments on this matter. Dragons don't have to be intrinsically "bad", as in never write about them. I don't imagine people running out to find dragons to hang with (except maybe this guy). It depends wholly on how the author uses them. A dragon could be an example of evil (such as Frank Peretti's The Oath - chilling!) or a force for good like in the world of the DragonKeeper Chronicles. Like Mark shared, God has given us imagination to use for his glory. And Robert made a point that God didn't make anything that was evil in origin - the evil came from choice. Dragons and fantasy in general can be used for evil purposes, but there's no reason a creative, imaginative Christian couldn't use them for good.

My other thoughts on this tour came from looking at the reviews and summaries of Donita Paul's books on Amazon. I wasn't sure of the plot and how dragons were used, so I browsed each of the five books on Amazon. I wanted to share this quote from the School Library Journal regarding her first book, DragonSpell:

As in C. S. Lewis's "Narnia" books (HarperCollins), Christian allegories and messages are clearly presented and easily found, but it is equally possible to read this as Kale's story as it happened in Amara, a world completely separate from our own. It would be a shame to limit readership by relegating this clever and inventive story to the genre of Christian fiction. There is plenty of room for sequels, and readers will want to know much more about Kale and the remainder of her quest.–Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA

Note the quote in bold - don't miss this series! Make sure to see the other tourmates for more...specific information on this book, like reviews and such.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

CSSF Tour - DragonLight by Donita Paul

The CSFF tour is highlighting Donita Paul and her new book DragonLight this month.

It is the fifth and final book in the DragonKeeper Chronicles. Since it was the last in a series, I didn't feel I could review it and do it justice.

Wait! Don't go. I do have original content this month. Well, mostly original.

I want to ask a question. Is it a problem for any Christian readers to consider dragons as appropriate for "Christian" fiction? I am no means a dragon expert (for that, talk to Snuffles), but I wanted to discuss this idea for a minute.

Dragons have a mixed history. In Western lore and mythology, dragons were usually agents of evil. Since Revelation 12 uses a dragon as imagery for Satan, this was likely a source of dragon prejudice. An early legend of St. George defeating the dragon resonates with many cultures across Europe and some Middle Eastern areas. However, in Chinese folklore, dragons are often agents of good, a symbol of wisdom.

Dragons have had a resurgence in many arenas. The popular book Eragon has given them a good name as well as a high profile. Donita Paul's series has not been the only Christian fiction with a dragon-centric plot. Bryan Davis has released the Dragons in Our Midst series in the CBA realm also.

Does this mean that it is okay to use dragons as a motif for a Christian tale? I'd like anyone's opinion out there before I talk about mine. However, let me close with this quote from Bryan Davis in an interview from CBN back when his dragon books were first being released.

Siepel: What do you say to parents who may be wary of introducing their child to the world of fantasy?

Davis: We have an opportunity to create strong soldiers for Christ by using the power of story, even through the pages of the impossible. If parents will allow fantasy its proper place, as an inspiration toward holiness, allowing powerful images to create God-honoring models in children's minds, authors will be moved to create more of those fantastic images. As the market grows, as book-buyers seek heroes displaying faith-empowered integrity and strength, more publishers will have the freedom to take a chance on these works. Working together, we can use this genre to capture hearts and minds with champions of virtue, images that will reach in and ignite the flame, setting free the hero or heroine that God has implanted in the hearts of children.

Check out the featured author links:
Web site –
Blog –

Also see what others are saying on the CSFF tour below!

*Participants’ Links:
(Just for fun I marked the five who also participated in CSFF’s first book tour, featuring Donita Paul’s DragonKnight back in June 2006.)

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
* Beth Goddard
Mark Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Terri Main
* Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
* Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Deena Peterson
Steve Rice
* Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
* Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams

Friday, July 18, 2008

First Lines

Writers are well aware of the importance of first lines. If a reader can open your book and be hooked by the first line or the first paragraph, you've baited the hook very well. I'm reading Sol Stein's Stein on Writing, and his first major chapter after the introduction deals with the critical nature of first lines.

I am also finishing up Try Darkness by James Scott Bell (stick around for my review next week). I think it has the best opening line I've read in a looooong time:

"The nun hit me in the mouth and said, 'Get out of my house.'"

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

CFBA Tour - Wind River

The CFBA tour is highlighting the latest book from adventure writer Tom Morrisey, entitled Wind River.

The Wind River mountain range in western Wyoming is known for its wild beauty and abundant fishing. It is figuratively and literally a world away from Iraq. Ex-marine Ty Perkins returns to this wilderness paradise to escape demons from the Iraq war. He also returns to fulfill a promise to 86-year-old Soren Andeman, the older man who took him fishing when his own dad was dying.

Ty doesn't realize that deadly secrets can be hidden in the idyllic scenery of the Wind River range, and as he helps a weakening Soren, he finds that "you can't outrun the sins of the past."


Tom Morrisey has excellent credentials for writing about adventure, the outdoors, and sportsmen. He is a mountaineer, aviator, shipwreck diver, and explorer, who holds a Full Cave certification from the National Speleological Society - Cave Diving Section. He writes for several travel/adventure magazines as well.

His first novels tapped into this wealth of knowledge. They were straight forward adventure and suspense novels involving diving and other adrenaline-laced activities. Then he took a turn with his last novel, In High Places (with my review here), using his experience of climbing as the setting for a tale of the heart; a relationship between a father and son.

Wind River continues this new direction, spinning a tale of forgiveness, confession, and justice to the tune of peaceful mountain lakes and the camaraderie of fly fishing between an old man and his protege. Morrisey skillfully combines his vast knowledge of the outdoors with a touching tale of relationship and even deeper themes to ponder.

Young ex-marine Ty Perkins struggles with consequences from his time in Iraq, even to the point of shunning his wife Angela. Some of the emotion conveyed here is very well written, portraying real life in a way that maintains a dignity about it. The struggles of Soren Andeman, a mountaineer who pioneered trails all over the Wind River range and who is now fighting is aging body for one last trip, is also deeply felt. The characters are deep pools for reflection and highly enjoyable.

Any fan of fly-fishing should delight in Morrisey's care with details. The reader sees his extensive knowledge shine through, without losing anyone with too much detail. I live a few hundred miles from the setting of the book, and I can attest to his great touch in using the setting effectively in the story.

There were two aspects that caught my attention as drawbacks. The back cover paints a more suspenseful picture than the book actually gives. The blurb makes the book seem like it was more of a cross between his earlier pure suspense work and In High Places. It actually falls firmly in the shadow of High Places, which is not a bad thing at all, but I expected a little more jeopardy through the book. Morrisey does very well with the emotional suspense, but it isn't as adrenaline fueled as I thought. There's also a little letdown with some characters that are introduced for potential conflict that seem to fade away later in the book. I expected a little more out of them.

This is an excellent summer read, perfect for reading while cooling feet in a mountain stream or imagining you were there while on a noisy commute. Tom Morrisey is proving to be a writer of the heart as well as building quality suspense in the context of outdoor adventure. He is a writer that fans of fiction, both men and women, should pick up.

Monday, July 07, 2008

New Resource for Christian Fiction

Welcome to a new week!

There's a great way to start the new week off right as well, if you're a fan of Christian fiction. I've been a member of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance for 2 years now, and it has grown tremendously. There are books reviewed twice a week (not always here, of course), and there is a large community that talks about the latest in Christian fiction.

Now there's been a new expansion that is quite remarkable. The leaders of CFBA have started the Christian Fiction Online Magazine. I knew this was coming for a little while, but I didn't appreciate how much they had managed to put into this work. It is very impressive. From a cover story interview with Robert Liparulo to columns of fiction craft by Brandilyn Collins and funny stuff from Randy Ingermanson and Kristin Billerbeck, it is packed with content. You can browse in an alliterative delight, with categories of "Best," "Buzz," "Bizarre," and "Biz" awaiting you.

So if you enjoy reading good fiction or are interested in writing yourself and want an online resource, make sure to check out CFOM. The editors have put in a lot of work and it is well worth your time.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Simple Writing Tip

As I was reviewing (yet again) some of my work, I saw with fresh eyes that there were certain phrases or words that I liked to use. I know everyone does this, and it is always something to work on as a writer. I came up with a little trick to help me with words I overuse.

For example, I found I was using flooded a lot. So I looked up Merrian Webster's free thesaurus online (easily found at They list the meaning and synonyms and related words. I just cut and past the last two sections, like so:

Synonyms: deluge, drown, engulf, inundate, overflow, overwhelm, submerge, submerse, swamp
Related Words:
overcome, overrun; flow, flush, gush, pour, sluice, spout, spurt, stream; douse, drench, soak, wet
I put it next to an spot where I had used flooded. Then all I have to do is use the "find" function with Alt-F to look for flooded or synonym or whatever I want. I've found it handy to pull up if I want to use flooded to quickly find another word to use.

Just something I thought might be helpful to someone else. Have fun writing, and have a great Independence Day!