Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Back On Track

Welcome back.

I'm talking to me, not you. Sorry if that confused you.

(Not to be rude - I'm glad you're here too!)

It has be a crazy month, with a major event that basically sucked up a lot of time, emotion, and mental energy. Thus the blogging has been a low priority. The writing has been a little lower.

So what do I do if I have a major interruption to my projects?

I usually take months to get back to it.

This isn't the recommended method, so I'm trying to discard it today. I don't have a lot of good advice for this, except to say that I don't want my writing to be another casualty of the month of May-hem. (Couldn't. Resist. Pun.)

Even though I don't have a witty piece of advice or a fantastic writing story, I'm at the keyboard. I'm getting something out there. Thank you for your indulgence as I get back on track. The first step to getting back?


At least that part isn't rocket science.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CSFF Tour day 2- Beckon

Yesterday I gave my review of the CSFF Tour May feature - Beckon by Tom Pawlik. Today I wanted to discuss some of the ideas behind the book. This will necessarily feature...

You've been warned.

The town of Beckon is founded at the entrance to a series of caves, where a pre-Columbian tribe lives underground and undiscovered. The tribe lives extraordinarily long lives because of a special compound called perillium that is produced by a nest of freaky cave spiders. The tribe offers human sacrifice to the queen of the spiders, and in turn they get access to spider gunk that keeps them alive. The villain Vale found these caves in the 1800's and has a deal with the tribe to keep outsiders away in exchange for a fountain of youth.

The only problem - the people of Beckon will die a horrible death if they go a day without perillium. Vale uses this to control the people he's lured there, but he is a prisoner of the tribe himself.

This sets up an interesting moral dilemma for the characters. The book is broken into four acts, with the first three acts introducing someone who stumbles upon Beckon, and the final act is the resolution of all of their stories. The third story focused on George, a businessman in his 70's who would like to retire and enjoy his wealth. However, his barren wife Miriam has contracted Alzheimer's, and isn't really there anymore. When George is offered a chance to heal her in Beckon, he jumps at it.

Miriam's dementia is not only reversed, but she de-ages to her 20's. Old George can't keep up with his frisky young-again bride. However, when Miriam learns the cost of her treatment (they can't leave Beckon, and people are sacrificed), she denies further treatment. Her faith helps her not fear death, but George is pushed to the edge by Vale. A long-time member of Beckon, Amanda, has developed reservations about what they do. Her perillium is withheld by Vale as a warning to George. George can choose to save Amanda's life or keep Miriam healthy and alive, as there isn't enough room for both women. George allows Amanda to die for Miriam's sake.

Even though Beckon wasn't my favorite book, I enjoyed the crucible he puts George and Miriam in, and the thought of "what would YOU do for health or life" that is presented to the reader. Beckon isn't mindless entertainment, and I really like that (I think I would've liked Beckon a lot if it engaged me sooner). Pawlik sets up an intriguing choice in the town of Beckon, and I like how George isn't perfect. He is a good guy overall, but he can be pushed to a horrible choice when he lets Amanda die. It is a major test to sacrifice his wife for a stranger. The bold plot point and the implications it leaves for the reader is a major strong point for this book.

What do you think? How far should we go as a society for health and vitality?

There are other opinions of Beckon out in the rest of the CSFF Tour. Becky Miller keeps an updated list of tour posts here. Be sure to check them out as well.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CSFF Tour - Beckon Day 1

Crawling out from the depths, my eyes are blinded by the light of day. Oh, it is time for a new Christian Sci-Fi/Fantasy Tour? I have to climb out from under my rock?

Well, *only* for the CSFF Tour.

This month we are featuring Beckon by Tom Pawlik. You can check out Tom's blogwebsite, Facebook page, or even Twitter for more.

Beckon, Wyoming, is not on any map. You don't end up in Beckon by chance. If you are called to Beckon and accept, there is no leaving, but the choice is to live forever.

The book follows three separate individuals on their own quests that lead them to Beckon. Jack is hunting for clues about his missing archeologist father. Elina is a disgraced police officer tracking her kidnapped cousin. George is looking for a cure for his wife's condition.

Once they all arrive, they learn the secret of Beckon. And now that they are there, how are they going to leave?


Beckon is a book with an imaginative premise, potential for a lot of suspense, and some thought-provoking issues at the heart of the book. I'll come back to the ideas tomorrow, but I wanted to review the book today.

I wish I loved the book, but it just didn't work for me. Reviewing books can look at craft, skill, plot, and various other story elements, but sometimes it comes down to the voice of the author. Their writing connects with a particular reader or it doesn't. That's my main problem - I didn't find it engaging.

There are some real strengthens I can identify. The writing is solid in description for the most part and there is a lot of suspense. The sense of danger permeates most of the book, so the plot doesn't suffer from lack of conflict. The core themes or ideas are very intriguing to think about, and they offer good fodder for moral dilemma in the final third of the book.

Some craft choices affected my enjoyment of the book. He has four sections of the book. Jack, Elina, and George each have their story introduced. Once they all end up in Beckon and the major secret is revealed, the final act begins with their arcs intertwined. My problem was that I didn't really engage with the book until George's section in act 3. Until then I didn't really care what happened to the main characters, and I was reading out of duty for the tour instead of really digging the book. Now, once I hit that point I really wanted to see it through to the end. Several things were predictable to me, but at least at that point I cared about what was happening.

The setting of mountainous western Wyoming is a couple of hours from my backyard. It is majestic country, but I didn't get a sense of the scenery when things were above ground. A majority of the story is in caves or houses, but I wish the beautiful setting came out more.

Ultimately it comes back to the lack of connection. The book is not poorly written. I wish the first section created more empathy for Jack, because I didn't have a feel for him or Elina to really care. The prose is solid and suspense is good, but I just didn't invest until 2/3 or 3/4 through the book. Other readers may engage right away, so if you can try it out I say go for it.

We have a lot of other tourmates with other opinions. I haven't checked out any yet, waiting to get my thoughts out before I visited them. Now that I've given my review, I'll check out my friends below, and encourage y'all to do the same. Who knows, maybe I'm off my rocker (wouldn't be the first time...).

Noah Arsenault
 Julie Bihn
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
 Beckie Burnham
Brenda Castro
Theresa Dunlap
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Carol Keen
Rebekah Loper
Katie McCurdy
Shannon McDermott
Karen McSpadden
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Faye Oygard
Crista Richey
Kathleen Smith
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Shane Werlinger
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher with no obligation.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Link On Writer's Block

Okay, due to personal circumstances this week is kicking my butt. BUT, all is well or will be soon.

I missed Monday's post and didn't have time for an orignial Writing Wednesday post.

However, I can point to an excellent blog post from Rachelle Gardner, 9 Ways To Outwit Writer's Block. It is a keeper, and I highly recommend it. I'd like to see what my two main characters would do during an alien attack.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Write What You Know - Or Not

I think I've gone a long time as a writing blog without having a post on "write what you know." I had second and third thoughts on whether I should bother. I'm sure there are 4.634 gazillion blog posts on the subject.

The term write what you know is considered a good adage to follow. If you quilt, you can write compelling fiction about a team of quilters. If you like motorcycles but hate quilting, let the first group do the quilt stories.

There are people who rail against this advice. "If we only wrote what we knew, we wouldn't have any science fiction. Or historicals. Or sparkly vampire love fests." (Maybe that last one wouldn't be a bad thing.)

I would say, they're both right.

I didn't have to eat durian to describe it
I work in medicine. I spent two months in Thailand. This may have have some influence on my WIP involving a medical student traveling to Thailand. It makes it easier to start there, as I have background in it. When I've had critiques, people comment on the sections where I use the tropical location, or have a suspenseful scene with medical overtones. These parts seem to resonate more.

Writing what I know seems to be paying off right now.

The rub is that I don't know if I can write the same stuff forever. I haven't been to every country, and I don't think everything I write will be set among tropical breezes and exotic fruit. Obviously authors write about many things they don't know firsthand. They do their research, use real world experiences as references, and play off of them to write something new and unique to them.

Brandilyn Collins has an excellent three post series on her old blog where she can take anyone and put them into the mindset of a murderer. If we wrote what we knew, a lot of mystery and suspense writers have some skeletons in their closets. Maybe literally. But Brandilyn's method helps an author go to a place they would never reach otherwise (we hope).

There you go. I'm officially on the fence. Sometimes you need to write what you know. Other times demand something original, but you can still find analogies in your life to make it pop.

What side of the fence are you on?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A Special Tale - Brock's Story

Yesterday I was supposed to write a post for Mission Monday.

I want to share this morning the reason I didn't.

I have some amazing friends from church. They went through a tragedy years ago when their young son died of cancer. It is always heartbreaking when someone young dies, but Brock's Story is heartbreaking in a good way as well. It is a story of how God can work everything for good.

Please check out Brock's Story. The main story starts here, but his mother's introduction is important as well.

After reading this, I had too many tears to write a post. I was one of the church members who got to enjoy Brock's special spirit for a little while. It was so touching to remember him and to see how his life touched others.

Brock's Story is better than anything I could come up with. What a testimony.