Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cover Reveal: Love's Awakening

I love me some Laura Frantz.  She's one of my favourite authors!

I am so excited for the release of her new book Love's Awakening  (pre-order here) and I was thrilled to see the long-anticipated cover, designed by the amazing Brandon Hill 

View Laura's blog post about the cover here 

Follow Laura on Twitter @LFrantzAuthor

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chronicles of My First Draft: Some really, really, really terrible writing

When I’m writing through a first draft, I immediately want to edit as I go. Pause over one sentence and stay there and F.Scott Fitzgerald it to death. But, in order to get stuff done, I just ploughed and pummeled through. What was left, were some of the worst sentences in the history of as -of -yet unpublished fiction

The five WORST sentences I deleted from my first draft. I am sure I'll catch more later.

1.) Bodies flung everywhere, bones shattered and crushed and exposed, blood like a murky river, glass crystallized, tarnished diamond bright on marred surface

 Wow, Rachel. Looking to spell MELODRAMA with a capital M?

2.) Pressing back the smoke, the fog looked like a curtain, slight pinpricks of light cast squelched shadows on morbid devastation.

 THIS MAKES NO SENSE: how can you press back smoke and get to fog? What curtain? Pin pricks squelching light? Shuddup, Rachel, you moron! DELETE! 

3.)Dead faces were too paralyzed by a drench of saturating sensation to show emotion 
How do you spell OVER WRITING? Hint: see above

4.)Evening. In the South End wounded stumbled into the neighbourhood. Another world. Bewildered. Walking Lazaruses sprung to astounded life and unable to get their bearings.

Oh dear Lord: this one. Classic Rachel. Walking Lazaruses? Maybe that should be pluralized. Lazuri? 
Exterminate. EXTERMINATE!

5.) And then this winner, right here, the start of a chapter at that: If Jamie had thought it more carefully through, he wouldn’t have punched Roy in the jaw. 
But wait, that''s not even as bad as it originally was. It was "If Jamie had known the world was going to end the next day, he wouldn't have punched Roy in the jaw." How's that for bludgeoning you over the head with the foreshadow stick?

Writers: what’s the worst sentence you’ve ever written?

Freedom to Read Week

Happy Freedom to Read Week everyone.

Our friend and favourite Canadian YA author ARTHUR SLADE has a really cool quote to help us celebrate

Owly Images

Visit Arthur Slade on the web
Follow him on twitter: @arthurslade

Monday, February 25, 2013

Chronicles of my First Draft: Real people in Historical Fiction

As a reader, I am in awe of authors who do their best to incorporate real personages into their work. More impressed if they're given some page time and even dialogue.

When done well, like anything else in Historical fiction, inserting real figures can add dimension to the scope of history, the setting and the tone.

I am a little concerned about my ability to draw on and re-imagine historical figures fictionally. I am too afraid to try and make them speak or move around or interact with my characters.  As I become a more confident writer this might be part of my future, but for now I have inserted historical people in a deft and rather subtle way.  They get cameos.  Not speaking cameos so much as hearsay cameos.

Since I am writing about the Halifax Explosion, there are several central figures pertinent to the disaster and its after-math: Prime Minister Borden, on business is Charlottetown, stopped by Halifax and Mass. Governor McCall helped sponsor the building of transitory apartments while the North End residents were getting back on their feet. Both of these men were in Halifax; and while I mention their impact and what they were doing there, it is through character conversations and recollections of newspaper headlines.

some of the damage in richmond after the ships collided: c/o

The other historical figure that makes a cameo ( and a well-deserved one at that ) is Vincent Coleman, the telegraph operator who sacrificed his life to ensure a message got out via morse code to the expected overnight express train chugging in from St. John, NB.  A sailor warned Coleman and his colleague that the ship that had caught fire in the Harbour was carrying explosives.  While his colleague fled and with his foreman's voice in his ear beckoning him to do the same, Coleman made sure that he made communication with incoming trains. He wanted to stop the devastation before it quelled further.

He died instantly. You can even see some of the articles they found, charred and disfigured at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

I couldn't write a book about the Explosion without inserting Coleman; but  I also didn't trust myself to flesh him, or the other aforementioned personages, out with speaking parts and fictional action.

Have you seen this device used well? What memorable historical figures have you encountered in novels? Have any writers back-fired on this front?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chronicles of My First Draft: The Chaucer Edition

A Knight's Tale is great, eh? I mean, it's about as historically accurate as the kilts in Braveheart, but it is sassy and fun.

My favourite character is Geoffrey Chaucer ( who is probably not even remotely like the real Geoff Chaucer); but is so fun and funny and has such flair and so many lovely quips.

"I'm a writer", he announces, "I give the truth scope." 
When writing historical fiction I have found that I have to hang my OCD on a coat-rack for a bit, else I would spend my entire life ensuring that every single detail is researched and cited within an inch of its life.

As a reader, I enjoy historical novels which capture the essence of a time period, laced with verisimilitude, painted with enough accuracy that I can feel the time period, sprinkled with factoids and little tidbits that make me feel I am learning something. I don't need every.single. moment to be perfect. For perfection and aptitude, I can go and take a university degree or pick up some wildly-long scholarly tone.

As a writer, I need to allow myself to write the way I read. I need to forgive myself for not knowing everything.   Granted 1917 isn't the middle ages and there are photographs and videos and first-hand narratives and headlines to be found. I am rather lucky in this way. In other ways I am not. The Halifax that existed---the Richmond that existed ( a neighbourhood I write extensively about which was annihilated into a devastated, snowy wasteland by the explosion) is gone.  I can read first hand accounts; but I will never be able to walk it or feel it or see it as it was.

I have to then rely on imaginative scope. I have to hope that eventual readers will flit the pages with a taste of what existed, may learn a few interesting facts that I extracted from research, will allow me a few mea culpas.

I pardon authors on this score all the time. Indeed, I am more turned off when authors intercept their historical narrative with superfluous facts about a time. It's so intrusive.  I don't want to cut off the flow as a writer; because as a reader that is something I despise.

As a reader, what are the things that you look for in historical fiction? What pardons do you make? 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chronicles of my First Draft Part I: Throwaway Characters

I guess now that I’ve confessed the big “W” (meaning I write books) to you all, I should feel a little more comfortable to tell you a little bit about the process.

I am just finishing my first draft of my very first completed novel ever. I have written for years; but never actually finished a novel.  Well, I’m finishing it now( probably this weekend at that).

My writing is very much informed by my own creativity, yes, but also by the excessive amount of reading I do and have done my entire life.  I like to write in the way that I like to read. Meaning, some of the devices that I see that I like I try to weave into my story. Things that drive me nuts ---my literary pet peeves, per se--- I like to try and avoid.

This led me to pondering today about Throwaway Characters.   Throwaway Characters, as defined by Rachel, are those characters  you introduce in quantifiable periphery for the express purpose of moving a central plot point forward.  No one is going to dwell on and savour them, their words will not loll on your tongue after bouts of fascinating dialogue, they will not be well-drawn or developed, they are cameos.  They are the Steve Buscemi role before he got big on Boardwalk Empire.

The problem with Throwaway Characters is knowing how to balance them so that the reader doesn’t meet them mid-way and go “where the heck did this person come from?”

gratuitous fonzie photo c/o

My story is set during the months preceding , during, after and the general aftermath and reconstruction of the Halifax, Nova Scotia Explosion of 1917.   My lovely hero meets a young man named Tip (Hi! Hi Little Dorrit! I needed a throwaway name to go with my throwaway character) at a very integral part of the story only because I needed a lucid and languid bridge from point A to point B.  But now that I have quickly drafted Tip, I want to ensure that he is cleverly sewn into the seams of the story and is not just a bolting, jolting transition that forces the reader to get whiplash (he comes and goes and goes and comes ) or invest in someone they need not invest in. Emotionally. At all. ( Sorry Tip. I don’t care about you. You are a plot point).

Now, in television, throwaway characters often become breakout characters---the Arthur Fonzarellis, for example.  There is no way that Tip is going to be Fonzie: I am in control and that is not in his master plan.  But, I am thinking of times in the past when maybe I have fallen deeply for a throwaway character and then been SUPER bummed that they didn’t get more page time.

So, as readers and writers, how do you make sure that  your throwaway characters receive the amount of investment they need? Enough for you to go from plot point A à B with very little harm done?

6 Christian Novels you Must Read

Over at, I list the top 6 Christian novels everyone should read. When compiling the list I thought of market reach,, influence on the genre, historical influence and unique  quality and literary style.

I would love to hear what you would suggest and list as having a large impact on the industry.....

Check out my list here 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bookish Things

Hi Friendly Neighbourhood Reader-Folk,

Many bookish developments in my world.  I am thrilled to the gills that I have signed with a leading Christian Literary agency.  I so look forward to transitioning this blog so that it is  not only reserved for bookish rambles, but to speak more about my own bookish rambles.

Everything feels so ultra official once you are all agented and stuff ( it seriously has not sunk in that I am opening a new literary chapter.... eep! delightful!)

So, yah, this is cool and I am feeling all skippy and warm and fuzzy because NOW I am featured on my new agent's website.   SEE HERE  so it is all official and things.

All a dream come true, people. It's just earth-shattering for me :)


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

“Everyone has something worth it inside of them even if it doesn’t show. Sometimes you have to look a little harder than other times, but don’t give up. Otherwise, all your going to see is a sorehead who plays 3d base”

 It’s been a long time since I was moved by a book the way I was by Last Days of Summer and now I am afraid that what I read for the next while will fall tasteless and flat due to this experience.
      My friend Allison recommended the book as one of her favourites and, knowing her love for Americana and baseball, I had a slight inkling of what I was getting myself into.
         I wasn’t, however, prepared for the expert epistolary execution of the narrative or to be moved to tears ---in the midst of---and while laughing---hysterically at the antics of the irrepressible Joey Margolis and his unconventional friendship with his hero, 3rd baseman Charlie Banks.
         I finished the book last night ( I had been wanting to savour it, I didn’t want it to fly by so quickly), went back to the beginning and started again.
Not everyone could write this book. This book has spark and zest and zip and it just FEELS. SO. ALIVE.  What makes this book and its inherent voices spring to life are the slight idiosyncrasies, turns of phrase and even spelling and grammatical mistakes that fly between the smart aleck kid and his talented father-figure.
         Using ephemera (ticket stubs, report cards, telegrams and postcards), interview transcripts between Joey and his psychologist, letters on the presidential letterhead from FDR’s office  (Joey has a LOT to say about politics) and newspaper articles, the story unfolds and you are immediately plopped into the action: America on the brink of a war already in full swing on the other side of the world, a kid on the brink of adulthood sick of mourning his deadbeat father and a nation who is enraptured by baseball, by Hollywood, by larger-than-life heroes: abroad and on home soil. One of these heroes just happens to form and inseparable bond with a bullied kid in Brooklyn.
         Joey is far smarter than he should be and ---what is more--- he is cunning and manipulative, loves pranks and dirty jokes and naughty postcards, and just wants someone to look up to. Some attention. The only attention he gets in his anti-semitic neighbourhood finds kids cutting his cheek open with a coke bottle. You can’t help but feel that if these kids took the time to know Joey they would want to be him. Heck, I want to be him: he’s smart ( whip-smart) excels at everything, has a better handle on the New Deal than the state office does and has a knack of finding out information.
         While in Juvie for a stint, he writes Charlie Banks, 3rd baseman. He doesn’t want a t-shirt or an autograph, he wants a ball hit outta the park. At first he pleads with the case of imminent death by malaria, and then he is blind, and finally Charlie catches on. The canned responses he is so used to sending little fans won’t work with this gutsy kid.

         I am writing because me and the other boys are shoving out for Montazum and Tripoli and other palces where fighting is already fearce and we are not expected to come back alive. Anyway last night we were in our bunks wondering how many more sunsets we would get  to see, when all of a sudden the Sarge said “Gee, wouldn’t it be great if Charlie Banks could hit but one more before we go off to lay down our life?” ……..So I would appreciate if you would come to the plate sometime during Saturday’s game with Saint Louis and point to one of the outfields and say “This is for my friend Joey Margolis” (please do this on the radio” Then all you have to do is hit one over the wall. God Bless America”

         They banter, they argue, they write back. Sometimes Charlie’s girlfriend Hazel writes in, sometimes Stukey, another player from Charlie’s team.  Joey wants Charlie to come for dinner, Charlie says in your next lifetime, kids threaten Joey and Charlie is there, a baseball player, a god….those kids won’t beat up on Joey anymore.
         Joey wants to go on a road trip with Charlie.  Joey wants his father to be there for his bar mitzvah. In both cases, it is Charlie who comes through.
When Joey enters a  presidential essay contest on why his father should be the President of the United States, it is Charlie’s name and actions that grace the page, Charlie and Joey go to the White House.
         I could’ve read forever about their antics together. Their letters, their little quibbles, the postscripts in Charlie’s letters to Hazel when he mentions that he can’t believe, while watching Joey, how little he is: a little kid with a big, unfathomable brain, their Christmas cards, their funny names for each other. This book could’ve been eight times longer and that day-to-day correspondence would’ve had be laughing and crying simultaneously.
         Then Pearl Harbour happens and the world changes and Americans don’t need baseball heroes anymore, they need real heroes to fight in the Pacific arena.  Joey gets used to the fact that Charlie will be writing, not from the road, but from another country.
         Charlie once drafted a contract specific to their relationship, outlining his demands for their unlikely friendship. This contract, the war rippling through it, is forced to change.

         I love stories about makeshift families: through time, tide and circumstance, people finding each other and holding on for dear life. This speaks to two lonely people who both need some: a kid who needs a hero when his dad goes away, a hero who needs to influence someone in a more concrete way than hitting a ball out of a park.

         This is the kind of book that will appeal to many: to men, to women, to those who just like to snortle tea outta their mouths while reading…
         This is the kind of book that you borrow from the library (like me), get halfway through and add to your immediate amazon purchase list.  This is the kind of book that will rip your heart out and make you cry, but you’re so busy laughing that the noise emitting from your nose and mouth is like a stunted chuckle-chortle-sob.

I love this book. I love that Allison loves this book. I love that I understand her even more having read this book  ( that’s what favourite books do, kids, they allow you to steal into the recommending parties’ psyche and you’re given a slice into their brain for awhile), you will love this book.

Just go read this book. Everything will taste like flat coca cola for weeks after reading it ( it’s gonna for me) but golly! It was SO worth it.

And now, some quote spam because I am crying just thinking about all of this:

Your head and your heart are two different things. One of them can get you into trouble and the other one can’t. It’s okay to be scared when you can’t tell them apart. That happened to me every day of my life. But nobody ever saw it except you.”

“When you get famous or rich and maybe you thnk that you wish I was there to see it, remember that one way or the other I am”

p.s. There’s a nice nod (or two ) to David Copperfield
p.p.s This book should be a movie
p.p.p.s. Visit his website. he is the BEST 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Litfuse Blog Tour: Fear, Faith and a Fistful of Chocolate

Fear, Faith and a Fistful of Chocolate, is a light, anecdotal and humorous approach to the little worries which plague us each day.

Christian humourist Deborah Coty doesn't hold back when it comes to infusing her short, devotional-sized motivational chapters with personal experiences making for an easy, short read ideal for women's groups and church book clubs.

Each chapter starts with a scripture verse to get the ball rolling. From there, Coty walks us through a few real-life examples, targeting fears---from general to overt--- and typing them up with discussion questions and thoughts to ponder independently or in a group.

Coty has a light, breezy style with some gentle, clean humour devoid of any edge. If you are looking for a sweet book ( a gift book, perhaps?), this might be the perfect idea--- tied with a bit of chocolate and with the promise of discussing its wisdom after each nugget has been exhumed and pondered.

Enter the Kindle Fire Giveaway!

Enter Today - 2/14 - 3/6!
Fear Faith and a Fistful of Chocolate Debora Coty Kindle Fire Giveaway

visit the Litfuse Landing Page here 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bell Let's Talk Day

Readers of the blog know I have never shyed away from being open about my struggle with anxiety and  OCD. I am one of the lucky sufferers who, though I will always have to cope in some way, has largely overcome it and have been able to function as a successful, happy human being :)

That's not without a lot of work and frustration on my part, and the part of health professionals, and not without a lot of challenges and hurdles.

I am one of the fortunate few. Millions suffer from Mental Illness without diagnosis, recognition, or a chance to resolve their situation and receive the help they need. More still, millions suffer in silence. To add, there is still a stigma nationally that separates this legitimate illness from the "easier to identify" illnesses which plague people.

....It's like having a broken arm and not wearing a sling. The pain is there, the medical problem is legitimately there, but the sling is hidden.

Bell Canada is donating 5 cents to mental health initiatives from every tweet sent (#BellLetsTalk) every time the image I include here is shared on Facebook, and every time users text and make a long distance call. < learn more about the initiative and campaign here >

This is in no way, shape or form a sponsored post. This is, instead, a grateful opportunity from someone who has overcome and learned to cope with mental illness to spread recognition to those who may still be uneasy speaking about it or pursuing medical attention. More still, it is intended to provide awareness to a campaign that I believe strongly in.

Now let's all go eat pancakes! because it's ALSO Shrove Tuesday !

Friday, February 08, 2013

Film Review: the Mill and the Cross dir., Lech Majewski

Discombobulated Musings on a Film so Surreal and Reverent, I cannot surmise it in adequate Words.

source: Wikipedia

"So this could be a group of saints, returning from the past to mourn the present state of Flanders."

What would it be like, you might wonder, to see a painting as an artist imagined it, to steal into its world, examine its blots and colours and idiosyncrasies and irregularities, and exhume the breath of those inhabiting its great canvas?

What would it be like to seep into its folds, to watch it come to life, to view its creator as he sketches out its shape-in-embryo, chooses the axis, the crux of the focal point and weaves the action around and around that pinnacle like the web of a spider?

The Mill and the Cross is rather like revelatory examination of a work.  The film angle never strays from straight on, the viewer is never given any perspective they would not have looking straight on from the canvas.  No fancy, angled-camera work here, rather an exposition.

It begins as Bruegel discusses the inspiration for his next work with his patron.  They weave amidst a flock of still characters, Bruegel conniving slight touches: the re-positioning of a hem, the flounce of a skirt of fabric.  From there, the camera moves out and we are left with the opening shot. That of the great  1564 painting The Procession to Calvary

It is an examination of the political turmoil, the occupation of Flanders under the Spanish, the barbaric persecution of the protestants in a Catholic-dominated land.  But it speaks beyond its specific circumstance, entreating viewers to ponder the barbaric and judgment in their own times, humanity's cruelty to one another and the moments of grace that can intercede to infiltrate meaning to the meaningless and hope to the hopeless.

The plot is an interlacing of moments, of scenes, of tableaux: beginning from the first action where we see two men chopping down a tree in the forest. The Christian symbolism here is not just overt, it is seeped in every crevice of the work. More still, it unfolds into a re-creation of the Crucifixion, as seen by the eyes of an artist in an occupied land.

"In our land we're reduced to beggary. If only time could be stayed. If it could only be brought to a stop. If only we could wrestle this senseless moment to the ground, clearly speak its name to its face and break its power....." says Bruegel's patron at one point.  And brutality is rampant: a young man is severed from his wife, beaten and hoisted on a pole, a woman is buried alive. We are never to know what their crimes were. We are only to know that Spanish persecution in the name of Christ is subjucating tyranny in the same way it did at the time the Romans persecuted our Lord.

source: tweedslandsgentlemansclub.blogspot

There is little speaking, merely figures who move listlessly and grounded throughout the visual scope of Bruegel's imagination. What is said is sparse; but lovely all the same ...almost Shakespearian...certainly poetic. Especially Mary's internal dialogue. Yes, Mary, Simon, Judas and Peter are all present in this re-working of the final days of Christ's life.

Yet, interwoven more greatly are symbols that divine Christ long after his execution, speaking clearly to those who are familiar not only with His influence but the entirety of the Tale told: a lamb is wrested from the back of a stone cottage, the millers make bread. The colour of the Spanish tunics is red: the otherwise muted colour of the landscape drawing back so that the focal point is on the colour of blood.

Christ is in all.

The Great Miller acts as God watching the action below and Bruegel, as artist, acts as God ---able to stop time and meander and manipulate the action, express it, capture it for all the world to see and learn from. For just as Bruegel lifts his hand to stop the motion affront him  ( the way to Calvary) so the omniscient miller from his post on high raises his hand to stop the grinding wheel. Ever think of how a windmill, when caught in a certain position in its ongoing wheel takes the shape of a cross? Here, a moment of intersection against a looming sky makes for an ethereal and equally eerie symbol.

Judas hangs himself as Bruegel picks up scattered sketches
The storm rises and the rooster crows, the mill continues turning

You can see God in can see God in Bruegel ----though, like the inspiration, Christ and His moment of sacrifice is lost in the carousel of commotion. Nonetheless, though overlooked in the massive span of action and populous, He is there all the same, turning the wheels in motion, redeeming all at once. "All these great events go right unnoticed by the crowd", Bruegel says, thinking of the moment when the perspective shifts and the throng watches Simon break to carry the cross for Jesus

A landscape sprung to life from the crevices and caches and catches of oil work and matted and imagined in vivid life

Characters in tableaux: lusty, ordinary, tortured, frail.... humanity on parade.

Artists' renderings of life are beautiful and yet the seed that roots this beauty is borne, here, of tribulation; but not without a powerful symbol of redemption and not without a working of Grace.

Note: this is a relatively violent movie though rated 14 A.

Author Interview: Allison Pittman

I really, really love Allison Pittman!  And I was thrilled to read and review her delicious new novel All For a Song .... make sure you check out my review on Novel Crossing 
I also, really like Allison because she may be my favourite facebook-banter discovery EVER! She's fun, guys! super fun and I am so blessed to have been able to connect with her personally over the past five months or so. Plus, I get to meet her for REALZ in september :)

So, I give you..... ALLISON!

R:You often write books that deal with challenging themes: especially considering they are written for the Christian market. You’ve tackled the history of Mormonism, the controversial Evangelicalism of Aimee Semple McPherson, what draws you to subject matter that, within the confines of the CBA, can be regarded as edgy?

A: I don’t know that I’m necessarily drawn to “edgy.” I think my stories sometimes skew that way because I every novel starts with a character. I don’t gravitate towards historical time periods or geography, and I never set out to tackle any kind of spiritual theme. I create these people, and I find a way to showcase their story. So, for example, in The Sister Wife books, I wasn’t necessarily wanting to shed the spotlight on Mormonism, I created this man, Nathan Fox, who wanted so badly to be something in this world, he embraced the doctrine that offered the promises he desired. In All for a Song, after studying Aimee Semple McPherson, I found Dorothy Lynn in her shadow. And, I have to say, the 107-year-old Dorothy Lynn came first; the story of her younger self long after.

R:Aimee Semple McPherson is a popular figure in 20th Century Christian history. What was the most difficult part of fictionalizing an icon and breathing her to life in your pages?

A:I was (and am) so afraid of misrepresenting her, especially to those who know her and her ministry. So, I watched videos of her appearances and speaking to try to capture the feel of her on stage, but then featured her in private, undocumented moments. I know that some might see the portrayal as unflattering, but I think she was probably much more Oprah than Beth Moore, you know? She was a powerful woman—in terms of media savvy and manipulation, probably the most powerful in the country at the time. I have no doubts about her love for the Lord and the awesome role she played in preaching the Gospel and winning others to Christ. But, with all that, at the bottom line she was a business woman fiercely in control of her brand and her message, before anybody ever really knew what all that stuff even meant.

R:Roland Lundi’s a rascal--- but he’s a fun rascal!... and so well-drawn. You’ve written some very dishy guys: Cullen in Lillies in Moonlight, Dave Voyant in Stealing Home, do you have a favourite character?

A:Dave Voyant is definitely up there—mostly because it was so much fun aging him through the novels. And I loved Cullen, too, because I had the chance to write from a male POV and really capture the physical attraction a man has for a woman. A pet peeve of mine is when Christian fiction gouges out the masculinity of attraction, and we have these big, macho, awesome ranchers or whatever asking God to forgive them for noticing a woman’s figure. God designed men to be visually stimulated. He’s looking at a woman who, according to the story, he will love and cherish forever in the confines of marriage. Just be honest, you know? One of my favorites is that dishy Cajun baseball player from The Bridegrooms, Louis LaFortune, who was an absolute, unrepentant cad—but self-actualized about it. I like my men to be…MEN. And, wait until y’all meet Max in the next book…

R:There’s a subtle romance in All for A Song which takes a back-seat to the more prominent journey of Dorothy Lynn coming into her own and her spiritual awakening. How did you find the right balance---to keep those readers like me who enjoy a bit of chemistry tantalized---while still making sure that the deeper themes of the novel were at the forefront?

A:SPOILER AHEAD!!!!! I’m not even sure I achieved real balance there, but I’m OK with it. I think I sometimes get frustrated with stories—even romances—that showcase this idea that all of the character’s happiness and fulfillment center around that ultimate relationship/marriage. Here’s the deal: Dorothy Lynn spends the overwhelming percentage of her life with Logan. She loves him. She was happily married until death-did-them-part. But she did give up something potentially great in order to be his wife. To me, there’s a bittersweetness to that. For me to make that work, I think the key is what you said—tantalize. I had so many false starts in writing that part of the story—more than any other book. I had everything from the first time they met, to their first date, to their first kiss…I finally knew I had to start their story with them already firmly in love and future-focused. I wanted physical attraction and appropriate physical passion to keep her grounded.

R:What does your research process look like? Do you research while writing, or do you tend to try and get it out of the way before you start the novel?
A:Mostly while writing—otherwise, I’d never start writing! I’ll devote maybe a week or so to pure, directed research, but then I have to get started on the story so I can establish that character voice and pace. Then, in the middle of it all, I have to take an hour off of writing to see if Darlene would have a doorbell, ya know? Or, like, I want the sisters to go to the movie, preferably a Rudy Valentino movie, so I have to stop and make sure there was a movie released at the time of the story. Sometimes that backfires. While writing my current novel, for example, I was thrown for a loop because there were no women’s prisons in California prior to something like 1935. So I had to relocate a huge chunk of my story because I couldn’t just dump my girl in Alcatraz. Result? The story is much stronger.

R:As Christians, what can we learn from the flamboyant 1920s? It’s obviously an integral and historically-charged decade that paved the way for a lot of tumultuous years to follow. What do you think it was like for believers suddenly faced with conflicting moralities and a fresh way of looking at the experience of worship?

A:I picture it being like a national parent dealing with a national teenager. All of a sudden, our home and our values mean nothing, and you’re just going crazy with the booze and the sex and the Charleston. We had a little bit of a hard time selling the idea of a 1920’s setting to the Christian market, because nobody associates faith with that time period, which made me a little crazy. Of course there were Christians! And evangelists, and churches, and people who looked to God for solace and grace. In some ways, I think, people were freed from some of the stagnancy of religion and worship. Sin and vice had escaped the saloon and were worming their way into popular culture and mainstream behavior, so it seems like faith had to become more genuine to stand up against it.

R:What’s next, Allison Pittman?

A:I’ve got two more books coming along that keep us in the 1920’s, with a few cameo appearances by Sister Aimee and Roland Lundi! And from there—well, that’s what I’m grappling with right now! I sometimes envy those writers who have that identifiable “brand.” Like, you know it’s going to be a small-town western story, or you know it’s going to be a pioneer, or whatever. I’m not like that. I have to wait for some girl to speak to me from the pages of my research, or a photograph to scream its story, or the perfect question to come up during an aimless web search. That’s the second-hardest part of this job for me, finding the idea. The hardest? Wrapping words around that idea to try to sell it. Tell you the truth…I can’t wait to know what’s next!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Literary Scavenger Hunt

There is a mistake in this really fun list.

Can you find it?


not grammatical or spelling

not a personal preference mistake ( i mean, we'd be at THAT all day: obviously MORTIMER over Eugene Wrayburn)

go forth and find and report said findings

people who SHOULDA made the list--STEPHEN MATURIN! 

Bees in the Butterfly Garden by Maureen Lang

Bees in the Butterfly Garden has two BIG things going for it a. ) it’s a Christian Historical about THIEVES ( and no, not the lame Gown of Spanish Lace type) b.) Maureen Lang is a beautiful, beautiful writer.

Meg Davenport is your run-of-the-mill prep school sweetheart. She’s learned the ways of etiquette and propriety, she is bred to be a proper wife for a society man. But, when her father, who has long supported her tenure at boarding school and is proud of all she is learning from Mme. Marisse’s Handbook for Young Ladies, passes away and Meg learns his true identity and the true nature of her past, Meg’s world is turned upside down.

Meg’s father John Davenport was one of New York’s finest criminals. Wanting to spare Meg his life and ensure she was well set up among the echelon of the Fifth Avenue families he robs, he kept his true nature a secret from her in hopes that should he pass, Meg would be supported by a husband and a rich lifestyle. But, Meg’s too canny and too spirited to settle for her late father’s wishes. In fact, she’d much rather learn more about his past and try her hand at the family business among such hardened ne’er-do-wells as Pubjug and Brewster and others of her father’s crew. Her father’s protégé, however, the irrepressible Ian Maguire wants to honour John’s wishes and keep Meg from the underhanded business she is suddenly so curious about. All of Ian’s life he has heard Meg’s name praised to the skies by her father and now, with Meg in his path, a beautiful and refined young woman, he cannot imagine entrenching her in the shady lifestyle of her heritage.

When an inadvertent opportunity pairs Ian and Meg together to steal from one of the wealthiest families in New York, their paths cross as adversaries and suddenly as prospective courters. Meg discovers whether or not she has the heart for burglary and Ian begins to wonder if the slight tugging at his conscience comes from a higher place.

Though constant quotations ( seriously, beginning every chapter), took away from the flow of the story and loose ends wrapped up really well (as in as pertly and properly and easily as an episode of White Collar ), this was a fun, fast, energized and extremely well-written novel. Indeed, my first from Maureen Lang whose previous books I now want to seek out.

We all saw the cover and went “ooooo pretty!” when it was first released and the inside is pretty, too! I really enjoyed Lang’s attention to slight detail: the offerings of refreshment at an outdoor concert, the place settings and courses at an upper-crust dinner party, the marks and mars of Ian’s trade. It is obvious that Lang was suffused with a passion for the time period and its intricate complexities as she wound her way through the writing process. Meg’s penchant for flowers was also welcome. While faith of any sort seems rather light in the first half, the second half doles out plenty by way of redemption, mercy and grace, especially as emblemized through a painting of Christ and the two thieves at Golgotha. While this might seem a little too obvious a metaphor, Lang’s gentle evocation of the wistful and rueful effect it has on its viewers made it, in short, work as a tie to the Christian message.

I immediately sensed Ian’s fascination with Meg and, at first, am certain that it was borne of the duty he felt towards her father. It would have been easy, thus, to assume that the love of he felt for her was one more of idolization. However, the more circumstance threw the two of them together, Lang deftly interwove moments where their chemistry deepened---where Meg saw beyond Ian’s exterior as a talented crook and focused on the man he was (confused and hurt from his past ).

As mentioned, the plot threads tied up a little too nicely and the denouement occurred rather quickly. Ian’s planted “ excuse” to secure Meg’s protection in a scene and his explanation for a missing item didn’t quite seem credible to me, but, as I mentioned earlier---- this is kinda like White Collar and Ian kinda like Neal Caffrey ( is Caffrey now an archetype for dashing gold-hearted criminal who you can’t seem to stay mad at despite his erring of the law?--- and I kinda like White Collar.

Unique, smartly written and featuring characters who drink wine! Imagine! Also, featuring characters not quite black or white: who trust and serve God while performing tasks that maybe don’t QUITE inch up to the Ten Commandments.

Monday, February 04, 2013

At Drake's Command by David Wesley Hill

This novel not only had the best blog pitch I have ever read (shamefully, I have had it on my kindle since December and have been remiss in writing this blog post ), it has the best opening chapter of any book I can recall. Ever.

Reader, it is gripping.

It is subtitled The Adventures of Peregrine James During the Second Circumnavigation of the World  and it takes those of us smitten with nautical lore to a time and tide oft abandoned by novelists who would much rather pursue the great Napoleonic-era vessels of the late 18th and early 19th Century.

Its freshness, its panache; but also the skilled hand that leads us happily along are what solidified this as the best nautical story I have read since I turned the last page of The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey by Patrick O'Brian near a decade ago.

Let me start with the opening chapter....A Fine Morning to be Whipped... and a fine chapter to guide any of us who employ or passion for scribbling.  We meet Perry and we fall in love with him by the second sentence.

We are immediately thrust into the time and circumstance that led him to his unfortunate whipping post as the grey dankness of a November sky settles around him.   In just a few pages, Perry is given a reason to run off and join Drake, an entire backstory, a well-rounded bout of characterization. You will love him. 

I loved him immediately. If this book had instead been Perry's Adventures on Land Escaping Whipping Posts, you can bet I still would have read it.  

Nonetheless, and fortunate for those of us who enjoy a bit of the salty brine in our literary adventures, we are given a first-class glimpse into life aboard an Elizabethan-Era vessel. Hill has more than done his homework and descriptions such as the following pepper the fast-flying pages:

At the stern, a half deck and a poop deck were built above the main deck and on top of one another, so that the rear of the ship rose higher than the forepart, something like the posture of a cat crouching to strike. On the half deck I saw Drake, his fiery hair unmistakeable, as was his pose of command. 

While Cook's assistant Perry gets more than his fair share of unintentional espionage ashore, it is his life and the politics interred in the planks and shafts of the vessel that best caught my imagination.  To add, Hill's beautiful writing:

The ship shuddered like a horse preparing to gallop and then surged forward as one sail after another was set. I craned my neck and watched them swell with wind, a garden of strange and beautiful flowers blooming in the moonlight.  The highest sails, the topsails, had square red crosses in their centres, but the lower ones, the main courses, were plain white. Small dark blotches against the canvas were sailors balancing on lines far above the deck.

Hill doesn't hold back with the similes which spring the ship to life as a living, breathing entity and it is this reverence for a vessel: suffused with the breath and palpitating pulse supplied by the rigours and efforts of the men onboard 

Peregrine’s adventures are a series of vignettes ---from land and at sea--- interspersed with historical trimmings and sewn up together in great detail.  Marooned, kidnapped, on expeditions of espionage, for a lowly cook’s assistant, Perry is given a fine taste of life at a time when politics and warfare interwoven to an extent that test his conscience.

What struck me about Perry was how he was a perfect counterbalance of light, hearty adventure, riddled with a wry wit and a cunning way of capturing circumstance and a human who realizes his own misgivings and shortcomings. At the death of a friend and comrade, Perry turns to retrospection and consequently to moodiness. Perry is refreshingly human. To recall O’Brian, I was most taken by his series because of the depth of characterization. Here, I felt deeply for the characters ( even those in periphery are well-painted) and the myriad of circumstances that bind them together and rift them apart.

Hill’s grasp of dialogue and his apt attention to infusing fictional banter with historical gravity (especially when it comes to painting scenes from the history books with Frances Drake and Thomas Doughty in play ) is wonderful.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to lovers of nautical fiction. Most know that I have waded through what seems an endless array of nautical stories in hopes of recapturing the feeling and essence that wafted from the pages of an O’Brian story--- often to no avail.  I cannot WAIT for the next adventure to hit stores.

For those who are uninitiated to nautical fiction; but are captivated by history ---there is enough in the pages of humour and adventure to keep you engaged.

I would like to thank the author for the opportunity to review this book and offer a mea culpa for my tardiness in this post