A Suspense Novels Diet

Present word count of WIP:  58,962

Suspense novels are thrilling . . . when read in moderation. At least, that’s my theory. And any good theory needs testing, right?

As I’ve written in this article, humans are geared for suspense, but is there such a thing as too much? Would a steady diet of suspense fiction keep you on the edge of your seat, or would it begin to seem repetitive?

I’ve decided to find out. Two years ago, NPR put out a list of the top 100 “Killer Thrillers” as voted on by their listeners, and I’m going to read and review every book on that list. Except for some books by friends, as well as other books I may have to judge for contests, I’m going on a “suspense diet.”

Beginning in July (after my daughter has left for California), each Thursday will be my “Thriller Thursday” in which I’ll post a review of one of the “Killer Thrillers.”

Granted, it may take me 3-5 years to get through the whole list, but I’m game. (Note: I’m also perfectly willing to set a book aside if it proves too gory, violent, vulgar, or salacious. This may well cut the list in half, but at least I’ll get through it quicker.)

#1 on the list and first up: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (Shudder!)

I want to find out two things:

1) Will they continue to thrill or become repetitive?

2) What kind of effect will such a reading diet have on me personally?

What do you think the answers to those questions will be a year from now? I’d love to hear your own theories.

Originally posted 2012-06-22 22:53:42.

A New Phase of Education for Jason

Present word count of WIP:  57, 414

Strangely enough, Jason’s elementary and secondary education were both marked by newspaper coverage.

The first was The Press-Enterprise newspaper back in Riverside (a decade before they had an online version), when he attended Sunshine Early Childhood Center:

The latest was his inclusion by the online edition of The Tri-City Herald in their slide show of Richland High School’s graduation ceremonies. It’s one of my favorite pictures of him because he is simply beaming!

Jason gets his high school diploma, graduating Magna Cum Laude!

Now, he begins the next phase of his education as he transitions into adulthood.

First, this past Sunday he was sustained by the general membership of our stake (equivalent to a Catholic diocese in our church) to receive the higher priesthood and be set apart as an Elder. The actual ordination will probably take place in early July before his sister leaves on her mission. This will help him prepare to serve a mission in our church soon after he turns 19 in December.

In the meantime, however, he plans on beginning college studies in the fall. BYU-Idaho offers a new online program, by which those with learning/social disabilities like Jason can learn the social and study skills they will need to succeed in college courses. Called the Pathway Program, it offers weekly skill-building meetings at the local LDS Church Institute and some college prep courses. Once he is accepted into the program and has completed three semesters satisfactorily, he can be enrolled online with BYU-Idaho to pursue the degree of his choice.

He meets for his entry interview tonight, forty-five minutes from now. I promise to add an update, detailing how the meeting went (or as much as I can get out of him about it, anyway). Wish him luck!

If all goes well, he’ll begin attending Institute next week and then the Pathway courses will begin in September. The terrific thing is that I believe he’ll be able to continue his studies while he’s serving a local service mission for the Church beginning in January!

Now, if we can only figure out how to occupy his time this summer, besides helping him try to find a job. I have a few plans, but I’ll write more about them in a couple of weeks when I next post about Jason.

In any case, I’m looking forward to my son’s educational achievements in the future. Perhaps he’ll even make the newspaper again!

Originally posted 2012-06-15 06:00:10.

Writing Blind

Present word count of WIP:  56,872

Writing, for me, is an act of faith.

I believe that when I face an empty Word document on my computer screen (or a blank piece of paper)…and set my fingers to the keyboard (or take pen in hand), words and scenes will begin to flow into my mind and out of my hands to create a story.

If I’m writing a novel, all I usually start with is a character and a situation. I am not an outliner. And this has always struck me as odd, since I organize and make lists for everything else in my life. When it comes to creative writing, however, I close my eyes and leap.

Perhaps it stems from my beginnings with poetry. Verse is always born from inspiration. Yes, at times I’ll sit down with the subject in mind, but that is all. I wait patiently and let phrases come and go then grasp at those that build a vision of sorts. A vision that feels true. And as it rises in construction, I’ll knock a wall out here, add a window there, take off a whole wing if it detracts from the vision’s elegance. And how do I know if it adds or detracts? By the feeling I get as I read the words, say the words. It’s a heavy, full feeling…a feeling not unlike what I’m experiencing right now. Closer to what I feel in spiritual moments than when I am enthralled with a work of art. It’s a humbling sensation.

And when I write stories, it’s much the same. I take the first step or two and then count on a higher power to carry me through. Always, so far, I have been pleasantly surprised at plot points that seemed to have arisen out of nowhere.

In The Reckoning I had not planned to bring Peter back to Baghdad to find Theresa imprisoned in her cell. But as I introduced the element of hidden audio and video devices in her cell, it suddenly came to me how powerful it would be to have him witness for himself her growing affection for Tariq. That is just one instance. There were countless other examples in that book.

In the forthcoming The Boy in the Pool my random selection of a particular book for my main character to read in an early scene turned out to provide some major plot developments as I felt inspired to research the book’s title. What I discovered was too good to be mere coincidence.

And in my current work in progress, it’s happening again. Symbols recurring seemingly by chance. Myths foreshadowing the course of the story. Some I’ve noticed myself, while others have been pointed out to me by those in my writing group.

I don’t know why I should be surprised. After all, writing blind is merely putting your work of creation in the hands of the Creator. I’m not discounting the need for craft, technique, and talent. I’m simply saying that without faith those are insufficient to produce my best work. My truest work requires a connection with the source of truth.

And the longer I write blind, the truer I believe my work will become.

Originally posted 2012-06-08 13:59:25.

One Chapter Ends, Another Begins

Present word count of WIP:  56,872

Jason before the Graduation Ceremony

He’s done. He graduated. He walked with the Class of 2012 on Friday evening, and received his fancy diploma holder (minus the actual diploma, which will arrive in the mail soon). After moving his honors tassel (he graduated magna cum laude) from the right to the left along with all the other graduates, he tossed his cap in the air.

Of course, he was careful to toss it only so far so that he could quickly and easily retrieve it. After all, Jason didn’t cease being Jason upon graduating.

It was interesting to me that I didn’t get emotional during the ceremony, though my feelings seemed to cut through to my heart like a sharp knife slicing through a doughy loaf of bread. I watched as he walked in through the honor guard of academically robed faculty toward his assigned seat to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

My eyebrow rose as he then walked straight past his row toward the front. Was he making a major faux pas? No, I realized, seeing his destination: the three small risers set up in front of the dais for the “Senior Choir.” As soon as all the seniors had entered and taken their places, everyone in the sports arena was asked to stand and face the flag as Jason and his fellow graduating seniors from Richland High’s Chamber Choir sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Afterward, they took their assigned seats and the welcome and speeches got underway. Two things that were memorable:

First, a young man from Egypt, one of the nine graduating foreign exchange students, surprised and touched everyone when he seized the podium for a moment to give a sincere thanks for his experience here, saying “I will never forget you.” Considering the political turmoil to which he’s returning, I am sure he won’t.

Second, in talking about success, one of the valedictorians quoted the poet, Maya Angelou: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

That spoke to me because I found that to be a measure that would work for someone like my son. So many of these graduates are headed away from home either immediately or once the summer’s over–to college, jobs, or the armed forces. Perhaps they will measure their success by the world’s standard: a degree, an increase in salary, or a promotion in rank.

In the end, however, it’s the inner measure that truly counts. How happy are you? Do you like yourself? Do you like what you’re doing and how you’re doing it?

And that brings me to the true moments of joy I felt and witnessed as I watched Jason end his high school days this past week and a half.

At his final choir concert, Jason was named “Most Inspirational” among the Chamber Choir members and you should have heard the roar of approval and cheers from all his friends. That’s when I got emotional. I think it even surprised Mr. Fryhling, his director.

Again, as I watched him with his friends after the graduation ceremony on Friday (and at yesterday’s Open House honoring the graduates at our church), I was struck by how far he had come since his pre-school days.

Jason and Cody

David and Jason

Jason greeting another friend

James and Jason

Christian, Harrison, and Jason

It was a surprise for me because, unlike elementary school where parents are allowed to hover a bit, helping out the teacher as their cover, middle school and high school are practically “No Trespass” zones (unless they happen to be teachers there, as well).

Sure, he made friends in elementary school, but they were perhaps a handful at most. And he spent time with them as much for the toys they offered as for camaraderie.

But these high school years have brought Jason true joy. Check out his smile in this picture with his friend, Harrison, for example. That is no pasted on smile. That is true happiness.

Jason and Harrison

And, in the end, that’s all that counts in my book.

I can’t be sure about what lies ahead for my son, but I know he’s already gained two things that last forever–knowledge and friendships.

Originally posted 2012-06-03 09:41:13.

Another Road Trip

Present word count of WIP:  56,674

Unlike most mothers, I never really had to do a lot of chauffeuring when my kids were younger (except for the three years they were involved with Riverside Children’s Theatre). After one year of girls softball, Allison gave it up, and Jason was NEVER interested in sports.

Then my daughter entered high school and gave one more sport a try: Cross Country. She did quite well (even competing at State), and more importantly, found a life long pursuit. In the process, I put a lot of mileage on the van and then the SUV.

In California, I drove to schools in the Inland Empire, the famous Mt. SAC competition, and even up to the well-known Clovis Invitational, all to watch her run and cheer their team on. Once we moved up here to Washington after her sophomore year, the driving continued to points east and west of the Cascades and even into Oregon. Fortunately, the state championship was held in our own backyard–Pasco.

I thought most of my driving days were pretty much over when Allison went off to college. And sure enough, I only averaged 1-2 trips down to Utah during most of her years at BYU (and one of those annual trips each year was for my benefit–a writing conference).

Allison's Graduation Picture

Then this past April hit. With our daughter preparing to graduate and go off to serve a mission, we decided we should attend General Conference as a family. One trip. A niece in South Jordan got married. Another trip. Allison graduated and went through the SLC temple in preparation for her mission. A third trip. The LDStorymaker’s Writer’s Conference. A fourth trip.

Tomorrow morning I’m heading down again, this time to help her pack up and bring everything home so she can attend her brother’s graduation. But do you think she’s staying put once she’s home? Nope. You see, there’s this half marathon she wants to run back in . . . you guessed it. Provo.

I think that’s one race I can miss, particularly because we’ll be taking yet another trip down that way in mid-July to drop her off at the MTC.

Have all these trips been worth it? Of course! Spending time with her, seeing her graduate after working so hard, seeing her so beautiful in white in the temple. Socializing with, and learning from, all my writing friends. Every single trip was worth it. And this one will be no different.

Besides, it’s helped me train for long-distance travel. Something I hope will come in handy when The Boy in the Pool comes out at the end of summer and I have to drive around for signings in bookstores and Costcos here in the Northwest and in Utah (and wherever else my publisher recommends).

But this time around I’ll be chauffeuring myself.

Originally posted 2012-05-28 17:31:54.

WOMEN OF STRENGTH by Tristi Pinkston

Present word count of WIP:  55,431 (Yay, I’m finally moving ahead again!)

One of my favorite and most revealing stories from my tomboyish childhood (I was only three at the time this occurred) was recounted by my father in his personal history as follows:

“Christmas was fun…Tanya wanted and got cowboy boots and hat, plus a gun belt and six-shooters. She slept that  night wearing everything but the hat…Later we were to learn that she had developed a belief that boys get all the toys. In their shared bedroom, Jeff’s bed, especially made for us in Athens, had large deep drawers for the toys. When they finished playing they had to put their toys away in their assigned drawers. But Tanya apparently thought this meant all the toys were Jeff’s. We didn’t know this until almost a year later. At a friend’s party in Athens, Greece, she told a guest that ‘only boys can have toys.’ This taught us that words are only one of the languages that reach our youngest children.”

I couldn’t help but be reminded of that story as I read Tristi Pinkston’s short, but marvelous book, WOMEN OF STRENGTH. As she points out so well, and in so many ways, a woman’s true strength comes from within, not from any outward “toy” like a career, job, educational degree, high-placed connection, or luxury possession. Within the LDS Church, even a woman’s calling in the ward is no indication of her real power, except in the way she fulfills or magnifies it.

She discusses the source of our strength and how it meshes perfectly with the nature of a woman. Separate chapters are devoted to our strength as wives, singles, or parents. She talks about how we are less without men and how they are less without us. In the eyes of God, men and women are equal and always have been.

We demonstrate our strength, she says, in the ways we keep God’s commandments, develop our talents, and display virtue in our lives. Most importantly, she calls on women everywhere to step forward in this age of slipping morality and take a stand for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world.

If you ever doubted your own worth as a woman, or know a wife, sister, mother, daughter, niece, granddaughter, or friend who has, this book has strength, in and of itself, to lift the insecure soul of any woman.

Originally posted 2012-05-25 12:42:31.

DAUGHTERS OF JARED by H.B. Moore – Review

Present word count of WIP:  55,312

Back Cover Copy

Naiva, daughter of the dethroned King Jared II, lives in the shadow of her privileged elder sister, Asherah. But when Asherah develops a secret plot to return their father to the throne, Naiva’s resentment turns to fear. Thwarting the scheme becomes more complicated when Naiva discovers that Akish, the first man who has shown interest in her, is an integral part of the plan.

(I’ve decided not to quote the rest of the back cover copy because it gives too much away, in my opinion, and part of the fun of reading this, or any, book is not knowing in which direction the story will twist.)

 

My Review

Two things stood out in this novel, besides the fact that it was well written.

First, the author certainly knows Meso-American culture and history. Having read a couple of her other works set in the same general area and time, I wasn’t surprised, but I must say that her research here really shines. Her descriptions of dwellings, clothing, makeup, food, and rituals easily transported me into the world and story scripturally described by Moroni in the the book of Ether in the Book of Mormon. Some may argue about the need or even the propriety of fictionalizing scripture, but I, for one, have no problem distinguishing between a work of scripture and a work of fiction. Besides, the story of the daughter of Jared has everything a novelist dreams of: love, betrayal, secrecy, murder…and a happy ending (at least for the good guy). And that’s just the scriptural account!

This leads me to the second aspect of Moore’s work that stood out for me. In taking the brief outlines of a story provided in the eighth chapter of Ether, she wisely introduced a fictional sister of the “wicked” daughter of Jared–Naiva. Unlike her older sister, Asherah, Naiva is appalled at the idea of assassination, but isn’t sure enough of herself to argue. Indeed, she is so tied to her sister that when things become difficult and there appears to be an easy way out for her she somehow can’t force herself to take it, even though the reader is screaming for her to do so. (In fact, if there is a weakness to the novel, it is that the reason for that bond wasn’t established clearly and firmly enough early on in the story.) I didn’t like her decision at first, but had to admit later that it gave a certain complex depth to her character. (Also, the author no doubt felt tied to the chronology of the scriptural story with regard to the fate of Naiva’s nephew, Shez.)

Moore could have chosen to tell the story through Asherah’s point of view (with no fictional sister), showing the change in her character as the terrible decisions she makes lead to horrific results. That might have proven a more interesting approach. It would have been challenging, however, because she’s hard to like for much of the story.

I only wish the book had been longer. I would have loved even more detail about the plotting, their royal life, and so forth.

Regardless, I highly recommend Daughters of Jared, and if you want to learn more about the author, please check out her blog or her website.

Originally posted 2012-05-21 10:05:45.

YA Romance – NIGHT SKY by Jolene Perry

Present word count of WIP:  55,312

Back Cover Copy:

Girl I’ve loved, girl I’m falling for. Now that they’re both in view, the problem is clear.

After losing Sarah, the friend he’s loved, to some other guy, Jameson meets Sky. Her Native American roots, fluid movements, and need for brutal honesty become addictive fast. This is good. Jameson needs distraction – his dad leaves for another woman, his mom’s walking around like a zombie, and Sarah’s new boyfriend can’t keep his hands off of her.

As he spends time with Sky and learns about her village, her totems, and her friends with drums – she’s way more than distraction. Jameson’s falling for her fast.

But Sky’s need for honesty somehow doesn’t extend to her life story – and Jameson just may need more than his new girl to keep him distracted from the disaster of his senior year.

My Review:

While I generally don’t read Romance as a genre, I was interested to see how well the author, a woman, would be able to get inside the head of a teenage boy (partly because I’m attempting the same thing in my current WIP…though my protagonist is a good bit younger).

Jameson, or “Jay,” comes off realistically in terms of his behavior. He’s a top high school swimmer and he takes out a lot of his frustrations in his backyard pool. Living in Las Vegas with parents who work late hours in one of the local casinos, he freely roams the strip when he needs to get some air to sort out his thoughts. And when he loses his temper, he throws his phone (a couple of times) and even lays into the jerk who stole his best friend, Sarah.

His language and his sexual urges also come off realistically, sometimes uncomfortably so. (If you can’t handle swearing and/or reading about what goes on in a boy’s head when he’s around a beautiful girl like Sky, this book is probably not for you.)

Some of his mental process didn’t ring true for me, however. He seemed to obsess over his problems more like a girl would. Granted, he has plenty to think about:

The best friend he’s secretly been in love with for the past three years has now got a controlling boyfriend who doesn’t want Jay anywhere near her.

His dad and mom split up about a third of the way through the novel and there’s no telling if they’ll get back together…or even if he really wants them to.

And now he’s fallen in love with Sky, a gorgeous Native American from Alaska, who insists on honesty in their developing relationship, yet seems to be holding something back.

As a coming of age novel, it took me a while to warm up to it. I didn’t like Sky at first because she seemed way too forward (particularly so, once the reader learns more about her background later). Once more was revealed about Sky’s clan and background, however, that was when the book began to get interesting. I was hooked. She was definitely the stronger of the two characters (meaning Jay and Sky). If this was meant to come off as a complicated love triangle, all I have to say is, his relationship with Sarah needed to be strengthened outside his head.

In any case, the writing was fluid and the pacing generally well done. If you want a good YA read, and aren’t put off by language or somewhat sensual scenes, Jolene Perry’s NIGHT SKY will more than satisfy.

 

Originally posted 2012-05-14 07:38:27.

Reading, Reading, and More Reading

Present word count of WIP:  54,620

Sorry for slacking off here. I know I missed posting last Friday and this past Monday, but I was in the middle of a terrific writer’s conference (LDS Storymakers)…and then I was still recovering from it.

(A ten-hour drive in one day is not easy, despite M&Ms and other caffeinated products, particularly after you’re coming off of five nights of only 3-5 hours of sleep on average. But an audio book leant to me by my writing/conference buddy, Liz Adair, certainly helped!)

Anyway, it was a great conference. The best thing was that I had another excuse to see my daughter. I won’t have too many more opportunities like that before she leaves on her mission. And she even came to the Whitney Awards Banquet with me (that’s become a custom…I’ll definitely miss her next year).

Liz and I were roommates again and we also kept each other company during the massive book signing (and I got to pick up a lot of tips on how to do a signing by watching our neighbor, Janette Rallison, respond to the lines and lines of fans queued up for her signature or picture).

Liz and I at the Book Signing

Me with Janette Rallison and Rachelle Christensen

I took part in one of the critique sessions held during the Publication Primer the day before the conference and met some terrific writers there, including David King, Rebekah Wells, and Becky Tueller and her sister, Cheryl. Our group was led by Natalie Hickman, almost due to have her baby and just out of the hospital that morning. Talk about dedication to your craft!

Me with David and Rebekah

I pitched my WIP to Holly Root of the Waxman Literary Agency and she wants to see the first three chapters when it’s ready. YAY!!! She also said she’d have no problem taking on a client that wanted to write both Women’s Fiction and Middle Grade…all under my own name. Hmmm. Maybe I won’t need a pen name after all.

Also, I met with my editor, Linda Mullineaux, and they’re now looking at sending my book (which will be called something other than Laps) to press in August! I gave them a new suggestion for the title and I think they may go with it. But I’m not announcing it here until it’s finally approved. Anyway, I’m firmly a part of the Walnut Springs Press family, as shown by this picture of several of their authors taken after the Whitney Awards Banquet.

Walnut Springs Authors (Me, Angie Lofthouse, Liz Adair, Jenni James, Betsy Love, Theresa Sneed, and the injured Tristi Pinkston)

Besides the fact that I desperately need a makeover, I learned lots of great things at the LDS Storymakers Conference, as usual (particularly loved Jennifer Nielsen’s class on Middle Grade Fiction and Jeff Savage’s on Podcasts), though I didn’t get to attend nearly as many workshops or classes. That was because:

1) My body crashed after my Friday afternoon pitch . . . it’s a little too old now for these midnight film premieres (but “The Avengers” was terrific!)

and . . .

2) I volunteered to help do timekeeping for pitch sessions on Saturday morning. I can’t tell you how nice it was to be the one watching the clock rather than the one racing through my pitch over and over in my mind while waiting for the signal to go in and face the agent.

While I didn’t spend much in the bookstore, I came away with two more books to review this month. I was already set to review Jolene Perry’s Night Sky on May 14th (I just finished reading it today and have the review all written), but now I’m due to read Heather Moore’s Daughters of Jared and Tristi Pinkston’s Women of Strength, as well, before the end of the month.

Not to mention all the Whitney Award finalists and winners I’ve got downloaded. As I put in my title, it looks like all I’ll be doing the rest of this month is reading, reading, and more reading!

Originally posted 2012-05-11 13:23:28.

The Artist and Humility

Present word count of WIP:  54,620

Be prepared for the above word count to remain fairly static for the rest of this week. Why? Because I’m en route to a writers conference–the 2012 LDStorymakers Writer’s Conference to be precise–and if there’s one thing that I have difficulty doing while at such a conference, it’s writing.

Oh, I’ll take plenty of notes…and even perhaps work on my pitch, but my WIP? Realistically, probably not (even though I have it with me). You see, it’s such a rare treat for writers to come out of their caves and gather together, that there’s a whole lot of talking about writing and celebrating about writing, but not much writing.

That’s what a retreat is for. (Hint, hint, Liz.)

Anyway, I decided to make it easy on myself this year and split the 10-hour drive down to Utah in half. So, I only had to drive as far as Boise today.

I was prepared for a mostly silent drive because usually NPR devolves into static about an hour outside the Tri-Cities (and I always forget to set the CDs I like to listen to within arms reach). For some reason today, however, I was able to keep listening long past Pendleton.

Long enough to hear a fascinating interview with Wayne Wright. I’d never heard of him before, but he was the artistic genius behind all the puppets, etc. in that 80’s TV show, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (which I’d heard of but never watched). Anyway, someone has made a documentary about him entitled, “Beauty is Embarrassing.”

At the end of the interview, he was asked to explain the idea behind the title. He spoke about how people can be so overcome by beauty, whether in nature (created by God, if you will) or in works created by man, that they are moved to tears and that’s embarrassing. He said it’s humbling or embarrassing to be made to feel that vulnerable. I loved that idea, because it’s so true.

Then another thought occurred to me, as I was reflecting on how this manifested itself in great writing. That’s how I feel, too, when I create something–a phrase, a sentence, or perhaps a paragraph–and someone in my critique group (or, if it occurred in a talk or a poem or a song or book I’ve written, one of my listeners or readers) compliments me about it. I’m embarrassed.

How do you say “Thank you” when you feel like it was a gift from the true Creator?

So, yes, beauty is embarrassing.

Originally posted 2012-05-01 21:01:01.