Sunday, June 30, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Never Lie to an Angel by Kate Welsh

Never Lie to an AngelNever Lie to an Angel by Kate Welsh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had the privilege of judging this book for a contest shortly after it was published, and it is the most outstanding example of Christian fiction I have read to date. Excellent action, well-drawn characters, and a good message without being preachy. That last point, in fact, is the make-or-break with me in this genre.

My original review, published in Crescent Blues and reprinted here with permission, read as follows:

Author Kate Welsh accomplished two things with this inspirational romance: she shattered my inherent dislike of contemporary crime stories and kept me up way past my bedtime. Each one deserves a hearty round of applause. To achieve both in one novel is nothing short of miraculous.

Angelica DeVoe sacrificed the good wishes of her socially elite family to minister to the destitute flooding the North Riverside Mission. Appalled by her life choices and personal commitment to the hungry, Angelica's parents conspire to deprive Angelica of the fortune willed to her by her beloved grandmother -- a fortune earmarked for the mission.

Undercover cop Greg Peterson vowed to avenge the deaths of his brother and partner by doing everything in his power to rid Riverside of drug traffic. Greg bears a burden of guilt heavy enough for any six human beings.

The paths of cop and "Angel" converge during Greg's investigation to determine whether the "Angel of North Riverside" is in fact the local drug kingpin. Greg establishes Angelica's innocence quickly, realizing her zeal to save their corner of Pennsylvania burns as fervently as his. As kindred spirits united in a common cause, they cannot deny their growing physical attraction for each another. But neither innocence nor love can shield them from the drug-spun web of violence and corruption ensnaring local residents, gang members, police and beyond.

Often in romances, the plot would dry up and blow away if the hero and heroine ever sat down and talked with each other at the outset. Not so with Never Lie to an Angel. Greg cannot blow his cover, even with his Angel, and, knowing how deeply she despises lies, he despises himself for perpetuating the deceit. Angelica tries to draw him out, and he divulges what he can, but those snippets are, at best, half-truths. And the flip side of every half-truth is half a lie.

Welsh pulls no punches with her stunning portrayal of real people battling real issues of violence, deception, betrayal, failure, guilt, temptation, forgiveness, faith, hope and love. The main characters' riveting outer and inner battles hit painfully close to home. Nothing comes easily, even for those choosing to make life-transforming decisions. Never does Welsh rely upon the fairy-tale platitude of "love conquers all." All too often, love needs a generous dose of courage to look beyond the ugliness around us, in each other, and within ourselves. Thank you, Kate Welsh, for reminding us the ugliness can be dealt with in a decisive, practical and ultimately redeeming manner.

(Originally published in Crescent Blues. Reprinted with permission.)

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Dad Next Door by Virginia Myers

The Dad Next DoorThe Dad Next Door by Virginia Myers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it" describes the theme of this offering in the Love Inspired line of inspirational romances.

Kate Graham, the plain-jane widow and mother of two elementary-age children, draws 12-year-old Raymond, son of "the dad next door," under her wing. Raymond suffers from the break-up of his parents' marriage at the instigation of his self-absorbed mother, and Kate resolves to give the sensitive boy some semblance of stability. Raymond's dashing dad, Ian McAllister, deeply appreciates Kate's assistance, since his job takes him out of town far more often than he likes. In typical male fashion, Ian has no clue that he has stolen Kate's heart.

Enter Raymond's mother, Marsha, and her new husband, who possesses "half the money on the planet," to contest the custody agreement that placed Raymond into his father's care. A child of a dysfunctional family himself, Ian recognizes his ex's manipulations and the risks she imposes upon his son's emotional well-being, and he vows not to let her win.

Oblivious to Ian's plight, Kate revamps her image to compete with the beautiful Marsha and attract Ian's notice. Much to Kate's surprise, Ian proposes, and she quickly agrees. But upon returning from their idyllic Hawaiian honeymoon, Kate learns that her husband tricked her into a marriage of convenience to block Marsha's counter-suit and protect the interests of his son. Kate must learn to deal with her heartbreak and help create a loving home for Raymond and her own children.

I don't much care to read about a victim-heroine who spends half the book wallowing in self-pity before deciding to grow a backbone. In fact, only the drama of the custody battle kept me turning the pages, even though I knew that, by definition, Kate and Ian would live happily ever after. If you blink, you'll miss the romance elements altogether. However, I do applaud the author's subtle blending in of the inspirational elements to avoid being preachy.

If you like your romantic fiction extra-mild, with a super-sized order of adolescent pathos on the side, this book just might be for you.

(Originally published in Crescent Blues. Reprinted with permission.)

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Friday, June 28, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: 985 the Discovery of America by Brian Cherry

985, the Discovery of America: Excerpts from the Journal of Harald, the Younger985, the Discovery of America: Excerpts from the Journal of Harald, the Younger by Brian Cherry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Common wisdom dictates that "history is written by the victors." If this applies to humorous historical fiction as well, then color Brian Cherry uproariously victorious for his seamless blend of fact and fable.

"This is the history of the first discovery of America, if it had been told by Douglas Adams," Cherry states. He isn't kidding. His fictional protagonist, initially a 12-year-old stowaway on Bjarni Herjolfsson's ill-fated longship bound for Greenland, introduces himself as "Harald, Harald the younger, and I am seasick. . . . The thought of some of the new names I'll get from [the crew], like 'Harald the Messy' or 'Look out below Harald,' make Harald the younger seem very comfortable."

The laughs don't stop there as the reader follows Harald's account of the true if accidental discovery by Herjolfsson of America (or Vinland, as the Vikings later dub it), the eventual colonization under Leif Eiricksson, and other key events recorded in Harald's "journal." Grim reality interjects itself in the form of Harald's experiences as a suspected mutineer, the violent deaths of his erstwhile crewmen and, later, a close friend and mentor. To this tally Cherry adds the even more graphically violent -- and senseless -- deaths of native Vinlanders, whose sole crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This only makes the humor all the more appreciated, such as the running gag of Harald's falcon, which prefers to perch on Harald's head. (Now we know where medieval European millinery fashions originated, too.) In addition to seafaring excursions and adolescent plots to invade Madam Grunnhilde's establishment of ill repute, Harald chronicles a lifelong spiritual journey presented with a deft balance of sensitivity and pragmatism rarely found in contemporary fiction.

That's the good news.

The passage of time depicted in chapter transitions varies between 15 seconds and 15 years, often without any clear indication of the duration involved. Billed as being "Excerpts from the journal of Harald the Younger," 985: The Discovery of America would have better served readability by using a journalistic format with dated entries.

In addition, copyediting seems all but absent. Never have I seen more typos and "word-os" (such as the use of "gate" rather than "gait" to describe how a horse moves) per square inch than in 985: The Discovery of America. But it's a testament to the book's overall merit that I not only finished, despite the myriad errors, but still enjoyed the story immensely.

Too bad they couldn't make history this entertaining in school. I look forward to reading more from this talented new author. Here's hoping the wait proves closer to 15 seconds than 15 years.

And thanks, Brian, for all the herring.

(Originally published in Crescent Blues. Reprinted with permission.)

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Beast Within

Do you possess the proper biological makeup to be a writer? I invite you to examine the beast within ...

Persistence breeds success in our capricious business. This usually means banging your head against a computer screen, an editor's door, a brick wall. Or against something less tangible but no less menacing: the mental door behind which your best ideas remain stubbornly locked. To avoid a concussion you need a tough noggin. The Bighorn Sheep, surefooted native of the Rockies, leaps to mind.

You can profit from the extraordinary traits of another dweller of the heights, the eagle. Targeting a trout from high overhead, the majestic hunter strikes before the prey can taste fear. What better way to capture an elusive idea amid a tumbling torrent of research notes?

So you've written that Pulitzer-quality article on the courtship rituals of penguins and are now searching for a publisher. And searching, and searching. And searching. The giraffe's supple neck helps you poke your nose into the hardest to reach nooks of this zoo called the publishing industry.

Alas, neckwork consumes precious time. In this age of instant gratification, it's a rare breed that survives the arid weeks and months and (gasp!) years between publications. Just as the hump sustains the camel, you the writer can subsist off the encouragement of family, friends and colleagues until the next oasis of good news shimmers into view.

Even the most successful of us do not enjoy a smooth ride. Since the road can be riddled with the potholes of rejections, failed magazines, staff changes, lost manuscripts and other off-the-Richter-Scale catastrophes, your feet ought to be catlike -- and not because you're always in a fog. A cat's shock absorbers allow him to hit the ground at a dead run. (If you've never been treated to this phenomenon, drop by my house sometime.) Recommended breed? Almost any will suffice, except Siamese. They are notorious whiners, a trait each of us would do well not to emulate. Yes, I have known a few mellow Siamese; save the postage on your hate-mail, if you please!

Negotiating the rocky path to publication can lead through some pretty tempting pastures. Literary agents advertising "high" success rates, typing services whose fees seem too good to be true, and "bargain" computer systems are a few of the herbs flourishing here. You may nibble on the clover only to find yourself with a mouthful of thistle thorns. The four-chambered stomach of a cow makes the junk food much easier to digest.

The bushes conceal a host of guardians lying in ambush for the unwary writer-beast who stumbles blithely into their hallowed territory. Editors, publishers and critics, professional and nonprofessional, stand with arrows at the ready. The kinder sentries coat their barbs with the linguistic equivalent of a sleeping potion to cushion the effect; others, venom. Most of us have been hit by both. An armadillo's armor keeps a tender hide intact through the onslaught.

While these arrows swarm like piranhas on Prime Rib Day, you'll also need a way to preserve your sanity. Maintaining a sense of humor is arguably the healthiest option available to our species. If this is not your usual style, try following the example of the hyena for a day. You just might get hooked.

I would be remiss to omit representatives from the largest kingdom on the planet. For the legendary writer-beast I have selected two: the honey bee and the spider.
As writers we are forever attempting to craft a fragrant honeycomb of phrases to evoke the familiar in a not-so-familiar manner. Bees employ a unique form of communication not unlike sign language for the deaf. Graceful yet elegant in its simplicity, a bee's dance discloses the precise location of each flower so her sisters might partake of the bounty.

At the opposite end of the insectoidal spectrum crouches the spider, as calculatingly aloof as the bee is gregariously social. Yet haunting beauty glows from a web strung with dewy rose-hued pearls. In magnitude, the achievement is akin to building the Golden Gate Bridge with four pairs of human hands.
The lessons of variety and perseverance taught by the bee and the spider are well worth the cost of admission.

And now I come to the tail of my tale. The prehensile tail of the opossum, that is. Gazing at this upside-down world awhile is an excellent way to give new spark to a high-mileage topic. Just be careful. Don't let the traffic in the publishing fast lane mash you into a pavement patty.

Cartoon copyright © 1993, Joe Kincher
Text copyright © 1993, Kim D. Headlee
 Publication history:
Authorship, publication of the National Writers' Association (reprint), January/February 1994
Calliope, January/February 1993

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DAWNFLIGHT Excerpt (from Chapter 13)

After parrying one of Arthur’s lighter blows, Gyan spun away to disengage, catch her breath, and collect her thoughts. Sword cocked, she resumed circling him, relieved that he didn’t seem anxious to reengage. Briefly, she noticed a crowd forming along the rail; soldiers, mostly, gesturing and shouting words she couldn’t understand, nor did she wish to. She blotted them out to open all her senses to her opponent, even down to the huskiness of his breathing and the tangy odor of his sweat, trying to think of anything that might work to tip the balance in her favor.

An image flashed to mind of a bout with her father, fought on the eve of Urien’s arrival at Arbroch. Inspired by the outcome of that fight, she swiftly formed a plan. It carried high risk and no guarantee of success. She never would have attempted such a move in combat. Here, the only danger if she lost would be to her pride. But if she won…she bit her lower lip to keep her face from betraying her intent.

She let Arthur initiate the attack. While advancing to meet the blow, she stumbled, fell, and rolled to her stomach. As expected, he quickly moved in to claim the victory. The crowd cheered. But before she could feel the prickle of his sword on her neck, she twisted aside and hooked his legs with hers. Luck favored her; with a startled yelp, and equally startled noises from their audience, he went down. She scrambled to her feet and pinned him under the point of her sword. Amid the overall roar of disappointment, she could pick out phrases like “Trickery!” and “Not fair!” But the taunts didn’t bother her; victory had never tasted sweeter! Her only regret was that Ogryvan and Per and the rest of her clan couldn’t savor it with her.

Studying Arthur for a reaction, her grin soured. For several seconds, he stared at the sky as though stunned; whether physically or mentally, she couldn’t tell. Her concern rose as she wondered if she had injured him. Finally, he shook his head and attempted to sit up, but her sword barred his way.

“I concede the match, Chieftainess.” He released his sword and waved his open hand. “I won’t try anything unique. You have my word. Thank God my enemies aren’t half as devious as you are.” His grin could have stopped the sun in its course…and it was having an arresting effect on Gyan’s heart as well. “But I wouldn’t advise using that move in battle. Much too risky.”

“Oh. Yes, I—I know.” Chiding herself for how silly she must sound, she sheathed her sword and thrust out her hand. He tugged off his gloves and accepted her unspoken offer, gripped her forearm, and hauled himself up.

Pain stabbing her arm forced a strangled gasp from her throat. He shifted his grip to her hand and gently turned her arm to expose the underside. A long cut lay perilously close to one of the veins, seeping blood. He traced the vein lightly with a fingertip.

“When did I do this?” His voice was a hoarse whisper.

Staring at the cut, she wondered the same thing. Probably during their initial clash, though she really had no idea. She shrugged. Even that motion made her wince.

“Chieftainess, I didn’t mean to—” A stricken look shattered his bearing. He squeezed her hand. “God in heaven, Gyanhumara, I am so sorry.”

She wanted to reassure him that she’d be all right; the wound looked clean and wasn’t much deeper than a scratch. In fact, it was the least of her concerns. Enchanted by the sound of her name on his lips and mesmerized by his gaze, she felt the world seem to collapse to just the two of them. His face hovered over hers, his lips a handspan away. The warmth of his nearness had an intoxicating effect. She was acutely conscious of the tugging of her heart, as though it was trying to pull her closer to him. It wasn’t an unwelcome idea.

How Long Does it Take to Write My Novels?

My first novel, DAWNFLIGHT: The Legend of Guinevere, began taking shape in the fall of 1989. I finished the first draft in about three months and then began the laborious process of polishing, submitting, waiting, receiving a rejection, polishing, submitting, waiting … I looped on those steps more than 20 times before a literary agent agreed to sign me as a client on September 16, 1996. With its October, 1999 release, Dawnflight took almost exactly a decade to see the inside of a bookstore.

If there is one single word of advice I can give to aspiring writers, it's patience! A second, and in some ways no less important word: perseverance. And finally, while you're patiently persevering, don't lose faith in yourself or in the quality of your work!

My second novel to be published, LIBERTY (written under the pseudonym Kimberly Iverson) might have been written faster had I not suffered a neck fracture in a car accident in April 2003, about 3 months after I started writing the first draft. In fact I made a point to write Chapter 4 while in the hospital recovering from a post-op infection. In my draft I labeled the chapters using Roman numerals, which of course would be "IV" for Chapter 4 … but I digress. On the day of the accident, shortly after I was pulled to safety from the smoldering wreckage, my first words were, "Cool! This means I have more books to publish!" And behold, 7 months later, HQN Books, an imprint of Harlequin, acquired Liberty for eventual publication in October 2006.

Now that I have decided to go the independent publishing route -- Dawnflight has been re-released, and I am in the process of setting up retail channels for its sequel, Morning's Journey -- I am hopeful that the writing/publication process will go a lot faster. We shall see. Life does try its best to intervene.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Inspiration for Writers

For my writer friends who might need a bit of inspiration...
complete with scan of original coffee stains!

(c) 1995 by Wiley Miller

Welcome to the Maze


Why the "Maze of Twisty Passages," you ask? Because I am a computer geek from way back, and I had the privilege to play the very first computer game ever written, "Adventure" (or "advent" as it appeared on the CPU resources screen). Adventure was a text-based based game, and two sections of the map featured "a maze of twisty passages, all alike" and "a maze of twisty passages, all different." Those used to drive me crazy!! I selected the "all different" Adventure maze for my description because of the wide diversity of fiction projects.

Here I will post updates on my published novels, including the newly re-issued and substantially updated DAWNFLIGHT, its newly released sequel, MORNING'S JOURNEY, and other installments in my Arthurian series called The Dragon's Dove Chronicles, works in progress, tips about writing and publishing, photos, and anything else that strikes my fancy.

Sit back, buckle in, and enjoy the Maze!