Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bon Voyage!

I'm sure there are some folks who think that life in a youth pastor's family must be one long vacation. After all, every year there's summer camp, every week there are activities, every day seems like a party, right?


You'd be right about the busy schedule, though. I think our family has taken exactly two planned vacations--once we took the kids to Gatlinburg, where we rented a cabin for a few days. We drove past dozens of adorable cabins on the side of a mountain, then we found ours--it was named "Daisy," and it reminded me of the Clampett's shed from "The Beverly Hillbillies." It was snug and warm and dry, but it also had a heart-shaped tub smack in the middle of the living room . . . ah, memories.

A few years later, when we realized the kids were growing up FAST, we splurged and took the family to Hawaii. Of course, our kids (who are 17 months apart) weren't what you'd call fast friends, so my daughter and I travelled together while hubby and son sat in another section of the plane. Ditto for the sleeping arrangements. We booked a suite--daughter and I shared a room, hubby and son slept in the living room on fold-out furniture.

But it was fun.

And now that the nest is almost empty, hubby and I are going on vacation - ALONE!

I travel a LOT during the year, but it's always for work. Until lately, we've never been able to take off the same week and travel together--for one thing, we had a man-eating dog that couldn't be trusted with just anyone. But she has passed away and though I miss her, it's a relief to not have to worry about her.

So early Monday morning we are flying west and boarding a Very Big Boat that will take us to Alaska--the only state I've never visited. So I'll take lots of pictures and lots of notes. And you can bet Alaska will probably pop up in a book somewhere, sometime soon.

I've pre-written my BOM blogs for the first part of June, but I'm not sure how dependable internet access will be. So until I return, Lord willing, have a great week!

I'll be on vacation!


Friday, May 26, 2006

Alias Up for Sale

Check out the above link.

If you were a fan of Alias, they're auctioning off costumes and props on eBay, with all the proceeds going to a children's charity. I can't rationalize buying a Rambaldi artifact--something tells me it's bound to look cheesy in real life--but if they put this black and white wig on the auction block, I will be all over it.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

It Never Ends

I have decided that parenting twenty-somethings is harder than parenting teenagers--in fact, one year with my two twenty-somethings can be rougher than all the teenage years put together. I know this isn't true for all families, but it sure seems like most folks I know with twenty-somethings are having a hard time of it. I don't know why, but it seems like today's "kids" are less equipped to handle independence and responsibility than our generation was. (Sorry for the blanket statement, but that's how I see it.)

As a parent, I think parenting twenties is harder because their capacity for ruin is a lot greater--there are semi-permanent credit records to ruin, semi-permanent reputations to scar, real lives to injure, and dangerous vehicles on the road.

My daughter, 23, just called to say that someone broke into her car--busted the window to steal a cup of pennies. I could go on and on, but I really do try to maintain my children's privacy--after all, they didn't ask to have their lives featured on a blog. But as a parent . . . well, I don't color my hair on a whim. I color it because my children have turned my hair gray. (RG--that's "rueful grin").

The chief question--when do you, as a parent, put up your hands and say, "I'm going to let you hit bottom . . . because you need to learn these lessons for yourself. I'm going to let you feel some serious repercussions . . . because I love you."

And so, to all of you who have struggling twenty somethings who are trying to be independent but can't quite make it because of drugs, irresponsibility, personality disorders, laziness, a lack of persistence, or whatever--my prayers are with you.

And with your kids. They are facing pressures we never faced, in a world all too willing to chew them up and spit them back out.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Note Arrives in Mass Market

What a nice surprise! I was going about my helter skelter day when the UPS man brought a package from WestBow. Inside I found five copies of THE NOTE, now beautifully repackaged in mass market size. Apparently this is an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart for twelve months, then the smaller mass market size will be available everywhere.

(Shoutout to Colleen Coble: Your endorsement is on the front cover!)

Hubby and I watched the finale of 24 last night--and I liked it. Just kept wondering about Dr. Ramano, though (remember him from ER?). That man who was calling the shots for Prez Logan--what happened to him? And I suppose Jack will spend the next year or so in a Chinese prison until some calamity brings him back to save the world in season six.

The cruise to Alaska is in honor of our 25th wedding anniversary, though now we've actually been married 26 years. We'll be leaving Monday and gone for a week, and I'm looking forward to it. Alaska is the only state I've not yet visited, so I'm taking my camera and notebook to take lots of notes.

Well, I'd better get busy tackling the stack of stuff on my desk. Also trying to finish three spring house projects--the pet rock, the sick lawn, and the cracking stucco. I'll be fortunate to get these three things settled before summer arrives.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Where Did All the Good TV Go?

It's over--Alias has ended a five-year-run. Last night I felt like the proverbial headless chicken--my book club met to discuss DANIEL ISN'T TALKING (well-received, probably an average of three stars), then I had the finale of 24 up against the final finale of Alias. I was watching Alias on the computer and 24 on the tiny TV in my office, muting/sounding alternate sets as the commercials rolled across.

What can I say? My favorite TV shows, the only ones I make a point to watch, and they're both gone now. Fortunately, they're on the Internet, so I'll be able to make copies and watch them again.

Alias was one of the most deeply-layered shows on television. I can see why viewership fell off in the latter years--if you didn't stay up to date, it'd be easy to get Lost (pun intended--the creator of both shows is J.J. Abrams). If you like emotional drama, espionage, a little science fiction, and action, I suggest that you get the first season on DVD and watch it. If you're not hooked, okay. But I have a hunch you will be.

Well, I have a busy week ahead so I'd better get moving. Alaska? Hubby and I are going on a week-long Alaskan cruise in honor of our 25th anniversary--which we weren't able to celebrate last year. So I guess we're celebrating 26 years now. (VBG)

P.S. Regarding 24: Horray for Martha Logan! Poor woman was married to such a weenie . . .

Have a great day!


Monday, May 22, 2006

Monday Musings

It's Monday! I'm down 2.8 pounds, but I think it has more to do with the killer migraine I had yesterday than with any conscious decisions on my part. Still, who's complaining? How'd you do?

Flew in from Colorado yesterday afternoon after spending four days at the Colorado Christian Writers' Conference. Nancy Rue and I did our "Nangie" course, and discovered some very good writers. That was fun.

We were also able to hang out with some dear writing buddies--among them Lisa Samson, James Scott Bell, Kathy Mackel, Nancy Rue, and Tammy Alexander. Waved at Ted D. from across the room, and got to share a few minutes with Nick Harrison, Andy Scheer, Joyce Hart, and others. Sweet Cindy Kinny of Big Ideas shared her ride to the airport yesterday, but I was so sick, I'm afraid I wasn't good company. The entire way down the mountain, I sat in the seat, eyes closed and denim jacket over my head . . .

Sometimes I'd just like to chop my head off and leave it in a freezer until it stops pounding. If you have migraines, you'll understand.

In any case, it's good to be home and looking at the world through wide-open eyes. Hope your week is off to a great start! This time next week, I'll be en route to ALASKA!


Friday, May 19, 2006

Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Awards

Just got an email containing Foreword Magazine's (an independent, secular review magazine) book of the year award winners. In the "religious fiction" category, prizes went to:

Gold: Saving Grace by Denise Hunter, Howard Publishing
Silver: Unspoken by Angela Hunt, WestBow Press
Bronze: Fighting for Bread and Roses by Lynn A. Coleman, Kregel Publications

So--congratulations Denise and Lynn, both friends, and congratuations to Sema, my little gorilla girl! She's in great company!


Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Fine Art of Balance

Yesterday I went through about a dozen manuscripts I'll be critiquing at the Colorado Christian Writers' Conference. Several times I found myself underlining a phrase and simply writing "no" in the margin. Since I meet with these folks face-to-face and discuss my comments, that "no" is shorthand for "this isn't exactly what you meant to say--back up and try it again."

I think it was Mark Twain who said that writing isn't finding the right word--it's finding the exact word, for there's a vast difference between lightning and lightning bug. So many times I find that beginning writers get caught up in the story and they dash off the first metaphor, phrase, or word that comes to mind.

But writing that makes the reader stop and go "Huh?" isn't effective writing. The writer has jerked the reader out of what John Gardner calls "the vivid and continuous dream." A good writer, says Gardner, revises and revises until he gets it right, and captures it in language so "that other human beings, whenever they feel like it, may open his book and dream that dream again."

Occasionally, however, I run across a manuscript that errs in the opposite direction--a writer who cares more about words than story. Gardner says this writer "is unlikely to create a vivid and continuous dream; he gets in his own way too much--in his poetic drunkenness, he can't tell the cart--and its cargo--from the horse." Gardner says (and this makes me smile) that such a writer should switch to poetry or find an editor and a body of readers who love fine language. "Such editors," says Gardner, "and readers do appear from time to time, refined spirits devoted to an exquisitely classy game we call fiction only by stretching the term to the breaking point."

Gardner says this kind of writer "is not likely to feel passionate attachment to the ordinary, mainstream novel. The novel's unashamed engagement with the world . . . all these are likely to seem, to the word fanatic, silly and tedious; he feels himself buried in litter."

It is at this point that I must confess my attraction to this so-called "litter." On a plane recently, I read a much-heralded book that has been much-praised by the literari. Yes, the writing was beautiful, but I found the whole thing a snooze. If I'd had anything else to read, I would have put the book away. The novelist deliberately kept the characters at arms' length, and I really didn't care about what happened to them.

Lovely words are fine, but what a reader takes from a book isn't the words--it's the images the sharp, exact words create. We may remember a cunning phrase or two, but what we internalize are the characters and the trials they face, endure, and/or conquer. It's Scarlett shaking her fist at the sky and promising never to be hungry again; it's the poor woman in The Lottery who pleads with her neighbors not to stone her; it's Tom Sawyer slyly grinning and convincing his friends to whitewash that fence.

Ah, give me a story. Give me details, sweat, grime, love, laughter, hatred, evil, fear, irritation, pearls of perspiration upon a lover's upper lip. Let me live inside your villain's skin. Let me tremble with your protagonist and quake with her fury. Give me images and real life, and, if you have room, toss in a few lovely words.

As the farmer said, "That'll do."


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fiction and Truth, part 2

(Con't from post below . . .)

A lawyer friend recently reminded me of the instruction legal eagles routinely give juries about a witness’s truthfulness: “A witness who is willfully false in one material part of his or her testimony is to be distrusted in others. You may reject the whole testimony of a witness who has willfully testified falsely as to a material point.”

At a “material point,” the novel claims—and the characters accept—the existence of an organization called the Priory of Sion, a secret society supposedly founded in 1099. But this organization was invented in 1953 by Pierre Plantard, a man who had been imprisoned for fraud. Later, in court and under oath, Plantard admitted he’d made up the story about Jesus having children with Mary Magdalene.

On his website, Brown states that “if you read the ‘FACT’ page [of the novel], you will see it clearly states that the documents, rituals, organization, artwork, and architecture in the novel all exist. The ‘FACT’ page makes no statement whatsoever about any of the ancient theories discussed by fictional characters. Interpreting those ideas is left to the reader.”

But every novel has a subtext . . . the author’s beliefs inevitably seep through the story. Mr. Brown’s message—or at least one of them—seems to be trust nothing you’ve ever learned. In fact, on his website he proposes that when his book contradicts recorded history, we should ask, “How historically accurate is history itself?”

The novel claims that history was written by the “winners,” but the early Christians, many of whom were eye-witnesses to Jesus’ ministry and paid for the privilege with their lives, were not on the winning side. When the gospels were recorded in the first century, these men were society’s outcasts, yet their testimony rings with truth and continues to resonate in hearts and lives.

On his website, Brown says, “Religion has only one true enemy—apathy—and passionate debate is a superb antidote.”

I’m all for passionate debate, but in spiritual matters I have to believe deception is a far more insidious enemy than apathy. An apathetic man may refuse to vacate a carbon monoxide-filled garage because he doesn’t care if he lives or dies; a deceived man will stand in that deadly space and convince others that the unseen danger doesn’t exist.

That’s why I’m hooked on being a novelist--because along with the joy of creation comes the responsibility of upholding truth.

P.S. I'm heading out for Colorado today--no, I'm not skiing, I'm teaching with Nancy Rue at the Colorado Christian Writer's Conference. I'll try to check in, but as I recall, internet connection up in the mountains is iffy . . .

P.S.S. The pet rock has become a gurgling waterfall!


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Truth in Novels, part I

I was asked to write an essay for Here's the result:

Hi. I’m Angela, and I’m a bookaholic. My addiction began in the first grade, when reading “See Spot run” didn’t bring the same rush I’d felt in kindergarten. I began sneaking books from the shelf in the hall, took to reading them with a flashlight under the covers.

I had advanced to the heavy stuff by the time I was ten. That was the year I discovered Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, which weighed in at a hefty 1054 pages. I found the Civil War epic in a box of books left behind by whatever family had rented the house before we arrived. In that same box I unearthed Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, set in nineteenth century England. After reading Jane Eyre—twice—I discovered a tattered copy of The Nun’s Story, a novel written by Katherine Hulme and set during World War II.

As invasive as kudzu, these novels reached into my young heart and shaped it. I admired Scarlett O’Hara, but learned along with my heroine that love isn’t moonbeams and roses—it’s caring for people in good times and bad. From plain and shy Jane Eyre I learned the value of honor and self-sacrifice; from Sister Luke I learned that obedience to God is more important than dogged deference to man-made religious rules.

All three of those novels, and dozens like them, used fictional characters to teach me real life lessons. Though I knew the stories were invented, I trusted the authors to present me with solid truths.

I was twenty-five before I realized that my addiction could become my livelihood. With training, practice, and the right opportunities, I could create my own characters and invent my own worlds by writing my own books.

I explored the definition of novel and learned that while it may take many forms, a novel is a microcosm of life itself. By painting a picture of human beings engaging with the world, a novel implies life is like this. In his Handbook to Literature, Hugh Holman says that no matter how varied the novel is in form, “it has always submitted itself to the dual test of artistic success and imitative accuracy or truth.”

In other words, a novel should be both effective and real.

Obviously, not everything in a novel is actual. The characters are invented, events are fabricated, entire solar systems can spring from an author’s imagination. But the emotions should be genuine, characters should be authentic, and a novel’s message—yes, all novels have one, whether or not it is evident—should be true.

Granted, the truth of a book’s theme is often a subjective judgment. But the novelist who utilizes history or known facts in her work is responsible for giving a truthful picture of the events she describes. A writer may fabricate a character or even dialogue, but she may not mislead the reader. If a novelist must take liberties with truth, these deviations from fact are usually noted and explained in an author’s note.

And therein lies my problem with The DaVinci Code. The book obviously passes the effectiveness test—though Dan Brown’s writing may not be the most literary work in print, I knew the novel had piqued our national curiosity when the UPS man lingered at my door to ask what I thought of the book. But does The DaVinci Code pass the test of truth?

Tomorrow: the conclusion


Monday, May 15, 2006

One hundred fifty-eight days

One hundred fifty eight good days . . . that's all it will take for me to reach my healthy eating goal. I figured it up, conservative figures, 1.5 pounds per week, number of weeks divided by pounds, multiplied by days . . . if I can just stick to my plan for one hundred fifty-eight days, I'll make it.

I can write a book in 158 days--shoot, I could write TWO books. :-) (Sorta kidding. I could, but I won't. I'm trying to write slower and better these days.)

And the good thing is it's not all-or-nothing. Because during the 158 days, I'll be reaping benefits along the way. Sliding into capris I haven't worn in two years . . . digging out those cute little sun dresses that are currently up in the guest room closet.

Maybe you can tell that I had a fall-off-the-wagon kind of week. Wedding anniversary, Mother's Day, out of town, you name it. There were a couple of days I couldn't even whip up the desire to eat right.

But today is a new week and a new approach. One hundred fifty-eight days. That's not so many days, you know. Less than half a year. And every day I can scratch one off the calendar and say, "Only one hundred fifty-seven more to go. Then one hundred fifty-six. One hundred fifty-five." The good thing about time is that it DOES pass.

This week's tool is silly but fun. Go to (say hello to Dottie--there's lots of good stuff here), then go to Select and "print selection" so that you've printed out a copy of the little thermometer. Fill in your goals and keep this page on your desk. As you click off your ** number of days, color in your thermometer. It's silly, but fun and highly motivational!

Until next week, take one day at a time. Just eat right for ONE DAY. Then the next day, do it again. :-) I'll be thinking of you.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Evolution of Dance--TOO FUNNY!

In the spirit of fun for Mother's Day, check out this hysterical performance piece called "The Evolution of Dance."

(HT: Lisa Samson.)

Boy, that guy has some stamina!


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Update on Davis Bunn

If you've been following the news about novelist Davis Bunn being attacked by a shark, the link below is an article updating us on his progress . . . and yes, the photo is Davis, before the shark introduced himself.

The Current House Project

If you're familiar with Myers-Briggs, you'll understand exactly what I mean when I say I'm an INTJ (Introvert-intuiter-thinker-judger). My type's motto is "there's always room for improvement!"

So even with a hectic schedule, I love to improve things--especially my house. We're in our fourth house in this area, and in all of the past three houses I've built on additions, painted, wallpapered, moved furniture around, put in skylights, expanded walls, you name it.

Well--our present house has no room for expansion, it has a neighborhood association that forbids anything too different, and I only have seven feet of grass to the north and south. So my wings have been clipped--a bit. But we've been in this house four years, and my itch-to-improve has kicked in.

So, back in February, I thought it'd be nice to upgrade our very ultilitarian pool--put some pavers over the cracked deck, maybe build a tiled wall with some water splashing over the top. Had three guys out, got three bids. Picked a company, who said the project would take four to six weeks.

Well--later they called to say I couldn't have my wall with the water over the top (long story), would I like a waterfall instead?
"What's that? Will it look like a big fake rock?"
"Oh, no, put some plants around it and it'll look natural."

(This was the sales man, of course, who said I looked too young to have grown children. I'm such a sucker.)

Okay, so we're at about 12 weeks, still no pavers (though they are supposed to come soon), and today a guy comes out to look at the Big Rock. It's supposed to be finished and working, but guess what? Somebody sealed that two-ton thing and forgot to put in the plumbing!

So I have a pool filled with globs of concrete (another long story) with a big pet rock perched on the ledge. I'd pose Charlie Gansky on the edge for a photo op, but he's scared of the thing.

LOL. I have to laugh. Or I'd cry.

Next, I need to paint the house . . . I'm thinking light green with black shutters and white trim. But I won't call a soul until this pool rock project is finished.

P.S. Happy 26th anniversary to my darling hubby!


Friday, May 12, 2006

The WIP Update

Well, I think I have hit the end of the first draft at 38,882 words. Yes, that's a pitiful number, but I tend to write light and fill in details and characters as I go. It's a starting point, and that's all I need.

Now that I HAVE a first draft, I can see what I'm lacking: emotional pathos. A good style sheet with a list of continuing characters (I have townspeople and a town I need to nourish through three books!) I need some subplots, one with humor. What I don't need is more reference material--where I have put it in so far, it reads like a textbook, and that won't do.

So tomorrow I'll do a triage, make a bunch of notes, and start to fill in the gaps. Because I'm leaving mid-week to head to Colorado, I won't jump back in at page one--better save that until after the trip (or else I'd forget what the story is!)

Carrie asked about my process after the first draft--I usually do "triage" which means I sit down with a notebook and make notes on the things I know I need to fix--characters I need to create, gaps I need to fill, thoughts I want to include. I got through my research material and make notes on the things I don't want to overlook. Then I start over again from page one and start filling in the gaps and expanding. Plus, there are lots of places where I'll have brackets and notes like (find the school colors of Mt. Dora High). Second draft is where I literally fill things in, but aside from my notebook, I work almost completely on the computer.

Right now I'm listening to Sarah McLachlan and getting ready to clear my desk for the day. Fun. Nearly as much fun as all the time I spent today on the Alias blogs, speculating about the End of the Story.


Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
38,882 / 95,000

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Raise the Red Lantern: Movie

I watched an interesting movie last weekend: Raise the Red Lantern. I wouldn't call it entertaining, but it was extremely interesting and haunting enough that I dreamed about it. Kept seeing striped kimonos in my dream, and had a dream epiphany where I said, "OH! I get it! The stripes represent prison bars, because she was living in a prison!"

The film is Chinese, it's a period piece, and it's psychological. The translator who did the subtitles obviously doesn't speak English as his first language, but most of the translations were understandable. One of them, though, made me chuckle. One wife is speaking to another wife, and the second wife is pouting. I think the first wife means to say, "Don't be so moody," but in the subtitles she says, "Don't be so groovy." Tee hee!

In any case, it's an interesting film. The protagonist isn't exactly sympathetic--I kept thinking, Come on, honey, you can win more flies with honey than vinegar!, but all these wives had tart tongues. Overall message: beware the consequences of lies, scheming, revenge. Just like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon seemed to tell us the wages of sin is death.

In any case, if you like interesting foreign films, check it out.


WIP Progress meter: (first draft/Fairlawn)
Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
35,400 / 95,000

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Kathy Mackel's THE HIDDEN

Back in December, I had to fly to Pensacola. I took a manuscript with me, Kathryn Mackel's The Hidden.

I almost missed my plane because I was so into the manuscript that I missed the boarding call. The flight attendants had to come and get me. And when the plane landed, I was at the ending of the book. You know how most folks spring up, eager to get out of that seat? I didn't spring. I sat right there, glued to my seat and to those pages. I didn't get off the plane until I'd finished reading, dashed a few tears from my eyes, and could once again focus on Real Life.

If you're looking for a good book, you can't go wrong with The Hidden. Here's my official endorsement:

Kathryn Mackel’s The Hidden is read-in-one-sitting good! Drama, suspense, love and horses—what else could you ask for in a book? Mackel’s consummate skills have created an unforgettable story.


Work in Progress meter (Fairlawn):
Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
27,604 / 95,000

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Fringe Benefit of school visits

From Mt. Paran Christian School in Alpharetta, Georgia. Obviously, my story about my dog made a big impression! Nearly all the cards in the envelope I received mentioned Justus.


Monday, May 08, 2006

The Great Monday Weigh-In

Okay, so I was up four-tenths of a pound. Yesterday I was actually down two pounds, but last night I had a "Last Supper"--you know what that is? I've been good this week, so tonight I'm going to splurge and eat **(fill in the blank--for me it was four slices of Hawaiian pizza). I'm sure that accounts for the two pound weight gain this morning. Fortunately those quick binges usually disappear. Eventually.

Anyway, on to happier topics. I wanted to share some useful healthy-eating tools I've found on the web. First is the national fitness scale-- let Uncle Sam tell you if you're truly overweight..

Second is a program I heartily recommend--I've used it for years. Michael Marder's "Weight Commander.". You can install this program on your computer and record your daily weight. The BEST thing about this little gizmo is that the graph shows "hollow" boxes and solid boxes. Michael's motto is "Don't follow the hollow."

You know how discouraged you can be when you step on the scale and you're up from the day before? (Like me, today.) Well, Michael's program keeps a running average of your entries, so even if you have a day or two that are up (represented by the hollow boxes), the solid boxes will represent your averages, or your trend. You can bounce up and down, but if you're being consistent, the solid lines will be heading downward.

Calorie King lists the nutritional information for dishes from hundreds of restaurants, making it easier to eat healthy and eat OUT. That's my kind of eating!

Well, how did you do? Drop us a comment and let us know! We can do anything if we just work at it long enough . . .

Until next week (on this topic),


Why Self Publishing Your Novel is a Bad Idea . . .

I've been saying that for years. You may not agree, but
this guy hit the nail on the head:

The exceptions: Print on Demand presses are a legitimate avenue in certain special circumstances--if you have a nonfiction book for a specialized audience that could never find national distribution (for instance, a book on Florida law) or if your novel was previously in print and you'd like to keep it in print for readers who have a hard time finding a copy, go ahead, sign the print on demand contract.

But most of the time, even if it's not true, self-publishing gives the impression that you weren't good enough to make it at a traditional publisher, so you took the easy route to publication.

(I've just offended about a zillion people. Sorry.)

And, LOL, the slushpile blogger is so right--I don't know any legitimate writer who introduces himself/herself as a "published author." For one thing, it's redundant. For another, it's pretentious. When you've paid your dues, learned the ropes, and gone through the fire (and a few dozen other metaphors), you simply call yourself a writer.

My, my, I'm just full of opinions at this hour. Back for the Monday weigh-in later. (I'm writing this on Sunday night!)


Sunday, May 07, 2006

BOM: Questions and Answers

(LOL. No, the frog isn't as God created him. He's been digitally enhanced.)

Questions about The Canopy:

C.J. asked: I've noticed too how hard scenes can be to write when there are more than three characters. Do you have any suggestions/tips from writing Canopy on how best to accomplish this? Is the answer to avoid scenes with more than three?

Answer: In a word, yes. Whenever possible, limit conversation klatches to groups of two or three--that's the way it works in real life, anyway. You get ten people at a table and RARELY are they going to hold a single conversation.

Sally said: Okay, I know I'm early! Angela, that negative response was really negative. Ouch! But what do you think of what they said about portraying non-Christians as unhappy, cranky, evil people? I haven't read The Canopy (plan to), but do you think that is a problem in mainstream Christian fiction?I agree with the comment in general to a point--just because a person does not know Christ doesn't mean they're evil or unkind, just not on their way to heaven! Hm, made me, another writer, think about how I portray unsaved in my work. How do you handle that?

And Saun said: When a critic pans something I've created I have to ask myself:1)Is this true?2) Does it matter to me?If "yes" is the answer to both I have some work to do?So, Angela, what say you? Yes or no?

To be honest, my reaction to both of these comments was YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING. Then I remembered that Saun and Sally hadn't read the book under discussion. And I've a hunch that they've heard talk about how poorly written Christian fiction is (an opinion held by many people who haven't read it) and that negative review seems to bolster those prejudices.

Well. I'm glad they raised the questions about quality, so I can address this openly.

Of course, when I receive criticism, I always consider it . . . prayerfully. And 1) if my conscience remains clear, and 2) if the criticism is not reinforced but in fact countermanded by several other people, then 3) I consider the source. And it's a given that people who would not endorse the faith aspect of a story will not approve of it and may violently disagree with it.

Look at what the Pharisees said about Jesus--they called him all sorts of names, from demon-possessed to "winebibber." People who don't "get it" can turn . . . unpleasant.

With that said, no, the non-Christians in the book (and there was only one believer, as I recall) were not all cranky or evil--some of them were pretty wonderful. (I was rather fond of Baklanov, the Russian, and I'm sure that comes through). And the single Christian character made some mistakes. I go to great lengths to make sure my characters are real--that they have strengths and flaws.

Yes, there was one "girlfriend" on the trip, and I killed her off quickly. Not because she was immoral, but because she was a whiner. She would have slowed the expedition down. :-)

If that negative Amazon review had merit, would The Canopy have earned second place in a contest sponsored by a secular trade magazine? I think it's more likely that the story pushed that particular reader's buttons--as some stories will do. One reason I chose that review was because it was so far removed from all the other comments. (And remember, these are not professional reviewers--these are ordinary people posting on Amazon.)

Do I think shallow characters are a problem in mainstream Christian fiction? Not at all. My contemporaries--Bell, Hoff, Mackel, Collins, Gansky, Cavanaugh, Hickman, Myers, Higgs, Samson, Dickson, and dozens of others I haven't room to name--create wonderful, deep, compelling characters who walk both in spiritual light and darkness.

One more late-arriving question from Kristine: BTW, is The Proposal still available to buy new? That's one that I've been wanting to get, but haven't had a chance yet. Yes, Kristine--there is an edition on that sells new, and a couple of editions where you could probably find a used copy. Thanks!

I think that was all the questions, so tomorrow we'll go back to our regularly scheduled blog. Thanks for coming along!


Saturday, May 06, 2006

BOM: The Results/Reader Reaction

(Am traveling this weekend, so have pre-published the weekend posts.)

I'll be the first to admit that The Canopy isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it did receive the silver medal (second place) in Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year contest as well as a Silver Angel award from Excellence in Media. said the book had an "unpredictable and refreshingly unique plotline."

Reader Reaction:

Kirsten wrote: I just finished reading The Canopy and had to write to say how impressed I was by it. It's one of the best books I've read in a long while...and I've read many...including eleven of Hunt's (hard to beat The Pearl...). I could hardly stand to put it down, but, as a mother of three children under five, put it down I must..and often. But much of the fun was thinking it over while chopping carrots or folding laundry. So nice to have an entertaining book that fed my mind and spirit, too. As an English/Theater teacher turned stay-at-home Mom, having a good book to read while I nurse the baby is sometimes the difference between contentment and insanity. I was really sorry to read the last page of "The Canopy" because now I must again search for a good book...

And on the flip side:

At first this novel was compelling but then odd inconsistencies popped up. The main character had an very overblown reaction to the positive mention of Jesus, even for a non-believing character. She seemed a fairly reasonable person up till then. I coudn't understand her vehemently negative attitude. I realized that I had picked up a book with a somewhat fundemantalist bent. I continued to read but was sorry I had.

In The Canopy, all the Christians are good, self-sacrificing, and pleasant even when faced with adversity. The non Christians are unreasonable and prone to be cranky. Other religions are based on evil spirits and those that follow them are evil too. (In this case, The Angry People and a guide.) Bad things happen to bad people. Heaven forbid if you are involved in hanky panky or you will be among the first to be killed off. Angels can cure a version of Mad Cow Disease if you only believe.

There must be novels out there that can show the positives of Christianity without condemning the rest of the world or being sanctimonious but this isn't one of them.

On, readers either loved it or hated it. I suppose I'd rather people feel passionate one way or the other--that's better than arousing apathy.

Okay--any questions? If so, drop them into a comment and I'll answer them on the seventh! Thanks for coming along!


Photo: Fishing for pirnaha. Yep, that's what they look like. I have some pirnaha teeth strung on a necklace . . . I need to start taking that with me when I speak at schools. It's impressive.

Friday, May 05, 2006

BOM: The Editing

I had to look through my files for this topic because I honestly don't remember much about the editing. And since I couldn't find any notes on the editing, I guess I can assume it was pretty much standard stuff.

"Standard stuff" for me usually includes making my characters more sympathetic. If you're familiar with Myers/Briggs, you'll understand what I mean when I say I'm a "T" woman--a thinker, not a feeler. So my characters tend to come off as intellectual and aloof, though I've been trying to work on that. In any case, I often hear that I need to make my characters more sympathetic, and I'm pretty sure I heard that about Alex, my protagonist of the Canopy.

I do remember one particular thing--my editor, Ami McConnell, sent me page proofs of the title page, which were scattered with butterflies, crickets, and roaches! I told her I loved the butterflies and crickets, but could we please do without the roaches? As a Florida girl, I've seen too many of those for my comfort.

The girl who went with me to the jungle, Gaynel, is into scrapbooking (VBG), so I've included a collage of our trip. From the top: if you've read The Canopy, you may remember a story where Michael was approached by some street boys for whom he bought lemonade. That episode really happened to us with these boys. Bottom right: the lodge where we stayed had only four guests that April--me and Gaynel and this father and son from Nebraska. Bottom right: After our week in the jungle, I was thrilled to find an internet cafe where we could contact the outside world!

The plight of the "street boys" (they live on the street) was really brought home to me one night in the city of Iquitos when Gaynel and I stopped at a restaurant and ordered a pizza (the one thing we recognized on the menu.) After we'd eaten our fill, some pizza was left over. The waitress came over and said something in Spanish--all I caught was the word "nino," which I knew meant "boy."

For some reason I thought she was asking if I wanted to take the leftovers to my little boy, so I smiled and said that my little boy was in "los Estados Unidos." Gaynel was quicker than I, and she said, "No, I think she wants to know if she can give it to those boys." She pointed out the door, and I saw one of the little boys who'd been following us around with a water bottle, offering to clean our tennis shoes for a donation.

Instantly, my heart broke--and I wished I hadn't eaten as much as I did. We immediately invited the little boy in, and he came and set on our leftover pizza like it was the last food in the world. We asked his name and found out that he was about nine, I think--maybe eight. In any case, it wasn't our last encounter with the boys. The pizza incident happened on our first night in Iquitos. When we came back a week later, in preparation for our return home, that's when I saw a flock of boys and bought them a pitcher of lemonada. It was a sweltering hot day, and I can tell you that lemonade tasted like heaven!

Tomorrow: The results and reader reaction


Photo: view from the rainforest canopy

Thursday, May 04, 2006

BOM: The Writing

The thing I remember most about the writing of The Canopy is that it was during the Year of the Move, and I wrote it while sitting amid boxes in our too-small rental house. Moving a family (twice!) is taxing, but especially so when you're on a deadline. But the story came together without too much trouble, and I had a blast with my international cast of characters.

What's funny in hindsight, though, is that I didn't know I'd be recording this as an audio book. Which meant that I didn't realize that I'd have to SPEAK all those international accents I created--Peruvians, a Russian, a Frenchman, a Swede, a British doctor who speaks Spanish badly, a heroine from Georgia, and a child. Fortunately my pal Bill Myers stepped in to help me out--if you ever get a chance to listen to the audio version of The Canopy, it's a hoot. (Well, the accents are, anyway.)

One of the challenges I encountered was how to handle a large cast adroitly. It's difficult to create a dialogue scene with six or seven characters--speech attributions become a necessity, and can feel burdensome. I learned rather quickly to group my characters in small clutches rather than around the dinner table. Much easier to handle!

Tomorrow: The editing


P.S. If you'd like to see some other person's great pictures of the Yacumama Lodge where we stayed, click here. You can click on any particular picture to enlarge it. These are wonderful shots!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Score One for Keillor

Today's Garrison Keillor column is about writing, and it's a hoot. So true! You can read it here.


BOM: The Research

The Canopy required TONS of research. Not only did I have to research the jungle, Peru, and transportation to and from, but I also had to gather a lot of information on prions and their associated diseases, Fatal Familial Insomnia, mad cow disease in Britain (one of the characters' wife died from it), tree-climbing, Indian tribes, religion in South America, anthropology, and the history of contact with unreached people groups. I did the heavy topics first--prion diseases and Indian tribes--and researched things like rope climbing and bacteriophages (fascinating!) as I went along. Fortunately, my week in the Peruvian jungle had given me lots of information from experience and I'd kept a journal on my travels. That proved to be invaluable.

The Canopy was so cutting edge that I was making changes even during the editing process. At one point I read that bleach could kill prions; after I'd handed the book in someone discovered that not even bleach could kill prions. I made a note in the author's comments at the end of the book. And the week The Canopy released, the first mad cow was discovered in the United States. Talk about eerie timing!

Some authors like to make things up for their books -- maybe it's because of my background in nonfiction, but I'm a reality-based fiction writer. I find that real life is fascinating enough without my having to invent much beyond characters and plot. That's one reason I usually list sources at the end of my books--I want people to know that my stories are not only possible, but entirely credible.

Tomorrow: The Writing


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

BOM: The idea

The idea for The Canopy occurred to me long before I was able to write the book. I was reading the New York Times Sunday magazine and found an article about researchers who work on this huge trampoline-like thing that they lower to the top of trees in the rain forest canopy. Drug researchers, entomologists, perfumers--all of them have found valuable products from plant and animal life that exists only in the top of the rain forest canopy. It's literally an entirely different world up there! So I knew I'd found a wonderful and unique place to set a novel.

Trouble was, I knew less than nothing about the rain forest and I really wanted to see it for myself. So I had to wait about two years before I could find the time to go . . . and find someone to go with me. Finally my friend Gaynel, who was 29, single, and could afford her own ticket, volunteered to go, so we boarded a plane in April 2001.

We spent eight days in Peru--one day each way in transit to and from our lodge deep in the jungle and accessible only by boat. There's no way I can begin to tell you everything we did in this limited space, but highlights were fishing for pirhana and watching the sun rise over the top of the canopy. I also discovered that my high school Spanish wasn't as deeply buried in my subconscious as I'd thought!

A novel has four basic ingredients, all of which you should have before you being writing: 1) a setting, 2) characters 3) a plot and 4) a theme. I had the setting, but the entire time I was in Peru, I kept looking for a plot. I didn't find it in the jungle, but I did find it in my reading material when I returned home. I read about a disease--Fatal Familial Insomnia--which is a "cousin" to mad cow disease. They are both caused by prions (pronounced pree-ons). With FFI, basically one day you can't sleep, 18 months or so later you slip into a coma and die. Even while you're comatose, though, your brain continues to function. You're awake, you just can't move. Literally a prisoner in your own body.

Ah--now that was fascinating, and immediately suggested my characters: Alexandra, whose mother died from FFI (it's hereditary), and who has a daughter who stands to inherit the same disease. Alex has gone into neurology because of her mother's death, and she's in the jungle to search for a cure for FFI. While she's there, she begins to have trouble sleeping.

As to theme--I wanted to write an allegory and establish that sin is like a fatal disease--we are born with it, and it can only be defeated by faith. So I had Alexandra and company discover an Indian tribe who are born with a variety of prion disease, but who manage to overcome it. She goes out to find them and discover their cure.

As to the indigenous tribes--I've been accused in Amazon reviews of painting them simplistically, but I based their characterization on nonfiction books about real tribes that have had religious experiences. Amazing stuff. So I stand by my depictions and my theme.

And so I finally had all four ingredients, plus seven days of jungle experience. It was enough to get started.

Tomorrow: the research.


The Fiction Queen Reviews

Ruth, who often visits this blog, has posted a very gracious review of MAGDALENE on her blog..

Thanks, Ruth!


Monday, May 01, 2006

Book of the Month: THE CANOPY

Book of the Month for May: The Canopy , Westbow Press.

The jungle held the cure she desperately needed . . .
if she could find courage enough to claim it.

Neurologist Alexandra Pace races to find a cure for a deadly disease that is already ravaging her own mind and body. Can she trust British physician Michael Kenway and his unbelievable story of a mythical healing tribe living deep in the Amazon jungle? Are Alex and her team willing to confront the unknown dangers lurking in the dense forest? Is her faith in Michael enough to lead them through the black waters to an antidote that can save her life?

"Behold the long-awaited cure for ho-hum fiction! The Canopy guides readers on a nail-biting, breath-stealing, spirit-lifting journey through the Peruvian jungle, exploring the varied realms of medicine, science, religion, anthropology, and that most mysterious of worlds, the human heart." --Liz Curtis Higgs, author of Thorn in My Heart

Tomorrow: The Idea's Germination


X Rated--as in Xtra Large?

Pornography: photographs or pictures designed to elicit lust.

Reminds me of that Supreme Court justice who, when the court couldn't pin down a definition of obscenity, said, "I know it when I see it."

Look at that picture of a hamburger. Hmmm, makes you want to run down to the nearest hamburger place and order a double, right? But when it arrives, sitting there on a bare plate, does it look anything like the picture?

Nah. Just like human models, pornographic food photos are airbrushed, colorized, cropped, and designed to make you want something you really shouldn't have.

Too much food.

It's Monday and, as promised, we're going to talk a little bit about healthy eating. I remember doing a mental double-take the first time I heard food advertising described as porn, but the definition really fits. Next time your favorite TV show is on, look at those food commercials--food is steaming, the people eating it are having a great time, the food looks better than it EVER does when it arrives at YOUR table. That's food porn. Designed to make you lust after something you shouldn't have if your belly is full and you are satisfied with your supper.

And when are we most bombarded with food porn? At night, the worst time in the world for a human to eat. If you eat at night, not only does your body not have the time to burn off some of those calories, but the food in your stomach can easily "backtrack" into your esophagus, causing problems with acid reflux, etc. So, whenever possible, try not to eat after seven o'clock and recognize food porn when you see it.

So--how are you doing? Take a moment to let me know. And have a great week!

~~Angie, down two pounds!