Culturally Different

In the last couple of weeks, I read Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman. For those of you not in the know, this is a memoir of sorts that Ms. Druckerman wrote about her experiences as an American mother raising children in France. I found myself laughing and learning frequently in this book. I rarely read memoirs, in fact, this may be the first I’ve ever sat through, but the subject matter was intriguing to me: how the French raise their children. Culturally, it’s quite different than we Americans raise our kids, and I found myself wishing that even for a few years, my kids could have the influence of the French.

One thing I found intriguing was the idea of expectations. In one chapter, Ms. Druckerman describes how the expectations of life are much different in France than in America, and it filters into their literature, especially for kids. Where in our children’s books, we have a story that gets resolved in most cases, and things become “perfect” (or as close to perfect as the author can make them so they’re left with a feel-good effect), the French stories published on the other side of the pond are more true to life. She describes one story in a very popular French children’s series where one character is mean to another (don’t remember the context now, and I had to return the book to my library!) They work on the problem through the book, and I believe the mean child eventually apologizes to the other character… In an American book, that’d be the end of it, but the French book finishes with a final scene where the mean child repeats the same type of offense as originally started at the beginning of the book.

While I thoroughly enjoyed all of the rest of the book, and have learned several things that I’m going to try to implement with my own children, that story about French literature really stuck out to me, probably because I’m a storyteller. I love the art of storytelling, love learning about the so-called “rules,” love digging in to my own stories to figure out what’s working and what’s not.

And I can’t help but think I’ve approached it in a fully American way.

In adult fiction, it’s a bit easier to have an ambiguous ending to a story. Fine. We’re adults, we can handle it. But, I can’t think of any stories I’ve read to my kids where there’s not a happy ending. And, as Ms. Druckerman pointed out, that’s not really all that true to life. It leaves kids with a false sense of what should happen in life, that our problems can be solved easily, when often, things are much more complex.

I love a happy ending just as much as anyone. I always get a bit teary-eyed at the end of Return of the Jedi when Han and Leia come to terms, and it’s obvious they’ll be getting together. Same goes for the end of Pride & Prejudice, and a whole host of other books and movies.

But, should we always let our kids watch shows or read books where problems are easily, and fully, resolved? Wouldn’t it be better to expose them to life, and give them a sense that life isn’t going to always be full of lollipops, roses, and puppies? As in the French book referenced in Bringing Up Bébé, wouldn’t be better to let our kids know that friends won’t always repent, and are just as likely to repeat the same offenses over and over?

I, for one, think that would be a benefit to kids.

What are your thoughts? Do you remember reading any books with ambiguous endings as a child, or were all your book choices ended in a happy way?

Until next time…

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Structuring Your Novel: A Review

As a “pantser” writer, me and structure/outlining don’t necessarily go together naturally. Oil and water, we are.

However, every writer should continue to learn about her craft, and that’s where K.M. Weiland‘s new book, Structuring Your Novel, comes into play. I was absolutely delighted, I must say, when K.M. asked me to be an early reader, as I was for her last nonfiction book, Outlining Your Novel. Even so, being in a bit of a hectic time of life, I’m getting to the actual reviewing a bit late. But, that old adage is true: better late than never.

Being a pantser means I don’t usually pay attention to structure, whether it’s outlining or otherwise. I’ve only actually ever used an outline with success once, and that was for NaNoWriMo back in 2009. Yet, K.M.’s previous non-fiction book left me thinking, and while I’m still not an outliner, I can honestly say I recognize the merits of outlining, and when I’m stuck, will sit down and outline the next few chapters to get me going again.

I approached Structuring in much the same way. I’m a pantser: what can this book do for me?

Well, a lot, I’ll say that. Not so much a “how to” book, more a “these are the qualities of a strong book” book, Structuring Your Novel uses examples from familiar books and movies to describe fundamentally how all successful stories are arranged, what readers and viewers expect. Surprisingly enough, if you’ve read enough quality books or watched solid movies, you probably intuitively know a lot about story structure. But, K.M. lays it out perfunctorily so you can understand why you need to do XYZ by a set point in the story, for instance, having all your major characters introduced by the first plot point, around the 25% mark in your story.

What I learned most: I don’t have to outline my novels, but I should sit down and at least figure out if my drafts are in line with what typically happens in a book. Is my first plot point too early? Too late? What can I do to adjust its timing?

Additionally, I really enjoyed the second and third parts: Part Two is on Scene Structure, and Part Three is a short piece on Sentence Structure. Some of “Scene Structure” will be familiar if you’ve been following K.M.’s blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, but it’s nice to have the refresher in an easy-to-snag spot on my Kindle. Sentence Structure really is a crash course in many do’s and don’t’s common in early novels: repetitiveness, ambiguity, pompous words, etc.

Who needs this book: Every fiction writer who wants to get a better handle on the elements of storytelling, outliner and pantser alike. While newbies especially would benefit, those of us who are old-hands at story (whether published or not) can use the refresher, and gain new insights into how to tell a superb story. Maybe we will realize we need to move some bodies around in our stories because of Structuring. (That’s a little murder mystery writer humor!)

Structuring Your Novel is available through Amazon.com (and other booksellers) for $2.99 for Kindle presently, however, the list price is $12.75. Paperbacks cost $10.42, also at the same list price. Whichever version you pick up, it is well worth the cost. Getting a solid grasp on structure–even if you’re a pantser like me–will help make you a better writer, and in the end, isn’t that what all of us writers want?

Until next time,

Deliver Me From Evil

Recently, I “met” on Facebook with an author who was releasing a book that ran parallel in theme to one of my current projects. While my project is set in the year 2117 and mostly in space, and hers is set in present-day San Diego, they share the same topic: human trafficking for sexual slavery.

That author is Kathi Macias, and she graciously offered me a chance to read her book, Deliver Me From Evil, sending me a book to my new place before I’d even moved in last month. I’ll be giving away my copy of this book to one lucky reader. See details at the end of this post.

Now, with boxes unpacked, and three fewer distractions in the house (my husband and kids were out of town over the weekend), I was able to finally sit down and read this book.

I will say up front that this is not an easy-to-read book. The fear from the girls in this book is real.

Mara was bought–by her uncle, no less–at the age of five or six, taken across the border into San Diego where she began her “training”. Now eighteen, she’s known no other life, and has no real hope of ever seeing a normal life. As the eldest of the slaves her uncle has obtained through the years, she’s tasked with teaching them the ropes–or suffer the consequences from her uncle.

A chance encounter with almost-graduated-from-high-school Jonathan Flannery, who is delivering pizzas at the hotel Mara is working one evening, leads to an incredible series of events that changes not only their lives, but all the lives of those around them.

Honestly, I was a little trepidatious about reading this book. I’ve known about human trafficking for more than a decade. The former US Senator, now governor, from Kansas was an early voice throughout the late 90s and into the 21st Century about the topic. (Keep in mind, I’m not even 30 yet, so there may be other voices out there–but given my age, he was the first I really was aware of.) So, I’ve been aware of the horrors for a while. Even more, my church has formed a ministry to aid those stuck in slavery to get out–not just stateside, but abroad in Thailand and India (possibly South Africa) as well.

I shouldn’t have feared.

Although the book was difficult to read, there were enough breathers between the tough scenes with Jonathan Flannery and his family that I was able to read it in four sittings. Ms. Macias is an extremely skillful writer, and while you don’t see the violence and horrors “on screen” so-to-speak, it’s insinuated. I’m not sure which would actually be worse–if it were spelled out, or with my imagination running away with me.

Anyway.

This book is not for the faint of heart. There is some real evil, some very despicable people. Even Mara, who I found myself rooting for throughout most of the book, was plotting to kill her uncle by the end of the book–if she ever got the chance, that is. And really, who could blame her?

If you’re not content to read bonnet books, and are willing to tackle some difficult topics and get your eyes opened, this is definitely a book worth reading.

For my non-Christian readers: this is a Christian book. God is on almost every page. The characters talk about God, pray, attend church, etc. However, human trafficking and sexual slavery is a problem that needs to get dealt with, and the Church is on the frontlines of this battle. When kids–not just girls, boys too–are getting kidnapped in preschool to be placed in this line of “work”, there’s a problem, and whether you’re a Christ-follower or not, you can’t ignore it.

Because I feel so passionately about this topic, and I believe Deliver Me From Evil is such an important book to read, even as a work of fiction, I am going to give away my copy to one lucky reader. All that I ask is that you read it, then pass it on to someone else who will read it, who will then give it to someone else to read, and so on. This book should not remain on your bookshelf! Only through informing others about what’s going on in our cities, in our country, will we be able to put a stop to this.

If you’re interested, please leave a comment below with the first name and last initial of the person you think you’d give this book to. It doesn’t have to be who you eventually give it to, just show me you’re thinking along those lines already. I’ll draw one winner after 6 PM Central Time next Sunday, and announce the winner bright and early Monday morning.

I should also note the fact that this book is the first in a trilogy. There are a few loose threads dangling at the end, so I am eagerly awaiting Freedom Series #2, Special Delivery, in January 2012, and #3, The Deliverer, in April 2012. You can visit Kathi’s website to learn about these and other books.

Until next time,

Paranormalcy (a book review)

I must admit right off the bat that I never read YA novels. Nor do I usually indulge in urban fantasy. (I have read a few books in that genre, but I won’t mention them now.)

However, earlier this year, I was perusing the tweets of an agent I’m researching, and found she had a debut author with a book coming out this year. “Hmmm,” I thought. That debut author is Kiersten White, and her book is Paranormalcy.
Photo from KierstenWhite.com
The blurb on the jacket reads:

“Evie’s always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals’ glamours.

But Evie’s about to realize that she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.

So much for normal.”

I really loved this book. Of course, being of a Christian persuasion, there were elements I fundamentally disagreed with, but for a pure entertainment value, I found this book fit the bill. When I set the book down, I pondered what was going to happen next, and ended up reading the last couple hundred pages in one sitting.

I could really identify with Evie. Since I was homeschooled, although not working for a paranormal containment agency, I felt the same emotions Evie did at that age by not having others her age around her, not being able to go to a prom, or have a “normal” life.

Evie has an awesome presence on the page. Her asides to the reader really add to her personality and realism.

If I would say there is one negative about this book is the fact that towards the end, it seems Evie doesn’t grieve much for the loss of life (particularly for a friend). I’m not sure if this is just an oversight, or if this will be tackled more in the next book or not. (The next book, by the way is Supernaturally, due out next fall. I will be picking up a copy.)

You can pick up a copy of Paranormalcy pretty much anywhere, especially since it hit the New York Times Bestseller List for Children’s Books. Amazon has it for $11.55, as well as a $9.99 Kindle version. It may be a good gift for your teen girl for Christmas, especially if she likes urban fantasy.

Until next time,

The Women in Jesus’ Life

I was honored recently to receive a request to review a new Bible study: The Women in Jesus’ Life by Mindy Ferguson. Mindy was gracious enough to agree to an interview in tandem with my review.

Liberty Speidel: Why did you decide to write “The Women in Jesus’ Life”?

Mindy Ferguson: I taught an evening women’s Bible class for about seven years. Most of the women worked and I noticed that they often struggled to finish their homework when we did in-depth Bible studies that required a lot of Bible reading and questions. I also noticed that the majority of the women felt like they couldn’t measure up to all of the expectations or meet the many needs of their families, employers, and friends. It was clear to me that a study with a lighter amount of homework that emphasized the depth of Jesus’ love for them was needed.  As I prayed about that need, my attention was drawn to the compassionate and loving way Jesus treated the women He encountered during His life and ministry. Inspired, I wrote The Women in Jesus’ Life for the women in my class. I found the lessons generated rich, open discussion. Women came to class each week feeling affirmed and encouraged, anxious to share how they related to the women they had studied during the week. It was a special time with a special group of women.

LS: What kind of research did you do? How did the research impact how you decided to present this study?

MF: I did my best to step into the sandals of the women we studied each week. I researched the culture, as well as the attitudes of and about the women of the time. I imagined myself in each woman’s circumstance and attempted to feel the emotions she might have felt. Then I related those circumstances to the situations women face today. I wanted the study to stir women’s minds as well as their hearts. By keeping the lessons short, I was hoping the women in my class would be able to complete their lessons. They did.  I was encouraged by what I learned and it blessed me greatly to see group feeling affirmed and excited about the material.

LS: Did anything you learned surprise you?

MF: What surprised me most is the important roles women served in Jesus’ ministry. Many of them supported Him by their own means. Jesus first spoke of Himself as the Messiah to the Woman at the Well. The first person to see the risen Christ was Mary Magdalene. Jesus always treated women with dignity and He enabled them to participate in His work while He walked this earth, just as He does today.

LS: What did writing this study teach you?

MF: I gained a greater sense of the depth of Jesus’ love and mercy.

LS: For the writers, how is writing a Bible study such as “The Women in Jesus’ Life” different from writing a different kind of book, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.

MF: I’ve always considered myself more of a Bible student than a writer. I think it is important to allow God’s Word to teach His Word. Writing a Bible study is more like guiding a friend through Scripture and allowing her to discover the sweetness of God, the vastness of His power, and the consistency of His commands for herself.  Rather than painting all of the details, like you might do as you develop characters and create scenarios when writing fiction, a Bible study writer paints a picture with broader strokes and allows the Word of God to bring out details that convict or encourage.

LS: What do you hope women gain most from this study?

MF: I hope that their hearts will be touched by Jesus’ lavish love for them and their minds would be engaged as they learn new information and read familiar passages of Scripture in this fresh context.   

______

In reading and working through the Bible study, I’ve found it to be a study that not only teaches me about the women in the Gospels, but gives me a new perspective on Jesus. The passages utilized are typically ones I’ve never heard unpacked before, or ones I’ve never seen from such a point of view. But the questions asked in the study really make me as a woman dig deep into myself and further explore my own relationship with Christ. There were many points where I couldn’t honestly answer a question without thinking about it for several minutes, hours, or even a day or two.

That said, this is a study I would love to do with a group of other women. It would also probably be a great study for a MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) group. I recommend this book to any woman who wants to dig deeper into the lives of the women in the New Testament.

Mindy Ferguson

In a world that urges us to live for ourselves, Mindy Ferguson encourages women to live for Christ. She founded Fruitful Word Ministries in April 2003 and is passionate about encouraging women of all denominations to develop a more intimate and fruitful relationship with Jesus Christ through the study of God’s Word.


Mindy stumbled her way into the arms of Christ at the age of twenty-six. She speaks nationally at women’s events and at retreats as one who understands the tug of worldly passions and the emptiness of selfish ambition. Her writings have appeared in Christianity Today’s Kyria.com, the P31 Woman magazine, Just Between Us magazine, Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler’s Soul, and the One Year Life Verse Devotional. Mindy is the author of the in-depth Bible study, Walking with God: From Slavery to Freedom; Living the Promised Life. Mindy latest book, Hugs Bible Reflections for Women, is now available in bookstores.


Mindy lives in a suburb of Houston, Texas with her husband of twenty-two years and their daughter. Their son is currently attending college in Bryan, Texas. You can find out more about Mindy at her website and blog.

Thanks, Mindy, for letting me review this book, and offering up a copy to one of my lucky readers. 

Interested in a copy of The Women in Jesus’ Life? Leave a comment in this post for a chance to win! You can also purchase a copy for $9.99 through Amazon.com. The giveaway will close midnight CDT on Labor Day (Sept. 6, 2010), and the winner will be announced sometime on Sept. 7.

Until next time,

GIVEAWAY: A Tidbit Romance

When Erin Coss contacted me and asked me to be an advance reader for A Tidbit Romance, I was a bit mystified, but thrilled to be asked. I usually don’t do reviews for devotionals, and quite honestly, I don’t read them very often. However, when the ARC came in the mail, I nearly jumped up and down in anticipation.

While my reading schedule is haphazard at best, what with doing kids’ reviews over at CCBR, reading works for other writer’s WIPs, and reading for my own enjoyment, I made time to read Romance, sometimes 3, 4, or even 10 devotions at a time.

All of Erin’s chapters are between two and three pages, enough that it makes them a quick read–I love this, especially as a busy mother of 1.9 (unless there’s been a notice that #2 has made it into this world! I’m writing this at the end of June and still pregnant.)

But, what I really like most of all about this book is the conversational style. I feel like I’m having a conversation with an old friend every time I open the book. Maybe that’s why I haven’t read too many other devotionals: because they all feel like they’re beating me over the head with my inadequacies. Erin’s approach to sharing Scripture and the things that have been revealed to her through its study makes me feel like I’m with my small group at church, and she’s sharing just a tidbit of her thoughts with the group.

Most of the Scripture passages are familiar (the story of the prodigal son comes to mind), but I was pleasantly surprised to find several passages used that I was unfamiliar with, or had never delved deeper into. And what was said in response to the passages was relevant to my everyday life, and further substantiated with additional Scripture in many cases. Several of the devotions I’ve earmarked to go back and read with my husband.

If you never read devotionals, A Tidbit Romance would be a good start. If you do read them regularly, it would be a terrific addition to your library.

Thank you, Erin, for giving me the opportunity to read A Tidbit Romance!

Erin Coss – A.K.A. The Chicken Dance Mama, is a published author and speaker.  She has published works in Revival Nation Magazine, and books, including First Conversations (Bethesda), My Surgery Journal and My Hospital Journal (k2e Books). Erin has also worked on the television series
The Directors (Encore) and the television documentary The Genocide Factor (PBS).  Her high-energy, down-to-earth style is what drives the Chicken Dance Mama persona. Erin loves having fun relishing in God’s word and shares her insights in her book, A Tidbit Romance – Falling in Love with God’s Word One Devotion at a Time. She resides outside Columbus, Ohio, with her husband, Eric, and their three children.

If you’d like to win a copy of A Tidbit Romance, please either join my followers (if you’re not already) and/or leave a comment below. I have a lovely copy to send to some lucky person. The winner will be announced Wednesday, July 28, 2010. By the way, this book would be a wonderful gift for some lucky person in your life!

Until next time,

Dissect Some Books!

Happy Monday, my lovely readers!

I know this post is in an off week, but I have an idea I want to run by you.

How would you like to see a mystery dissection session on this blog?

My thoughts are to have one book a month that I, your humble blogger, would read, then dissect why or why it doesn’t work. If you’ve read the book, you, my lovely readers, could chime in and agree or dissent. I’d be more than happy to take suggestions for upcoming reads from you, with these requirements: it must be a mystery, it can’t be so obscure I have difficulty finding it, and (ideally), I should be able to find it at my library or my local mystery bookstore, I Love A Mystery in Mission, Kansas. We can do older books–Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle–or newer–Lisa Lutz, Diane Mott Davidson, Janet Evanovich. It doesn’t matter. The ideal would be not to cover the same author twice in the same year. And, if this becomes popular, we may try to cover more than one book a month.

So, what do you think? You up for it? Who would you like to read first? And, what elements would you like to see covered? Come on, share with me. And, let’s get reading! (I’m currently reading a fabulous CBA mystery I’d like to offer for our first session: Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man by Claudia Mair Burney. Already have some things I both love and hate, so it should be interesting.)

Until next time,

Image from: http://funkeymunkey17.deviantart.com/art/Books-30368282