Books Make Good Christmas Gifts

Of course books make good Christmas gifts. You know that. Here’s a list of books you may not have heard of by relatively unknown writers — at least they are relatively unknown at the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two or even all of the authors are household names by this time next year.

The Medicine People by Lazarus Barnhill is a deceptively lighthearted mystery with great characterization and surprising twists and turns.  Why has triple murder suspect and fugitive Ben Whitekiller returned to his hometown to give himself up? Click here to read the first chapter.

Staccato by Deborah J. Ledford is a well-orchestrated thriller about three world-class pianists, two possible killers, one dead woman and a great mental soundtrack for those who know music. Ledford draws you into her world and doesn’t let go until the final crescendo. Click here to read the first chapter.

Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire by Malcolm Campbell: Though Jock Stewart is a throwback to the Hollywood’s film noir reporters, Campbell’s delight in words and wordplay shows through the hardbitten shell, and the novel has a gleeful undertone. Click here to read: an excerpt or the first chapter.

Heart of Hythea by Suzanne Francis is an epic novel full of romance and adventure, with a strong female protagonist who isn’t always sweetness and light. Suzanne’s world is filled with colorful details and captivating characters. Click here to read a synopsis and an excerpt.

Dead Witness by Joylene Nowell Butler is a novel of international intrigue and danger with a hero who fights criminals and the FBI to take control of her life “with every ounce of fury a mother can possess”.  Click here to read the first chapter.

Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus Barnhill is an unlikely romance between a man who has lost everyone he ever cared about and a womanwho has been betrayed and abused by every man she has ever met.  Click here to read the first chapter.

And be sure to check out the books from Second Wind Publishing Company. You might even see a familiar cover or two.

Aaaarrrgggghhhh!!!!! Now I Have to Write a Review!

StaccatoWhile most of the world is talking about the new Dan Brown bestseller, Second Wind Publishing, LLC has quietly released a thriller of its own — Staccato by Deborah J Ledford. You won’t find all the elements that have become Brown’s hallmarks: cartoonish characters, amateurish prose, tin-ear for dialogue, internal inconsistencies. What you will find is a well-written, well-constructed story that will keep you enthralled.

The product description on Amazon says it better than I could: Performed against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Staccato transports readers to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of professional musicians, the psychological twists and turns of its characters, and in the end, retribution that crashes in a crescendo of notes played at the literary pace of a maestro’s staccato. The only drawback to Staccato is that it doesn’t come with a soundtrack — each meticulously chosen piece of music enhances the mood of the scene it accompanies, and unless you are much more informed about music than I am, you will miss some of the brilliance of this composition.

Readers are in for a treat, and me? Aaaarrrggghhhh!!! I have to write another review! Well, I don’t have to, but the book deserves all the attention it can get. So, I will add it to the stack of other books I’ve promised to review, yet haven’t:

Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus Barnhill
The Medicine People by Lazarus Barnhill
Steel Waters by Ken Coffman
Toxic Shock Syndrome by Ken Coffman
Mazurka by Aaron Lazar
Heart of Hythea by Suzanne Francis
and now, Staccato by Deborah J Ledford

Although all these books are much more literate, readable, and enjoyable than Dan Brown’s pap, the best I can come up with as a review for each of these deserving novels right now is, “Good book. I liked it and you will, too.”

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Feeling Like a Guest on My Own Blog

I’m starting to feel like a guest here on my own blog. I’m getting so many visitors to my “guest event” on the future of books, that I spend my allotted blog time wandering from one “referrer” link to another to see where everyone is coming from, and I never get around to posting my own work. If I’m not careful, I’ll forget the reason I started writing this blog: me. A month ago I decided I would stop inviting guest bloggers and reclaim my blog, but that resolution died even before the new year began. It’s just too much fun finding new voices (and established voices) to come guest, and for me, that’s the real purpose of this blog: fun. As addicted to the Internet as I’m getting — or as seduced by it — I still find this blog to be the most enjoyable online activity. I like saying what I want and just throwing it out there. Sometimes people agree, sometimes they don’t, but I’ve met some of my best blog buddies (bet you can’t say that three times!) because of discussions resulting from this disagreement.

So, here I am with a blank slate, and nothing to say. Actually, the problem is that I have too much to say, and it won’t all fit in a single bloggery. I want to talk about how amazing it is that writers such as Suzanne Francis, author of the Heart of Hythea books can make up such wonderful-sounding words and worlds. When I needed a name for my disease in A Spark of Heavenly Fire, the most exotic one I could come up with was . . . ta da! . . . The Red Death. It fits (people get red eyes and vomit bright red blood) and it’s probably what it would have been called if such a disease really had decimated Colorado. (And that is the correct use of the term decimated — about a tenth of the residents of Colorado end up dead.) But it isn’t a clever, made-up word.

Another thing I would like to talk about is the incredible journey a novel takes from that first glimmer of an idea to a book in the hands of a reader. Each step is a big one: the first word, the first chapter, the first draft. You think you are unique because there is a good chance you are the only person you know who writes.  And then you start querying, and find out you are one among millions, and no one cares. Finally, you find someone to publish your opus (or you decide to self-publish) and have you entered the rarefied atmosphere of the few? No. For some reason, once you start promoting your work, everyone you encounter is also promoting a work. So who buys these books? Someone, I hope, because eventually the delays will be over, and my books will be available.

Another thing I would like to talk about is . . . oops, my allotted blog time is up. I’ll get back to you tomorrow. Unless I have another guest blogger.

Pat and Mike (Couldn’t Resist the Title)

I have had an incredibly exciting week. First, I got the proofs for my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire, but that wasn’t the most exciting thing that happened.

More exciting was finding out I’m a blurb on the cover of Suzanne Francis’s book, Heart of Hythea. Seeing my name on the back cover of a book really made me feel like an author.

Even more exciting was having Michael Palmer accept an invitation to be a guest on my blog. Yep, that’s right — the Michael Palmer, author of thirteen bestselling novels, is going to be on my blog tomorrow. Oddly enough for these cyber times, he’s never guested a blog before, so this is an historic occasion. Most exciting of all, he wrote the article just for me, rather than sending me one he’d already written.

I hope I’m not going against email ethics by making our conversation public, but our little discussion was interesting (to me anyway) and I wanted to share it.

My Sort-of Interview with Michael Palmer

Be sure to stop by tomorrow to check out Michael’s blog post.

Faith and Fiction

Suzanne Francis, author of Heart of Hythea, Ketha’s Daughter, and Dawnmaid, has kindly consented to be my guest today. On the subject of Faith and Fiction, Suzanne writes:

We can all think of a series or two where religion plays a major role in the plot-like the Left Behindbooks by LaHaye and Jenkins or the Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Whether or not you agree with their beliefs, these are authors who have placed their own faith squarely at the center of the books they write.

Should we do the same? I can think of three reasons why we might.

–Spirituality is a deeply personal attribute, part of what makes us individuals. No two people, even two who belong to the same faith, believe in exactly the same things. Our faith, even if it is atheism, is a fundamental part of who we are. That is something we can use to differentiate our writing from all other authors, something that will allow us to claim it as our own.

–Most of us with religious beliefs feel that these tenets make us better people-that is why we follow them, after all. Many authors of fiction-like Ayn Rand or Jack Kerouac-have used the voices of their characters to present their own beliefs to the world. If we have an understanding, something that helps us, should we not also share it with others?

–Every author wants their characters to be multi-dimensional, to come to life for the reader. If we do not give our creations a spiritual dimension, then they are lacking one of the most essential qualities of humanity-the one thing that separates us from all other animals. Even if our character never discusses his or her faith or lack thereof, it must still be in the background affecting everything he or she says and does.

But how do we go about placing our beliefs in the context of our fiction without sounding artificial or preachy?

It pays to spend some time thinking about what you actually believe and how it affects your everyday life. That becomes the starting point. Do you have doubts? Have you suffered for your faith? Do you speak of it with others, or is it private?

Once you have a handle on that, then you can decide how much or how little you wish to include. Maybe you will put a single line in the mouth of a minor character. That might be enough. Alternatively, you can give a main character some of your convictions, and let it emerge little by little through their actions. Or perhaps, like C.S. Lewis, you can write a whole series of allegories around the things you believe. (But I think the Chronicles of Narnia is very preachy!)

In Song of the ArkafinaI gave one character, Arkady Svalbarad, a faith very much like Buddhism. I am not a Buddhist, not really, but I find the some of the philosophy very useful in my day-to-day life. Here is an example from Ketha’s Daughter:

—Nodding, he turned to his pack, and retrieved his tin plate and a small knife. He was hungry, and the rabbit smelled good, though it had been a year since he had last eaten any flesh. That was another thing he learned from his teacher in T’Shang — respect for all living creatures. But Dawa had also impressed upon him the importance of kindness to others, and that meant accepting any gift without complaint or reservation. So he ate the rabbit with pleasure and shared what food he had in return.—

Everything about this character is colored by his faith-both his successes and failures are measured against it. It gives him a genuineness I could never create otherwise.

My own belief system I would loosely describe as Paganism, though probably not the kind you are thinking of. I don’t own any robes, or do any rituals or chanting. But I do believe in the immanence of God in all things, and I hold the Earth to be sacred. I gave my convictions to a group of wanderers called the Firaithi. From Ketha again:

—“Still,” insisted Arkady. “It must be very difficult – always traveling like this. Do your young people not grow tired of your rootless existence?”

“Of course, some do,” admitted Huw. “Perhaps two or three each year decide to leave the Kindreds and make their way in the world of the Gruagán. But we raise our young ones to honor Asparitus, so most come back to us after a few years.”

“Asparitus? What is that?”

Huw stared thoughtfully at his sister Eira’s neatly painted caravan. “I don’t know a word in Maraison that means the same thing. Asparitus is our way of life. It means to tread gently on the Yrth, to use as little as we are able, and put back as much as we can.” He frowned. “We have very little, compared to the Gruagán in their fancy houses. They think of us as impoverished tinkers and thieves, when they think of us at all. But truly, Kadya, few of us would give up our place here amongst the Kindreds for all the gold of the Gruagán. Asparitus is all the treasure we need. Do you understand, my brother?”—

That is very, very close to the heart of my own faith, only lightly cloaked in the language of the Firaithi.

How will you clothe your faith in your fiction?

To find out more about Suzanne, read excerpts, or buy her books, check out her fictionwise book page.