Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday Fiction Fix: "Taliesin"

The Short:


Book 1 of the Pendragon Cycle

By: Stephen R. Lawhead

4/5 Stars

What: The intersection of two worlds—Atlantis and the post-Roman British Isles—sets the stage for the Arthurian legends.

Recommended to those who like: Legends of Arthur, fantasy, Atlantis legends, Christian message

Not recommended to those who dislike: Magic use, discussion of old cults, mild love element

The Long:

I debated a bit about reviewing this one, especially early on in the book. There’s quite a bit of “more realistic” magic use, so if that bothers you, I wouldn’t recommend this as a book for you. However, at the end, there is a really redeeming Christian message. Overall, the book is good (other than it dragging a mite at the start) and I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t object to magic in books and also enjoys a Christian element.

The book follows two main stories: Charis, an Atlantean princess, and Taliesin, a young man in the British Isles who finds himself a bard in a changing world.

Atlantis is crumbling just as fast as Charis’ own life. Following a personal tragedy, she takes to becoming a bull dancer—one who performs elaborate dance routines with bulls in front of a crowd. The dangerous work suits her disenchanted views of life. (If you read it for nothing else, read the book for these scenes; it’s some of the most vivid writing I’ve ever read. You can see exactly what’s going on and it’s thrilling).

Meanwhile, Taliesin finds that he has more than a few expectations laid upon him. When crisis strikes his village, how will he and his father Elphin respond? And does this really signal the Dark Time so long foretold? Will he help usher in the Light?

As I said, the writing brings life to the old stories. If you don’t mind the few potential issues that I listed at the start, I’d say it’s well worth the read. I plan to continue in the story.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Mr. Lawhead and his work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Author Interview with Benjamin J. Denen

Today, please welcome Mr. Denen for a special author interview! Mr. Denen is the author of The Keeper of Edelyndia, the first book in The Keeper Chronicles, a really cool fantasy series. Raulin: Rise of the Forest King is a prequel to The Keeper of Edelyndia and releases TODAY! 

Benjamin J. Denen is a husband, father, son, brother, friend, Christ follower, author, musician, pizza aficionado, promoter of the Oxford comma, and fan of all things Chicago sports (Cubs not White Sox). He holds a Bachelor of Music with an emphasis in Guitar Performance from Belmont University (a fancy way of saying he plays guitar good) and a Master of Arts in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. When he's not reading, he's writing. Sometimes that means he is composing music for film/media in his project studio (i.e. in his converted garage). It could also mean that he is writing his latest novel.

He writes much in the same way that he reads, which is to say that he bounces around between different genres like Tigger after drinking a 5-Hour Energy. In music that means one day is laying tracks for a metal piece for a client. The next day he is composing a symphonic ballad for another. In his career as a novelist, it means that he writes urban fantasy, murder/mystery, epic fantasy, humorous young adult, Hallmark Channel-esque novellas, and so on. He thinks it makes him creative. His wife thinks it is adult A.D.D.

Being a writer is what he does not who he is. As much as he enjoys crafting music and stories, he places a much higher value on being a present father and husband. He'd rather play toys with his son than write a best seller (of course if he could do both he wouldn't complain).

To start off, tell us a little about your writing.

I write because I love to write.  That may sound cheesy or cliché, but it couldn’t be more true.  I guess I was sort of blessed with a very overactive imagination.  When I was a kid, I would play out intricate (for a child) dramas with my toys.  There would be epic wars fought by G.I. Joes for the survival of the human race and so on.  No that I have to “adult”, writing is the only way I can allow the stories floating around in my head to get out!

Because I first and foremost write for my own enjoyment of the process of telling stories, I tend to bounce around a little in terms of the kinds of books I write.  This is reflective of my reading habits.  Currently, I have self-published two fantasy novels and a Hallmark Channel-esque Christmas novella.  However, I’m sitting on a few completed manuscripts that are radically different from my published works.  As I continue this journey of writing and publishing, I think my readers will surprised at some of my releases.

What made you decide to take the indie publishing route? What makes indie publishing difficult?

Not to put too fine a point on it, I went the indie route because the “big house” publishers and agents haven’t “discovered” me yet.  Just ten-ish years ago that might have meant that my manuscripts would never see the light of day. Thankfully, I’m writing in a period that I think history will look at as the boom of publishing.  Some bemoan the “easy access” that would-be authors have to self-publishing tools because it allows what they consider to be “poor writing” to reach the public and clog up the field for all of us.  I, on the other hand, see this as a wonderful era and not just because it allows me to publish my works.  As a reader, I love the opportunity I have through sites like Amazon to discover new authors and create works that may not have fit the market-research driven top publishers.  Likewise, as an indie author, I can feel free to write the stories as I feel they are meant to be written without worrying that an agent will fail to take interest.

The most difficult side of self-publishing is most definitely marketing.  Though a published author has to be involved in this aspect of the process as well, there are teams of publicists and marketing experts to help connect him/her to readers.  As an indie author, that responsibility falls solely to me.  I love writing.  I do not love selling.  Many aspects of marketing all outside of my interests and skill set so it can be a challenge.

What’s your favorite part about writing?

Easily my favorite part of writing is getting to know the characters.  I used to hear other authors talk about how their characters tell the story, but until I wrote my first novel I didn’t truly understand this.  My wife tends to think I’m crazy!  I will often come out of a long writing session and tell her how surprised I was by the sudden twist in a story. The characters do really tell the story and often that leads me to discover a world I hadn’t expected to find.

I see you’ve written some music to go along with your books. What role does music play in your writing process?

My undergraduate degree is in music, and for much of my life I have played music professionally.  When you get down to it, music is another form of storytelling.  Music is a powerful medium for conveying emotion and drama.  As a composer I find myself creating stories and character arcs as I write, almost as if I am crafting a novel.  This made my transition into writing novels seamless.

When I write, I always have instrumental music playing in the room or through headphones.  Usually, I listen to film scores or other styles of orchestral music.  Film scores naturally lend well as a soundtrack to writing due to the fact that composers were, themselves, underscoring a story.  Honestly, I have a very difficult time writing without music.  The two are a package for me.

What would be your fantasy weapon of choice?

Oooh, great question.  In The Keeper of Edelyndia, I sort of invented a weapon that is a combination of a bowstaff and a spear.  There were a few reasons why I chose to do this, not the least of which was the desire to have my protagonist stand a little more unique among the pantheon of great fantasy characters already in print.  That said, I am a sucker for the sword.  There is something beautiful and awful about the double-edged blade.  It is a personal weapon that requires the wielder to step close to the man he intends to harm which lends an ugliness to it; yet it cannot be wielded by just anyone.  It takes skill and grace. 

 Now for something a bit more serious: how does your faith influence your writing?

The intertwining of my faith and my writing is so interconnected that I’m not entirely sure I could separate the two even if I wanted.  The stories that I write always wrestle with deep questions of the human condition.  Pain, suffering, joy, hope, fear… these are all things that make us human. My Christian faith naturally speaks to all of these and more.  When the stories unfold as I write them, I always strive to make my characters as human and realistic as possible.  Because I too have crisis of faith, have suffered loss, joy, fear, etc. it is only natural that my characters should as well.

That said, I also strive to write books that will appeal to people of different backgrounds.  Obviously, no book will appeal to everyone, but I want someone that does not share a similar faith to mine to feel just as engaged by my book as someone who does.

What authors have been a source of inspiration for you?

That’s a tough question.  The list could be endless.  As a fantasy author I obviously have to pay homage to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  Brandon Sanderson, J.K. Rowling, Steven King, Stephen Lawhead, John Green, Patrick Rothfuss, Frank Peretti, and Brent Weeks are a few others.  I’m an avid reader.  In fact, I think that all authors of any quality should consider themselves to be professional readers.  I’m not sure how you can add anything to world of literature without reading what is already out there. 

Recently, discovered Robin Hobb and have fallen in love with her writing.  I’m not sure how it took me so long to find her books!

 If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be?

I am a bit of a self-proclaimed history nerd.  Though I primarily read fictional works, I do enjoy reading non-fiction that pertain to history, particularly anything to do with WWII.  Narrowing it down would be really hard.  I would love to meet FDR and/or Winston Churchill.  Those were two amazing men that were forced to make some of the most difficult decisions a world leader has ever faced. 

What’s your favorite fictional book and why?

Wow, I don’t know that I could possibly narrow it down to one.  Though I am in the middle of writing a fantasy series, I read many different genres.  That said, if I’m forced to pick one I’m going to go with Eragon by Christopher Paolini.  There certainly are other fantasy works that are considered finer literature, but I choose this one because of how it inspired me.  I first read it while I was in college, a time when I had mostly stopped reading for leisure.  There have been a couple of times that in reading it again, a passion for reading has been reawakened in me.  For whatever reason it really connected with me.  The characters are well constructed and relatable. 

Close seconds would be The Oath by Frank Peretti and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. 

Last question: You find yourself in an alley in the middle of the night when you hear menacing footsteps behind you. If you could summon any book character to be with you, who would you choose and why?

This one is easy.  Jack Reacher.  He is, quite possibly, the coolest, toughest character ever created.  He might not be the most skilled, the strongest, or the most powerful, but if I’m trapped in a dark alley, I like my odds with him having my back!

Thanks for taking time out for the interview and for all the great answers! 

Interested in Mr. Denen's writing and books? Check out these awesome links! 
Click Here For More Info
Click Here for More Info
Click Here for More Info

Mr. Denen's Author Website

You can also follow him on Facebook!

Or simply check out his Amazon Author Page.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Princess Bride"

The Short:

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

By: William M. Goldman

4/5 Stars

What: A story within a story following true love and fantastical adventure.

Recommended to those who like: Humor, Clean, literary devices, sword fights, fantasy

Not recommended to those who dislike: some language, vague endings, moderate to strong love element

The Long:

I have to admit that I had a hard time rating this one. The movie is one of my favorites (I watch it pretty much every time I’m sick because it has the ability to make me laugh even when I feel terrible). So, when I went into the book, I might’ve set the expectations a little high.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a good book. Just realize that (unlike most cases) the movie is probably better than the actual book. At least, that’s my personal opinion.

The story begins by Mr. Goldman telling us that he’s abridging a work that his father read to him as a young child. If you’re just after the fantasy elements of the story, I would recommend skipping to where he actually begins the abridgement (it might take a while to find where that’s at). Then, since it’s an abridgement of a (fictional) book, Mr. Goldman interrupts the story at several points to note what he’s omitted from the story. It’s a little confusing if you’ve never read a book with that type of literary device in it.

However, the meat of the story is great. There are sword fights, plays on words, kidnappings, and, of course, true love. The “real” story follows Buttercup, a farm girl, and Westley, her family’s helper. At the beginning they fall hopelessly in love and the rest of the story is spent trying to reunite them.

As you’ve probably figured out from most of my reviews, I’m not too keen on love stories. I don't bear them any ill will. I just...can't get into them. This is actually one of the few love stories that I enjoy—mostly because of the humor (and some epic sword fights).

Overall, I would recommend this book to someone who doesn’t mind a little bit of a non-traditional style when it comes to storytelling, a little bit of language, and a strong love element. I would recommend the movie to pretty much anyone (yes, it’s “old” now, but it’s still really good!).

Now, for a special announcement!

This coming Tuesday, October 27th (or Wednesday, depending on where you happen to live), Mr. Benjamin J. Denen will be joining us for an author interview! Mr. Denen is the author of The Keeper of Edelyndia. His next book, Raulin: Rise of the Forest King, is set to release next Tuesday. Raulin is more of a "backstory" book, so definitely check it out, even if you haven't read The Keeper. 

Thanks for putting up with my brief hiatus. I've included links to Amazon for the books, if you're interested (I'm not trying to make promotions for Amazon or anything; it's merely my preferred outlet for ebooks). I look forward to seeing you on Tuesday!

Amazon Kindle Link                                                                                       Amazon Kindle Pre-order

Friday, October 16, 2015

Double Feature: "Kingdom's Dawn" and "Kingdom's Hope"

I decided to do a double review on these two books because of how this series is set up (the first two books are really like one story). They're very short, easy reads.

The Short:
Kingdom’s Dawn and Kingdom’s Hope
Books one and two of The Kingdom Series

By: Chuck Black

4/5 Stars

What: A tight allegory highlighting many significant events of the Old Testament in a medieval/fantasy setting.

Recommended to those who like: Allegories, easy/middle grade books, sword fights, fantasy

The Long:

I dusted off this series and sat down for a nice afternoon read. The Kingdom Series is a very tight allegory. In this first post, I’ll be reviewing the first two books of the series (they fit together very well and are pretty much a continuum).

Leinad is just a simple farmer, but his father seems intent on teaching him the way of the sword and a virtuous way of life. When his life is turned upside down, he realizes that there’s much more in the world beyond his hometown. There’s a King who’s much more involved in the history of the Kingdom of Arrethtrae—and his own life—than he could have imagined.

The books follow Leinad through his many adventures and perils. There’s lots of good sword fighting and the vivacious character Tess always makes me smile.

Truth be told, I debated giving this one a five-star rating (I would say that it’s a five-star book for middle grade readers, but adults/more advanced readers may find the vocabulary and character development a little below their liking). The action is great, but sometimes the characters feel a little stiff. All in all though, it’s a good allegorical pair of novels to get the series started and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Christian, middle-grade books. This was one of my favorite series in Middle School/ High School.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Mr. Black and his work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

Due to travel plans and having multiple tests this upcoming week, I will not be posting on Tuesday. Check back in on Friday for another book review!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

When It's Time to Rewrite your Novel....Again

I decided to take a short break from the "What is..." series. If you have suggestions (the brief hiatus from it may or may not be due to a lack of ideas), please leave them in the comments or use the new handy-dandy contact form in the left-hand column.

From here.
For the first time in a while, I've remembered that writing, like life, isn't easy. It might seem easy to sit down and write a good novel when the letters are flying and I know what my characters are going to do...but those moments don't last long.

I've been editing a novel for a good chunk of the summer and into the fall (It's the second book in my Christian dystopian series that I've been working on over the course of a few years). This wasn't the first time I've edited it.

The whole summer, I thought to myself that it was going well. That writing was easy. That I could just put in a bit of effort and it would fix itself. I chalked off the nagging feeling that something wasn't right to my inner editor not being given her allotted amount of chocolate for working overtime.

I edited it once and wasn't happy with it. I took some time off, re-read it, and decided that it still needed just a bit of something. I edited it again.

Perhaps I wasn't happy with it, but my inner editor was exhausted. Three months of work and she hadn't been given extra coffee, better chocolate, or vacation time. And I didn't want to look at it again. I'd edited it three times. Shouldn't that be enough? How many red pens had to spill their life's blood for the sake of one novel? Surely it'd be fine.

I sent it off to my wonderful critique partner, Victoria, who gently told me what I didn't want to hear.

I still have a lot of work ahead of me.

She put the words to the nagging feeling that had plagued me all summer. Words that I wanted to throw away, but couldn't deny their truth.

The feeling that I couldn't get the pacing right? She nailed it on the head--no climax and my characters acting like a handful of houseplants (my words, not hers). The feeling that I couldn't figure out where my characters were going? It helps when your characters have goals.

She saw what I didn't want to see and didn't shy away from telling me about it. (And I wouldn't have it any other way, either. Critiques are only useful if they're honest and constructive. And she was super nice about it).

I don't know if this is what Hemingway meant about sitting at a typewriter bleeding, but I feel like it could be. I left my life's blood on the page and more is required. Elbow grease is expensive to buy, but sometimes it's the only thing that works when you have a broken manuscript.

So it might be back to the drawing board. I'm debating investing in a larger white board  to draw stuff out. I've already got three colors of neon sticky notes in my drawer that have been slotted for enlistment into the editing armada.

I'll need some time to get away from the story a bit. My poor, whimpering inner editor has earned that, at the very least. So for now, I'm plotting something different for NaNo.

But come December 1st (or Christmas break, depending on scheduling), it'll be time to roll up the sleeves again. My inner editor will have had a couple months of much-needed chocolate and coffee vacation time in her office (I think the only time she leaves is to buy more red pens).

It'll be back to the drawing board. Back to the blood-covered typewriter. Back to writing a story I love and making sure it gets told the way it deserves.

Until then, it's time for a fresh story and some more blogging.

(Also, you should check out Victoria's blog, because she's also an awesome blogger).

Friday, October 9, 2015

Sequel Review: "A Draw of Kings"

Spoiler alert! Please go back and read Book One and Two before continuing to read this review. Book One, A Cast of Stones, is still free on Amazon for Kindle as of the writing of this article. I would highly recommend this series. 

The Short:

A Draw of Kings
(The Staff and the Sword, Book 3)

By: Patrick W. Carr

5/5 Stars

What: Rodran’s death brings the series to a head. Who will be king? And who will die to save the kingdom?

Recommended to those who like: Christian fantasy, epic battles, and have read the first two books.

The Long:

Warning: Please read the first two books in the series before continuing to read the rest of this review.

Who will live and who will die? That question haunts Errol. Despite all of their casts, they still have no idea who the next soteregia will be. With his newfound love for Adora, can he bear to die, leaving her alone? Why does Deas demand such sacrifice?

With Merakhi and ferral forces on Illustra’s doorstep, time is running out for their casts. The king must be chosen and the future of the kingdom secured—both militarily and spiritually. If only a remnant will remain, the heroes must somehow ensure that those left behind will be able to know Deas, even if the church fails.

This is a fitting, captivating end to an excellently written series. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has read the first two books. If you haven’t read the first book, my review for book one is here. I would highly recommend this series to anyone who likes Christian fantasy.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Mr. Carr and his work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bonus Post: Lessons from my Dog

Dogs are great. As you've probably noticed by now, I'm a little obsessed with them. I'm also missing my three dogs now that I'm off at college (having dogs in the dorms is more than a little frowned upon). So I needed a dog post in my life! (No worries; I'm going to relate it all back to writing).

1. Dogs love routine. If we skip our morning walk, Charlie gets super cranky with me and acts like I'm not there. Having to walk him every morning keeps me in shape and gives us a little time together.

It's important to develop a writing routine. It gives you time with your characters and keeps your writing muscles in shape. No, I'm not talking about the finger muscles you use for typing--I'm talking about your sheer determination to plow through, even when plagued by writer's block and the skills you need to keep your writing polished.

2. Dogs like to hang out together. They're always excited to meet new friends and enjoy some time playing with them. You always have some dogs that don't like to do this, but as a general rule, they like to stick together in groups (or adopt human families as their packs).

Similarly, it's good to find writing friends, even if you can't hang out in person. Find someone to sharpen your skills and encourage you when you're stuck. Better yet--find a critique partner!

3. Dogs are always excited to eat. Or at least my beast of a dog is. He hears the food bowl clank and he immediately starts slobbering waterfalls and jumping around. It's pretty much his favorite time of day--I think it even outranks our morning walk.

We should also be hungry for writerly food. Novels in the genres we write in are an excellent place to start; books on writing and blogs about writing should also make a good portion of our "diets." It gives us the strength to build our writing muscles.

Have you ever learned lessons from odd places? What areas are your strongest as a writer? 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What is "Head-Hopping"?

To understand "head-hopping", we first have to understand Point of View, or POV. POV is how we are seeing the story. In its simplest form, POV can be in the first person. "I went to the store and bought milk but was annoyed with the long line." An example would be The Hunger Games. 

Hey, look at this handy chart! From here.
Then there's third person, which is used frequently when the author intends to change which character we can "see through" in the story. "Jane went to the store and bought milk, but she was annoyed with the long line." Sometimes, the author doesn't even give us the character's thoughts. "Jane went to the store and bought milk. As she stood in line, she frowned and tapped her foot, checking her watch every so often."

Now, it's important to differentiate between which character we're using as our "camera" into the story world, or we get head-hopping. Let's say we start out in Jane's head thinking about how annoyed she is about the long line at the store and then we jump over to Larry, the cashier, and how hungry he is after having to work through his lunch break.

That would look something like this: "Jane groaned. How much longer would this take? Larry's stomach grumbled and he stared at the long line of people waiting to get checked out. His lunch wouldn't be coming anytime soon."

See how confusing this is? We feel Jane's frustration and then all of a sudden, we're on the other side of the register, wondering how we got there.

Head-hopping is something that takes a while to identify, especially in its more subtle forms. I have this bad habit of trying to foreshadow and giving stuff away that my characters wouldn't know--another form of head-hopping (unless writing third person omniscient or some other craziness).

For example, "As John shut the door behind him, he had no idea it would be his last time in the building."

Granted, there are some exceptions to this. You can have something called a third person omniscient viewpoint (Lord of the Rings--of course Tolkien had to be complicated). I don't fully understand what differentiates this style from plain old head-hopping, but I do know that it flows better. (I've heard it said that the narrator also knows things that none of the characters know--such as the foreshadowing above).

There are some people who claim that head-hopping is acceptable so long as it doesn't interrupt the flow of the story and it's clearly expressed that we're going to be switching POV characters. I beg to differ--I really haven't run into a time where I like head hopping and normally it confuses me more than anything.

What's your opinion on head-hopping? Do you have trouble with it in your writing? 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Restorer"

The Short:

The Restorer
(The Sword of Lyric, Book 1)

By: Sharon Hinck

5/5 Stars

What: A frazzled housewife finds herself sucked into another world that is startling familiar and
yet altogether different.

Recommended to those who like: Christian fantasy, world travel, sword fighting.

The Long:

As you’ve probably noticed from most of my reviews, I tend to review more young adult and teen books than “adult” books (in part because there’s a better range of speculative fiction for young adults and teens than adults). This is the first book I’ve read that’s really centered on a middle-aged woman. And I liked it!

Throughout the story, we follow Susan. She can’t seem to keep up with the kids and everything else in her life. But when her husband prepares an attic getaway for her, she finds herself in a world where faith is a matter of life and death just as much as the sword play is. More frightening, the people here seem to think that she is meant to deliver them. She couldn’t even keep up with the kids’ lives—how is she supposed to restore a whole nation?

The story is a powerful mix of faith, fantasy, and some futuristic elements. I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes a fantasy story where Christian themes/ faith are a focus. The world building is excellent and unique. The characters are deep and intriguing. So many times, Christian fiction ends up a little short on internal conflict (at least in the speculative fiction genres). However, Ms. Hinck doesn’t hesitate to show her characters having the same doubts and fears that we all have.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Ms. Hinck and her work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!