Thursday, November 11, 2010

Coincidences in Writing, or Oh My Gosh, You're My Long-Lost Twin!

Over the past few months, I've been doing a lot of thinking on this subject.  What brought my attention to it in the first place was a book that I acquired from a free box of LDS fiction. Someone had graciously brought the box to church, and I dove in before another girl there, with arms already full, could snag all of them.  I couldn't blame her, though. On Black Friday I'm as timid as a nun in a bar, but put free, clean books out and I'd tussle with the best of 'em.

First, I looked for names I recognized from Storymakers.  I managed to get a Rachel Ann Nunes and a couple of J. Scott Savage's works.  The others were chosen by publisher, then by cover.  (Don't judge--I was speed-grabbing, here.)

I picked up a book with a neat cover. I hadn't heard of the author (not surprising since I live in the Midwest), but the back cover looked promising.  I like suspense, so it got added to the pile.

Once I started reading, I knew I was in trouble.  It seemed like every other page there was foreshadowing of some connection between the characters.  For example, the mafia boss's long lost son (let's call him Junior) appears out of nowhere and wants a job, so he's employed to kidnap this 18-year-old high school girl (we'll call her Lisa).  The guy--SURPRISE!--turns out to be FBI (saw that one coming a mile away).

That's only the beginning.

Junior has a partner (Bob) who's working to protect Lisa's father (Larry), who the mob guys are after.  Larry left years ago, and Lisa never knew why.  She has some angsty teen problems as a result, but is at heart a good girl.

Lisa and her mother find out that Larry is still alive.  Cue Lisa's parents running to try to save their daughter, the bad guys running after them, and the good guys always one step behind until the end, where they're (predictably) one step ahead.  In the end, not only do we find out that FBI partners Junior and Bob are stepson and stepfather (assigned to Junior's mafia boss father's case together, no less), but that the last big bad guy who shows up in the end is--get this--some rich dude that Lisa's mother was engaged to years ago!  Of course, he is shown what a catch he missed out on!  The bad guys get their bums handed to them royally, and everyone else hugs at the end.  Oh, and not only was Lisa a less-active member of the LDS church,  Junior was an active member, and since she had just turned 18 (and a couple of weeks away from finishing high school) she was fair game to start a relationship with.  Everything was tied up into one big, happy, perky, pink bow with ice cream and blargh on top.

I closed the book in disgust. I wanted to poke my eyes out.   The premise had so much promise, the author a great imagination with some cool moments, but all I wanted to do was rip the book into little shreds and throw them in a moat filled with piranha fish. I was a little bothered by my strong reaction, because being a writer, I look forward to the day I get published with both excitement and trepidation.  I'm hoping the golden rule applies to writers--treat others' books like you want your own to be treated. It would bother me a lot if someone had that big of a problem with what I wrote, so I let my feelings melt and simmer down for a month or two until what was left consisted of exactly what bothered me, condensed, strong, and unmistakable.

The boiled-down result? Coincidence.

Writers like to evoke a strong emotional response.  We revel in being creators of our worlds, pulling the puppet strings of our victims readers.  If we can touch your soul, make you care about creations from our brains, make you feel, that is the highest compliment there is to a writer--at least to this one.

Coincidences are neat things.  In real life, coincidences happen that we'd never put into writing fiction, because they would come across as too coincidental to be believable!  However, because of the mystery of coincidences, we writers are tempted to put them into our books.  "Wouldn't it be so cool if Aunt Shelley turned out to be her niece's adopted baby's birth mother?" Well, maybe.  Then again, maybe not.

The thing is, when we write coincidences, they're not coincidences, but contrivances.  The reader knows this.  They can't be true coincidences because we, as writers, make them happen. So, for a coincidence to be believable, we have to provide a way for the reader to suspend disbelief and believe that the coincidence is the real deal.  I think one of the best ways to do this is to write strong, well-rounded characters that leap off the page and become real to the reader.  It's hard to argue storyline with a character that your mind and heart is attached to in some way, a character who feels like a real person to you.

Coincidence can also, in some cases, be an excuse for laziness.  It's a lot easier to think up a coincidence than to do the work in weaving the story together, which can involve bringing in more characters and angles, which isn't necessarily an easy thing to do.

I hope to learn the ins and outs of writing coincidences myself.  In my current manuscript, there is something that happens in a different town that makes the reader question (at least I hope) if the unlucky thing had to happen for the 'coincidence' to happen, or was it just rotten timing and would have happened another way at a slightly different time if circumstances were different?  It's a tricky thing to work in.  I want my readers to end up being so immersed in the story that they can't stop to question why I put something where I did.

So, it may be a great idea for a single girl to run into her true love literally, with her car, while he saves a cute puppy's stuffed toy from getting run over--or it may not be.  Just go over your choice several times, and if it still sounds like a contrivance than a coincidence, scrap it or approach the idea from a different angle.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blog Tour Book Review: Perilous by Tamara Hart Heiner, and Win a Book or Kindle!


Author: Tamara Hart Heiner

Published: 16 November, 2010

Genre: YA Thriller

Pages: 265

About Tamara Hart Heiner: Perilous is her first published novel, and she wrote it many years ago when she was bored in study hall. They’ve both come a long way since then. She now spends her time running around her house chasing three kids and trying to sneak to the computer when they’re not looking. She has a wonderful, supportive husband who appreciates the fact that she enjoys cooking as much as she enjoys writing. Not that she has time for that, either.

Author website:

Back Cover

Jaci Rivera has plans for her sophomore year: go to regionals with the track team, make the honor roll, and eat too much pizza with her best friends, Callie and Sara. Her biggest concern is Amanda, the pushy girl who moved in a few months ago.

What she doesn't plan for is catching a robber red-handed, or being kidnapped. The desperate thief drags her and her friends 2,000 miles across the Canadian border. They escape from his lair, only to find that he has spies and agents watching their path home, waiting to intercept them and take them back.

Then Jaci finds something out about her family. Something which irrevocably connects her to their kidnapper, and makes her question their chances of escape.

My Review 

Ms. Heiner sure knows how to start a story!  After I read the beginning where a body is discovered, then went back in time before the crime was committed, I kept hoping the beginning was wrong and the corpse was someone else--or a terrible joke.  There were some awful things that happened to the girls that weren't glossed over, but were honestly and skillfully dealt with while not glorifying them with graphic violence.

The writing was tight and enjoyable, and there were very few mistakes throughout, which contributed to making Perilous a book I could immerse myself in.  The biggest problem I had was a minor detail--but a major pet peeve of mine--the phrase "I could care less" when it should have been "I couldn't care less" was used two times. Though this could have been a part of both characters' speech patterns and a teensy thing overall, it still bothered me.  

Ms. Heiner is gifted in her ability to write descriptive scenes--never too much or too little.  I was drawn into the story and it transitioned well from scene to scene.  I found myself holding my breath at times, racing through the pages to find out what was going on.

I did wish I could have learned more about the characters lives at first, that would have made it easier to remember which girl was which. I had a little trouble keeping them straight for a while, and the story would have had more emotional punch if I had gotten to know them better. I hope we get to find out more about the villain in the next story since we didn't know that much about him.  I'd like to know more of the reasons he is so feared; he sounds like an extremely interesting character.  There is also one specific coincidence that seemed a little over-the-top to me as well as what felt like too much nonchalance at a rather shocking revelation, but overall, Perilous was a great read.

There were a lot of loose ends that will lead us to a sequel.  I felt that the story, though it did get wrapped up, should have been wrapped up a little more.  I finished the book feeling sure I was missing part of the ending.  However, I imagine everything left unresolved will be addressed in the upcoming sequel.

Out of the thousands of books I've read in my lifetime, this is one that will be easily remembered.

I'm very much looking forward to reading more from talented author Tamara Hart Heiner. 

To read the first page of Perilous, go here: Perilous Excerpt

To pre-order for the fantastic price of $12.95 with free US shipping and handling go here: Pre-order Perilous  or you can find it on in Kindle form, available for download right now, for $4.99.

Would you like to win a signed copy of Perilous?  Don't have a Kindle but would give up your chocolate stash for one?  Put your Hershey bars down and read on to find out how you can win a Kindle you can smother in chocolate kisses read new favorite books on!

Blog Tour Contest Details

From Tamara Hart Heiner, herself!
(Ok, I swiped it from her website.)
(I hope that's ok.)
(I'm lazy.  Sorry, Tamara!)

So, here are the details to my ultimate blog tour contest.

1) There will be two book giveaways. Signed copies of Perilous, of course. All you have to do to get in on that action is make a comment anywhere in the blog tour. The drawing will be completely random. Of course, the more comments you make, the more chances you have of winning.

2) There will be a Kindle giveaway. This WON'T be random. Kindles are kind of a big thing, so I'm going to make you work for it. The giveaway will be point based, in other words, whoever has the most points at the end of the blog tour wins the Kindle. The contest will run until Dec. 15, at which point all hopeful winners will email me at tamara at tamarahartheiner dot com with their points and their proofs.

Here's how you get points:
+1 for each comment on the blog tour
+1 be a follower on my blog (old or new)
+1 retweet
+2 blog about the blog tour
(You prove all of those by emailing me the links.)
+5 purchase the book; ebook or paperback, doesn't matter
(Email me the confirmation number of your purchase.)

Oct. 15 David J. West 
Oct. 18 Nichole Giles
Oct. 19 Talli Roland
Oct. 20 Guinevere Rowell
Oct. 21 Mary Gray
Oct. 22 Frankie 
Oct. 25 Mary Greathouse
Oct. 26 RaShelle Workman (interview)
Oct. 27 T. Anne Adams
Oct. 28 Valerie Ipson
Oct. 29 Ann Best
Nov. 1 Christy Dorrity
Nov. 2 Chrstine Bryant
Nov. 3 Rebecca Blevins
Nov. 4 Kathryn Magendie (guest post)
Nov. 5 Annette Lyon (interview) and Jaime Theler (review)
Nov. 8 Jennifer Daiker
Nov. 9 Carolina Valdez
Nov. 10  Elizabeth Mueller
Nov. 11 Christine Danek
Nov. 12 Elle Strauss
Nov. 15 Niki
Nov. 16  Lynn Parsons
Nov. 17 Danyelle Ferguson
Nov. 18 Elana Johnson
Nov. 19 & 20 Sarah McClung
Nov. 22 Suzanne Hartmann
Nov. 23 Marsha Ward
Nov. 24  Tara McClendon
Nov. 29 Courtney Barr
Nov. 30 Tristi Pinkston
Dec. 1 Cheri Chesley
Dec. 2 Karen Gowen
Dec. 3  Melanie Jacobson
Dec. 6 Kristie Ballard
Dec. 7 Melissa Cunningham
Dec. 8 Arlee Bird
Dec. 9 Debbie Davis
Dec. 10 Taffy Lovell
Dec. 13 Sheri Larsen
Dec. 14 Joyce DiPastena
Dec.15 Diana Miezcan

*I was sent an e-book for the purpose of review, and have not been compensated in any way for my opinions.*