Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: Nia by Mella Reese

Nia is a princess--but not your typical prone-to-faints, delicate princess. Nia has a deep, caring heart--and a father whose chief goal in life is war. The king's philosophy? Conquer or be conquered, even if the land you're conquering doesn't stand the remotest chance against you. Thankfully, Nia doesn't agree.

Princess Nia is in line to take the crown, but she struggles with the idea. Luckily, she's engaged to Andras, the man she loves more than anything, and he's studying under her father so he will be worthy to rule the kingdom one day.

To Nia's astonishment, a large, strong man from one of the kingdoms her father conquers presents himself to her. He makes a blood oath to be bound as her servant for the rest of his life. 

Nia learns the man's name is Garreth, but not much else at first, as the man won't meet her eyes unless ordered. He is her shadow constantly, which annoys her, as she goes around the kingdom warring with her inner self regarding her duties as a royal while doing what she loves best--healing people with her extensive knowledge of herbs.

I was pleasantly surprised by this story, and even more when I discovered that this is a first novel for Mella Reese. The characters were well thought out, and I enjoyed watching a friendship develop between Nia and Garreth at the same time she was in love with her betrothed, Andras. 

There were only a couple of minor things I felt needed to be addressed. One was that I couldn't get a good picture of what Nia looked like. Any description of her was very subtle, so much so that I missed it entirely. The other thing was an ongoing comparison with life and trees that I wasn't quite sure fit in the story, because I wouldn't have missed it if it hadn't been there and I kept reading deeper meaning into it than there ultimately was. 

I liked that Nia wasn't a strict romance, but rather told the well-rounded story of a princess whose life had romance in it. Even a person with romantic feelings for someone has other facets to her life, and the dynamic of a princess having a dearly-loved fiancĂ© and a blossoming friendship with a male servant while trying to figure out her royal role was really interesting. She was a character I would have liked to have as a friend. 

I enjoyed reading Nia  and I hope to read the next book because I would like to know what happens! Congratulations to Mella on a great debut novel!

Visit author Mella Reese: Author Website  Blog  

Purchase Nia here: Amazon

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lizard Wizard, Canned Cheese, and How Not to Make Your Readers' Heads Explode

We read a lot as a family. Reading aloud is one of our special bonding times. It's also great for me because I learn a lot about patterns in writing--things stick out more when I hear them. Being a reader helps teach me what works for me as a reader instead of a writer. Because of this, I learned something I just have to share.

Ready? Here it is:

We writers are constantly told to show, show, show instead of tell. However, there are circumstances where it is entirely permissible, might I say preferable, to tell instead of show.

(I just heard the thunk of writers everywhere falling off their chairs. Sorry about that.)

Why tell instead of show? Because you don't want your reader to shake his or her fist at you and say bad words in their minds, which they will regret and blame you for, which causes them to feel guilty, etc, etc.

Say, for example, your reader is engrossed in how Norma and Bernie scale Mount Everest looking for a fabled scepter and discover ancient sharks swimming in a mountain lake. They fight an evil flying octopus by using hand grenades and aerosol cheese, then make sushi for lunch. End chapter.

You've done such a good job that your reader is dying for more.

She turns the page to see Norma and Bernie meet up with their old friend Lizard Wizard, who was a rocker from way back, and they rush to tell him all their adventures so he's up to speed for the next escapade--in which he'll use his extra-fast super regrowing tails to help them win another fight.

For the love of readers everywhere, please do not, under any circumstance, have Norma and Bernie tell Lizard Wizard, through dialogue, the entire previous conflict. We don't need to read ten pages of a story, then two pages of recap. Only do this if you want your reader's head to explode. That's not the kind of interactive experience they're looking for, trust me.

If we've written a great showing scene, the reader already knows the information. Making a reader endure a retelling of the action is like listening to Uncle Ferdie's golf stories for the millionteenth time.

Instead, give us a quick paragraph or two of telling so we know that Lizard Wizard is up to speed.

For example: "Bernie and Norma told Lizard the whole story, ending with the bits of octopus raining from the
 sky. They then offered him their last bite of sushi."

 This way Lizard gets the story and we don't have to eavesdrop on the whole conversation. Then give us a reaction from Lizard Wizard, and send the trio merrily on their way. (Or unmerrily if you write tragedies.) Nothing more to see here. We don't need to read their entire conversation about what happened several pages ago.

A paragraph. Not two pages of recap.

I love the things I learn from reading.

Writing Wednesday

This post is part of Jordan McCollum's Writing Wednesday fun! Click on the picture to read more writing posts!

Monday, May 23, 2011

This Post is For the Birds. Literally. Like, if You're a Bird, READ THIS.

  When I was a little girl, I loved early mornings. Didn't love getting up, but there was something about the sun's first rays. I'd go outside, damp grass waiting for that golden touch and shiver, tiny goosebumps rising on my arms. Birds sang their delight in the new day. The chill burned away, and the earth warmed, bathed in a lovely glow.

I still love early mornings, and am working on moving my bedtime back so I can enjoy them again. However--the birds have betrayed me.

A few times these last days, I've been up in the middle of the night. One time I was getting to know a new, dear friend. The other time--I think it was insomnia. Anyway, the innocent birds of my youth are no more.

There is no earthly reason why birds should be so excited for a new day that they begin singing as if bringing up the sun depends on them. I swear, the robins around here must have studied under a demented rooster on a farm somewhere. The course title? "How to Make the Sun Rise and Simultaneously Drive Humans Up the Wall--or at Least Not Let Them Sleep."

6:00 am? I get that. Even 5:00, getting ready for dawn, okay, I can understand that too. But 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning? Is there some brand of peppy bird coffee I'm not aware of? I picture them on their branches, sipping and preparing their vocalizers to keep me awake. If I'm already asleep, I don't hear them. But if I've gotten up for a child or some other reason, what is usually a beautiful herald of the morning becomes a dark denizen of the night whose song is akin to Chinese water torture.

I'm just hoping that if the birds read while sipping their peppy bird coffee (How else could they be up all day and half the night?), they'll come across this and change their evil ways. 

Otherwise, I may just be tempted to get a cat. They're rather nocturnal.

I, however, am not. (I keep telling myself that, anyway.)

(Reminder: this blog address will be changing June 1st. Go here for details: Blog Address Change)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blog Address Change!

My blog will remain the same, including the title, but the address will change on June 1st. If you follow my blog via the official "followers" box, you don't have to do anything. If you find me from a bookmark, or type the address in directly, you'll need the new address. It will be rebeccablevinswrites.blogspot.com.

You'll want the new address because I'm doing a giveaway of Don Carey's fun book Bumpy Landings in June, and trust me, if you don't have a copy, you need one! Who wouldn't love to read a book set in lush Hawaii?

Have a great camel day! (I don't like "hump day.")

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Learn Writing Tips by Watching TV Shows

Sounds too good to be true, right?

I don't watch a ton of TV, but there are times I just need to clear my mind and be entertained. After all, it's research--or so I tell myself. I do learn a lot from characterization and plot and try to use what I learn in my writing.

We don't have cable and only get one channel on TV, so we see our favorite shows online. There aren't many commercials on sites such as Hulu, which is nice, and of course there are none on Netflix. Because of this, the places in a show where there would normally be commercials stand out.

This week, I learned something.

Producers pause the story where they have the best chance of getting the viewer to stay on the channel, to come back to find out what's happened. There are many things that lure a viewer away during commercial breaks, for example, checking email, Facebook, getting a snack, or surfing around other channels to see what's on. The producer has a huge challenge in bringing the viewer back to their show after all this, so they stop the story at critical points, or hooks.

Think of a TV show as a book and where each commercial comes in as the end of a chapter. There are a lot of things that compete for readers' attention. We want to make it difficult for them to put our books down at the end of a chapter. I think good places to end a chapter may be the same as what's going on in a TV show just before the commercial break.

I've come across a few different themes lately where shows are paused, and I'm sure there are many more:

Someone is about to get hurt (physically or emotionally)
Someone has just gotten hurt (physically or emotionally)
Something major is about to happen, like thieves about to crack a safe
Something major has just happened, like thieves who cracked a safe and are fleeing from the police
Information is about to be given, like when an FBI agent's phone rings, he answers it, and someone is about to give him critical info
At the end of an intense emotional situation, like a kiss--to make us want to find out what happened after they connected
Just after something horrible is discovered
And so on, and so on.

So the next time you watch a television show, keep a lookout for tips that can help in your writing.

And in case you need a double whammy, why not watch a show about a writer? I highly recommend Castle. *wink*

I'm going to watch last night's episode tonight, so if you've seen it, please don't spill the beans!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Like Money for Chocolate

My five-year-old daughter, Princess, loves to draw. Last year it got to the point where I could hardly walk in the house without stepping on one of her pictures or characters she drew and cut out. I'm telling you this so you won't think I'm an awful mother for not being aware of every picture she's drawn.

Recently I noticed a picture she'd hung on her wall with masking tape. Most of her creations feature herself and me, since we are the only females in the family. Lots of the time we're running through fields of flowers or standing under a rainbow, but this picture caught my eye because it was so different from the norm.

"When did you draw that picture?" I asked her.

"Last year," she said. (This is where the non-judgy part comes in.)

I stared at the picture, noting that she and I were drawn completely in black, but we looked like we were holding hands and between our hands were green things. "What are the green parts?" I asked.

"Oh," she said in her matter-of-fact way, "We're giving each other money and chocolate."

Money and chocolate. I don't know where she got that from, but she's learned well!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mourning Osama

The internet has been overwhelmed with a flood of opinions about the death of Osama bin Laden. People are arguing whether or not our SEALS killed him last week, spewing hatred for bin Laden and all the evils he committed (which indeed, are many) and rejoicing at his death.

I learned about bin Laden's demise on Facebook last night and immediately told my husband. I was relieved at the news, but ever since then, I've been avoiding thinking about the subject. My feelings didn't mirror those opinions I found everywhere, and since that bothered me, I put it all out of my mind--until this quote from Martin Luther King Jr. surfaced on a friend's Facebook page:

"I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even 
an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
— Martin Luther King Jr

(Edit: I have since learned that the first sentence of this quote cannot be attributed to Dr. King, but the rest is from his book Strength to Love. For some equally [or greater] quotes about enemies by Dr. King, please visit this blog post: Fake MLK Quotes, Real MLK SentimentI am not familiar with the other content on the blog, FYI.)

It was then that I realized what it was I felt about this particular death--


Not sorrow because Osama bin Laden was killed, for I believe that justice was served. I feel a deep sadness for the man he could have been, for the waste of a precious human life. I mourn for the thousands of lives he affected, for the people whose potential he threw away like garbage.

I look at my children, so innocent, with their whole lives ahead of them. Just this morning I snuggled Bean close, overwhelmed with love and hope for my little son, aching at the challenges growing up will present him. 

Every person was once a baby. Every murder, rapist, and thief was once an innocent, trusting toddler. So while I mourn the necessity of the loss of a human life, that is not the greatest thing I mourn.

I mourn the baby that Osama bin Laden once was. I shed tears for the trusting, innocent child who grew up into a horribly twisted adult. I have no idea what circumstances led to the terrible, depraved life he chose, but even more than I grieve for the child who was--I grieve for the man who wasn't.