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Book Review and Giveaway
When I was quite young I remember wishing, or maybe even praying, that I could share my life with my sister Annie. In the innocence of my child’s worldview, I suggested to God that perhaps I could take Annie’s place every other week. We could trade places and then she could have the chance to ride a bike, roller skate down the sidewalk, climb trees, have friends, go to parties and do all the things I loved to do. (Quote from Dancing in Heaven)
When Christine Grote asked if I would read and review her memoir, Dancing in Heaven, I was hesitant. I don’t read memoirs typically…and the focus of this one was a younger sister who spent her entire life brain damaged and paralyzed. Would the book be depressing? Would it be maudlin? I knew Christine was self publishing…would the writing be horrendous? Would the layout be a nightmare of typos and random odd formatting? I recall that I wrote Christine back and asked her how many pages the memoir was—figuring if it was short, I could get through it, no matter what. She graciously wrote back that it wasn’t long, 179 pages, and lots of photos, so it could be read in an afternoon or two. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll do it.”
I’m so glad I did.
Not only is this self published, non-fiction book polished and perfect…it’s a gripping read.
Christine uses a format for telling Annie’s story that I found fascinating. She begins with the phone call that alerts her that her sister Annie, now in her 50s, is not likely to live much longer. Christine intersperses the drama of Annie’s physical decline with remembrances of Annie’s life in such a way that, as the reader gets to know Annie, the release of her approaching death becomes something both dreaded and longed for, right along with the author. This back and forth between the past and present creates just the right balance and atmosphere.
Born only a short year after Christine, Annie is at first thought to be a ‘normal’ baby. It’s not until she’s fourteen months old that her parents become concerned that something isn’t quite right. They take her to specialists, who subsequently do a (now antiquated and obsolete) PEG test on Annie, which reveals brain damage. The compounding tragedy is that after the test Annie is left with lifelong stroke-like paralysis to her left side, and seizures.
Christine’s prose is straightforward and never intrusive. She has a knack for picking out the telling detail: the worn patch of carpet beside Annie’s bed where her parents stand to visit and care for their daughter; Annie’s mighty right arm and hand, and the sometimes hilarious, occasionally dire trouble she causes with them (once even resulting in Annie’s own leg being broken in a tumble down some basement stairs).
Dancing in Heaven is an intimate glimpse into the life of a family dealing with a situation that most never have to navigate. The devotion of Annie’s parents is an understated theme that runs like a bright thread throughout the story. Annie is included on camping trips and day outings to the beach. She is an essential part of this family. By the end of the book the reader sees she is, in fact, a kind of hub. A smiling talisman.
I think Christine Grote succeeded in her childhood wish: to give part of her life to her little sister. This beautifully written memoir took love and life to write, and its warmth and honesty will win Annie many new friends.
Dancing in Heaven. I highly recommend it.
If you would like a chance to win a copy of Dancing in Heaven, simply leave a comment below. Drawing will be held on Monday, November 14th!
Christine M. Grote earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton, Ohio, in 1979. After working for several years in product development at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, she became a full-time homemaker as she raised three sons and a daughter. In 1999, Christine returned to school at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio, earning a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Written Communications in 2007. Christine lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and their dog Arthur. She enjoys gardening, reading, traveling, and writing primarily nonfiction, human-interest stories.
Dancing in Heaven is available at:
Amazon.com (print and Kindle)
B&N (print and Nook)
Smashwords (multiple ebooks)
Filled with charm and the nostalgia of bygone days, dk’s LeVick’s tale of five boys and their daylong hero’s journey is reminiscent of Steven King’s Stand by Me.
It’s 1962. Five teenagers, bored with small town life in Niagara, make a fateful decision that will end in tragedy. Kevin and his friends Chuck, Wayne, Lennie and Billy, embark on a forbidden adventure. Chuck, the rebel of the group instigates it. Billy, the innocent, gets badgered into it, along with reluctant Kevin. Lennie, a black kid surviving in a racist era, tags along too.
Interspersed with the boys’ day, which gets steadily more harrowing as the book progresses, dk gives us four other tales from Niagara’s long and colorful history.
He begins in 1831 with The Hermit’s Tale: the story of a music prodigy fleeing crowds of adoring fans in Europe to live alone on an island and seek inspiration from the river.
Henry’s Story, set in 1848, touches on the origin of the fall’s reputation as a favorite honeymoon spot and recounts one of the worst disasters in Niagara’s fascinating history.
Lizzie’s Story in 1859 is the moving tale of a young slave’s escape to freedom via the underground railroad. She and her parents are aided by none other than abolitionist Harriet Tubman, whom they know only as Mother.
And lastly, The Drummer Boy’s Tale recounts the struggles between the Iroquois and the English during the early days of England’s domination of North America. A sixteen year old English boy, unwillingly conscripted into the king’s army, is saved from death by an Iroquois boy.
One my favorite threads in this story followed a peacock feather. This talisman makes its long way from Africa to the slave quarters of a plantation in the South. Given as a gift of thanks to a white abolitionist, it becomes the cherished family heirloom of the main character’s father, a racist who has forgotten his family’s proud past.
Please take a moment and vote for my review here. To vote: follow the link, scroll down, check Cynthia Robertson, writer and click the vote button. Thank you so very much for your support!
While you are there you can enter to win a FREE copy of this wonderful book. The winner will be announced June 29th, so cast your vote and enter to win!
Have you ever hiked the gorge you describe so vividly in the novel?
Yes, but not in winter, I’m not crazy like my boys were.
How long did it take you to write Bridges?
Between 2 and 38 years. In September 2008, I had cause to go through some old papers and I came across a short story I had written 36 years earlier. It was 12 typewritten, yellowed pages and was about an old picture of the ice bridge of Niagara Falls I had seen then. Reading it on the floor I grabbed a pencil and immediately started rewriting it. One year to the month and 350 pages later “Bridges” was written. One year and 22 rewrites after that, “Bridges – a Tale of Niagara” was done. So, I guess you could say it took somewhere between 2 and 38 years (although I’m still making edits).
Did you have any help from a writers group?
No. Tried to hook up with a couple of them but it didn’t work. Seems they don’t follow through and work at it and things don’t work without work.
Are the stories within the story true?
Each one is based on real historical events but is fiction built around them. There was a ‘hermit of Niagara’, but the clarinet and reason for isolation was fiction. The water did stop in 1848, but Henry and Sam came from space. There was an underground railroad and Pontiac’s war, but the characters portrayed weren’t there.
Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
For that particular story – from the picture itself. It’s one I seen in an antique shop once and it started me thinking about it. At the same time I was writing about the 60’s which was the most ‘changing’ decade in our history and the two came together.
Are you traditionally published or self-published?
Well I’m not traditional for certain. Am I self-published? I’m not sure. Langdon Press is a support house but it’s all been on me so I guess I am.
Why did you choose to publish the way you did?
After being encouraged at the writer’s conference, I went out all pumped up and excited ready to meet the writing world. It wasn’t ready to meet me. I had been given two leads at the workshop to pursue, both being for small presses. I ignored them and sent out 49 query letters to agents. 49 rejections later I went back and revisited those small press leads I’d been given and I immediately received a positive response from one and sent in my manuscript. They seemed very interested but then I didn’t hear anything for weeks from them. Following up, I found out they had gone bankrupt. Back to square one, but I now focused on the small presses. Next one showed an interest and took the project on.
Tell us something about yourself most people don’t know.
I grew up in Buffalo – Niagara Falls but never saw Niagara Falls until I was 16.
Here are some links if you’d like to learn more about dk LeVick and his novel:
16 comments | tags: abolitionists, Author interviews, Authors, Book Reviews, Books, Harriet Tubman, Historical Novels, Iroquois history, Niagara Falls, Steven King, the underground railroad | posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Books
of Self Publishing
A while back I announced I would be reviewing books for my blog. I’ve met many wonderful writers via Twitter and my blog and received a nice little pile of books to review. A delight to someone like me, who loves to read a good book.
Most of these little tomes are self-published. I was a bit leery about that, but also excited, because I love helping others. And a good book review can do a lot for an author’s sales. However, in the course of reading these self-published books two realizations dawned on me:
Most of them are first drafts.
And none of them are professionally edited.
This came as a shock to me. Because each of these books have their own websites. And the authors attached to them are, without exception, nice people who are writers. They have blogs and are active on Twitter and Facebook as writers. So as I flipped through these books I wondered, do these folks read? And if so, do they not see that their ‘novel’ is not:
1. formatted like those they read
2. as long as those they read (in most cases)
3. as polished as those they read
Because one’s experience as a reader would inform one of these things. Wouldn’t it? Or are we blind when it comes to our own work? And if we are blind, then wouldn’t this be all the more reason to have our work edited by someone else? Preferably a professional?
I’m a little saddened to find this is the state of affairs. In the course of belonging to the writers groups I do I have had opportunity to read a few novels that were either destined to be self-published (their authors said) or were in fact, already self-published. And I always found them disappointingly amateurish and terrible. The results of the high and unrestrained excitement of a month of NaNoWriMo, or some such. But, these were all from authors with no internet presence; people who were isolated in their writing, or who had perhaps never written anything prior and had no training in it.
So I didn’t expect to encounter quite the same from these internet savvy folks who have so much more ‘going on’ for them as writers.
I won’t be doing reviews of these books, and I now have gotten myself into the unfortunate position of having to tell these writers why. Sure to be a morning of uncomfortable email writing, especially since I like the writers as people. But I won’t say a book is good if it is not for whatever reason. I cannot recommend a book that was a trial for me to plow through. And it is upsetting to me to have to dash anyone’s feelings.
Here are the main issues I found with these self-published novels. This first category concerns formatting:
- No indents. (Really? You didn’t know you were supposed to indent at paragraphs?)
- Not properly setting dialogue apart, where it should be, and/or indenting it.
- Double spacing at the end of every sentence. (I have seen this on manuscripts over the years. The writers always insist it’s proper. It’s not. It’s an old fashioned typing habit. And it looks really odd in a printed book.)
- Sometimes using quotations for dialogue, sometimes not. Sometimes using single quotations (within the same body of work) instead of double quotations—for no apparent reason.
- Whole pages without a single break or indent, sometimes with dialogue buried in it.
- Sometimes italicizing thoughts and sometimes not.
Ignoring these basic rules of English grammar makes the reading very difficult for the reader. Is that what you want the reader to experience when reading your book? Difficulty and distraction?
These next issues concern points in the actual writing that a good edit would have pointed out to the writer:
- Using the same word many times within a paragraph.
- Using too many adverbs or adjectives. (Which weakens our writing)
- Using the same adverb or adjective repeatedly on the same page.
- Excessive wordiness
- Unedited dialogue which would read so much better if tightened up.
- Rife with clichés.
- Punctuation missing or improperly used.
- Words misspelled.
- Words missing.
- Undeveloped plot points which could/would have been developed in subsequent rewrites and would have made the plot more interesting and complex and surprising.
- Under-developed or flat characters. (Again, this could be remedied by rewrites.)
- No sensory description whatsoever. Sight? Sounds? Smells?
- An imbalance between exposition, summary, action and dialogue.
- Word count too low to be considered a novel. (Is 45,000 words now a novel? When did that happen?)
People, don’t let the rush to say you’ve published a novel make you publish something less polished, professional and complete than the novels published by traditional publishers. Right now the pendulum is swinging toward self-publishing. But experience has taught that trends always swing back and reach some point of equilibrium. Where that will be nobody knows. One thing I know for certain: I do not want to see the high standard of literature turned into something shoddy. Please keep our body of literature up to a standard we can all be proud of and enjoy. If you have the time and money to hire someone knowledgeable to build a website for your self-published novel, why not spend the same time and money on getting it properly written, edited and formatted?
If you don’t, I will venture to say, you will never be taken seriously. And your novel will not become a classic that outlives you and is read and loved by many.
And isn’t that the goal?
(I will still be reviewing novels for self published writers and traditionally published writers alike. The only change in my review policy is that I will request a first chapter from any self published writer prior to agreeing to read the entire novel.)
A great link to basics of manuscript formatting: here.
34 comments | tags: Book Reviews, Books, Editing, Formatting your novel for publication, Novels, Self Publishing, support, technique, Technology, Writing | posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Books, Publishers, Writing
It was a rainy Saturday morning. I’d planned on spending it writing. But that was before I made the decision to jump onto Smashwords and quickly download the copy of Broken Ones Sophia Martin gave me for review. I thought I’d just open it and take a peek—you know, just see what kind of writer she is and what I was in for.
By page 4 I’d forgotten all about my plans to write (thanks a lot, Sophia). The first person narrator’s voice is natural and tough. Louise tells us she’s thought of killing her brother-in-law, Everett, an ex-cop who likes to pound on her little sister, Marie—who Louise once again comes home to find sleeping on her couch, surrounded by Marie’s three little ones.
Everett comes looking for Marie and his kids the next morning, doesn’t find them, and beats Louise. Louise wakes the next day to Marie sitting beside her hospital bed, learns Everett is up to something illegal and has threatened to kill Marie if she leaves, for fear of her telling what she knows. Louise makes the decision she must get them all away from Everett.
Followed by an Amber Alert, they make their escape: Louise, Marie, Marie’s three children, and a neighbor’s neglected pit bull Louise has been dying to rescue, all stuffed into Marie’s mini-van. Louise pulls strings and obtains fake ID’s, and a beat-up old station wagon that can’t be traced by Everett and his cop buddies.
What follows is a fear-drenched run for the mountain town of Mount Shasta, Louise struggling to deal with her spiritually broken sister, while leaving a false trail of breadcrumbs in a gambit to throw Everett off their track.
I don’t want to give away the plot. A haunted (or is it?) cabin, and a town full of interesting people—some willing to help, others not—make this a satisfying read. If I have one disappointment with Broken Ones, it’s only that the reader never really finds out just what Everett’s hinted at nefarious dealings are. But all in all, it was a lively read, and well worth the price of downloading it.
What follows is my interview with Sophia.
What led you to write about domestic violence?
I was a counselor on a rape and domestic violence hotline for a year, and the people I spoke to stayed with me after that. I went into the job with some of the typical ideas—that if a man hit me, I’d just be out of there, that there must be something wrong with women who wind up in that kind of relationship. Working the hotline opened my eyes and gave me empathy for survivors of domestic violence. I wanted to write about it because of that.
Why do you think ghosts turn up so often in your writing?
Good question! It’s a combination of things. I was always afraid of the dark as a child; I believed that ghosts would get me once the lights were off. That lasted well into my early teens. And then at some point I lost all faith in ghosts (and everything else) and the idea of there being nothing after death was much more terrifying. Now I am back to believing in them, after years of spiritual searching, but I’m not frightened of them anymore. I think that journey has been such a big part of me; it just seeps into the writing in many ways.
You are a teacher – how does that effect your writing schedule?
Oh, it’s a bear. Teaching can be good and bad, and when it is good, it is a huge sap on my creative energy. When it is bad it just saps all of my energy. So it can really be an obstacle. But it also gives me a window into many lives, which can inspire me.
Why did you choose to self publish your work as e-books?
I got really excited at the possibilities epublishing presents. I like the freedom to write whatever I want, without having to consider whether it will please agents and publishers. I have no beef with agents and publishers, but they have their rules and I don’t want to be constrained by them. It’s a lot of work to self-publish, but I find that many people are willing to help, and with their help I’ve been getting it done!
What has the e-book experience been like for you?
Mostly positive. It’s exciting to know that I already have readers enjoying my books. I’ve gotten encouraging feedback. It’s work, though. I’ve had to reformat two of my eBooks and figuring out the right way to do that took a while. And marketing is not easy; I’m trying to find the best way to do it. But people like you make that hill a bit easier to climb!
What are you working on now?
I have a series about a psychic—the first book is out, entitled The River and the Roses. I finished the first draft of the second book last month and have been letting it sit for a while before I get into my first cycle of revisions. I’ve been batting around some ideas for other stories as well as the third book in the series. But at the moment, I’m not doing a lot of writing. I plan to treat May like NaNoWriMo, though, and aim to write 50,000 words of the third novel then.
Who are your favorite authors?
I love Jacqueline Carey, who wrote the Kushiel books (very, very different from mine). Another favorite is Qiu Xiaolong—he’s a Chinese author of detective novels set in Shanghai. I also love YA fantasy, and one great author is Libba Bray. Oh, and have you heard of the Kiki Strike novels? Great girl adventures! Those are by Kirsten Miller. I could go on.
Tell us something about yourself that nobody knows.
I worked at a sandwich shop a few years ago. The mayo and the horseradish squirt bottles looked very much the same. So for a while, when people asked for mayo, I’d give them horseradish instead. It was an honest mistake—but when I figured out what I’d been doing, I never told! It was too late to fix the sandwiches. Why tell? Right? Oh boy. Still feel bad about that.
And so she should. But shady sandwich making activities aside: Sophia is a sweet writer. Check her out here.
Remember that snake, Kaa, in the cartoon Jungle Book? Remember how he sang: “Trus-ss-st in me!”, his big eyes all swirly, putting his snaky jungle voodoo spell on Mowgli?
I feel like Kaa whenever I begin a story. I’m aware I’ve got to overcome the reader’s resistance to the lie I am telling. Because, you know, that’s what all good stories are…convincing lies. So, the very first order is to get the reader to trust me. To take my hand and allow me to lead them on a journey of my devising. Maybe just down the block and around the corner. Or maybe to another time and place. A place filled with folks who don’t really exist. Except in my head.
I have found that in order to achieve this the people and place must already seem real to me. If they are vague to me, I know they will be to the reader too. And the reader will question my knowledge and pull back. So, I spend a lot of time with my characters before I ever begin to actually write about them. I go with them to the places where they live and work. I follow them to parties and watch them in the shower. I can’t even begin to write convincingly about a character until I know what’s most important to her.
If you query Kaa on Wiki you will see that his main attributes are: sneaky, suave, cowardly, seductive, sly, crafty, and tricky. Now, with the exception of cowardly—which simply won’t do at all for a writer, not with the long hours spent honing our craft with no guarantee of return of any sort, and the tenacity required to get published—but excluding cowardly, all those other attributes are actually perfect for a writer. We really must be sneaky, suave, seductive, sly, crafty and tricky to be successful. (I know, all those things your mother warned against and tried to drill out of you, along with being a consummate liar. But she didn’t know you were destined to grow up to be a great writer, now, did she?)
Getting the reader to follow you down your story road is a kind of hypnosis. When I write I want Dear Reader all wrapped up in my coils, unable to put down the book until…well, until I allow it. Maybe at the end.
Who are the folks most difficult to hypnotize?
Jaded readers are those, like myself, who know all the tricks and are too aware the writer is attempting to cast a spell over them. The most jaded readers are often writers themselves. Also, agents, editors, and probably publishers too. That’s why it’s so important to have a really great beginning. The beginning is the first danger zone. The first impression and the first place mental barriers will have to be breached, (gently, softly, seductively, sneakily) in those jaded readers who have read so much, and for whom any mechanics the writer employs without finesse are plainly obvious. However, being a jaded reader myself I know how desperately jaded readers long to be hypnotized. We really do want that experience we remember from our more innocent days, of forgetting about the laundry or car repairs or the pie in the oven, and just getting deliciously enchanted and continuing to read against our will.
The methods we writers use to cast our spells are many, but the best three are these:
Story: Make yours so gripping it can’t be put down. This is why it’s so important to have a really great hook right at the beginning of your novel. You want the reader to feel compelled to read on to find out what happens next and what it all means. In fact, ideally, you want to make them feel that throughout the entire tale.
Rhythm of language: This is often completely ignored by writers, always at their own peril. Can you get away without it? Well, I would say it depends on who you are writing for, and what the genre is. But taking a poetry class can’t hurt. And reading other writers who have the magic of poetic language is helpful in learning to do this. Poetic language is a technique that often goes right over the reader’s head. They may be completely unaware of it on the surface. And that’s fine. Because beneath the surface is where we want to get them anyway.
Alliteration and repetition. Both of these can be annoying if overused or used badly. But in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing these can create the same effect as poetic language. Subtly drawing Dear Reader in and keeping her there.
Sneaky, suave, seductive, sly, crafty, tricky. Cultivate these fine attributes in yourself as a writer. (Despite what momma said.)
I can’t use Mr. Kipling’s Kaa without tipping my hat to the great man who imagined him up for us. Rudyard Kipling was awarded the Nobel prize in literature and led a fascinating life. And if you follow this link you will also discover what he had to say about learning to be an effective liar as a child, and how it almost certainly led to him being a writer.
If you are a writer: What tricks do you employ to pull Dear Reader under your spell? And if you are Dear Reader: Which writers cast the best spells over you?
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