Unknown Enemy: Make Friends With This Book

A couple weeks ago, I promised you a review of Janet Sketchley’s latest: Unknown Enemy, the first book in her new Green Dory Inn mystery series. And here it is!

One of the best things about being a writer is meeting other writers. The internet can be a wonderful thing! Janet is one of those friends I’ve never met yet, though I’ve known her for several years.

I believe we were introduced through a contest. Janet, please correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you enter Heaven’s Prey in a contest run by Risen Books, my first publisher?

However I came to meet her, when I read that long-awaited debut novel of hers, it blew me away. The subject matter is more than a little jarring–a woman prays for the man who raped and murdered her niece. Seriously? Yes. Seriously. The faith premise makes you sit up and take notice. The writing is skillful. Without resorting to sensationalism, the author builds suspense until the reader’s toes curl. And of course the spiritual thread glitters throughout like solid gold. As Janet says, “Why leave faith out of our stories when it’s part of our lives?”

Those same skills are evident in this book. In fact, it’s evident that whatever she does, this lady does it well. Not only is this a good story, but the cover is perfect, and the whole thing is nicely formatted and edited. That cannot be said about many self-published books.

However, this story didn’t leave me feeling as satisfied as her previous ones. I wanted to know more about the protagonist’s backstory, and even solving the mystery as to who was terrorizing the inn  didn’t seem to answer all my questions. Oh, but wait — this is the first book in a series. That’s a good thing, because I definitely want to know more!

Thank you, Janet, for another good story–and for the promise of more to come.

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More Books Under My Belt

As I wait for the rain to stop so I can go out and grill chicken–and from the look of the weather radar, I think we’ll either be eating a very late supper, or cooking it indoors–I’ll tell you about some more books I’ve read recently.

Several years ago, someone recommended Zenna Henderson’s “People” stories as being excellently-written religious speculative fiction. I found Ingathering and purchased it then, but didn’t start reading it until this summer. A hefty 577 pages, it’s a compilation of all Henderson’s stories about “the People,” originally published in short story form in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.

It’s true that the writing is excellent. Henderson weaves words like a beautiful tapestry. And though it’s not Christian fiction, it’s definitely religious in nature. But before I was halfway through the book, I realized it was a chore to read, not a pleasure. I plugged away at it a little longer, but eventually I decided I’d had enough and put it aside.

The stories simply seemed too much of the same thing after a while. Moreover, I didn’t care about a group of wonderfully kind, ever-cheerful, and supernaturally gifted extraterrestrials who’d fled their dying home planet and came to earth to try to re-establish themselves on a planet where they were persecuted as freaks. That’s not all there was to it, but it eventually bored me, so I decided to move on to something else.

That “something else” was Unknown Enemy, written by a friend. I’ll be posting my review both here and on Amazon once the title is released on August 2, so stay tuned!

From there, I moved on to a short nonfiction piece, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev.

Now there’s a fascinating read! The author was born of Russian parents, but they left the USSR  and he was raised in the UK. Later, as an adult, he  lived and worked in Russia for almost a decade. As a result, he has a lot of stories to tell, and he tells them with skill.

I won’t be reviewing this book on Amazon because it already has plenty of reviews, and I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on it. I did enjoy it, though, and I recommend it for anyone who’s interested in that sort of thing.

The book was published in 2014, by the way, in case you were wondering how current it is. The situations discussed are all post-USSR, but a few years distant by now.

And finally, an update on a situation I know you’ve been consumed with curiosity to know more about: it’s still raining, and I ended up cooking the chicken indoors. It was a little disappointing. But we’re fed, cozy, and dry, so no complaints.

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Not a Snack, But a Meal

file4561296767054One of the fun things about writing in this electronic age is the opportunity it affords to meet all kinds of people from all over the world. In the writing realm, misery loves company — or maybe it’s a matter of like minds tending to gravitate toward one another.

However it works, shortly after the publication of my first novel, I met (virtually) a writer in Nova Scotia. She had been working on a novel of her own for some time and, while diligently honing her craft and improving the story, she was making contacts in the writing world in preparation for when she had books of her own to promote. She was one of the first to blog about my first book, The Story in the Stars, and I loved her immediately — because she loved the book, of course, thus proving herself to be a woman of impeccable taste. Later, I interviewed her here, and then after that, she wrapped up her review of Words in the Wind with one of my favorite quotes: “When I reached the end I kept wanting to turn pages but there were no more!”

So when Janet’s debut novel, Heaven’s Prey, was released last year, I rejoiced for her. And I bought it — and read it — and was impressed! I went into it expecting to like it (because I like Janet, of course), but otherwise, it wasn’t what I expected. Though the writing style is clear and uncomplicated, the story and theme are heavy-duty. Definitely not a quick snack, but rather a meal that requires a bit of chewing.

If you were to pick up the book and read the back-cover blurb, this is what it would say:Heaven's Prey

A grieving woman is abducted by a serial killer—and it may be the answer to her prayers.

Despite her husband’s objections, 40-something Ruth Warner finds healing through prayer for Harry Silver, the serial killer who brutally raped and murdered her niece. When a kidnapping-gone-wrong pegs her as his next victim, Harry claims that by destroying the one person who’d pray for him, he proves God can’t—or won’t—look after His own. Can Ruth’s faith sustain her to the end—whatever the cost?

But, as is usually the case, the blurb doesn’t convey the depth and the power of the story. I can’t say I loved it and wanted to read more, because it’s a disturbing tale. But it’s skillfully written, and I definitely appreciate the nutritious food it provides for thought.

So, in part because I thought it’s a book worth bringing to my blogfellows’ attention, but also to return the favors Janet has given me, I invited her come by to talk about her story. I told her I was curious about a number of things concerning Heaven’s Prey and asked if she’d mind answering a few questions. She graciously agreed. So let’s give a warm welcome to Janet Sketchley.

Janet Sketchley headshot 350x350•    What was the inspiration for this story?

Sometimes I pray for people I see in the news, either victims or villains. One day this question hit me: it’s one thing to pray for an offender locked away in jail, but what would you do if you met the person face to face?

•    You labored over this for years, as I understand it, reworking and revising it over and over. Did you ever think of setting it aside and writing something else instead? Or were you always determined to present this specific story to the world?

Years and years, Yvonne! Although I didn’t work at it full-time. This was my first serious attempt at novel-writing, and I had a lot to learn. Since I ignored the advice to write short material first, re-writing to correct my mistakes took a lot of time. I did set the story aside a few times, once to write a second novel manuscript, but something kept pulling me back to it.

I felt an obligation to give my characters the best shot I could at being published, but because of the subject matter, this was a story I decided I wouldn’t self-publish. If God wanted it out there, He would make a way. Because I loved the characters, I couldn’t trust myself to be impartial about a decision to self-publish and I was afraid if I did that, I might have been insisting on my own way when it wasn’t God’s choice.

•    What sort of research did it involve? Were you a NASCAR fan before writing it? Do you have a background in criminal psychology?

Most of the racing details came from what I learned watching Formula One. I wanted to keep Harry in North America, so I needed to research karting, NASCAR and IndyCar. That part was all fun. I didn’t do a lot of research into violent criminals, largely because I didn’t want to traumatize myself, but I did connect with a police officer and a former correctional services worker to learn those aspects of the story.

•    How has it been received? Have you had readers contact you to thank you for writing it? Have you caught flak from some?

I’ve been surprised and pleased at how well the story has been received. I was afraid it would be too frightening, or that people would be angry that I dared suggest someone so evil could find redemption. Some of my reviewers have praised the forgiveness/redemption theme, and I did have one reader contact me to say parts of it paralleled her life experience and showed her the Lord wanted to do more healing in her.

•    How has writing this book changed your view of the world, if at all?

You know, I think the biggest change has been in how I look at others. Writing fiction makes us delve to find why our characters act and speak as they do, instead of just accepting them at face value. I’m more inclined now to wonder about people’s motives and to give them the benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming bad behaviour springs from bad intentions.

•    How have you been promoting it? Have you found something that works particularly well? What, in your experience, is overrated as far as book promotion goes?

Most of my promotion has been online. We did a Facebook launch party and a Goodreads giveaway, and I’ve visited as many blogs (like this one!) as I can. I’ve used up nearly all of the print copies my publisher set aside for giveaways, and I’m searching for more reviewers. Currently I’m building relationships in a few Goodreads groups. The focus there isn’t on hard-sell, but I hope some of my fellow readers will want to check out Heaven’s Prey. I really believe in this story, for readers who like the genre, but they can’t enjoy it if they don’t hear about it.

Personal relationships and word of mouth have been my best forms of promotion, and they can’t be rushed. One thing we did that surprised me with its lack of effect was a book blast. Essentially it was a freebie-pack of bonus features for people who emailed proof of purchase to my publisher within the first few weeks. We had background information, articles on some of the hot-button topics addressed in the novel, photos, a recipe… lots of cool stuff. As a reader I’d love this sort of thing. We did have some initial speed bumps with online sales, and that likely contributed to the low response, but in general readers just didn’t seem interested. I still love freebies, so with my next novel, those will go to my newsletter subscribers instead.

One bit of promotion I’d like to share with you and your readers is a print giveaway for Heaven’s Prey that’s going on right now (March 15-March 31). If there’s enough response, I’ll consider choosing a second winner too. Details are on my blog (click here to enter).

•    Where do we go from here? Do you have another project in the works?

I’m revising book 2 in the Redemption’s Edge series, Secrets and Lies, with a projected release date of November 2014. It takes place in the period of time between the end and epilogue of Heaven’s Prey. It’s the story of the villain’s sister, Carol Silver Daniels, who finds herself in danger from her brother’s enemies.

Thanks so much for having me here, Yvonne, and all the best in your writing. I’m looking forward to reading more of your Gannah series.

And thank you, Janet, for visiting today, and for providing such thought-provoking reading. I look forward to dining on the next book in the series.

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Blog Hop: Previewing Ransom in the Rock

gold-oreEarlier this week, my friend Michelle Griep tagged me in a “blog hop,” and I’m playing along.

The rules of the game: I link to Michelle’s blog (check), list the rules (check), answer the ten questions below (getting to that), and tag several more people. (Several? How many is several? I’ll do five – working on it).

So here are the questions:

What is the title of your next book?
The next in the Gateway to Gannah series, which is complete but not yet published: Ransom in the Rock.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’s the next in the series and picks up where Words in the Wind left off. Here’s the thing: when I started the first book (The Story in the Stars), I had an end in mind. Problem was, too many things had to happen before we could get there, so I chose another point at which to end. When I started the next book, I figured I’d finish it the way I’d intended to finish Stars, but I ran into the same problem: too much to squeeze in; it would have to be too long of a book. So this third book is the next step toward that end.

What genre does your book fall under?
Science fiction from a Christian perspective.

What actors would you choose to play the part in a movie rendition?
I have absolutely no idea. I’m not into movies and don’t know the actors and actresses out there.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
“How much is a life worth? And who will pay the price?” (Yeah, I know; that’s two sentences. Want your money back?)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither. It’s the third in my three-book contract with Risen Books.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Six months. (A personal record.)

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Ummm… I’d have to research that.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
It all started when I read a little nonfiction book called The Gospel in the Stars. It was written in the 1800s and explained the theory that when God created the heavens and the earth, He put the stars in specific constellations for the purpose of depicting the gospel message for early man to “read.” I was intrigued by the idea and so I decided to write a story in which the characters discover this “story in the stars.” And, as indicated above, Ransom in the Rock is the next step in that adventure.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
If you’ve read the first two, you might be eager to jump into this one, since Book 2 ended a bit abruptly. I’ve had people tell me they read the ebook and thought their Kindle was broken when they came to the end because it wouldn’t advance to the next page. However, if you’ve never visited Gannah before, I think you’ll enjoy this as a stand-alone. It’s got some fun characters, nifty sci-fi settings, adventure, and even a little romance for a change.

Oh, look, I’m out of questions! Okay, time to tag writers:
Ngaire Elder, Lori Freeland, Virginia Lee, Ralene Burke, Janet Sketchley, you’re it!

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Meet Janet Sketchley

As you may recall, my publisher, Risen Books, recently ran a contest for unpublished novelists and announced the top three winners. For this and the next two Wednesdays, I’ll be interviewing those lucky writers.

Today, I’d like to introduce to you the third-place winner, Janet Sketchley. She submitted her story, Praying for the Enemy, and her prize is some free books from Risen. Here’s what she has to say:

Y ASKS: Is the story you entered in the Risen Books contest your first novel, or have you been at this writing thing a while?

JS ANSWERS: Yes to both 🙂  Praying for the Enemy is my first novel, I’ve rewritten and revised it many times, and have also written a second novel as well. Both are looking for a home, and placing third in Risen Books’ contest tells me they can hold their own against the other manuscripts out there.

Y ASKS: How long did it take you to write this story?

JS ANSWERS: Much longer than it should. This is the novel that taught me to write, so each time I learned something new I had a gigantic amount of revising to do. (Now I know why they say to start with short stories!) It looks much different now, and I’d be embarrassed for anyone to see the first draft. But I can safely tell you, if my characters were “born” when I first started, they’d be driving now.

Y ASKS: I know exactly what you mean by This is the novel that taught me to write. I have a “practice novel” too, though it may never see the light of day. So how did you arrive at this particular story idea, or what was your inspiration for it?

JS ANSWERS: “It’s safe enough to pray for a dangerous criminal locked up in prison, but what would you do if you met them on the ‘outside’ — face to face — especially if they had no regrets about their actions?” The story grew and reshaped itself from there.

Y ASKS: How would you define “Christian fiction?” What’s your response when you hear someone say its general quality is inferior to that of secular fiction?

JS ANSWERS: I define “Christian fiction” as stories written by and for Christians and containing at least a subtle element of faith. The hope is always that mainstream readers will enjoy it too. My response when someone makes a comment like that? “When’s the last time you tried it? And what do you like to read?” The quality–and selection–have improved dramatically in recent years. There are still poorly-written and under-edited books, especially where authors have self-published without hiring outside skill, but I suspect that’s the same in mainstream fiction as well.

Y ASKS: I remember an old Star Trek episode – and I’m talking about the original series, in its first run (yes, I’m old enough to have seen it when it was new) – in which a character was reading an old print book and someone remarked upon how rare it was to have real books instead of reading them on a screen. Do you see e-books, which obviously are no longer science fiction, as a threat to traditional publication, a marvelous opportunity for writers and readers alike, or a fact of life that we’re going to have to deal with?

JS ANSWERS: We watched in reruns, and I think my husband wins the prize. I asked him which episode this was, and he said “Courtmartial” (where the lawyer had a stack of books and Kirk said he liked books well enough, but on the computer). E-books… they’re probably all of the above. The traditional publishers need to re-think how they do business, and they can learn from pioneers like Marcher Lord Press. Writers and readers need publishers for their editing and marketing expertise, although marketing is changing too. I’m not convinced that paper vs e-books is an either-or situation. At least in the short term, we’ll have both. And there are plenty of benefits for readers and writers. I think it’s a good thing, and it’ll be even better when it all shakes out.

Y ASKS: If someone asked you if it’s worthwhile to enter writing contests, what would be your answer?

JS ANSWERS: Definitely, as long as it’s a legitimate contest. The best ones have low or no fees and offer some level of feedback. It’s not much good to see a list of winners (your name not there) and not know what brought your entry down or what needs improvement. Feedback is risky, because nobody likes to hear their work isn’t perfect, and occasionally you can get a snarky judge. The ACFW Genesis contest is a good one (in which I have yet to place) and Risen Books’ contest has been a good experience for me. Only one manuscript could win but each entrant had their story “hook” posted for public voting in stage one, which was not only good exposure but let us study the other entries and discover what makes a good hook. I don’t know if the early entrants got any comments on their work, but the notice I got about advancing to the final round included some thoughts from the round 2 judges. So yes, contests are worth entering but choose wisely. And don’t shoot for the top-rated ones first time out. Compete at your own level and develop your skill to earn the right to advance.

Y ASKS: What does your story’s protagonist most fear? Does this reflect your own fears?

JS ANSWERS: Ruth is abducted by a convicted serial rapist/murderer. That makes her fear in the novel pretty basic and obvious. Me, I have a whole raft of fears the Lord is working to defuse, and like most women, this one’s on my list. Hats off to Ruth, she’s much braver than I am. Her faith’s stronger, too. I hope someday people can read her story.

Y ASKS: What’s one question you hope I won’t ask?

JS ANSWERS: If I knew, I might not tell! Oh, wait — “If you were an animal/colour/novel which would you be?” (No offense, if you’ve used it yourself!) I was once asked what kind of music I’d be, and there’s no “right answer” to something like that. I guessed “folk” because I couldn’t spell “zydeco”.

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A New Review, a New Interview

I love my friends. And my fellow-writers are some of the bestest!

Yesterday, Janet Sketchley posted a review of my new release, The Story in the Stars, on her blog. After reading it, I’ve decided I need to ask Janet to write the blurb for my next book, because she did a fabulous job summarizing the story line. She said it way better than I could myself!

Thanks, Janet, for your lovely review!

And today, Tessa Stockton shares her interview of me on her gorgeous blog, Pressing Through. Tessa and I have the same publisher, and her debut novel, The Unforgiveable, is amazing and memorable. If you haven’t already read my review, check it out. Thanks, Tessa!

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