Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Favorite Books of 2008

I'm limiting these to books that were published in 2008, by CBA publishers, of which I admittedly have not read many. But out of those I have, here's the two I liked best.

Zora & Nicky: A Novel in Black and White, by Claudia Maire Burney, is one of my top picks for Christian fiction published in 2008. It's been rare, lately, that I've started a novel that I couldn't (or at least didn't want to) put down. Zora & Nicky was such a one. "When (Zora Johnson and Nicky Parker) meet at a Bible study far from their respective home churches, the first churlish, sarcastic sparks that fly sizzle with defensiveness. But God has a special way of feeding the flames, and though from different flocks, these two lost sheep will find Him and much, much more."

From Publishers Weekly, "At this novel's heart are love and race-what happens when a self-described BAP (black American princess), the daughter of a famous megachurch leader, falls in love with a young white man. Zora and Nicky's dialogue about race is unflinching, with attitude, honesty and occasional humor.... Faith in Jesus comes to life on the page through Zora and Nicky's intense, if imperfect, soul searching."

The Shape of Mercy, by Susan Meissner, is my second pick for the best Christian (CBA) novels released this year. Another one I couldn't put down.

From Publishers Weekly, "... the novel features the legacy of Mercy Hayworth—a young woman convicted during the Salem witch trials—whose words reach out from the past to forever transform the lives of two present-day women. These book lovers—Abigail Boyles, elderly, bitter and frail, and Lauren Durough, wealthy, earnest and young—become unlikely friends, drawn together over the untimely death of Mercy, whose precious diary is all that remains of her too short life. And what a diary! Mercy's words not only beguile but help Abigail and Lauren together face life's hardest struggles about where true meaning is found, which dreams are worth chasing and which only lead to emptiness, and why faith and hope are essential on life's difficult path."

And I want to mention Until We Reach Home, by Lynn Austin (though I'm not quite finished reading it yet, so I don't know if all the story threads are wound up, but I might just squeak it in before the new year rolls in. It's that good so far). I've had a hard time putting it down today and feel confident I can recommend this book, based on how well I've enjoyed other books by Lynn Austin.
From Publishers Weekly: "In 1897, the promise of the gold-paved streets of America can heal the broken hearts and lives of orphans Elin, Kirsten and Sofia Carlson, if only they survive the transatlantic trip from Sweden. Family secrets—ranging from the disgrace of suicide to shameful relations—churn like the ocean itself during a two-week crossing, only to haunt the girls after they reach Ellis Island.... Complete with room for happily-ever-after, this rich tale will not disappoint historical romance fans. Austin, three-time Christy Award winner, scores again with an engrossing tale of loss, determination and hope."

I hope you'll pick up a copy of these books, if you haven't already. Happy reading and....


Sunday, December 28, 2008

edit update - week... what? 6 or something?

It's Christmas. Stuff is happening. Hope yours was blessed. I did manage to work some, too.

Starting word count: 286,598
current word count: 245,715
down by: 40,883

That's for the current edit. Add that to the 71,000 I cut on the previous pass and we've a grand total of 111,883 words I've cut from this story without significantly altering the structure.

I'm proud and embarrassed.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Edit Update - Week #5

It's been a productive week for editing. Along with the more tedious line by line cuts, I cut several whole scenes, and there are a couple more that could go, but I'm hanging on to them for now... cause I really likes them. Both are in Seona's voice, and I'd rather not lose any more of her voice if I can avoid it.

We'll see. Maybe I'm not desperate enough yet.

Starting word count: 286,598
Current word count: 248,921
Down by: 37,677

One of those scenes that might go (a flashback to Seona's childhood that defines the relationships and tensions Ian walks into, about ten years later):

Copyright 2008 Lori L. Benton
All Rights Reserved

Tired of pulling weeds in the garden, I slip away and let myself into the house, thinking I’ll find Miss Judith with a book, and maybe she’ll read a page out to me. The words she reads spin my mind with pictures begging to be drawn. I haven’t told Miss Judith about the wallpaper scraps hidden in the garret, but I’m working myself up to it. She’s seen my stash of pebbles and arrowheads, the ones Ally finds, and she’s given me a basket for their keeping. A promising turn.

I tiptoe up the new back stairs and scamper down the bare-board passage toward the room at the front of the house. I’m praying Miss Rosalyn don’t spy me and spoil things. I’ve already taken a dislike to her—and she to me, turning up her nose like she can’t abide the smell of me.

On account of how the front stairs come up to the second floor, I have to pass Miz Lucinda’s door to get to Miss Judith's room. I peek round the molding, ready to scoot by if she ain’t looking. She’s sitting at her dressing table across the room, eyeing herself in the glass. She don’t see me peeping, but my heart jerks like a mouse’s would, peering down a polecat’s den. Miz Lucinda is blackening her eyebrows. It’s something in a pot—to this day I don’t know what—but she’s dabbing at it with a fingertip and smearing it over her brows. I never heard tell of doing such a thing. Mama’s eyebrows are smooth and black as crows’ wings with no help from a pot. It strikes me funny, and I clap a hand over my mouth to shush a giggle. My hand clamps tighter as Miss Rosalyn’s voice comes from in the room.

“It’s dull as porridge here, Mama. I want to go back to Virginia.”

“Really, Rosalyn, must you whine so? It’s unbecoming to a lady. Your sister doesn’t complain of dullness.”

“Judith? She’s too boring to know she’s bored.”

With nary a by-your-leave, my feet choose this moment to take me past the doorway. I glimpse Miss Rosalyn sidelong, sitting on her mama’s high bed, skirts spread round her knees. Her blond head is turned from me, gazing out the window, so I make it safe to Miss Judith’s room. I find her with a book like I figured on, but thoughts of stories are gone clean out of my head. I whisper what I’ve seen her mama doing.

Even now I can’t say who got the notion first. We creep out and down the stairs, make sure Maisy ain’t by to catch us, and black each others eyebrows with soot from the parlor hearth. We never hear Miss Rosalyn, drawn down by our giggles, till she’s hollering for her mama to come and see. Next thing I know the mistress is sweeping in with those false-black brows drawn tight, taking in what we’ve done to our faces.

“Judith Anne Bell! What do you mean by this?”

Miss Judith goes white in the face, save the patches above her eyes—like fuzzy black caterpillars crawling on her forehead. I glance up at Miz Lucinda and feel something cold bloom in my chest. Then I’m dragged up off the parlor floor and shaken like a rag doll.

“This will be your doing! I’ll teach you to mock your betters!” The mistress wrenches my arm with her digging fingers. “Rosalyn, go and fetch my strap.”

Miss Judith pleads all the while I’m hauled out to the yard and my skirt yanked up to bare my bottom. Miz Lucinda holds me to her side with my wrists caught in one of her hands hard enough to make the bones grind. The ground is soggy. When the strap falls across my thighs I yelp and try to tuck my knees, but my feet slide from under me in the slick grass. The mistress yanks me up again. The strap stings me, and a gush flows warm down my thighs. I see nothing but wet-churned grass and my tangled hair hanging down, but I feel the mistress’s weight shift and know Miss Judith is tugging at her mama. I don’t hear her pleading. There’s a roaring in my ears. The mistress stops beating me long enough to scold her daughter, and those words come to me clear.

“Hush your noise, miss! I warned you to leave this girl be. Let this serve as—ah!”

I twist to look. Miz Lucinda’s hand is raised to strike again, but the strap don’t fall. Mama has hold of her arm. She don’t make a sound, Mama, but there’s a fiercesomeness in her face like nothing I’ve seen. I wrench loose. Pain shoots up my wrists as I break my fall. I roll over to see the two of them locked in silent battle over that strap, but when I try to crawl away the mistress gives Mama a shove that sends her staggering.

“Stay where you are, girl!”

Like a ninny I hunker down in the wet grass, too scared to disobey. The strap finds me again, but only once. Mama’s got back up, but instead of fighting falls full across me. I guess by then the mistress don’t care which of us gets the beating, ‘cause she goes right on with it. Every jerk of Mama’s body shudders through me, with my face pressed to the ground and the taste of grass and tears sour in my mouth. I hear my whimpering, but nothing out of Mama. I’m terrified she’s dead, despite the thunder of her heart against my back.

Hooves clatter on the drive, and Master Hugh’s voice breaks over us like a shock of thunder. “Lucinda!”

Mama’s body keeps on jerking, till finally a groan comes up from her chest—like the earth beneath me has made the sound. Then there’s a cry that ain’t from Mama, and I twist to peek through our tangled limbs. Master Hugh has hold of his wife with her feet lifted right up off the ground. He drags her kicking to the front steps of the house. In his face is the same look I’d seen in Mama’s. He bellows again. Not at Mama or me, or at his struggling wife. He’s yelling for Naomi to come tend me and Mama.

Last thing I mind before a pair of brown arms gather me against a bosom smelling of biscuits and fry grease is the sight of that strap on the bruised grass, and Miss Judith in a heap beside it with sooty tears smeared down her face, and the sound of her wailing, “I’m sorry,” over and again like nothing in the world can make her stop.

Naomi and Jubal get me and Mama up off the ground and take us to the kitchen. As we pass round back of the house we hear Master Hugh hollering as he don’t care what Miz Lucinda’s first husband did with his slaves, Mama and me were his and she is never—never—to put strap to us again.

As I’m carried under the rose trellis there's the crash of glass against a wall. But the sound don’t drown out Miz Lucinda’s scream.

“What is she to you?”

Her voice is shattered, like whatever trifle hit the wall must be. A door slams. Then silence falls over house and yard, bottomless and still. We all drop into it and I think we will go on dropping forever, with nobody daring to break the fall.
* * *

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What I might put in a query

I haven't seriously begun drafting a query letter or writing a full length synopsis for Kindred, but here's a paragraph I'm playing around with, that could go in a query. It's meant to introduce the main characters and conflict, not give a full plot breakdown. Sort of like what you'd find on the back cover of a paperback.
Ian Cameron's life has had its fits and starts. Erstwhile Boston cabinetmaker, sometime frontier trapper gone half-native in his sensibilities, Ian is still unsettled at twenty-four, a prodigal in his father's eyes. Now he's come to North Carolina hoping to remake himself again--into a slave-owning planter--and find a way back into his father's good graces. Just a few complications bar his way. Ian isn't crazy about slavery. His aunt Lucinda thinks he's a savage. His uncle Hugh thinks he's a replacement for the son who died long ago. His cousin Rosalyn is bent on seducing him. Thomas, his boyhood friend, has followed him south posing as his slave. And then there's Seona. Light-skinned, green-eyed, in servitude to his family... but is she more than just their slave? What draws her to the wooded ridge to spend her few hours of freedom in solitude? When Ian uncovers more family secrets than he bargained for, it seems he's once again doomed to tear down a life he's built. Only this time, more than his own life may come crashing down.

Edited to add: for the actual query I'd pare this down some, ideally to about half the length!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Edit Update -- Week #3 (and I visit a pub)

While late October when the leaves are bright will always been my favorite time of year, I enjoy this time of year too, when the trees are all but bare, and the fog settles over the valley, along with the chill and the wet and the mud. Very conducive to time travel... I mean, sitting by the fire and losing myself in the 18th century.

A friend recently had a gig at a local Irish pub. Brian and I went to hear him play the sax in a Hobo Jazz band. It was great fun. We enjoyed the music and seeing our friends, but I also was enamored of the atmosphere and look of the place. I don't drink alcohol (though I do cook with it). Just never developed a liking. I didn't know this pub existed, tucked away downtown. It's housed in a building originally put up in the early 1900s. The interior has such great texture. It's rich with crumbly old brick and aged wood, and upstairs is a nook with fireplaces and comfy couches and tables set over bright rugs. A great place to curl up with a cup of tea and write (yes, Matt, I totally agree!). I've never had a laptop computer (maybe it's time to ask Santa for one?), so I can't at present indulge. But I'd love to be able to bring that same feeling home to the room where I write.

In a small way I have, over the years. As well as certain colors, I like a variety of textures in the room where I work. Our house is old (not as old as the pub), and the room where I write is paneled in recycled wood. There's a hearth of mismatched brick and stone in the corner, and a gas fireplace that looks like a wood burning stove. There's wicker furniture and fringed throws and rugs and pillows. There are baskets and pinecones and a spider plant that won't stop having babies. There's a bodhran hung on the wall behind my desk, and a map of North Carolina, circa 1775. There are photos, one of my paintings, a cranberry wreath and the Plains Indian style quiver I made when I learned to bead on a loom. And there are books. Shelves overflow and piles abound.

But I still think about that upstairs corner of the pub, and wonder can Santa afford a laptop this year....

As for the edit:

Beginning word count: 286,598
Current word count: 261,509
Down by: 25,089