Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Alligators and Me

(Originally published on ANWA Founder & Friends, 1/19/09)

A week ago today, I finally decided to stop fiddling with old writing projects, and start work on something new. Well, “new” is a bit relative. I pulled out a story I’d begun several years ago, but with only a few chapters completed, with the intent of finally tackling and finishing this far-from-finished story.

So last Monday, I got up two hours early to review various notes I’d made on the subject, all of them several years old, as I said. To my dismay, I discovered that I had written three different “beginnings”, with a potential of three different “heroines” (at least I knew who my hero was!), and two to three different potential plot lines! For two hours, I stared at my computer screen, trying desperately to make a decision as to a final direction to take the story and commit myself to which heroine my hero was destined to fall in love with. Each potential plot line and heroine seemed to have as many weakness as strengths, and by the end of the my two hour stare-a-thon, I had neither arrived at any decisions nor typed a single new word to get the story moving again. By bedtime, I was still in despair, not knowing whether to take the story “this way” or “that way”. I felt absolutely numb with indecision.

Then as I lay in bed that night, my mind still in turmoil, I remembered a book of writing “inspiration” I’d bought well over ten years ago. The title, Walking on Alligator Eggs: A Book of Meditations for Writers, had intrigued me, but it was flipping open the book and reading the first meditation as I stood in a Borders bookstore, that sealed the deal to buy the book:

The author, Susan Shaughnessy, had written:

Writing can feel like stepping off into thin air. Some of us can write no other way. Not for us, the well-thought-out outline, the step-by-step recipe that brings the project to success. When we try to apply ourselves to such a well-mapped course, we stall out.

We are the writers who start every day walking off a cliff, fearing there are alligators below. Yet somehow we write; and most of the time, we like what we write. The dark place seems less dark when we get there. It was only the journey that was fearful. We emerge back into the light with something precious, something really worth sharing.

Join us as we take the less-lit road, the road that curves into the unknown places.

See what you bring back.

That essay spoke to me then because that’s exactly how all my manuscripts had worked thus far: feeling like I was stepping off a cliff every time I sat down to write, never quite knowing where my characters were going to take me, terrified of the dark place I was walking so blindly into. But Susan Shaughnessy was right. It was rare that a light didn’t appear along the way, and yes, by the end of my writing session, more often than not, I liked what I had written.

So on Tuesday last week, I decided to take Susan’s advice to heart once more. I decided to step off the cliff and ignore the alligators below. I gave up on outlines and road maps, and just started typing, without worrying about where exactly I was headed. On Wednesday, I did the same. By Thursday, I knew who my heroine was. I knew a little more about her motivation and goals. I know her background and how her family wants to manipulate her and why. But there are still cliffs and dark spaces ahead. I don’t know exactly how she and my hero are going to meet up in the story’s time line. I don’t know what will cause them to fall in love. I have a Point A and a Point B I’d like to get both characters to, but I don’t know how I’m going to get them there.

But unlike last Monday, I’m now trying not to let these questions paralyze me because I don’t yet have the answers. Instead, my goal is simply to get up every morning and step off that cliff, trusting that I’ll escape the alligators below and that a light will appear in the darkness to guide me.

A New Drawing and a Free Offer!

It’s time for a new Loyalty’s Web-site drawing! The prize is small…an approximately 5” X 5” scented pillow sachet with a mounted medieval knight beautifully woven on the top. Small, yes, but if you love the Middle Ages, wouldn’t you like to have one?

To learn how to enter, visit the News & Contest page on my website. Deadline for entries is midnight MST, February 27th, winner announced February 28th. And if all of you are extra good, I might throw in small box of chocolate for good measure. ☺

Also, Regency Romance author Jaimey Grant has asked me to announce a very special offer. Jaimey is giving away FREE copies of any of her PDF formatted e-book titles—your choice!—to anyone who’s willing to post an “honest review” on either Goodreads.com or Amazon. There is currently no limit on the number of people who can receive a free e-book, and currently no deadline on asking for one...but you MUST hold up your side of the bargain by taking time to review online the book you read. Everyone’s on the honor system here, but please don’t disappoint me and Jaimey!

To receive the title of your choice, visit Jaimey’s profile page at either http://www.goodreads.com/regencyfreak or http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/AXHWME4M1KFQH to read about the titles available and to choose the book you’d like to read.

Once you have chosen your title, send the book’s name to me at jdipastena@yahoo.com, with “Jaimey Grant Giveaway” in the subject line. Be sure, of course, to include your own name and email address. I’ll forward your email to Jaimey, and she will contact you with the details of how to download her book.

Just remember, this is a two-way bargain. I know you won’t let me down!

You can read my review of Jaimey's Regency romance, Betrayal, on Amazon. (Oh, yeah, my review is hiding under my alter ego, Pianissimo, in case you wonder which review is mine.)

Review of Death of a Squire: A Templar Mystery, by Maureen Ash

Allow me to begin with a caveat: The following review speaks as much about my personal reading tastes as it does about the quality of Death of a Squire, so please take that into consideration while weighing my words below.

Book Description:

After eight years of captivity in the Hoy Land, Templar Bascot de Marins escapes with injuries to his body and soul. Now on a sojourn at Lincoln Castle, he is sometimes called upon to uphold the will of God and he laws of man... Late in the autumn of 1200 A.D., the townspeople of Lincoln are preparing to host the first meeting between the king of Scotland and King John. Days before their arrival, a squire's body is found hanging from a tree deep in the forest,and the castellan of Lincoln castle entrusts Bascot with the task of finding the killer. When outlaws kidnap his trusted servant, Gianni, Bascot is surprised by his own familial feelings for the boy. Despite the unsolved crime and potentially murderous rumors, nothing becomes more important to Bascot than Gianni's safe return. Could these two misdeeds be linked by chance...or by cunning?

To be honest (and please see my caveat above), the most attractive part of this book for me was the cover art. The miniature scenes portrayed from the story were excellently rendered and delightful to behold. It was the sort of cover I could find myself coveting, were I not so happy with the cover of my own medieval romance, Loyalty’s Web.

As for the inside of the book, however, I regret to say that I had many a quibble. First off, the author immediately distanced me from “bonding” with any of her characters by choosing to narrate the majority of the story from the omniscient point of view. It was like observing the story taking place from someplace high above the setting, as if I were a bird watching events while soaring over the town of Lincoln and neighboring Sherwood Forest, somewhat interested at times in what the characters might be doing below, but never fully involved with any of them. I was in no one’s head and I was in everyone’s head, and on the few occasions I was in a character’s head, I found myself snatched way too quickly, just when I thought I might actually start caring about the person’s who’s head I was visiting.

Another drawback to me was the overwhelming number of characters. I could not begin to keep them all straight in my mind, especially the number of minor pages and squires who kept popping up by name, when there were so many other names to try to keep track of. I continually found myself scratching my head and saying, “Who is this again?” Unfortunately, it was rare that I cared enough about the story to go back and look a forgotten character up.

Other strikes against Death of a Squire:

The dialogue, what there was of it, felt awkward and stiff, rather than lively and flowing, even allowing for a greater formality of medieval speech.

I felt the lengthy portions of narration slowed the pace of the story. Was the moment when one character was swimming across a treacherous river to confront his arch rival really the time for him to slip into a four-page flashback of his childhood, youth, and subsequent misfortunes in life? Just one example of a too-frequent break in the “flow”. The pacing was also slowed by frequent pauses for the author to share her medieval research with us. Do I care how charcoal was made in the Middle Ages? Possibly. But do I want to stop in the middle of the story for a detailed description of the process, when the protagonist should be hot on the trail of a murderer, especially when, though the charcoal maker was important, the process of making charcoal had nothing beyond “research interest” to do with the plot of the story.

Now, returning to my caveat, I know that there are readers out there who thoroughly enjoy such “research stops” when reading an historical novel, but I’m afraid I’m not one of them. Weave the research “naturally” into the story, by all means, but don’t bring all action to a stop to tell me about it. To put it simply, as a reader, I personally read for story first. The research should be a happy, well-woven bonus, not bring me to screeching halt.

To be honest, I would not have finished reading this book, had I not committed to it as part of a the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2009. But there are many readings tastes out there. If you are one who enjoys books told from many multiple viewpoints (though more often from that bird’s eye view), who read more for picking up bits of arcane research than for action and plot, Death of a Squire might be a book for you!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Reading Challenge

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have decided to participate in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2009 sponsored on Goodreads and on Royal Reviews. All you have to do is read three historical novels between January 1-March 31. Most of us can do that, right? So come on and join in the fun!

Here are the rules, as stated on GoodReads:

Read 3 historical fiction books in 3 months from 1st Jan 09 - 31st March 09. Historical fiction will be counted as anything set or written prior to World War II. This will include classic novels, time travel novels or anything you feel fits the genre. For an extra bit of fun, you can choose to participate in one of the following themes: - The Royal Twist - Read 3 based on or inspired by 3 different royals. Emporers, Queens, Kings whatever inspires you! - The Twilight Twist - Read a selection of 3 of the classic novels that inspired the Twilight Saga. There's Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Romeo Juliet by Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte or A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare. There will also be giveaways associated with this challenge so keep your eyes pealed. If you've already signed up, head on over to the Introductions and First Book topic and tell us a little about yourself :-)

Me, I’m not taking either of the Twist roads, just reading three historical novels whose descriptions caught my fancy. In keeping with my goal of alternating new books with old “favorites” from former years, these are the three titles I have chosen for the challenge:

Death of a Squire: A Templar Knight Mystery
, by Maureen Ash (new)


After eight years of captivity in the Hoy Land, Templar Bascot de Marins escapes with injuries to his body and soul. Now on a sojourn at Lincoln Castle, he is sometimes called upon to uphold the will of God and he laws of man... Late in the autumn of 1200 A.D., the townspeople of Lincoln are preparing to host the first meeting between the king of Scotland and King John. Days before their arrival, a squire's body is found hanging from a tree deep in the forest,and the castellan of Lincoln castle entrusts Bascot with the task of finding the killer. When outlaws kidnap his trusted servant, Gianni, Bascot is surprised by his own familial feelings for the boy. Despite the unsolved crime and potentially murderous rumors, nothing becomes more important to Bascot than Gianni's safe return. Could these two misdeeds be linked by chance...or by cunning?

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (old favorite)


Dashing young Edmond Dantès has everything. He is engaged to a beautiful woman, is about to become the captain of a ship, and is well liked by almost everyone. But his perfect life is shattered when he is framed by a jealous rival and thrown into a dark prison cell for almost 14 years. The greatest tale of betrayal, adventure, and revenge ever written, The Count of Monte Cristo continues to dazzle readers with its thrilling and memorable scenes, including Dantès's miraculous escape from prison, his amazing discovery of a vast hidden treasure, and his transformation into the mysterious and wealthy Count of Monte Cristo--a man whose astonishing thirst for vengeance is as cruel as it is just.

The Dark Lantern, by Gerri Brightwell (new)


Devon-born housemaid Jane Wilbred has snared her new post with the Bentley family with a letter of reference she forged, omitting any mention of the possibly pertinent fact that her late mother was a notorious murderer. That, however, is trifling compared to the shady games being played both upstairs and downstairs at 32 Cursitor Road while the family matriarch lingers on her deathbed, especially the struggle between mysterious beauty Mina Bentley, wife of younger son Robert, and the wan stranger who claims to be the widow of older brother Henry (drowned recently while sailing home after years in India). Meanwhile, Robert is focused on a battle closer to his heart: winning official recognition for anthropometry, the science of identifying criminals by body measurements. Far from being an arcane digression, Robert's passion eventually figures into the intricate and surprising plot. The action will keep the reader as intrigued as a parlor maid eavesdroppig outside her mistress's boudoir. (From Publishers Weekly)

I hope all of you history buffs out there will join in on the challenge!

Books I Read in 2008

Here’s a list of all the books I read I 2008. I’m a bit of a slow reader, only finding time to read a few chapters at bedtime (or more if I’m unable to fall asleep at night). As you’ll see, my reading tastes are a bit eclectic, ranging from historical fiction, fan fiction, LDS fiction, and non-fiction on multiple subjects. I keep a running tally of the books I read in the left column of this page, just below my Shelfari shelf, if you’d like to keep track as I read along this year.

Books I read in 2008:

New Moon,
by Stephenie Meyer (fiction)
Eclipse, by Stephenie Meyer (fiction)
The Lodger,
by Liz Adair (fiction)
Ghost of a Chance,
by Kerry Blair (fiction)
The Lights of Mahonri Moriancumer,
by Phyllis Gunderson (fiction)
The Great and the Terrible: The Brothers,
by Chris Stewart (fiction)
The Great and the Terrible: Where Angels Fall,
by Chris Stewart (fiction)
Walk with Peril: A Novel of Henry V and Agincourt,
by D.V.S. Jackson (fiction)
Mormon Scientist: the Life and Faith of Henry Eyring,
by Henry J. Eyring (non-fiction)
The Boleyn Inheritance,
by Philippa Gregory (fiction)
The Power of Your Patriarchal Blessing
, by Gayla Wise (non-fiction)
The Arthurian Omen,
by G.G. Vandagriff (fiction)
Dante's Daughter,
by Kimberley Heuston (fiction)
The Great and the Terrible: The Second Sun,
by Chris Stewart (fiction)
Room for Two,
by Abel Keogh (non-fiction)
The Great and the Terrible: Fury & Light,
by Chris Stewart (fiction)
Caught in the Headlights: 10 Lessons Learned the Hard Way,
by Barry K. Phillips (non-fiction)
The Great and the Terrible: From the End of Heaven, by Chris Stewart (fiction)
Angel Falling Softly,
by Eugene Woodbury (fiction)
Plug Your Book: Online Book Marketing for Authors, by Steve Weber (non-fiction)
Mr. Monk in Outer Space, by Lee Goldberg (fiction)
Elusive Harmony,
by Mary Burchell (fiction)
Masquerade with Music,
by Mary Burchell (fiction)
The Sudbury School Murders, by Ashley Gardner (fiction)
Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer (fiction)
The Knight in Rusty Armor,
by Robert Fisher (fiction)
The Hanover Square Affair,
by Ashley Gardner (fiction)
The Big Sort:Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart
by Bill Bishop (non-fiction)
The Serpent Garden,
by Judith Merkle Riley (fiction)
by Jaimey Grant (fiction)

Twelve Days of Christmas Contest Medieval Style, in Review:

Well, our Twelve Days of Christmas Contest Medieval Style, is finally over. I hope all of you who participated had fun with our little game. Those of us who sponsored prizes had such a good time, that we’re thinking of running a similar contest sometime this summer, with hopefully a few additional sponsors to continue to spice things up. So keep your eyes peeled for further news on that! (After we all take a well-deserved break while we continue to recover from “the holidays”, of course.)

By the way, if you think an overabundance of our contest winners came from Arizona, that’s only because we received more entries from Arizona than from any other state. So the next time we run such a contest, run out and invite all your friends in other states to join in! (Then again, that would only up the competition for you all, so you make the call on that one. ;-) )

For a full list of The Twelve Days of Christmas Contest Medieval Style prizes and winners, click here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Joyce’s Goals for 2009

(Click here to enter The Twelve Days of Christmas, Medieval Style Contest)

How did it get to be 2009 already? I could swear I woke up just a couple of days ago, and it was only 2008! Nevertheless, 2009 does, indeed, appear to have arrived, and the time for setting new goals has arrived with it. So, in the hopes of committing myself more fully to my own new goals by courageously publishing them publicly, I here present Joyce’s Goals for 2009. Feel free to check up on me at any point during the year and ask me how I’m doing. (I could definitely use a significant nudge now and then!)

So here goes:

Spiritual Goals:

Continue reading the Old Testament with Readers Digest’s Who’s Who in the Bible, along with the Old Testament Roundtable Discussions that I recorded off the BYU Channel in 2008.

Continue reading Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, even though I’m not in Relief Society on Sundays anymore. (Can anyone say, “Full-time Primary pianist”?)

Reading Goal:

Alternate reading one “old favorite” for each “new” book I read in 2009

Writing Goals:

Publish my next medieval novel, Illuminations of the Heart, in 2009

Begin work on a new medieval novel

House Goal:

Declutter! Ask myself the question, “If I were going to move, would I want to take this with me?” If the answer is “no”, give away or throw out.

There, I’m keeping my goals simple—or at least, limited—in hopes that I will actually make progress on each of them this year!


Don’t forget that our Twelve Days of Christmas Contest, Medieval Style, is still ongoing. Click here to see the list of days and prizes still open and read the winners thus far. (Or, you could just scroll down to my previous post.)

If anyone’s interested, I’ve updated the “LDS Corner” and “About Me” tabs on my website. I forgot to add a list of my favorite music to my About Me page, so I’ll be going back soon to include that.

And finally (for now), I’ve signed up for a 3 month reading challenge by joining the group, The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2009 on Goodreads. I’ll be listing my choices on this blog, just as soon as I finish the contemporary novel I’m currently reading. If any of you enjoy historical fiction, you might like to join this challenge, too. Click here to read more about it!

By the way, if you’d like to see what books I read in 2008, scroll down the left side of this page for my What Did I Read in 2008? list. (Just under my Shelfari shelf.) The list won’t remain there long. As soon as I finish the book listed under What Am I Reading Now?, the 2008 list will vanish, and my current title will become the first on a What Did I Read in 2009? list.

Happy New Year to One and All!