Archive for May 2018

Setting Makes the Gem   Leave a comment

My friend Jane Bwye asked me for a guest post recently and here it is. The topic was novel setting.

Setting Makes the Gem

Today, Lela Markham shares a valuable message about settings for a book. A very warm welcome to my long-standing friend from Authonomy days; we are privileged to have you with us, Lela – over to you.

*** 

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to interview a jeweller. As part of the interview, he showed me some of the gems he was working on. I was unimpressed. Sitting there on his work table, they were dull and uninspiring. He was apparently used to that reaction because he then showed me what makes gems sparkle. He put uninspiring jewel upon jewel on a black velvet cloth and suddenly, they sparkled.

“Setting is everything,” he explained.

I am a character-driven writer. They appear to me when I least expect them and they want to tell me their stories, which is what makes the plot. Given that beginning, I focus my writing on relationships and how characters interact and react to one another. Setting is an afterthought … and yet, it is everything.

LMarkhamIt’s the writing equivalent of the black velvet cloth or the jeweller’s setting. It is what makes characters sparkle.

None of us live in a void space. We’re all surrounded by the world we live in. I live in Alaska, where the grandeur of the setting definitely can overwhelm the character, but it also shapes the character. People here cannot help interacting with the environment and even large personalities learn you must adapt to it.

When writing, I try always to remember that my characters can’t live in a void space any more than I can. They need a backdrop to sparkle against. Far more than simply a geographic location or an era that makes a nice backdrop for the characters to work out the plot in front of, setting creates a mood and atmosphere that directs the plot and challenges the characters.

For a gem, it’s all about how the jeweller cuts the stone. Similarly, it’s the little details that provide the sparkle by teasing the senses. What would a newcomer or even a resident see, hear, taste, smell or feel if they arrived in your story’s world that moment? Ever notice what people smell like when they haven’t seen a shower for a few days? The sky is blue, except when it isn’t and then it may be all sorts of colours during sunset, sunrise, as a storm is gathering or a tornado is about to hit. What does wind sound like as it sighs through palm trees? Different from how it sounds when it sighs through pines. If there’s an ocean to the east and a desert to the west, the wind from each will feel different on your skin. Small details are pennies that pay big dividends.

While the grand backdrop grounds the characters in reality and provides the reader with something to hang their imagination on, small details evoke the senses and bring the reader into the story.  Whether you start out with a setting that fulfils these requirements or add them later as I do, they are essential to good storytelling and make all the difference in how your story engages the reader.

Author pic ditch close-upLela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan novelist who was raised in a home built of books. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artistic pursuits.

A multi-genre writer, Lela has published tales of fantasy, alternate history, apocalyptic and political satire, but she’s also got works in progress for literary fiction, new adult, YA, mystery and, her nemesis, romance.

Lela shares her life with her adventuresome husband, two fearless offspring and an extremely-happy yellow Lab.

 

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I Read It At the Supermarket Counter   Leave a comment

TabloidDo you read the trashy tabloids while you wait in line at the grocery store? What headlines grab your attention and why?

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The simple answer is I don’t read tabloids, but that’s really not true. Many years ago, in a different career, when I was in journalism school, we were challenged to read the headlines in the tabloids and then to read a sampling of the articles to see if they related at all. While I don’t read the articles anymore, I still enjoy the headlines.

Tabloids are all about the headlines. They are the print version of click-bait and highly effective at getting our attention. I certainly hope the headline writers get paid at least as much as the article writers because they are so much better at their jobs.

While I really don’t care if Meaghan Markle’s father is involved in some sort of scandal, I do see those headlines and wonder, if only for a second, about the scandal. I don’t care enough to research it or google the new American princess, but it gets me interested for half a second … and it sells tabloids. I see a lot of people pulling them off the rack as we wait.

And, what really gets me is that sometimes these lurid headlines later turn out to be true. Because they’re not bound by the ethics that regular journalists pretend to subscribe to, tabloid writers follow stories that are bleeding edge and sometimes, they scoop the “real” news outlets by having it first.

Doesn’t mean I read them, but I do find that sort of interesting. I’m also rather amazed that in this era of electronic blogs, tabloids are still being sold, but … there again is the power of click-bait.

Posted May 21, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Christian Creatives in a Fallen World   1 comment

In case you can’t tell from the sudden drop-off of blog posts, my ordinary life got busy. I am also trying a few other things, just for variety. For example, I am posting over at Christian Creative Nexus, which this blog post comes from. I’m also thinking about asking my Facebook questions here on Aurorawater Alaska. And I’m now on MeWe. New territory helps to expand networks … I hope.

https://dyegirl1373.wixsite.com/website/single-post/2018/03/07/Lets-Talk-How-to-be-a-Christian-Creative-in-a-Fallen-World

 

I’m one of those Christian creatives who does not advertise my works as “Christian”. Historically, Christian creatives didn’t claim a territory and label themselves. We don’t think of Bach as a “Christian” musician, but rather a great composer who made his living as a church organist. Unless you’re a history geek like me, you might not know about his deep and abiding faith. Although we now think of CS Lewis as a “Christian” author, his fictional works weren’t advised as such when he was publishing because Christians of that era hadn’t decided to paint themselves into a box with a label. Back when I was a kid Elvis Presley (not an example of a “good” Christian, but a man with a church background) and Johnny Cash (by that time, a reprobate saved by Christ) were singing gospel tunes right along with their secular tunes on regular radio … and my non-believing parents didn’t find that the least bit odd.

I want modern Christian creatives to step out of the box labeled “weird” and “other” and place the products of our creativity where we can act as salt and light in the dark world around us. I think Christian creatives have a lot to give to the secular world if we’re willing. But how do we do that?

I think it starts with a conversation among Christian creatives about what it means for us and our creative works to be “in the world, but not of it.” There’s nothing wrong with being counter-cultural, but at least some of us should be speaking to the society around us without painting ourselves into a self-segregated box where our books end up in that lonely section at Barnes & Noble. The real trick is doing that while also paying respect to our Savior and the flawed human beings who follow Him.

Let’s explore that together.

Open Book Blog Hop – 14th May   1 comment

Stevie Turner, Indie Author.

 

This week’s blog topic is to write about our top five junk foods or our top five healthy snacks.

I was fortunate enough to have had my tastes in foodstuffs ingrained before the explosion in junk food towards the end of the 1970s when I was already a young adult.  My mother Dot read a lot and knew all about the effect of certain foods on the body when I was still a child.  By the time McDuff’s opened their first store over this side of the pond, Dot had been serving me with good nutritious stews and casseroles, low fat dinners, and lots of fish and vegetables for nigh on 18 years.  I had also been on the receiving end of hundreds of lectures by Dot on the dangers of overeating and junk food – snippets of these lectures went like this:

  • I must always have a green…

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Posted May 15, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Smorgasbord of Snacks   5 comments

Tell us about your top five junk foods or your top five healthy snacks.

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I grew up in a restaurant. My dad was a professional chef and my mother was a diner restaurant. So there was always a lot of good food around … or Dad was trying to poison us using us as his test kitchen. Ah, symmetry!

I’m pretty a pretty healthy eater and my top five healthy snacks are different kinds of fruit, sometimes with cheese. But I also really like this hummus spread I make with sour cream, two kinds of olives and red peppers. It can be used as a dip with chips or on thin toasted slices of my homemade bread.
Junk food, in no particular order, is —
French fries – I keep it simple with ketchup. I don’t add salt or pepper. I prefer crinkle cuts, but a deep-fried diner-fry works too.
Chocolate – I would probably run over little old ladies to get to chocolate. It could be dark or milk, but no nuts, crispies, toffee, etc. I just like the pure stuff.
Ice cream – Hotlicks (which is a local ice cream manufacturer) chocolate is my favorite and I could go all winter without any ice cream if it would keep Hotlicks opening every summer.  The chocolate in Hotlicks chocolate is multi-layered. You can taste the complexity and you end up feeling like a wine-snob as you compare it to the experience of some random stranger also enjoying a cone or a cup next to you.
Related imageRootbeer – technically, it’s a beverage, not a food, but it’s empty calories so I think it qualifies. I like the good gourmet rootbeers, preferably with a pronounced vanilla tone. Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox, Alaska, makes a great one that comes in growlers. We try to pick one up when we’re coming back from our land north-east of town.
Ambrosia Salad – fruit cocktail, apples, and bananas mixed in homemade whip cream (you can use Cool Whip, but I don’t). I also don’t add coconut as many recipes suggest, but that’s because I’m allergic. Nor do I add marshmallows, just because I don’t like them. This great holiday dish has got that ying-yang thing going. The fruit is healthy (I use fruit cocktail only because this is Alaska. You could get a better variety of fresh fruit if you live somewhere where fruit isn’t placed in suspended animation for a month before it arrives in the store). But then you turn this way-healthy snack into decadence by mixing it with whip cream.  I always make extra for Thanksgiving and Christmas so I (er, we) can eat it for a few days after.
Now go check out what my fellow writers have to say on the topic.

Posted May 14, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Tearing Down High-Places — Christian Creative Nexus   Leave a comment

Tearing Down High-Places, by Lela Markham

(A Repost from Delia Talent – A Christian Creative site)

 

In the Bible, many a man and a few women stumbled over idols in their pursuit to follow God and there were times in Israel’s history when God sent prophets to the nation to warn them to tear down the high places of Canaanite worship. I believe that these days the churches are faced with similar circumstances and that God can use Christian novelists as messengers to alert His Bride to the need to reform.
“Art, though, is never the voice of a country; it is an even more precious thing, the voice of the individual, doing its best to speak, not comfort of any sort, but truth. And the art that speaks it most unmistakably, most directly, most variously, most fully, is fiction; in particular, the novel.” ~ Eudora Welty in On Writing.
All truth is God’s truth, but sometimes people prefer a comfortable fiction to an energizing reality. That puts Christian novelists in an uncomfortable position, which is exactly where God wants us to be. Telling the truth never endeared the prophet Jeremiah to his society and he was right where God wanted him. Why should we expect anything different? The hands and feet of God have always taken a beating for telling of God’s truth to the nations.
If writing a novel is about addressing individual truth, Christian authors might need to examine some of our “Christian” group-think practices and beliefs. I’m not talking about questioning the Bible. That’s the non-negotiable bedrock of our faith and thus we cannot take what we like and leave the rest. I’m suggesting we question our personal adherence to certain “Christian” societal practices that have far-reaching influences. When I ask myself “What would Jesus do,” I find my answers in the Bible and sometimes those answers differ widely from what the world (or even some members of my church) says the “Christian” stance should be. We’ve erected high places – idols – with the best of intentions and yet, these stand between us and God’s message and, for Christian novelists, our ability to speak to the world as God’s messengers. Finding those high places where I least expected them has caused me to question secular institutions that have become entangled with Christian group identity. Finding that many Christians around me do not recognize these institutions as “high places” has caused me to forge an individual path that rejects the goals of many of those secular institutions. To me, those institutions have become idols among the churches and I see it as my ministry to tear down the high places that have been erected. I do that through writing novels that show the reality of those institutions. Telling that truth through novel form can lead to controversy both with secular society and within the churches. I embraced that as God’s call in my life, as a necessary part of being exactly where God wants me to be.

Many Christian readers have good intentions when being nervous of certain topics. Certainly we never want to disobey God’s laws in what we write, even if it addresses a human reality. Neither should we limit our depiction of reality just because some people might prefer being blissfully unaware. Sometimes it seems like Christians must walk a slack line on some topics and it’s not an easy thing to do. But it is better and more God-honoring to address reality as it really exists than to avoid controversy for the sake of the world’s approval.
“You shall know the truth and the Truth shall set you free.” John 8:32

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Lela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan novelist who was raised in a home built of books. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artistic pursuits. Click here to read another one of Lela’s contributions, Let’s Talk: How to be a Christian Creative in a Fallen World.
“I don’t seek to be known as a Christian author, but as an author for whom Christ is so central to who I am as a person that He shines through.”

via Tearing Down High-Places — Christian Creative Nexus

Posted May 9, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Musing on Common Themes   Leave a comment

May 7, 2018 – 5. A list of books that inspired your stories or feature similar themes

If you have an upcoming book release, this type of content offers a way to mindfully position this book while also drumming up interest from readers. Try rounding up a list of books that share commonalities with the one you’re launching — perhaps they inspired your writing, or approach similar themes and problems. Does your book focus on a specific time in history? Recommend a list of novels set in that same period. Or are you marketing your book as a hot summer read? Include your new book in the company of other novels that fit the bill.

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5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.

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I’m at least three months out on my next book release, which will be Thanatosis (Book 4 of Transformation Project). Don’t worry, fantasy fans! I am still chipping away at Book 3 of Daermad Cycle.

So, I thought about books that might go with the apocalyptic theme. It was hard. So few apocalyptic books really focus on characters. It’s all about the Big Bad – the terrorism, the natural disaster, the biological outbreak that the characters are just paper cutouts to deal with — and so many of them devolve into prepper manuals. I started writing Transformation Project in part to redeem the genre. I wrote the books to show how it ought to be done.

Saturday evening I was thinking of not even participating in this blog hop because I just couldn’t come up with any books I would recommend — other than, once again, recommending William Fortschen’s John Matherson series — when Brad — who doesn’t read fiction — told me that Keirnan, our son, had told him about this book and I should check it out.

Loss Of Reason: A Thriller (State Of Reason Mystery, Book 1) by [Maxwell, Miles A.]In my books, New York City is one of the few big American cities that was not destroyed by a suitcase nuke. In Loss of Reason by Miles A Maxwell which is the first book of a three-book series, New York is the target of a nuclear attack. Ironic. But what brought me to the point of recommending it is that it focuses on the relationship of two brothers who are extremely different, but who both want desperately to save their sister who was in New York City when the bomb went off. And, that’s all I’m going to tell you about the plot.

It’s got a lot of action, but what sets it apart from most books in its genre is that it is focused on characters who are not major players in the world, but ordinary men who just get tossed into a situation that turns them into heroes. I liked it so much that I now will have to buy the other two books. Well worth the cost.

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