Sunday, October 21, 2012

Two Carolina Novels

Break out the broom, I need to sweep away the dead moths and cobwebs. My, I do let too much time pass before stepping on the porch. Two new novels written by Carolina authors brought me out on this occasion. They're not front porch fiction, but both are set in North Carolina, so who cares. Pull up a chair and I'll tell you about them.

Still Life in Shadows by Alice Wisler

This novel has one of the most intriguing covers I've seen, so it immediately caught my attention. As I soon learned, what lives on the pages within is as artistic and thought provoking as the graphics on the front.

But I have to admit the story was a bit different that I expected. From the promotional blurb, I assumed I would be reading about a man fighting against a legalistic establishment that forced others to live within its strict and solitary confines.

But Alice took a more focused approach by introducing us to Gideon Miller, who left the Amish order as a teen because of his oppressive, abusive father (who represents the unmerciful, legalistic order as a whole). However, while Gideon helps others escape that life, he clings to positive aspects of the Amish culture. This is shown in his love of apple butter and blackberry pie, and his work ethic.

Alice didn't stop there. After introducing us to Gideon and his desire to help others find freedom, she narrows the focus even more, asking the question what could happen to a young man suddenly thrust into a lustful, indulgent world after living in a sheltered environment devoid of Biblical instruction? From there, Gideon has to learn a few lessons about wisdom, control, and playing savior.

Readers will enjoy the story on the surface, but I recommend digging for the deeper truths the story tells. On a humorous note, I had a little fun while reading this novel. I carried the book with me wherever I went, and took pictures that corresponded with various points. The link is below. Start with this photo and click next. Warning: the photos contain spoiler alerts!

Still Life in Shadows Photo Journal

I'm reviewing this novel both as a paid customer and as a reader who received a copy in exchange for a review. When the novel released and my copy had yet to arrive, I assumed another reviewer wasn't needed, so I downloaded a copy to my Kindle. Guess what arrived the next day!

Freefall by Jodie Bailey
Love Inspired Suspense

I love stories with a romantic element, but I generally don't read Romances. I volunteered to receive a copy of Freefall in exchange for a review because the story is set in North Carolina and because I was curious about the parachute on the cover.

One generally doesn't see parachutes on the cover of Romances. I was intrigued.

As it turns out, the novel is centered around the parachute rigging operations at Ft Bragg, with a scenario those in the upper ranks should seriously consider. But the military slant and rigger operation isn't the only unexpected element in this story. Instead of a young couple finding their way to one another, the main characters are divorced, and their relationship is as volatile as the explosion that throws them back together in the first pages.

I loved the twists, some quite innovative, but I was dismayed when I finally realized the story was a suspense (clearly I did not pay attention to the entire cover). I usually read at night, so I avoid that genre, and sure enough, there were times I had to put the book down. *shudder*

A strong debut for Jodie Bailey.

Congratulations to both ladies. North Carolina should be proud!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cross Post: Short Stories Now Online

As I posted on my personal blog, Christian Fiction Online Magazine has graciously published two of my short stories, one in June and the other in July. Links are below.

An Ornamental Peace


Hear the Wind Blow

My thanks to CFOM! And while you're there, check out the rest of the magazine. There's plenty for both readers and writers.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Beach House Memories by Mary Alice Monroe

I have been remiss in my duties as hostess of Front Porch Fiction. I failed to report the release of a novel by South Carolina author, Mary Alice Monroe.

Beach House Memories is the prequel to Ms. Monroe's popular Beach House, a novel that transported me to the Lowcountry shortly after we moved to South Carolina, and to the shores of the Isle of Palms even before I knew where the island was located. The story of Cara Rutledge returning to the island in the midst of a personal crisis and finding the sand and sea air does more than call the heart home resonated with me. I not only got lost in the story about Lovie, a woman trying to reconnect with her resentful daughter, but I learned about the Lowcountry's part in keeping alive endangered sea turtles. An interest that remains with me today thanks to this novel.

Beach House Memories isn't a retelling of that story. Instead, it takes us back several decades to the events that eventually lead to Cara's departure and the secrets that unfold in Beach House. And knowing Mary Alice Monroe's stories, I'm sure it will transport the reader to the sand dunes and velvety air of the Lowcountry.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

More on Details in Story Setting

In my previous post, I talked about researching and using details on nature in your story. While eagerly waiting for another piece of front porch fiction to be released, I'll expand on the need for such details.

Shortly before his death in 1885, former Union general and president Ulysses S. Grant completed his personal memoirs. The result was a volume his friend Samuel Clemens reportedly called, “the most remarkable work of its kind since the Commentaries of Julius Caesar”. While some hailed the work as a military masterpiece, others found the memoirs engaging from the start, when Grant talked about his childhood in Kentucky and Ohio.

One element that makes the memoir so appealing is Grant’s use of description. Not just details on battles or politics of the day, but details on the landscape. And thanks to Grant’s care in including those details, modern day readers get a picture of the country as it was during Grant’s lifetime. Those reading about the US Army’s advance toward Mexico see a land south of the now heavily-populated Corpus Christi, Texas, as devoid of vegetation and lakes. The only water available, the water that pooled in indentations made by animals. And south of that, herds of wild mustangs the size of which rivaled the herds of bison roaming through the northern territories.

In Bushwackers, the true story of the war of secession in the southern Appalachian Mountains, William R. Trotter also provides similar details of the landscape, giving readers a vivid picture of the Blue Ridge Mountains during the Civil War.

The descriptions in both books weren’t gratuitous mentions given to show the authors' knowledge. Both men applied the details they provided to the events that occurred, giving the reader a sense of time as well as place.

While some consider this to be a fiction technique that improves the readability of works of non-fiction, fiction writers sometime forget to expand the storyworld a few feet beyond their characters. One aspiring author had her characters talking to one another in a void, providing little information about the setting around them. The scene could have taken place anywhere, in any city, state, or country, or in any era. Providing details not only helps the reader see “the big picture”, as with Grant and Trotter’s works, it also gives readers a sense of the character's life during the chosen time period.

How to research these details? For historical context, call or visit the nature sections of museums in the area, including museums of natural science. State and national park websites often provide information on the region’s wildlife or ecology, past and present. Other sources include state and local natural conservancies.Park rangers are a wealth of information, as is Facebook. Earlier today, Audubon of North Carolina posted a note that Scarlet Tanagers are back in the region. How interesting would a tanager or an Indigo Bunting, appropriately placed in a historical or contemporary novel, be in a story?

Then use the knowledge wisely. As Grant and Trotter did, weave details into the narrative, connecting it the characters’ journey. For contemporary stories, dying hemlock trees can serve as a powerful metaphor for the infectious nature of sin, or the fight to save them a symbol of redemption.

Whatever details you choose to use, give the reader what they want: a clear and complete picture of the storyworld. A grieving character sitting on a front porch watching a gentle rain fall on her drought-stricken hydrangeas is a far more interesting, and powerful, image than two characters arguing in a white void.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Setting Description in Historical Novels

I'm convinced setting is one of the reasons people like southern Front Porch Fiction. Small towns, old houses, and wide front porches still hold their appeal, as do Spanish moss and magnolia trees. These details enrich the story and the scene.

When writing historical novels, much attention is paid to clothing styles and fabrics, architecture and building materials, the use of animals and means of transportation. But some writers of historical fiction may view nature through contemporary eyes, and they miss the opportunity to give the reader a glimpse of the landscape way back when.

Cypress Trees  at Pettigrew SP, NC
Copyright 2007 K Buffaloe

While reading through a historical draft written by a friend, I realized Carolina parakeets would have flown through the skies in abundance during the time period in which the story takes place. Cypress trees along the coast would have been so massive, several people with arms outstretched and holding hands could barely hug the tree. In the Piedmont and coastal plains, bison would have roamed through savannas. And in areas where hardwood grew, the great American chestnut tree may have shaded large fields.

So when writing historical fiction, remember to describe the setting as it was in those days, before farming, development, and disease obliterated what are now artifacts in museums.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Recipe Time: Kentucky Pie

I lived in Kentucky and enjoy the pie that's served around Derby time, the name of which I cannot print without adding the little trademark symbol. My mother-in-law gave me her recipe for a similar dessert, but with the condition I not release it.

So how am I supposed to share the goodness with my friends?

My slice of the pie
Copyright 2012 K Buffaloe

Fortunately, someone else figured out the recipe, or a close proximity to it. The original Kentucky-served-at-Derby-time pie isn't a chocolatey color as is this pie, but this is just as fast, easy and delicious. Here's the link. Enjoy!

Corrie's Kentucky Pie (Paula Deen, Food Network)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Storyteller

This past week, I had several conversations with a dear lady regarding telling, point of view (POV) and distance in stories. And as we chatted, I had one of those monumental moments of clarity, and I was able to explain the difference between showing a story and telling it.

It helped that she is, I'm told, a fabulous storyteller. Not just a write-the-story-on-paper storyteller, but a, get a fire going in the fireplace, gang, and gather round. I have a tale to tell storyteller.

How did this lead to my monumental moment? Because, I soon discovered, she wrote her novels as she told her stories--with a lot of telling. This was the focus of the conversation, and the resulting epiphanies. Epiphanies I'm happy to share with you.

So let's lay some groundwork. What is a storyteller? According to Merriam Webster, a storyteller is a teller of stories. A relater of anecdotes. A reciter of tales (emphasis mine). What do each of these definitions have in common?


Not to say that's wrong, despite what we're taught. Sweeping dramas that occur over the course of decades and science fiction stories benefit from summarized telling. And telling is essential to bedtime or fireside-type stories because storytellers must fill the reader in on a lot of details in a short amount of time. However, in the case of the latter, the listener benefits from voice inflection, facial expression, gesture, and tone of voice in both the narrative and parts that are acted out.

Let's look at an example. In an episode of I Love Lucy, Ricky tells Little Ricky a bedtime story using these techniques:

Now imagine Ricky records that same story (in English) on paper exactly as he told it. Gone would be the awe and fear in his voice, and his skipping around the room as he showed Red's journey. Instead, he's telling the reader what Red is doing. When she's confused. What she said. When she's afraid. He tells it all.

Now, instead of writing it down, pretend he acts it all out. He no longer tells anything. No, "once upon a time a little girl named Little Red Riding Hood walked through the woods to visit her grandmother." Instead, he skips across the room holding a basket. Looks at Grandma with curiosity and points to her teeth. Throws up his hands when frightened. That, my friend, is a play. There's motion and color, and because of it, we're drawn into the scene. We watch the action, and then the reactions. We're engaged.

Novels are a mix of both. A story in which action, reactions, and dialogue are shown, but with narrative portions that either state the character's feelings and movements (frowned upon in this sensory age, but it still occurs) or serves as the character's thoughts and observation. In other words, Internal Monologue. The first informs us. The second engages us.

That's because the first creates distance and the second helps close that distance with what we call a deeper POV.

I'll continue that line of thought in my next post.

But before then, why is all this important?

This morning, while riding my exercise bike, I watched a recorded episode of Paula Deen's cooking show. At the end of the show, the scene transitioned to Paula's trimmed green lawn and big back porch. The table overflowing with food and fellowship, the colorful flowers, and the charming white railing surrounding the porch looked so picturesque and inviting, as the family enjoyed their picnic under the eaves, protected from the rain, I grew wistful, wishing I could experience the same.

It drew me in, and that would not have happened if Paula had stood in her kitchen and told us about that moment instead of showing us. That wistful desire to experience a charm lost in this world, and a hope for the future, is what readers want from front porch fiction. And that's what we need to give them.


Copyright 2012. Do not distribute without permission.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Tasty Tropical Treat

Before I start on The Storyteller, let's talk food. Food is an important element in front porch fiction because food is a wonderful addition to friend and family gatherings. While recently in California, I tasted this simple-to-make treat. A friend called it Ambrosia Light. I call it delicious.

1 can Mandarin orange slices
1 can pineapple chunks
1 cup coconut (I love Bakers)

Drain fruit
Toss three ingredients together
Serve chilled

Monday, February 20, 2012

Back Home

Goodness this place is dank and dusty. Time to open windows and let the sun brighten dark corners.

I'm sorry I've been away so long, but I've been grieving the loss of my blog. Not this one. No, this poor blog was pushed aside as I coped with my inability to update Carolina Towns and Trails on a regular basis. Thanks to ridiculous gas prices (it's time to start traveling by train) and distance from our current location, we're no longer able to explore charming towns, winding trails, and the unique geology and natural communities that make the Carolinas the special places they are. At least not as frequently as we once did. Nor take photos of it all. And instead of sitting on the front porch commiserating with friends, I sulked.

I've finally reached the acceptance stage so tonight, I clicked on the "Blogger" button on my toolbar and was pleased to see that while I haven't updated CT&T in over a month, people are still visiting the site and reading about outdoor destinations around the Carolinas. Salve to my Carolina soul.

So now it's back to writing. During this past month, I've taken my own advice and readied my work for contests, and while critiquing contest submissions for others, I found the subject of my next blog, so that's coming up this week.

It's good to be back. I've missed the view.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

More Grammar - the -ING Word

And I didn't even have to type up the post. Hop on over to the ever-helpful ACFW blog to find out what the problem is with those ubiquitous -ing words and phrases:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Writing Instruction: Genre

As I mentioned in a previous post, to determine a starting point for your manuscript, you have to know your genre. Shannon McNear has written a post on the subject. Click on the link to hop on over to a Novel Writing Site

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Preparing for the Genesis: Obstacles to Avoid

A few days ago, I offered cosmetic tips on manuscript presentation. Today, we'll discuss a few obstacles contestants will want to avoid along the road. This is by no means comprehensive. They're just a few techniques that can jostle judges, and readers, and possibly mis-align your entry.

And, we're off!

Every trip, whether it be to the store for milk or to the beach for a needed vacation, has a start, a middle, and an end, and a specific purpose. The same applies to a story. But as I recently discussed with a member of my critique group, determining where to start can often be difficult. To make matters more confusing, where you start also depends on the story's genre (Romance, Women's Fiction, Suspense, etc.) Starting at the wrong point can cause a story to drag, move too fast, or cascade into structural problems.

So where to start? A story covers a crisis in a character's life, so the time frame should encompass that crisis from start to resolution. And sometimes, a bit more to help set things up. Think of your favorite movie. Where in the character's life does it start? For Luke Skywalker, the crisis occurs a day or so before he's even aware of it--when an Imperial Star Destroyer captures the ship that's transporting Princess Leia, one of the leaders of the Rebellion. The chain reaction from that event literally brings the galactic fight to Luke's front door.

What would have happened if Lucas had started with Leia stealing the plans to the Death Star and then jumping into the ship? A far less powerful opening.

With Star Wars: New Hope, the story starts in the middle of an action scene, but that isn't always the case. In You've Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly's crisis begins when she strolls to her humble book shop one fine morning and discovers a mega-bookstore is about to open around the corner. However, the movie opens with her at home, talking to her boyfriend. All is calm, and we get a feel for her life and her character. This sets a nice pace for the movie, appropriate for a Romance.

So start in the right spot. To help you gauge where, look at the books and movies released within your genre. Shannon McNear has written a blog post on the subject, which is due to be released in the next few days. I'll post the link when it's available.

Changing Lanes

One moment, you're cruising in the right lane of a highway that's undergoing construction. Thanks to lane shifts and a confusing mix of newly painted and faded lines, you're trying to figure out where your lane is and exactly where you're supposed to be.

The same often occurs with characters points of view. One second, a character is walking down the hall. We read her thoughts, see what she sees. The next second, another character passes by and suddenly, we shift into his head with no clue how we got there, and we're looking at the world through his eyes.

Whether omniscient POV or head hopping, it isn't a good idea. Write each scene from one character's perspective. We see only what she sees, what she feels, hears, touches, and we know her mental reactions, and her reactions only. When you want to switch to another character's point of view, then use a line break and start from his perspective, or start a new chapter.

Officer, I can explain

We've seen it in movies, heard others talk about it, and some may have even done it themselves. A driver gets pulled over by a police officer and she attempts to talk her way out of a ticket by rambling on about the string of disasters that lead up to the infraction.

In similar fashion, new writers often feel the need to explain why their character is behaving the way they are, or what brought them to that point. It leads to a lot of telling and blocks of backstory, i.e., events that occurred before the story began. Camy Tang wrote a nice post on the subject for Seekerville. Thanks to her advice, I learned how to weave bits of the character's history into the prose instead of dumping it all in a block of text as I had been doing. Here's the link to the post.

So make sure the pages you submit flow, and the judges aren't pulled over while you fill them in on the character's history.

End of the Road

When we reach a destination, whether the store or the beach, we want the car to come to a nice, smooth stop. We park, open the door, and continue on with our life.

That sense of completion is fine for the end of the novel, but not for the end of chapters. So look over your chapter endings. If they wrap up nicely, or seem to be a good place to put the novel down, change it. Force the reader to move on. Keep the traffic moving down that story highway.

So that's it. As with the tips on presentation, advice listed on this page is also cosmetic in nature. A means of eliminating obstacles that may distract or stop the judges. Once the road is cleared, the time and effort you've put into crafting plot, characterization, and emotion will shine through.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Preparing for the Genesis: Presentation

After leaving the Air Force, my husband did a short stint at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (the PX and BX stores found on bases.) On several occasions, he had to set up displays that covered entire walls. And he did it well. The result was product placed in a functional, appealing manner that accented the store's decor.

Presentation is also important in manuscripts. So important, a submission's lifespan can be determined with just once glance. I once served as a contest judge, and within minutes of receiving my assigned entries, I figured out how. Certain formatting and writing errors indicate the author is new, or that they're trying to get their point across using simple methods instead of crafting the story. And if they're relying on gimmicky writing, it's likely the story has other issues. So today, let's cover presentation, and then we'll dig a little deeper.

A few things to avoid:
  • Typos. Yes, people submit manuscripts that contain typographical errors. They're in a hurry to submit their entry, whether out of excitement or fear. Points are deducted for such errors, so take your time. Carefully read your entry and check for errors.
  • Punctuation. Know it. Few will get it all right, but know when to place commas before "and", and when not to. Know what a dangling modifier is and how to avoid them. Participial phrases can be your friend or your enemy.
  • One space after a period. Not two.
  • Spell numbers and time. There are some exceptions. If you don't own a copy of, or subscribe to, the Chicago Manual of Style, buy one or find their website. Then use it.
  • Bold type. Don't use it. Ever.
  • Italics. You can argue that italics are found in published work, but if you're entering a contest for unpublished writers, avoid it. Weave the thoughts you're itching to italicize into the narrative. If you can't do so without using first person, consider writing the entire story in first person.
  • Speaker tags. Use as few of them as possible, and when you do use them, use "said", not rejoined, countered, murmured and definitely not, she laughed or she smiled. Even a fictional person cannot laugh or smile words.
  • Adverbs in speaker tags. Need an example? "I love you," she said softly. Again, it's viewed as lazy writing. If you have to tell the reader she spoke softly, then you're not showing it. Delete them all.
  • Lack of white space. Blocks of text are hard to read and it's a good indication there's a boat load of backstory in the pages.
  • Too much white space. Indicates a lack of Internal Monologue, a good technique that puts the reader into characters' heads and slows pacing. There are exceptions, of course. Times when you want the dialogue to ping back and forth, or to speed up the pace. The trick is to use these techniques wisely.

Check over your submission and fix as many of these errors as you can. If you haven't yet done so, read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and James Scott Bell's Revision and Self-Editing (Write Great Books), among others. Are you following writing blogs that offer instruction? Do. And join ACFW's January course titled “Avoiding the Mistakes that Scream Novice.”

Why go through all that trouble? Besides the fact that writing is tedious and time consuming, and like any craft, it takes hours of practice to master techniques, other contestants have followed that advice, and it's your job to beat them. And as they say, presentation is half the battle.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Preparing for the Genesis

I said we'd talk the Genesis contest after the holidays, so talk Genesis we will. I'm in the midst of preparing one of my own entries, so I'll keep this first post short.

When you're submitting your entry, follow directions.

Did your hungry eyes graze over that searching for something meatier? Then you need to go back and read that again.

Follow directions. Read them, digest them, and then when you submit your entry, read them again, one by one and make sure you follow those instructions. Don't hope your story is so great, the judges will overlook a few transgressions. They won't. If the directions say don't end the last page in the middle of a sentence, don't. If the directions say don't send a .docx, don't. Following directions will be your first line of defense in the Genesis. Failing to follow them can result in lower scores, or, at the very worst, get you disqualified.

So, follow directions. Another reason to do so?

Because someone out there won't.

Next up: Presentation is Half the Battle!