Sunday, December 27, 2009

Announcing: “Philosophy of Romance” Book of the Year for 2009:

“Autumn Rains” by Myra Johnson
Heartsong Presents, 2009, 172 pages

A Distinctive New Voice! -- ‘Romantic Realism*’

While “Autumn Rains” meets all the requirements of a genre romance**, it still reads with the natural realism of a Steinbeck or McCullers novel.

I don’t know if there is an official subgenre of romance called ‘Romantic Realism’. I have never encountered it in the literature. I checked Google and didn’t find an entry for ‘Romantic Realism’ there either. If this is the case, and there is no official ‘Romantic Realism’ subgenre, then I suggest that “Autumn Rains” is a logical candidate for being the first novel in this ‘new’ category.

As I turned the pages of “Autumn Rains”, I didn’t feel like I was reading a category romance. The story had the ‘look and feel’ of serious mainstream literature.

An Authentic New Voice

I found “Autumn Rains” to be the most distinctively realistic romance that I’ve ever read. Myra Johnson writes with an authentic new voice…a voice which reminds me of the first time I heard an Enya song played on the radio. Enya’s voice was so unique that I wanted to hear another Enya song right away. I felt this same way after reading “Autumn Rains”. I wanted to read another Myra Johnson romance immediately. I am very curious about what she will write next.

Myra Johnson is a very serious author. Her first published book, “One Imperfect Christmas” (reviewed on this blog) is an insightful look at life from the perspective of three different generations. It’s no surprise that her literary skills would be highly appreciated by “The Philosophy of Romance blog. “Autumn Rains” was the clear choice for our “Book of the Year Award for 2009”.

The “Autumn Rains” Difference

Examining how “Autumn Rains” differs from a typical genre romance is almost a study of the romance genre itself.

The title of the book “Autumn Rains” is significant. The author uses natural events,(in this case, the oppressive heat lingering well into the fall season) to mirror the conflicts going on in the characters’ lives. This is a literary technique that has been used by great writers like Thomas Hardy and many others. In the contemporary romance field, Elizabeth Lowell also has used this literary technique extremely well.

Naturalism – Not a One Time Event

I’m not talking here about one rain storm to reflect one scene in a book. I’m talking about an aspect of naturalism where nature almost ‘breaths’ along with the characters from the start of the book to the last page. This is not easy for an author to do and it is not even necessary in today’s commercial market. An author uses this technique to add texture and depth to the reading experience. It’s a sign the author cares deeply about her craft.

Tension and Resolution

When the autumn rains finally arrive, to end the emotional pressure-cooker of the seemingly endless summer, the characters are ready to simultaneously experience a catharsis of their own. These simultaneous events come at the end of a book-long buildup. This is very powerful writing. You’ll have to read it for yourself to enjoy the full impact.

About ‘Romantic Realism’

Romances tend to be idealized. I always know when I am reading a romance because my expectations are usually fulfilled. The hero is handsome, usually over six feet tall, he has broad shoulders and in most cases has a college degree or is certainly smart enough to earn one. When the hero and heroine enter a public place, other women are sure to eye the hero with envy. Difficult or unpleasant topics are usually avoided as romances are generally written to provide a comfortable reading experience. I agree with and enjoy all these romance genre conventions. Indeed, I’ve read and enjoyed over 1000 romances of this idealized type.

“Autumn Rains” is not Idealized

In “Autumn Rains” things differ from the idealized romance. The hero is just out of prison after serving sixteen years for manslaughter. I don’t know if he is handsome or very tall. I do know he has a bad scar on his arm from a prison fight. I also know he did not finish high school but did get a GED while in prison. His name is Healy and he is a real man with real problems and he is not at all idealized.

What’s in a Name?

As a reader, I was about to object to the name ‘Healy,’ (for one who tries to heal the heroine), as being a little too allegorical, like something out of “Pilgrim’s Progress”. However, the heroine quickly makes this same observation for herself. The author beat me to it. With everyone in her family trying to heal the heroine, I think it would be inevitable for the heroine to make this same observation about the hero’s name herself. Even in this case, the author couldn’t avoid letting realism win out.

An Agoraphobic Heroine?

The heroine, Valerie, suffers from a severe case of agoraphobia. She even fears venturing out into the back yard. This condition has gone on for years since her husband was murdered before her eyes and she was severely injured herself. Counseling has failed in her case. She compulsively resets the security alarm every time she enters the house – even though there are people in the house and it’s broad daylight. There are additional problems that I won’t even mention in this review. Obviously this is a heroine who is not idealized.

Very Difficult Theme

The theme of this book is so difficult, I am surprised that a new author would even attempt it. Of 1000 romances I’ve reviewed over the years, I’ve only encountered one romance with a more difficult theme. That book was about a beautiful woman falling in love with a wheelchair-bound paraplegic with no feelings below his waist. (I am sure that everyone who has read this book can easily bring it right to mind.)

Christian Fiction & Realism

To complicate matters even more, “Autumn Rains” is a Christian fiction romance. So how does an author make this difficult theme work, in only 172 pages, while being convincingly realistic the whole time? That’s a good question. As it turns out, the characters’ practice of Christian values is the force that enables “Autumn Rains” to bring a resolution to the diverse and strongly conflicting elements in this story.

A New Level of Christian Fiction

By design, “Autumn Rains” almost must be a Christian novel. I believe that Myra Johnson’s unique structuring of “Autumn Rains” takes Christian fiction to a new level.

The Three Levels of Christian Fiction

Level 1: is a story of good people who happen to be Christians.

Level 2: is a story of people who exemplify Christian principles by the lives they live. Because they practice Christian values, their lives are better or more meaningful.

Level 3: is a story that is so uniquely structured that, by it very nature, it has to be a Christian novel in order for the plot to experience a successful resolution. That is, the story is ‘necessarily’ Christian fiction rather than ‘incidentally’ Christian fiction.

I believe that “Autumn Rains” is an example of a level three Christian romance.

The Everyman Hero

The hero is a good man who makes me think of Mary’s Joseph: he’s not flashy, not glorified, just a dependable honest man. The actions that the hero takes, in order to help others who are in trouble, are totally consistent with his past life and his future aspirations. You can’t read “Autumn Rains” without admiring the hero. This admiration is well earned. It is not idealized.

The Everywoman Heroine

The heroine is emotionally damaged and yet she’s such a worthy individual, (who has suffered so much), that the reader will ‘feel’ a vicarious victory with every painful step she takes towards recovery. Valerie is real and may be the least idealized heroine I’ve read in the romance literature.

Realism Enhances the Enjoyment

When a romance makes you feel good in situations in which you expect to feel good, the experience is enjoyable. However, when a realistic novel makes you feel good in situations where you did not expect to feel good, then the reading enjoyment is compounded. It’s a richer, more rewarding, experience.

Try a New Reading Experience

If you have yet to read a realistic romance like “Autumn Rains”, I suggest you read this book. I found the difference between reading “Autumn Rains” and a traditional romance, similar to the difference monaural music and stereo. Of course, this difference will never be more pronounced than it was for me during this ‘first time’ encounter with Romantic Realism.

What about the HEA?

One could well ask how does a realistic author handle the HEA: the Happily Ever After? Realism is realism. How many HEAs are there in real life?

In nearly all the traditional romances I’ve read in the past, I’ve vicariously enjoyed the HEA along with the hero and heroine. That is, the HEA was something I would have liked to experience for myself.

The HEA in “Autumn Rains”

The HEA in “Autumn Rains” seemed different to me. It is not an HEA I would prefer to experience for myself. However, it is the HEA that the characters in the story would want to experience for themselves. This fact is evident in the epilogue which takes place a full ten years later. Ten years is a very long time for a traditional romance to wait before the epilogue begins. Too many bad things could have happened in ten years. I’m not even sure that the romantic part of me even wants to know what happens ten years after a romance story ends. Yet, I believe that this long wait and what happens in the meantime is part of the “Autumn Rains” realistic charm.

Many Excellent Christian Secondary Characters

There are many good Christian characters in “Autumn Rains”. There are also some Christians that are not so good. Even the good Christians have their faults. Just the same, all the characters play an important role in demonstrating Christian values. Even more, they do this without preaching to the reader. I hate to be preached to in a Christian novel. (I’ll read sermons if I want to be preached to.)

“Autumn Rains” is the most authentic Christian qua Christian romance that I’ve read.

“Book of the Year” 2009

The Philosophy of Romance, ‘Book of the Year’ is awarded to the best Romance book. The fact that “Autumn Rains” is also a work of Christian fiction is just a bonus.

Look for more Awards in 2010

I expect “Autumn Rains” to be nominated for other ‘Book of the Year’ awards in the months ahead. For maximum enjoyment, I suggest that “Autumn Rains” be read now. The reader can then enjoy watching what happens with the book in 2010. I know I will.

Is There a Future for Romantic Realism?

Will there be more Romantic Realism novels in the future or is “Autumn Rains” a one-of-a-kind romance? I don’t know but it is going to be interesting to find out.


*I would tentatively define ‘Romantic Realism’ as a subgenre of romance that:

1. features a non-idealized hero and heroine
2. avoids romantic clichés and stock situations (e.g., toes curling, knees turning to jelly, whisper soft kisses, etc.)
3. avoids standard romantic themes (like: hidden child, marriage of convenience, mail order bride, runaway bride, etc.)
4. tends to be perceived by readers as being mainstream love stories rather than category romances.
5. may have a more realistic HEA that the reader feels less happy about than the characters do.

**A romance is a story with its central focus on the process of two individuals falling in love and which ends happily with a marriage or the expectation of a marriage in the near future.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Philosophical Problem with ‘Writing Rules’

How the Big Picture is Often Obscured by ‘Rules of Thumb’

A thumb is a very useful thing to have on your hand. A writing ‘rule of thumb’ can also be very useful to an author. But no one would want ten thumbs! Being useful and being true can be two different things.

An author is creating a ‘reading experience’ just as a composer is creating a ‘listening experience’. Both the author and the composer must consider how their individual actions impact the total experience being created.

When I read a writing ‘rule of thumb’ like “change all ‘telling’ to ‘showing’” or “add conflict (or tension) to every sentence” the philosopher in me just cringes.

When I read that conflict is what keeps a reader reading and when things are going smoothly for the characters that the writing is boring, I want to shout: No, No, No! I don’t even believe this is true for a suspense novel.

Can you imagine a symphony where all you hear is tension and conflict, measure for measure, until the climax of the piece? It would be hell.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167

There are also more ways to keep a reader’s interest other than conflict and tension. In fact, the reader can be kept turning pages as long as she is being rewarded for reading.

Such rewards are many.

The author can provide fascinating information, stress relieving humor, interesting insights, heartwarming resolutions to minor conflicts, and the discovery of new feelings. The reader can enjoy the author’s poetic beauty as a character describes seeing the stars of the southern hemisphere for the first time while camping in the Australian Outback. There’s charm, surprise, delight, and wonder. The writer has no fewer instruments of interest in her pen than the conductor has instruments in his orchestra.

Now, conflict is good and it works well to keep a reader’s interest. However, I think putting conflict in every sentence is like using a hammer at every stage when building a house.

Rules of thumb are limiting by their very nature. That is, “do it this way and you’ll be OK.” You give up the beauty of complexity for the safety of simplicity.

The author should consider the total ‘reading experience’ and judge each action on how that ‘reading experience’ will be impacted. When it makes sense to add conflict, then add conflict. When it helps to change ‘telling’ to ‘showing’, then make the change. The problem lies when an author makes every rule of thumb change thinking it will produce a better story.

An author should be able to step back, see the total picture, and think in terms of the reading experience and not worry if she has followed every rule of thumb in her toolbox.

'Rules of thumb' should be taken with a grain of salt whenever they are not taken with a little more gravitas than that.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

“One Imperfect Christmas” … A Perfect Reading Experience!

“It’s Like Watching a Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie”
By Myra Johnson

Abingdon Press, 272 pages, copyright 2009

Simply telling what “One Imperfect Christmas” is about does not do the novel justice. It would be like saying that “Tom Sawyer” is simply a story about 19th Century boys growing up in the Midwest. “One Imperfect Christmas” is a serious book and warrants a serious review.

In good novels the characters change in significant ways as the story unfolds. In serious works, like “One Imperfect Christmas”, not only do the fictional characters change but the reader changes as well. This potential for growth in the reader’s consciousness is what gives great literature its universality and its timelessness.

Serious literature has the potential to impart experiences, knowledge, and sometimes even wisdom. More importantly, literature can enlighten the reader in a way which might not be possible in any other fashion.

Here’s what I mean:

Have you ever lamented: ‘If I only knew then what I know now’?

I think this lament is common to all mankind. The desire to learn from our mistakes, before we make them, is so prevalent that some have even said that ‘youth is wasted on the young’.

This is because young people usually lack the life experiences necessary to view life ‘now’ as they will eventually view it in the future when they are older (and hopefully wiser).

Why mention all this in regard to “One Imperfect Christmas”? Because reading this book reminded me, in a most forceful way, that there is a way to bring the future into the present. This can be achieved via the vicarious experiences provided by serious literature.

“One Imperfect Christmas” is serious literature. The situations covered in the story span three generations. Therefore the reader ‘sees’ and ‘feels’ the story from three distinct perspectives.

When reading “One Imperfect Christmas” the reader will experience what it is like to be a middle aged mother overwhelmed by the guilt and anger she feels towards her incapacitated mother while at the same time having to deal with her wayward teenage daughter.

The reader will feel what it’s like to be a husband who is trying to do everything within his power to save his marriage and help his beloved wife. And the reader will suffer his anguish when nothing he does works and when, time after time, he is rejected by the one he loves most.

The reader will also experience what it feels like to be the teenage daughter who has no idea of the depth of her parent’s problems. The reader will watch helplessly as this loving daughter tries simple and naive solutions to the complex problems facing her family. The reader will feel the good daughter’s sorrow when her ‘foolproof’ plans come to naught.

Life often does not provide simple solutions to complex problems. The reader will also experience what it is like being a helpless parent in her sixties seeing how her problems are causing serious discord to the ones she loves most. Indeed, the reader will feel the angst of being powerless to do anything about problems that seem self-induced.

“One Imperfect Christmas” is a drama that calls for faith. It is a faith based story that is full of hope and challenge. The story features a beautiful fifty-year romance and what might yet, with God’s help, become a second fifty-year romance. While the story has ‘Christmas’ in the title, the action spans the period between two Christmases a year apart. It is a timeless story that can be read at any time of the year.

The story shows that sometimes the stresses of life can be too much. Given enough stress, a personal crisis may cause even a well disciplined life to spin out of control. Since this loss of control can be hidden from everyone else, at least for a little while, the victim is likely to suffer without any support. Others may even think the suffering victim is causing his or her own problems.

“One Imperfect Christmas” is not always easy reading but it is always worthwhile reading that is both rewarding and heartwarming. It’s not easy because it is so true to life. It’s not easy to watch and experience the obviously self-destructive behavior of the mother who is trying her best to get professional help but who is too fragile to find traction. It’s not easy reading but it is always enjoyable reading. I loved every minute reading “One Imperfect Christmas” from the first page until the last.

“One Imperfect Christmas”
is serious literature. After reading the book I felt wonderful. I felt I had seen God’s hands in action. I also felt like I had done something good for myself: that I had learned things that will make me a more understanding and sympathetic person in the future. Reading “One Imperfect Christmas” was like watching a memorable Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. I believe most readers of “One Imperfect Christmas” will feel the same way.

I not only give “One Imperfect Christmas” my highest Recommendation – I consider it the Required Reading for One’s Christian Heart.

>“One Imperfect Christmas” Will Make A Keepsake Christmas Gift!


Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Kind of Writer Are You?

Do you Strive to Write Books a Reader Can’t Put Down?


Do you Strive to Write Books a Reader Never Wants to End?

First, before I answer these questions, let’s stipulate that all writers are trying to write both kinds of books. At least, that’s what they think they are doing. Along these lines let’s also stipulate that all authors write both to the ‘needs of the novel’ and to the ‘reading experience’. Now let’s look at the real world.

The difference between the “can’t put the book down” (CPBD) authors and the “never want to end” (NWTE) authors demonstrates a difference in writing philosophy.

The CPBD authors are very interested in hooks. Hook the reader into the story, then hook her into the middle of the first chapter and then hook her into the next chapter. This is pretty much a cliffhanger approach in which the reader cannot resist reading just a little more to find out what happens next.

The CPBD approach is dominate today in much of romance. Everything seems to be in turbo mode with action going faster and faster. Active voice, POV descriptions, no time allowed to savor the experience. We are told that everyone has a degree of ADD. The MTV generation can absorb 250 images a minute. Life becomes a three minute video.

Editors seem to want CPBD books. Readers pick them up at Wal-Mart read the first line of the story and are hooked into buying the book. This is very good for sales but is it good for the craft? What is it doing to the story? Does it produce a sea of sameness and a hollow victory at the end after the last cliff is safely climbed? I think so. Yet, the statements: “I couldn’t put your book down" and "It kept me up all night" seem to be the highest form of praise.

The NWTE authors write books that provide the most enjoyable page-by-page ‘reading experience’. They may reward the reader five to ten times on a page with writing that makes reading a joy. This is often done with humor or with splendid descriptions of exotic places. NWTE books are fun to read in their own right. There is not an almost mindless rush to find out what happens next. It’s what is happening now that so enjoyable. NWTE books can be put down to be resumed at another time just as one would not ordinarily eat an entire box of fine chocolates at one sitting. You want to savor the book because you know you may have to wait a year for the next book.

NWTE books have their share of cliffhangers and hooks. A good use of a hook is in itself a reward for reading.

A few authors who write great NWTE books are: Janet Evanovich, M.C. Beaton, Alexander McCall-Smith, Lilian Jackson Braun, MaryJanice Davidson, and Diane Mott Davidson. I am now reading “Petticoat Ranch” by Mary Connealy which I would also would put in the NWTE category.

What’s the lesson here?

CPDB books are in demand by editors and readers may feel if a book does not grab them on the first page, it’s no good. This is not a good development as many classics would thereby become no good. I wonder if we are meeting the needs of ADD or if we are causing it. I think the 'cure' may be part of the cause.

I also think the rush to CPBD books will be short lived. Like exciting fireworks.

On the other hand, the NWTE can be read over and over because it is not that important to find out how it ends. These books, the best of them anyway, can be much more enduring and are more likely to be keepers.

A compromise is needed in the real world. I would like to see authors write their CPBD books but also enrich their stories with rewarding features that make the reading experience irresistibly enjoyable. To this end I would like to see a lessening of hooks and cliffhangers.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Debut Novel -- Dreaming of Home – A Five Star Delight!

Highest Recommendation! Future Award Winner!

Dreaming of Home, Glynna Kaye, Love Inspired, 2009, 213 pages.

I enjoy reading debut novels. I search them out. There’s always the chance of ‘discovering’ a new Star! I also enjoy reading debut novels very carefully to see if the author is doing anything especially well and original that I could incorporate into my own writing.

With “Dreaming of Home” I think I’ve ‘discovered’ a rising star. I say this because there is a lot to like in Glynna Kaye’s work.

Stellar Inspirational Content!

“Dreaming of Home” provides a truly inspirational reading experience. The emotions are genuine and heartfelt. This is because the inspirational impact arises internally from the unfolding of the story itself.

This is very hard to do well. Too often, with Inspirational novels, the inspirational content is added to the story to meet publisher guidelines. In such romances characters are prone to 'talk to' God in italic type every so many pages as if this inspirational content were a jacket put on the body of the story. A jacket I might add which could easily be removed without doing an injustice to the novel. (This tendency is most pronounced in Inspirational Suspense novels where action has to be given top billing.)

In “Dreaming of Home” the inspirational content is so well integrated into the story that I felt its impact immediately on the first page and continued to experience the warm genuine inspirational feelings throughout the entire novel. “Dreaming of Home” is how to write an inspirational novel. Here’s an example of what I mean:

“What a place. She could almost feel God’s peace penetrating her heart. Her mind. Her soul. Even when in desperate need, how often had she passed up opportunities to settle down and let God fill her with his presence? She didn’t have to come to a place like this to find him. She only had to get still, wherever she might be, and allow God to find her. P.130

The whole book displays this degree of spiritual sensitivity. If you like inspirational romances, as I do, then “Dreaming of Home” is a five star delight.

Stellar Use of Conflict!

“Dreaming of Home” demonstrates a masterful use of conflict. From the first page the conflict is ever-present and continually unfolding. The conflict progresses organically from prior events that arise internally from the story. The tension is like water under high pressure which is prone to burst forth at any time at any weak point. The pressure just grows and grows from the story itself as if it were a living thing. This tension grabs the reader’s interest and almost turns the pages by itself

For example, it is always iffy whether the hero and heroine can ever find common ground. The hero and heroine want the same job, the same house, and both are not ready (for their own reasons), to form a relationship.

I find this ever-present and ever-growing use of conflict to be very unusual and difficult to execute. 'How-to' writing books often give advice calling for three acts with choke points of no return— these points of conflict often are the result of external events. This is not bad advice, however,if you read a lot of romances you can often see these events coming. External events can seem artificial.

“Dreaming of Home” happens more like real life. This provides a more vivid reading experience which will be noticed when reading the story.

“Dreaming of Home” is well wroth reading.

Stellar Sensitivity!

The sincere inspirational content and expert use of conflict is enhanced many times over by the exquisite sensitivity of the writing. The plot involves cancer and the recurrence of cancer and the writing resonates so deeply, that I just concluded that these passages could not simply be fiction. I felt that the author must have had these same feelings. I was not surprised therefore that in the afterward the author wrote:

“I have faced a time of uncertain health issues myself, so I know what it’s like to choose to trust God.”

“Dreaming of Home” is about as good a debut novel as can be written.

Here is a little information about the story. The hero is Joe Diaz, the heroine, Meg McGuire. The story takes place in Canyon Springs, Arizona which is a mile high small community in Ponderosa Pine country in northern Arizona. The location is drawn beautifully and actually takes on the importance of a major character.

Highest Recommendation! Future Award Winner!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Are You Hooked on Hooks?

You Can’t Hang A Novel On Hooks

I’m not a big fan of hooks. In fact, to the degree that a hook seems contrived to the reader, to that same degree the book is weakened. A hook should not be there simply because a hook is considered necessary by the author. A hook that attracts a reader into a story only to blend into an unexciting narrative will only alienate the reader.

An unjustified hook is like an advertising headline that promises “FREE MEDICINE” only to later in the body copy disclose that the shipping and handling chargers are actually higher than the medicine is worth. Consumers would resent this and so will romance readers.

Rules for Hooks

1. The story premise should be strong enough that employing hooks are not necessary.
2. The narrative copy should be strong enough to insure reader interest.
3. There should be a multilayered ongoing series of anticipatory events (AEs) that continually reward the reader for turning the pages. These AEs should include short term AEs which resolve in a few pages, intermediate AEs which take a chapter or so to resolve, and longer term AEs which take several chapters to resolve.

Now, after the above conditions are satisfied, then an opening first chapter hook may be advantageous. This also applies to an end of chapter hook leading into the next chapter. However, one should first strive to write in a way that renders hooks unnecessary to insure reader interest.

You can’t hang a complete novel on a hook or even a series of hooks.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Totally Addictive! Delightfully Unpredictable!

Real World’ Christian Fiction…

Staunchly Traditional…Boldly Passionate

Five Star Excellence!

A Passion Most Pure”, First Book in the “Daughters of Boston” Series 
Julie Lessman, 
Revell, Copyright 2008, 477 pages

“A Passion Most Pure” is a big book -- bursting with surprises page after page. Every time I thought I knew where the story was headed, the story changed again. I’ve reviewed over 1,000 romances and none of them adequately prepared me for the “Daughter’s of Boston” series.

Christian Romance with a Difference

“A Passion Most Pure” is a Christian romance with an importance difference. The men and women featured are ‘Real World’ Christians. These are Christians with heated passions, facing genuine temptations, who still, with the power of their faith, manage to do the right thing. Some reviewers may call this ‘edgy’. I call it “Real World” Christian fiction.

Learning from Four Generations

In “A Passion Most Pure” the reader meets four generations of the same family. Each generation faces a different set of challenges and yet each demonstrates the rewards of living a principled Christian life.

A Moral Compass that Never Preaches

While “A Passion Most Pure” never preaches to the reader, it does mirror the kind of moral behavior that Christians will appreciate. This is an important Christian book. There are many inspiration romances that tell the story of Christians who find love. “A Passion Most Pure” goes further than this by showing how God’s love and living the authentic Christian life provides the grace to be fully human and fully alive.

Young Adults Will Love This Book, Too!

Young adults especially will find this book fascinating. As the story opens, in the summer of 1916, the ‘heroines’ are just 16 and 18 years old. I say, ‘heroines’ because the reader can not be sure just who the heroine of the story really is -- nor can the reader be certain who the hero will eventually turn out to be!

A Delightful Challenge to Romance Fans!

“A Passion Most Pure” poses a delightful challenge to romance fans who have been conditioned to anticipate predictable happy endings. The reader simply has to wait until the final curtain before the uncertainties raised in “A Passion Most Pure” are resolved. These uncertainties make the story more like real life and less like fiction.

Expect the Unexpected!

Be prepared to expect the unexpected. “A Passion Most Pure” is challenging. Even though the book is 477 pages long, the reader won’t encounter a typically slow ‘falling-in-love’ episode. As early as page one, both ‘heroines’ have been in love with the same hero for many years.

A Timeless Tale

You might wonder how a story with such young heroines can capture the interest of a mature reader. That’s easy. In addition to being a boldly passionate romance, “A Passion Most Pure” is also the story of an extended family. Featured are many characters of different ages who are living a purposeful Christian life. There are the young lovers to be sure, but there is also the continuing, lifelong, romance of parents, grandparents, and there’s even a great-grandparent. The reader experiences many different challenges that a Christian faces at each stage of life. This is a theme that is universal and timeless.

Two Sisters in Turmoil

“Sisters are overrated,” the book begins. These may be the most foretelling three words I’ve ever read to begin a romance. For “A Passion Most Pure” involves two sisters in competition for the same things: the love of their father and the love of the same man. The story visits three countries: America, Ireland, and France. The reader can actually ‘feel’ World War I approaching as the news reverberates through the hearts and minds of two of the main characters: newsmen on the Boston Herald.

The Horror & Absurdity of Trench Warfare

The exceptional skill of the author becomes evident in her portrayal of WWI trench warfare. In very few words the reader sees, feels, smells and experiences the sudden terror and acute boredom of life in the trenches. Soldiers watch their comrades die of disease and shrapnel wounds during the day. Then at night they visit Paris night clubs. The futility and absurdity of WWI trench warfare (near Paris) is captured in amazingly few words.

A Most Wonderful & Worthwhile Book

“A Passion Most Pure” is a most wonderful and worthwhile book for readers of all ages. While I wouldn’t expect a young person to grasp every experience of value “A Passion Most Pure” offers, I believe it is a book readers will carry in their hearts for a long time – perhaps even for a lifetime.

More Blessings to Come

If you love “A Passion Most Pure” as much as I do, then you’ll be glad to know there are two more books in the “Daughters of Boston” series: “A Passion Redeemed” and “A Passion Denied”. These are available right now.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Clarion Call for a new Christian Sub-Genre?

Real World’ Christian Fiction…

Where Faith Comes Alive and Christians Live like Real People

Five Star Excellence!

”Stop! I’m too young to hear this.”

“Faith shot her a cockeyed grin. ‘No. You’re not. It’s about time you hear about the real world instead of what you read in those books.’ ”
A Passion Denied, Pages 1947-1948 in extra large type pagination, Adobe format, eBook.

With the above quote, Julie Lessman may have defined a new sub-genre of ‘Real World’ Christian inspirational fiction. Some call this budding sub-genre ‘edgy’ Christian fiction on the assumption that the writing is right on the ‘edge’ of being rejected by traditional Christian inspirational publishers. This is certainly true of many Christian publishers but “A Passion Denied” is not edgy in terms of the ordinary use of the language.

‘Edgy’ is as ‘Edgy’ Does

How edgy can a book be if I would gladly give it to my thirteen and fourteen year old daughters in the hope that they would read and learn from the experience?

How edgy is a book that espouses abstinence before marriage and even advocates the avoidance of the ‘occasion of sin’? As my old fifth grade teacher, Sister Mary Alice, used to say, “Christians should not lead themselves into temptation.” Avoiding the occasion of sin does abstinence one better. I would love it if all teenagers would read “A Passion Denied”.

How edgy is a book that does not even use one off-color word in its many hundreds of pages?

‘Edgy’ as ‘Jargon’

I believe the term ‘edgy’ is insider jargon which makes it seem to the layman that if the book took one step further it would descend into a sea of perdition.

For me, the term ‘edgy’ means ‘Real World’ fiction – that is, as far as any fiction can be ‘real world’.

What Counts as ‘Edgy’?

What exactly is ‘edgy’ about ‘edgy’ Christian fiction?

Using “A Passion Denied” as an example, I found the below features to be ‘edgy’ when compared to the over 100 ‘non-edgy’ Christian Inspiration books I have already read.

“Edgy” Elements:

1. The characters talk about sex. Some talk a lot about sex. For example, soon to be married sisters ask their married sisters about sex. Young wives, who want to have babies, talk about sex. Wives of all ages talk about too much and too little sex. These are real world conversations.

2. The hero and heroine share a deep, passionate, kiss – however, one or both quickly becomes aware of how these aroused emotions could overpower their better judgment and lead to sin. Thus they withdraw from what they know to be the ‘occasion of sin’. This element carries a very strong moral lesson. A young man may be a firm believer in abstinence but if he is fond of petting in the backseat of his car, abstinence will be the last thing on his mind. Again, we are talking ‘real world’ here.

3. In “A Passion Denied” wives are not above using their feminine wiles and even seduction to bring their husbands to their way of thinking. Well, welcome to the real world.

4. “A Passion Denied” also avoids the almost inevitable clichés found in typical Christian fiction. In the over 100 Christian Inspirational novels that I have read so far, the answers provided for why ‘bad things happen to good people’, (as in the death of a good person), always goes: “Gods ways are not our ways,” or “all things happen for the best”, or “the loved one is now in a better place.” The above explanations express fine sentiments but they show little insight or any genuine effort at understanding the complexity of the theological problems involved. I’ve never seen an original attempt at providing a deeper explanation for these serious questions in my reading of Christian Inspirational novels until I read “A Passion Denied”.

I didn’t find any clichés in “A Passion Denied”. The moral problems which the characters experienced were treated with genuine thought. The conversations between the priest, Father Mac, and the troubled hero, John Brady, were in the category of real world, wise, counseling. The author seemed wise beyond her years. The priest’s advice was “real world” and worth reading and thinking about.

What I Found ‘Edgy’

I did think it was ‘edgy’ to have a character, the wise old woman, re-translate the word ‘submit’ to ‘respect’ in the Bible quote: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:22-24.

As a man, I like the KJV. However, this interpretation was very true to the character espousing it in the novel. Again, this is the kind of dialogue that you would expect to happen in the real world.

5. It would seem that Real World Christian fiction might render various Bible passages with meanings which not all Christians would agree.

6. “A Passion Denied” mentions actual religious affiliations! That definably is real world. In my over 100 Christian Inspirational novels, all the Christian characters were members of non-denominational churches. In the real world most Christians are actually members of denominational churches. In “A Passion Denied” there is no doubt that the south Boston, Irish families, were Catholic. In the real world of 1920’s that was what they really were.

A Strong Christian Book

For all its real world ‘edgy’ attributes, “A Passion Denied” is a strong Christian book. It demonstrates abstinence, avoids pre-marital sex, and provides a healthy and even glorious view of the manifestation of physical love between a husband and wife. Marriage is a holy sacrament and the love within that union should be blessed.

The Honesty in “A Passion Denied”

If ‘edgy’ equates to honesty, then it was this honesty that I enjoyed most in “A Passion Denied”.

About the Cover Art

On the cover of “A Passion Denied” you will find this quote:

“This Isn’t Your Mother’s Inspirational Fiction!”
By Romantic Times Book Reviews

This may be true, however, the cover art could easily be your grandmother’s cover art. No doubt the cover art is excellent, indeed, it is beautiful -- but it sends the wrong message. What in this cover art suggests that “A Passion Denied” is an ‘edgy’ Christian romance? Nothing!

If the goal is to develop a Real World ‘edgy’ Christian sub-genre, then a new look and feel will be necessary. Just think about the unique cover art that current new sub-genres display. I specifically have chick lit in mind. Chick Lit book covers ‘say’ Chick Lit loud and clear even though books come from different publishers.

There needs to be a new ‘look’ – a modern look – even when the book is an historical. Publishers would be advised to cooperate in creating the same look and feel. Perhaps there could even be a logo as in have a drawing of the earth with a cross behind it rising above the North Pole. What I suggest is making it very easy for a buyer to identify the ‘edgy’ Christian fiction when looking at books for sale.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Test for Genuine Inspirational & Medical Romances

The Need to Protect the Franchise.

As a sub-genre of romance both Inspirational and Medical romances should meet minimum standards for fulfilling reader expectations. I’ve read 'so-called' Inspirational romances that were simply sweet romances with prayers added in italic every twenty pages or so. If you took out all the italic copy, you’d still have a fine Tender romance. The same goes for Medical romances. I’ve read one where if you changed the hero and heroine from being doctor and nurse to being lawyer and paralegal, you would only need to make a few hundred words of change in the entire novel. Everything else in the novel could remain the same.

The problem here is mis-branding the subgenre books. A reader who tries a subgenre book and finds it no different than a general romance, may not try any other books from that subgenre. This hurts the subgenre franchise. It would be like going into a national fast food chain restaurant for the first time and finding the food and service to be of poor quality. Would you really be likely to give that same franchise a try in a different location?

Here’s my test.

If the inspirational or medical components of the story can be removed and the remaining story still constitutes a viable romance, then it is not a genuine subgenre work.

That’s it.


Saturday, January 31, 2009

How Not to Write a Medical Romance

And Why Misbranded Novels Hurt the Franchise

I just read a bad medical romance. The story made a good tender romance but it was misbranded as a medical romance and was thus very disappointing. Since this book was issued in a specialty Medical Romance line, it could very well hurt the Medical Romance line or franchise with new readers. If this were my first Medical Romance, I would think that there was nothing special about the line and probably not buy any more of the line’s books. Fortunately, prior to reading this book, I had already read six other Medicals that were excellent examples of this subgenre.

What are the essential elements of a Medical romance?

1. The medical aspects of the story should take on the importance of a major character. If you can easily switch the hero and heroine from being doctors to being lawyers, then you do not have a medical romance. Instead, you have a general romance that features doctors.

2. The medical elements in the story should be detailed and accurate. The general reader should learn something he or she didn’t know about the medical profession or medical procedures after reading the book. This is what makes the Medical Romance a genuine subgenre.

So there you have it; just two essential requirements.

The Medical Romance I just read (and I won’t give the title as I prefer to review outstanding books and let the others be) failed on both counts. In fact, the story was even hurt by being a Medical.

The story opens with an industrial accident in which many people are hurt. The hero and heroine are with some other medical people when they get the emergency call to rush to the accident scene. However, bad gasoline has disabled the ambulances so they take their own cars. On arriving at the scene the hero and heroine, doctor and nurse, stop at the first injured person and administer first aid. This is a child with a head wound. The wound is not very serious but still they spend crucial time with the boy asking about his parents.

After this they go to the next patient they come to and start with the treatment. In the meantime there are very serious injuries going untreated. It is very possible that some victims are bleeding to death that could otherwise be saved with immediate treatment. I kept thinking “triage”! “Do your triage!” You always do “triage” when you reach an accident scene with multiple victims. Not doing triage is such a basic mistake it undermines the rest of the book. It would be like having Julius Caesar looking at his wrist watch before crossing the Rubicon.

In this novel, Medicine did not play an important part. In fact, it actually hurt the story. The heroine had given up on men because after her fiancé saw the very bad scars the heroine had on one side of her body, he was said to be disgusted though he tried to hide his feelings. He gradually backed out of her life. After this experience, the heroine never wants to let it happen again. However, she would like to have a husband and children. This then is the conflict. She is very much attracted to the hero who shows an interest in her.

The heroine keeps putting off the hero’s advances because she does not want him to see her scars. This does not compute with me. Of all the men in the world, a doctor who has seen a career of scars, is the least likely person to be disgusted by seeing her scars. I remember thinking as I read, “if I’m the hero, I would comment on the nice work the surgeon did after seeing the scars”. And do you know what? That is exactly what the hero did.

In short, the story didn’t seem creditable. Now, if this story was released as a general romance, it would have been acceptable. However, I feel that placing it in the Medical subgenre is a case of misbranding. Unfortunately, misbranding can create disappointment for the reader who bought a Medical to enjoy the subgenre’s unique medical elements.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Branding, Unique Selling Propositions, & Positioning

How Everyone is Battling for a Share of Your Mind

If you have a deep interest in author branding, it might be useful to consider that branding originally was designed to make your product identifiable to the illiterate population. Consider the barber’s pole. The basic idea is identification.

Modern branding got a major boost from Rosser Reeves’s book: “Reality in Advertising”. Reeves outlined the USP, Unique Selling Proposition. Example: Ivory soap is pure. (It’s 99 and 44/100% pure”). Dove soap is one quarter cleansing cream. To stand out it was thought that a product had to have a USP.

The USP concept dominated much advertising thinking until Ries and Trout came out with my favorite advertising book: “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind”. Both these books are very short and written so clearly that they were best sellers even outside the advertising industry.

The big idea behind ‘Positioning’ is that there is only room for one or two brands-- in any one category -- in a customer’s mind. It is also very difficult for a new product to break into the prospect’s mind after the first one or two get established.

Example: we may remember who was the first man on the moon, but how many can remember the second man? Some remember the first man to break the four minute mile, but who was second? Some remember the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic, but who was second? You get the idea.

This is serious business. It is very hard to break into a prospect’s mind unless you position your product in a category that is empty or you spend hundreds of millions of dollars. Therefore create a new category! Gatorade created a new category of drink. OK, now, tell me, how many other brands can you name in this sport’s drink category?

I consider ‘author branding’ to be a subset of the USP and Positioning approaches.

When you are doing author branding several decisions need to be made:

1) are you ready to be branded? Do you really know yourself as an author? Think of branding as getting a tattoo. It can come off but it is difficult and costly to do.

2) is your work ready for a large audience? Nothing kills a product faster than effective marketing because it gets more people to sample your product and they remember who you are. If they don’t like what they’ve read, you may have lost them for good. They may also tell a lot of other people that you are no good. It might be better if some readers actually don’t remember your name. (I just read a very bad romance and the best thing for that author would be if I didn’t remember her name.)

4) if you are ready to go ahead with branding yourself then you need to position yourself in a way to win a place in the prospect’s mind that is not already occupied. (I would tell real estate agents in my marketing classes to ask the infrastructure questions before branding themselves. For example, “Who is the best condominium expert in town. If two or three names keep coming up, then the position is taken. If no names come up or a lot of different names but no leader, then the position is open. (The infrastructure is made up of people in the business: real estate agents, appraisers, lenders, inspectors, real estate reporters, insurance agents, and so on.)

5) you need to develop a USP which is compatible with your positioning. “Let Our Condominium Specialists sell you unit quicker and for more money.”

6) you need to practice ‘fusion’ by making sure all your contacts with the public are consistent. That is, all your avenues of outreach should have the same ‘look and feel’ and support your USP and positioning.

One last thing: marketing is great and can be very powerful but it will not improve your writing. The very best marketing tool is to produce the best “reading experience” for your readers and leave them at the end of the book with a strong desire to run right out and buy your next book.

Can Inspirationals Be Too Preachy?

Should they be preachy at all?

Sometimes a reviewer will write that a given inspirational novel was too preachy. There are some fans who take offense at this because they think the word of God can never be too preachy. One blogger just wanted to know the difference between being ‘acceptably’ preachy and ‘unacceptably’ preachy.

Consider the Bible quote in Matthew, Chapter 7: “By their fruits they shall be known.” I believe one preaches loudest when one silently lives the model Christian life. That is, when one witnesses by example and not by harangue.

I think an inspirational should not be preachy at all. Consider this question: Can a romance be too trite? It shouldn’t be trite at all. I don’t see a need to be preachy unless being preachy is actually part of the plot.

I can even imagine a wonderful ‘Christian’ inspirational in which there is no mention of the Bible or of Christ. The story could be about a good man in a pagan world living an exemplary ‘Christian’ life with his actions being guided from an inner light. The story could show how this man’s example positively affects his neighbors.

C.S. Lewis wrote many Christian allegories that never mentioned Christ or the Bible. It can be done but you have to be a very good author.

The question could still be asked, what do you think makes a novel too preachy as opposed to acceptably preachy? How about if I put it this way:

You Know an Inspirational is too preachy if:

1. Parts of it read like a sermon.
2. Actual sermons are delivered which are not required by the plot.
3. The author takes insider shots at another denomination (like an attack on predestination.)
4. Self-standing Bible quotes are given in italic that are not sufficiently integrated into the story line. (Often the quotes are just there to turn a ‘tender romance’ into an inspirational in order to provide another market for the book.)
5. When on reading it, you think it is too preachy. (In this case, 'thinking makes it so.')

In other words, “walk the walk, just don’t talk the talk.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

Is “Show Don’t Tell” a False Dichotomy?

All Showing Is Telling

I have never been philosophically comfortable with the writing dictum ,“Show, Don’t Tell.” ‘Showing’ and ‘telling’ do not comprise a true dichotomy. Logically it’s like the statement, “Be a man, don’t be human.”

Why is this so?

Consider the two statements below;

All men are humans but not all humans are men.

All showing is telling but not all telling is showing.

For example: I can write:

“John left the room angrily.“ This would be telling.

I can also write,

“John stomped out of the room slamming the door so hard the picture frames on the walls shook for thirty seconds afterwards.” This would be showing.

But how did I show it? I had to tell you what John did. I can’t show you anything without telling you something.

Do you see? While I don’t have to be showing anything, I always have to be telling something. Even as an author, if I write a full page objective description of a sunset that seems like pure ‘showing’, what I am actually doing is telling you what you would see if you were on the spot and could observe the event.

I have read passages where it would be very hard to say whether the author was showing or telling. Why does this happen? Because ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ do not comprise a true dichotomy.

Why is all this important? After all, “Show Don’t Tell” is just a harmless ‘rule of thumb’. It’s not a premise in a syllogism.

My problem with “Show Don’t Tell” is that it is an example of muddled thinking, (good intentioned ‘muddled thinking’), but ‘muddled thinking’ none the less.

The problem with muddled thinking is that it can hide a deeper truth. There is something more fundamental going on here. Discovering this underlying truth can lead to better writing or, at least, to better writing advice.

The deeper truth is : Your characters need to emote. It is essential that your reader feels, to the degree this is possible, what your character is feeling at that point in the story.

I don’t want to be told the character is angry. I don’t want to be shown the character is angry. I want to vicarious feel the character's anger. I don’t really care how the author achieves this. You can show, you can tell, you can do any combination of either, but I want to "feel" the story.

I hope this gives you something to think about.

"Don't Tell, Don't Show, Emote!"

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eight Christian Inspirational Romances I’d Like to Read…

If Only Someone Would Write Them.

Not long ago there was a question on a blog about how Christian Inspirational Romances could become more creative.

Like a good philosopher, I approached this question by asking another question. “What Inspirational stories would I love to read -- if only someone would write them?”

It didn’t take very long using this approach to come up with eight stories I’d like to read. These are given below.

I make no claim to these story ideas and any author who wants to should feel free to use any part of these examples. I’d be delighted to have another good inspirational to read.

Example 1:

The Reverend Boy

When Barry-Joe was five years old he was America’s “boy-wonder” preacher. He raised a fortune at revivals and was even featured on the cover of Time magazine. His preacher father, who ran the traveling ministry, cheats on his mother and steals the church money. The ministry dies in disgrace. Barry-Joe is so ashamed that he hides his identity and changes his name. He still believes in God but is afraid that God is not very happy with him.

Twenty-five years later he meets the Mary Woods who is a new minister in a church which has just had a doctrinal dispute and is falling apart. He could easily help her build her church with his preaching and money raising skills but he does not want his past revealed.

Here there is conflict where everyone believes in God – it is the hero’s secret past that is keeping hero and heroine apart.

Example 2:

The Bequest

Two churches are fighting in court for a $1 million bequest. The woman who died, once attended both churches and the churches have very similar names. Both churches have worthy projects to which the money will be put to use.

Hero and heroine are on different sides of the issues. The bequest dispute mirrors dilemmas the hero and heroine are facing in their personal lives.

Solving the bequest problem will also go a long way to providing a key to solving their personal problems. This story should display a good knowledge of probate law and the court system. Here you have conflict while everyone still believes in God and wants to do the right thing. The dispute is about which right thing should be done. It is also about human pride and failings.

Example 3:

The “Preacher

Henry Hanson is a driven businessman who considers himself a far better preacher than any he has ever heard in church on Sunday. At 35 Henry sells his business, moves to a large country retirement community, and builds a beautiful church and makes himself the minister.

He gives great sermons but few people come to his services. The heroine comes because the church in near her apartment. She is a widow with two small children. She is not that welcome in the senior retirement community and is trying to get her kicked out.

She shows the “businessman-preacher” the difference between “preaching” and “ministering” by centering on the needs of his flock.

The conflict here is the hero’s confusion over “preaching the word of God” and “living the word of God”. The heroine helps him see the light by taking him to other church services and showing how seemingly poor preaching preachers were actually great ministers caring for the needs of their flock. I just love this heroine.

Example 4:

The Inheritance

Ted Martin inherits a 160 acre farm which just happens to have a 100-year old church on it that has long been abandoned. He decides to fix it up and use it as an antique shop. He is a fine furniture craftsman. As he begins work on the restoration people drop by and ask if they can help him with the repairs. They also tell him stories about the history of the church.

As the restoration progresses people ask if they could come pray in the church. Later an old couple asks if they could repeat their marriage vows in the church where they were married fifty years earlier.

The heroine is a historian who has a high interest in finding the hidden church cemetery. She thinks a famous person is buried there.

Conflict: here both the hero and heroine come to God as non-believers because of what they see happening in the restoration of the old church. As the building is restored, the lives of all who come into contract with the church are also restored. This story will have a very strong nostalgia element and a series of small miracles.

Example 5:

Heavenly Music

Marc Denison is a troubled veteran who hears music in his dreams. He seeks help and his therapist is so intrigued by the vividness of the dreams that he wants to hear the music himself. The therapist sends Marc to the Anne Wentworth who is a song writer, composer, and classical musician.

He hums the melody while she writes it down and plays it back later on the piano. The music sounds very spiritual so Anne sets it to Bible verses. She plays it in her church and it becomes tremendously popular.

The conflict here is how the hero and heroine come to an understanding of the meaning of this 'heavenly' music and how it helps heal the wounds in their lives. The hero is not a musician but he did heard the music in his dreams. There is something real here. Faith made manifest.

Example 6:

The Ancient Gift

Hiram McKay is a minister who receives a gift of ancient documents from a mysterious stranger who soon departs. Hiram calls in Carlotta Sardis who is an expert in ancient Biblical languages. Hiram’s church is in dire need of money and he hopes these documents can be sold for enough to save the church.

What Carlotta reads seems to be a “lost” gospel of Thomas, Jesus’ twin brother, and many of the miracles in the Bible are claimed by Thomas. Hiram and Carlotta argue over what to do about the documents. “It’s the devil’s work” says Hiram. “The paper and ink are authentic to the era,” Carlotta answers.

The conflict here seems to be what should you tell believers and what should you withhold for their own good. The underlying conflict is between belief and science. While hero and heroine have a very strong attraction towards each other, this conflict is keeping them apart.

The resolution: a Medieval expert recognizes the documents as a 10th century forgery copied on genuine first century scrolls. The forgery is still worth over a million dollars and the church is saved. “God really does work in mysterious ways,” the scientist heroine says.

Example 7:

Holy Zoning

A church and a neighborhood association are in a bitter dispute about a zoning change. Both sides have worthy goals and noble intentions. Hero and heroine are on different sides of the issue. Hero is the preacher; heroine is the social worker. Both think they have God on their side.

The zoning conflict mirrors spiritual conflicts in both the hero and heroine’s lives. In the dialogue it soon becomes hard to tell when the hero and heroine are arguing about the zoning conflict and when they are arguing about their personal lives.

The solution, a zoning board approved land swap; this comes as a surprise to the reader. This solution answers both the pressing problems of the church and the community and was the result of ‘thinking outside the box’ by putting the problem first and not just seeking a stated objective.

This ‘thinking outside the box’ approach also solves the personal conflicts between the hero and heroine. There should be a symmetry between the two problems. This story would really take great writing skill.

Example 8:

The Miracle at Saint Andrew's

Allen Sparks is a minister of a dying church in a dying coal town in West Virginia. Mary Beth Higgins is a fierce non-believing reporter for the religion section of a big city newspaper. She loves to debunk religious claims.

A statue in the church begins to sheds tears during Sunday services and the local paper runs the story. More people come to the church, see the ‘tears' and believe. The dying town needs hope more than anything else.

Allen maintains that this is not a miracle; that there has to be a natural explaination. A science teacher from the local high school cannot find any source for the tears. More papers pick up the story and more people come to the church services.

Visitors come from all over the state. The more Allen claims it is not a miracle, the more people belief that it is. After all, if the preacher is denying the miracle, then it has to be true because it is not being done for the publicity or the money possibilities.

Finally, big-city Mary Beth comes to debunk the miracle. Allen Sparks gives her full access and even tries his best to help her debunk the story.

In the end it is shown that there is a natural explanation for the tears but by then the town has been transformed into a folk art and local cultural center. The church as a thriving new membership.

There actually was a miracle within the hearts of the people if not in the marble of a statue. The town and church and the people’s faith have all came back to life because, for a short time, they all believed. They liked the community their belief created and they act to keep it going after the truth comes out.

These are eight story ideas. I hope someone can make use of some of this material. Good luck.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Why Do Women Love Vampires?

With A Review of “I Thirst for You” by Susan Sizemore

“Why do women love vampires?”

“How could a philosopher ask such a question?” you think. After all, “most women don’t read romances and, of the ones who do, most do not read vampire romances.”

O.K. What I should have said is “Why are ‘Vampire Romances’ so popular that they constitute a viable romance sub-genre?”

Could it be that there is a shortage of blood-sucking men in the real world?

No. That doesn’t seem probable.

Could it be the masochist thing? You know, that thing about women being natural masochists?

No, that’s been debunked. Have you read any of the Medusa books? Today’s heroines can take care of themselves. Besides, there already is a pure masochistic romantic sub-genre.

Then, could it be the ‘nurture’ thing? You know, the pop psychology view that women are the nurturers while men are the warrior-killers?

Well, there certainly could be merit to the ‘nurturing’ theory. Just think about it: how much more nurturing can you be than giving your life’s blood so that another may live?

Yes, but that is Romanticism, like in “Love Story”, it’s not Romance like in HEA.

Well, then, could it be that the men out there in the real world are so anemic that blood-sucking, non-human, creatures-of-the-night are seen as an improvement?

No, I don’t think so. Men do very well in traditional romances. Especially men in uniform. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a Maureen Child or Linda Howard hero?

You got that right.

But then a vampire can offer a lover eternal life (even if as one of the undead).

By the way, I’ve got “Undead and Unwed” by MaryJanice Davidson next up in my TBR pile.

“Undead and Unwed” you say? That makes me think: wouldn’t it be a real bummer to have eternal life and still not be able to find a husband? I hope the heroine finds a guy in that story.

But I digress. Maybe women love vampires because vampires are just better lovers. After all, they’ve had a very long time to develop their techniques.

I agree. It just has to be technique. Remember years ago on the fantastically popular soap opera “Dark Shadows”? The vampire on that show was old and ordinary looking. It was the werewolf who was the hunk.

That’s right. Quentin was the handsome werewolf but the women still liked that ‘Barnaby Jones’ guy with the fangs. It would seem that vampires don’t even have to be good looking. It doesn’t seem fair to us everyday heroes.

You have a valid point. But actually I think ‘Barnaby Jones’ was on another show.

It might be unfair but tell me this: how are men suppose to compete with ‘eternal life’ and centuries of experience satisfying the fair sex? A vampire can even offer a ‘HEA’ with a genuine ‘EA’.

Don’t be so sure! The ‘EA’ part may be possible but the ‘H’ part might turn out to be another kind of ‘H’. Don’t they say, “you can’t known a vampire until you live with him?”

I just thought of something! Do you think vampires say “As long as you both shall live” in their wedding vows?”

I understand they write their own vows.

BTW, how many vampire romances have you read?

Only one, “I Thirst For You”, by Susan Sizemore.

How was it?

Let me tell you now:

“I Thirst For You’
Susan Sizemore, Pocket Star Books, c.2004
(Originally a Pocket Book) Sony eBook format.

“I Thirst For You” is my first full length vampire romance. The book is excellent and I gave it 4 ½ stars out of 5. It is a contemporary romance with a modern day vampire who is only about 80 years old (but don’t worry -- he looks more like 30). He was captured by an evil and rouge government agency at the bequest of a rich patron who is very old and wants the vampire’s secret of eternal life before he dies.

The heroine is a commercial pilot who was involved in a crash in which passengers were killed. She has survivor guilt plus the guilt of being the pilot. She is scared to ever fly again.

At the start of the story, she is out in the Arizona desert 'finding' herself when the vampire-hero escapes his tormentors. The hero is near death when he runs into the heroine out in the middle of nowhere. He needs her blood and her SUV. He takes vampire drugs that let him exist in the daylight but direct sun is very painful. He really needs to be active at night. Given that there is a large force of dangerous armed men tracking him down, he has to hide and move quickly to get away. He takes the heroine hostage.

In “I Thirst for you” a vampire’s touch is highly erotic. Being bitten provides the ultimate in extended, erotic, pleasure. The vampire-hero has the power to control the minds of others. While the pleasure is addictive, the heroine can’t be sure she is truly attracted to the hero or if he is using mind control on her. The rest of the book is an “escape-thriller” with lots of loving along the way.

No human man will ever be able to compete in an amorous sense with this vampire-hero. However, P.C. Cast has a few Greek God heroes who prefer human heroines and who could give this vampire hero a run for his money.

“I Thirst For You” is a thrilling, fast-paced, story that will be read with great enjoyment. It is hot. XX hot.

Highly Recommended. BTW, there are more vampire romances in this series so, if you like this one, there are more on the shelves ready to read.

Susan Sizemore Rocks!


Friday, January 2, 2009

Can There Be a Philosophy of Romance?

What Would a "Philosophy of Romance" Be Like?

Actually, there can be a “Philosophy of Any Subject” that has sufficient complexity to generate answerable questions like the ones listed below.

“What are the essential elements of a romance?”

“What conditions would exclude a work from being classified as a romance?”

“Are romances either good or bad ethically?”

“Can romances be said to be beautiful?”

“Can romance, with a guarantee of a HEA, ever rise to the level of serious literature?”

“Is romance even a genre?” (After all, any other genre can be a romance.)

“What kind of genre can also be any other genre?” (Spy, Vampire, paranormal, historical, cowboy, frontier, science fiction, fantasy, are all sub-genres of romance.)

“Is romance a super genre or a more general classification like ‘tragedy’?”

“Can romances tell us anything about what women want?”

“Is the same romance a different book when read by a man than it is when read by a woman?”

“What is ‘going on’ when someone is reading a romance?”

“Where do romances exist?” (In books on pages of paper and ink or only when being read and experienced in the mind of a reader?)

“What do the best selling romance writers do that the average writer does not do?” (Can this difference be quantified?)

“Are romances really a consumable product more like food than a durable like chinaware?”

“Are there specific cravings for different romance themes?”

As you can see, doing philosophy is often a matter of asking the right questions. I have been doing a philosophical investigation of the romance genre for the last seven years. I have read and reviewed over 1000 romances.

Not only can there be a “Philosophy of Romance”, developing even a prolegomena for its future study is a daunting challenge. Romance is as big as life itself.

I see romance as the last great unexplored continent that is still awaiting serious study. Political Correctness almost prohibits any serious and positive academic study of romance. This is too bad. Maybe someday the “American Mind” will open again but I am not going to wait.

I am writing this blog as the last act in the long process of writing my book on romance. You may not like this blog. Fans often do not want a serious review of the genre. The romance genre is just fine without having to look under the hood. But philosophers look everywhere. That’s just what they do.
This blog might be of most interest to romance authors as they are the actual practitioners. I will be reviewing romances. I will be making comments on what I would like to see being written. I will even suggest new themes. Mostly I will be thinking out loud and having fun. I hope an inquisitive few will find this of interest and drop in from time to time.