Aug 31, 2010

The Restorer by Sharon Hinck (a review)

A scraping sound under the eaves interrupted me. For a second, I thought I saw something move in the shadows ... Voices ... seemed to come from the boxes in the darkest end of the attic ... In that instant the air became thick with pressure. My breath caught in my lungs. My ears roared as forces surged together under the eaves. The attic crackled with threads of electricity ... Then everything exploded.

Strange murmuring voices, figures in the darkness, lightning, energy, and then...
Susan Mitchell is flung head-first into a completely different – and very turbulent – world.
The first thing she sees, a fight to the death between two sworn enemies, strengthens the strong suspicion that she has finally gone insane. After all, for the past few months she has been gradually pulled down into a vortex of deep depression, fueled by the endless hassle of raising two teens and two toddlers. Manifesting doubts and fears about her once-strong purpose had finally driven her husband, Mark, to create an attic hideaway free of iPods, laundry, and fingerprint-covered windows.
Instead of calming Susan, however, it has just the opposite effect. After being flung through an inter-dimensional portal and meeting Tristan, whom she deems a murderer, and his mysterious (and rather creepy) friend Kieran, Susan finds out that she is evidently the promised Restorer, sent by the One to lead the people of the Clans back to Him. Understandably, Susan is a bit disconcerted by this information (okay, maybe a lot.) What is a soccer mom from suburbia supposed to do about the situation in which she finds herself – facing Hazorite armies, mind-controlling enemies, a power-hungry politician, and the gnawing questions that eat away at her soul?
This book was a very engaging read for me, with the combination of fantastic writing style, vibrant emotions, and stimulating theology. Sharon Hinck has created a masterful work using a palate of hope, love, sorrow, anger, fear, spiritual purpose, and a whole spectrum of others. The spirituality is accurate, but more importantly is deeply felt by the readers. The portrayal of the One in vivid detail encouraged and strengthened me to, as the one-word theme of the book says, Surrender. I found nothing offensive in the theology but rather felt impassioned by the up-close and personal view. Clarity is also a big plus for me in this story. The plot was easy to follow, meaningful, and charged with unexpected turns on every page.
What kind of read was it? Well, let me put it this way: I put it down at bedtime Friday night on about page twenty. I picked it up again Saturday morning and couldn’t put it back down until I finished it three hours later. Then I had to go and request the sequel from the library card catalog. Reading it wasn’t hard, but the reading level and vocabulary content were stimulating. It was long enough to give me a feeling of satisfaction and short enough to leave me wanting more. After the first few paragraphs I felt like I personally knew Mark and Susan, and a few paragraphs after meeting Tristan and Kieran I felt like I knew them as well. The characters are deep, colorful, and fault-filled (a good thing for fiction, since it helps the reader to identify with them – and identify I did. Kieran nearly brought me to tears.) The setting felt a bit odd at first, being a mix of sci-fi and fantasy technology (they fight with swords and have tech powered by magnets), but after a little while I got used to it. The plot is relatively fast-paced, but the events are clear and flow into each other nearly seamlessly.
In short: I picked up this book because A) the cover intrigued me and B) because I saw it on a friend’s list of the top ten works of Christian fantasy fiction. I picked it up again after the first read because the story and characters captivated me and couldn’t get enough of them. In my opinion, the series ought to be a lot longer than three books. The Restorer is a fantastic read.

I recently wrote this review for Into The Book, a team of Rebelutionaries dedicated to writing Christian book reviews.

Aug 25, 2010

On Unconsciousness (and falling into it)

I don't know about you, but in my current story (and in my next one as well, I imagine) I have several of my perspective characters [n. characters from whose perspective you write] being knocked unconscious. This happens rather often, but ways of expressing him can become extremely cliche. Sure, in the context of the story it's dramatic, suspenseful, and perhaps induces a bit of pity/sympathy, but how many times do you think you can use "everything went black" before your readers start to notice something?

Some authors I know of stretch the experience of being knocked unconscious into so many very looong sentences that I wonder if the character is ever going to actually black out. Tolkien, for instance, with Pippin in Return of the King. It takes him two whole paragraphs until "his eyes saw no more". While I don't necessarily have a problem with this and it fits with Tolkien's style, if I ever tried it the attempt would sound very, very cheesy.

Other authors will use a process of a few sentences, with the character seeing snatches of the world outside, possibly trying to claw their way toward it or willfully sinking, depending on the situation -- whether the character is fed up with his current position or wants to stay around to see what happens or possibly save himself from getting skewered, for example.

Most authors try to express it in two or three words, i. e. "everything faded" or "darkness closed in" or "blackness descended". While these are simple and effective, they are also used far too often.

Let's take a look at the last two, shall we?

I really think the "process" technique is good for certain situations when you want to prolong the experience and add more detail. If your character has been recently injured and you want to add some throbbing or whatever, now is the time to do so. If he thinks he's dying you can put in something about savoring life for a last, lingering moment. Try panic, fury, regret or cold acceptance for emotional detail.

On the other hand, the "phrase" examples are much more common and (as I have stated before -- maybe I'm trying to make a point? ;) ) profusely overused. While the "process" technique offers a good place for detail, I tend to think that the shorter version is a place for action. Unfortunately many authors who use this technique fail to employ strong verbs. Strong verbs are a must for any action sequence and especially one of this sort because it carries so much impact. If you want to use this "phrase" technique and you insist on following the template, go find a good, old thesaurus (no, really) and look up alternatives to the words already in use. Some starter words for a word like "fell" -- as in "fell into darkness" -- are plummeted, plunged, or sank. You could also try playing with engulfed or swallowed -- just don't use the same phrase over and over again. Variety really is the spice of life -- and good writing.

I tend to use the "phrase" technique for emphasis, with things like " slumped into unconsciousness" and "blackness claimed him" and, most recently, "plummeted into the waiting abyss". I've also read some interesting plays on the common template, things about black sparkles and fighting darkness (and losing). What kind of things have you come up with?

Also, if any of you ever decide to do stupid stuff like banging your head into a brass doornknocker (ahem, Sir Emeth) and faint as a result, try to remember what it feels like for someone who has never actually been unconscious, okay? ;)

Aug 16, 2010

First ever blog post....whee!

Well, here we go.
I suppose I should begin by telling you a little bit about me. Though, what with the profile info...forget it. Let's start instead by me telling you what you should expect from this blog. A whole lot of zany, very little sense, and perhaps some hidden messages...nah, forget that last part. Anything profound is about three miles beyond me.
Let's get a little more specific, shall we?
So from my interests (and those of you who know me and connect with me via facebook) you probably know a little of what you'll see here: epic music, story excerpts, conversations with the people inside my head, etc. I'll expect feedback from y'all in return, just to let you know. I'm always welcome to any sort of constructive criticism. So don't be shy.
I'll also occasionally be posting pictures from my excursions, whether to my backyard or to the big city, musems and such. the intervals between posts may vary from daily to over a week. I have a rather...erratic schedule.

Well, so ends my first blog post!