Sunday, May 1, 2016

Guest Post: Annie Douglass Lima Enslaves Us All

Hullo! I have the privilege of spotlighting a new release that I’m happy to recommend. Those of you who obsessively stalk my blog no doubt recall how, on January 29, 2014, I interviewed Annie Douglass Lima about her book Prince of Alasia. I was quite polite and praised the book for taking what I felt was a very predictable and even clichéd story and executing it well. I also questioned—
Now this. THIS is fantasy!
(Credit: "The Monster That Ate the World" by Tiffany Liu.)
simply for the sake of discussion—whether the book really deserved its fantasy categorization given that, while it takes place in a fictitious kingdom, there are no fantastical elements to the story, and it could easily have taken place during some vaguely medieval period in Earth’s history. Annie and I belong to the same group of Christian Indie Authors and she has brought this line of questioning up many times since to warn other authors off from being interviewed on my blog.

I didn’t read anymore from Annie’s Annals of Alasia series. Wasn’t interested. I liked Annie and hoped her books would do well but was personally underwhelmed.

Oh, but how that has changed!

Really, the reason I picked up the first book in Annie’s latest series is that I felt I owed her. I don’t specifically remember what for because she’s been a great supporter of mine, with a lot of encouragement, and even basically providing a free edit for The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living and Go Make Disciples (before you ask: I am paying her for her services for my next book!). When I asked how I could best thank her for her support and generosity, she asked if I wanted to review her new release, The Collar and the Cavvarach. I was happy to—but I wasn’t holding my breath. In addition to my lukewarm reaction to her previous book, I had gotten to know her as someone whose command of English grammar was impeccable. It was so impeccable, in fact, that for every proofreading edit she submitted that I gratefully accepted, I rejected two more, simply because I felt they were too formal for my casual writing style. I was a little afraid, in short, that reading this new book—and what the crap is a cavvarach, anyway?!—would be like reading a technical manual, or perhaps something written by Watson: grammatically correct but dull and soulless.

Have I mentioned how wrong I was?

I'm only willing to post this because my
wife doesn't read this blog.
The Collar and the Cavvarach was a delight to read. It transported me to a well-built world with fully realized, compelling characters that I had a hard time putting down. And, yes, all with grammatical excellence. I won’t make this intro any longer—my review is posted if you want to read it—but here’s the “too long; didn’t read” version: as I write this, I’ve already preordered my copy for the sequel, The Gladiator and the Guard. In fact, I did so as soon as I found out it was available. And I can’t wait.

And now I’ll turn you over to Annie. She’s got your standard blog post telling you all about it, and then an exciting excerpt from the new book…that I’m posting, but not reading. I want to be surprised. 


I'm excited to announce that my young adult action and adventure novel, The Gladiator and the Guard, is now available for purchase! This is the second book in the Krillonian Chronicles, sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach

First Things First: a Little Information about Book 1: 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).  

Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with "have a rack"), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

Click here to order The Collar and the Cavvarach from Amazon 

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through May 30th!

And now, The Gladiator and the Guard, with another awesome cover by the talented Jack Lin!

Bensin, a teenage slave and
martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused
of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early
death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue
him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment
designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his
choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty
of the arena system and
seize his freedom before that system crushes him?

Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard in Kindle format from Amazon 

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through May 30th!

Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard from Smashwords (for Nook or in other digital formats) 

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through May 30th!

Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and
later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her
husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at
Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since
her childhood, and to date has published twelve books (two YA action and
adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, and five anthologies of her
students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially
fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.

Connect with the Author Online:

Now, enter to win an Amazon gift card or a free digital copy of The Collar and the Cavvarach!

Or find the giveaway at this link:


To the right lay the main entrance for spectators. The wide walkway leading up to it was lined with banners showing Red Arena athletes in action, striking down opponents from other arenas or brandishing blood-stained weapons. At the other end was a smaller locked door, the one through which Grand Imperial competitors accessed the Competitors’ Cave.
Steene walked beside the arena building, looking for more ways in. There were no windows, only concrete walls painted with murals of gladiators in combat. Finally he found an unlabeled metal door with no handle on the outside, just a keypad and a slot through which to slide an ID card. This must be the employee entrance. He tried pushing it open, but of course it was locked, and no one answered his knock. A security camera was pointing down at him from up above; he waved and mouthed the words Can I come in? But there was no response, no indication that anyone had seen him.
Further on he came to a garage door big enough for a truck or bus to drive through. But it, too, was firmly sealed, with no visible way to open it from the outside. He found no other entrance in that wall.
Steene walked all the way around the arena toward the building on the other side. The parking lot didn’t extend that far, but a walkway ran beside the wall. There was no shade out here, and the sun was beating down on him from a cloudless sky, as usual in Jarreon. He wiped a trickle of sweat off his forehead, wondering if the gladiators trained outside in the heat or if they had air conditioned practice rooms.
At the back he found another parking lot, a much smaller one, obviously for private use only. He couldn’t get in, but through the fence he saw another of those garage doors. He knew from watching the arena games on TV and occasionally in person that visiting warriors from other arenas hung out and warmed up in this building before the games started. Perhaps their bus brought them in through here. But he still didn’t see any way that a person could enter without an access code or a remote control for the door.
He walked around the fenced-in parking lot and its tall, locked gate, then back around the arena to where he had started. Finally he ended up back at the main entrance, which he checked again, just to make sure. But the tall double gates that would open to let fans in during the games were firmly closed and locked now. Through the narrow slit between them, he could see a heavy bolt.
There has to be a way to get to their main office. That was probably the door with the keypad. Obviously Red Arena wasn’t eager to welcome visitors except to watch their games.
Steene stared at the building, which must house the training and medical facilities as well as sleeping quarters for the gladiators. He wondered how close Bensin was right now and what he was doing. What’s life like in there? How are they treating you? What kind of training are you getting? How does it compare to my training? Are they preparing to have you killed — or teaching you to kill?
Steene went and knocked again, waving once more to the camera. “Hi! Could I come in?” he called, just in case there was some hidden microphone.
No response.
“I need to talk to someone in charge,” he announced to the closed door. “How do I make an appointment?”
Still no response.
Out of ideas, Steene turned and trudged back to the truck. Well, I failed. Again. What was he going to tell Ellie?
When he turned the key, the truck wouldn’t start. That was nothing new. Steene tried again, and then again, but it still wouldn’t start. Now that was new. He tried no fewer than eighteen times, with exactly the same result each time. Nothing.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Guest Post: Frances Hoelsema Gets Mushy

Hey all! Brad here. I recently asked bloggers to help me out promoting my latest release, my non-fiction book on discipleship, and I assured them that I would be happy to return the favor when the time came. It's the decent thing to do, after all. Well, Frances Hoelsema was one of the authors who stepped up to help. She writes romance and asked for the chance to spotlight her Neighbors series on my blog. I was happy to oblige. Her post is below. If these books appeal, why not check them out?


Are you the kind of person that enjoys a clean, easy-to-read, feel-good, great-ending love story? If so, Frances Hoelsema has the books for you!

Genre: General Fiction/Young Adult/Sweet Romance

Growing_Up_Neighbors_Cover_for_KindleIn November 2014, Frances's debut novel, Growing Up Neighbors, was published, and since then has gained great reviews. From "brilliant" to "believable" and all the good in between, Growing Up Neighbors is a book that is sure to please. This is the first in what she calls her Neighbors series, a series of three standalone novels that revolve around a romance amongst neighbors.

Blurb: Little Deborah Harrington stared across the street the day the Michaels family moved in. Who was this family? Would she even like them? Nicholas Michaels hated the fact he had to move away from everything and everyone in his life, but his feelings change when he meets the Harringtons. Deborah and Nicholas become the best of friends, and as the children grow up, their friendship deepens. But when tragedy strikes, will this cause them to part ways? Or will it perhaps make them realize they may have stronger feelings for one another before it's too late?

When Deborah made sure she was alone with Nicholas, she started to talk to him.

“Hey, Nick. It’s me, Debbie," Deborah said, reaching for his hand as she sat down next to him.

"I came by yesterday to see you, but didn't get to stay long. I'm hoping today I’ll do better.”

She spent a few moments in silence with him, just being with him and watching all his vital signs. It had in fact appeared that there was no change, but Deborah remained optimistic.

Nicholas’ weak and lifeless frame still seemed strange to her. She had no idea how to handle someone who was in a coma or what to say to them. So she just figured she’d talk to him like any other time they talked.

“Your mom’s a mess, you know. I saw her today so that I could get some things to bring to you and you could see how worried and sad she is. She wants you to pull through this. We all want you to pull through this. I’m sure she’s been here to see you. At least I hope so. Has anyone else visited you?”

Duh, he can’t answer that, Deborah thought, feeling stupid for even asking.

Good thing no one else is here to hear me talk to myself.

After sitting in silence for a while, Deborah decided to give talking to Nicholas another go.

“So I have no idea what to say to you because you’re in a coma. Maybe I should just pretend you’re sleeping. Then again, I don’t talk to sleeping people either,” Deborah slightly chuckled.

“I can’t wait for you to wake up so I can talk to you about everything that’s happened lately. I want to tell you about my graduation and plans for the future. Or at least I thought I had plans. I’m not sure I’ll stick to them if you’re not well.”

Deborah sat still for a moment, thinking about what she had hoped to do in the next couple of months. Before Nicholas’ accident she was extremely excited and sure she knew what she wanted to do. She even had everything set in stone and picked out. All she had to do was wait a while longer for it all to unfold.

However, now that one of her closest friends was lying in a coma for who knows how long, she didn’t really care if she went through with any of it.
Hopeless romantics of all ages have enjoyed this book, as will you! Growing Up Neighbors is available in print and on kindle, all through Amazon. Just go to and select the formatting of your choice. As always, Growing Up Neighbors is #FREE on Kindle Unlimited! Can't beat that :)

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Next_Door_Neighbors_Cover_for_KindleMarch of 2016 marked the release of Frances's second book, Next Door Neighbors. This is book two in her Neighbors series. Although a new release, there has been great response to it, with one review stating they "loved it" and were "glad it ended the way it did".

Blurb: Elena Montgomery, an elderly victim of fibromyalgia, has two main loves in her life: Brian, her attractive and hard-working son; and Jill Stevens, her caring friend and next door neighbor. When Brian and Jill meet for the first time, they have a chemistry that no one can deny. Although Jill finds herself wanting to get closer to Brian, she believes she can’t. Being hurt in the past, she vows to remain single the rest of her life, thinking it’s better not to love than to love and get burned. Brian, on the other hand, wants to get to the bottom of her fears and show her that not all men are the same. He is determined to win her trust, her heart and her hand in marriage. Through pain, passion and pursuit, will Brian be able to prove to Jill what true love is all about?

For the few brief seconds that they gazed into one another’s eyes, Brian’s urge to kiss Jill grew intensely. If there was ever going to be a moment to display his affection, this was it. Brian slowly, eagerly leaned over to just inches before Jill’s lips, stopping just shy of delivering their first kiss. Excited she didn’t move away, he reached his destination, brushing his lips with hers.

Their kiss started off gently, softly. It was tender and sweet. The longer it lasted, though, the more Jill had melted into it, and the deeper and more passionate it became.

She needed him.

He needed her.

But a moment later Jill froze. The heat between them instantly turned to ice as she abruptly pulled away from what the two of them were enjoying just seconds ago.

Puzzled, Brian asked, “Is everything all right?”

She couldn’t do it. As much as Jill admitted to wanting Brian and as great as their kiss was, traveling down that road again was too big a risk. And with him leaving soon, she didn’t want to start something she could never finish. Shaking her head, she said, “I’m sorry. I can’t do this. I can’t allow myself to get involved with you or any other man again.”

Providing no other explanation, she completely freed herself from Brian’s hold and ran out of the room.

Brian followed swiftly while shouting, “But I’m not like…”

With the slam of a door, Jill was gone.
Next Door Neighbors is also available in print and on the kindle. Please visit if you would like to purchase. And, like Growing Up Neighbors, this novel is also #FREE on Kindle Unlimited!


Frances Hoelsema is a wife and mother residing in Michigan where she gets to enjoy all four seasons, autumn being her favorite. After earning a degree in business and transcription, she now gets the best of both worlds by working from home as a real-time writing manager for an international transcription firm.

In her spare time, Frances thoroughly enjoys traveling, kayaking, hiking, shopping and loving on her cats. She is also an avid reader and writer that loves to engage with others through social media.

Some concepts that Frances stands for are positive parenting, homeschooling, clean eating and pursuing a relationship with Christ instead of pursuing religion. She also believes in never giving up; that everyone should keep pursuing their dreams.

Frances loves to imagine a good story and write it to life so she’s always busy working on her next novel. If you would like to find out the latest news from her, please visit her blog at:

You may also connect with her on Facebook at or on Twitter: @FrancesHoelsema.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Foolish Fighting Followed by Fallout

Cover art. Cover art never significantly changes.
“War. War never changes.”

These are the words that greet us each time a new entry in the Fallout series hits consoles and
computers, and this leads us into our theofictionology post for today.

Fallout 4 is the latest in the series. It was hotly anticipated and shipped $750 million worth of the game in the first 24 hours after its Nov. 10, 2015 release. The plot this time around features a parent (you can be a man or woman) who survives a nuclear war by being frozen underground for 200 years or so, witnesses their spouse being murdered in front of their eyes, and is helpless to stop their infant son Shaun from being kidnapped by the killers. The Sole Survivor (ie you) is finally released from their icy slumber and sets out to rescue their son from the shadowy, robot-makin’ Institute…all the while getting distracted by private eye cases to solve, settlements to protect, towns to build, beer-producing robots to deliver, superheroes to impersonate and so, so, so much more. See, this is a Fallout game. I’ve recently seen people critical of this installment saying they only dropped 40 hours or so into it before taking a break. 40 hours. That’s not too shabby for a single-player game, and you definitely won’t experience all there is to experience in this game if you walk away then…but, in this series, people are used to investing hundreds of hours.

But that critical element has seemed especially noisy when it comes to this game. Patricia Hernandez, of popular video game blogging site Kotaku, concluded that, while she’s enjoying herself, it doesn’t feel like a Fallout game. The modern games look a whole lot different than the early ones, sure, but even earlier modern installments Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas (the latter of which has already been the focus of a blog post by yours truly) still let you focus a great deal on dialogue and playing the game in a variety of ways, but Fallout 4, while still maintaining a strong focus on exploration, doesn’t offer a lot of variety, unless by variety you mean “what weapon to kill other characters and creatures with.”

This is a series in which one of the installments let you confront the big bad guy and convince him to give up his evil plot. That’s right. A video game that let you talk your way out of a boss fight—heck, out of the boss fight.

But Fallout 4? In the Kotaku article I linked to above, the author describes stumbling across a track dedicated to racing robots. She got excited as she realized what was going on, as she heard the
Ladies and gentlemen, let me present Haley, my Sole Survivor.
The one in front. My armor is behind me and Piper is off to the right.
I don't want to talk about why Piper is dressed like that. It's decent armor.
announcer and began to wonder whether she could bet on the races and couldn’t wait to hobknob with the gamblers. But nope. The area was populated by bad guys and, like most of the game, the only option was to kill or be killed. I actually found my way to the racetrack earlier today, after I had already started writing this post, and I can attest to Patricia’s experience. I didn’t even know what I had found before people were shooting at me.

I’m still enjoying the game, understand, but it’s so much less than I was hoping for. The vast majority of the game boils down to “go there, shoot this,” and my favorite parts are without doubt the missions that deviate from that template. Doesn’t really matter what I want, though. The Commonwealth is a dangerous place, and I can be minding my own business, but if I don’t watch out, I might get my head blown off.

Sort of like being on social media in an election year.

Let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about the rage. First of all, I don’t like to bring much in the way of politics into the blog, but I’ll let you know where I’m coming from. I’m a political misanthrope. I pretty much can’t stand anybody. I don’t want to align myself with either party, and hate the two party system. I wish we could abolish political parties, and simply support men and women, finding out where they stand on the issues without a party line to worry about toeing. This would have the added benefit of not dividing us into colors, as people or as states, which I would hope would lead to more critical thought. I hate how much influence people like the Kochs have, as well as the influence
Be honest. Would you really miss them?
that Big Oil and other major lobbyists have in Washington. I think things are broken. Most of the candidates we see are too beholden to this broken system to have much hope of fixing anything. But, then, I don’t much put my hope in man anyway, and certainly not in politicians.

So that’s where I’m at. But it doesn’t matter what I wish for. What matters is reality, so let us face the fact that division is valued in our nation—especially every four years, but most of the rest of the time as well, except perhaps Christmas. We have decided from the deepest, darkest corners of our twisted, bitter little hearts that we’re right and everyone else is an idiot who really shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Fine. But that doesn’t mean we need to shoot first and ask genuine, thoughtful questions never. And especially not as followers of Christ.

There are some behaviors, friends, that we simply need to cut out. Not only do they accomplish nothing and change no minds, they are unbecoming to a believer. We are designed to stand out as salt and light, not degrade ourselves to the same level of enraged uncouthness as the rest of the world. Let’s aim to be a little more Christlike when it comes to:

1.                   Purposefully misunderstanding/misrepresenting the positions of those who disagree with us.

I'm just going to go ahead and assume that this meme
is the result of extensive research.
Memes are great for this. And by great I mean terrible. And I see it all the time. People who support Bernie Sanders are all unemployed and think that they’ll get free stuff without anyone paying for it. I actually saw a Facebook argument that contended that supporters of Ted Cruz believe he’s Jesus Christ Himself. And, yes, the “logic” was so convoluted that I had to put the word logic in quotation marks so it doesn’t sue me for defamation of character for its usage in this paragraph. #1) Can we be
honest that this is pretty childish? #2) When I see someone argue against a blatant misrepresentation of a position, I have to conclude that, at best, the attacker is incapable of grasping the original position. How in the world is that a good strategy?

Now, I’m sure some people genuinely don’t comprehend the ideologies that they oppose so forcefully. In fact, I’m positive about it. Most of these people probably just aren’t interested in actually educating themselves, content to rely on attack ads, soundbites, memes, and the angry ranting of other uninformed individuals. But…well, I hope that doesn’t describe you. And I have seen plenty of people who appear to be deliberately setting up strawman positions only to punch holes through them so they can…what? Feel smart? Attack the candidates they don’t agree with? Mislead the joyfully uninformed? Check the box of the one that should describe the Body of Christ.

(Okay—and are there Cruz supporters who believe him to be the Messiah? Sure. People can believe anything they want. But we all know that this does not represent them as a whole or even a majority, so a smug takedown based on a small percentage of supporters is not fair, nor helpful.)

What sort of complex is it where you considering yourself
smarter than everyone who disagrees with you ever?
2.                   Insulting others based on their political beliefs.

Calling names? Really? What good does that do? I’ve said this before, but I think that the devil is a master of distraction. So many of the activities and tasks that wrap up so much of our time aren’t
good or bad; they simply distract us from where our focus should be. I will submit to you that attacking others on Facebook or Twitter because we disagree with their politics is a clear indication that our focus is not where it ought to be. After all, who are you calling an idiot? There are only two options: a brother or sister in Christ, or the lost who are currently facing an eternity separated from God in hell. We have been commissioned as ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20)!

3.                   Treating our current leaders with disrespect.

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1). Peter takes a similar stance in his first epistle. Honestly, it turns my stomach when I see believers publicly, proudly speaking about President Obama with such disrespect. Treating him with open hatred. I saw a missionary recently refer to him as “scumbag in chief” (or something along those lines)! And I am absolutely astounded. Seven years ago, I remember seeing self-professed Christians speaking hopefully about the President of the United States being assassinated. Never mind the frankly idiotic notion of actually wanting to live in
I saw this on Facebook a few days ago, posted by
someone who professes to be a Christian,
and I don't think I could exaggerate how disgusting I find it.
a nation where the elected leader can be murdered while in office, such hatred pouring forth from followers of Jesus Christ is both disgusting and entirely at odds with the work of the Spirit within us.

Do you disagree with President Obama’s policies (or your senator or governor or whomever)? Fine. Disagree with them. But consider how Jesus would disagree before you update your status or post that meme. And, yes, I realize that What Would Jesus Do? has become a cliché, but the concept has not and will not ever be anything other than prudent, and indeed the only choice for the Christ follower.

Perhaps you’re thinking this is all unfair. “I’m just venting,” you might say. Fair enough. I understand the impulse, I do. We live in a fallen world and it’s frustrating—infuriating, even.

But let me ask you: this sort of venting—this venting that materializes as attacks against politicians and supporters who believe differently than we do—does it arise not so much from the reality of our fallen world, but rather from a belief that our candidate or political party is the solution to fix it? Otherwise, I struggle to track the source of the anger. And that belief is woefully misguided. There is only One solution, and He is not running for office.

Regardless of the root cause, however, this partisan backbiting and mudslinging has no place within the Body of Christ. As many of us struggle to find a candidate we would want to invite over for dinner, much less have represent the United States as president, need we look any further than our own newsfeeds to see that our angry, duplicitous politicians can at least be said to represent the nation of voters we’ve become? Hold up a mirror to our social media and you will see reflections of the major candidates, as if born from the vitriolic rants and sarcastic memes that assume anyone who has different political views than us is a moron of astounding proportions.

Listen. Do you want to change the direction of the United States? Share the Gospel. Make disciples of all nations. Vote however you want, but they’ll know we’re Christians by our love for one other (John 13:35), and being a jerk about politics actively gets in the way. Our world may behave like this; we should not.

Real change will come to our nation and our world not through politics or government but through followers of Jesus Christ faithfully making disciples. Go Make Disciples: How Jesus Did It, How We Can Do It explores the methods Jesus used to transform His followers into disciple makers and offers suggestions for how we can do the same today. Available now through Kindle, Nook, iBooks, as well as most ebook retailers, and in paperback.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Peeve of the Writerly Author

Hello, readers.

See. It's really me. I may not be famous enough
to get a verified Twitter account, but I do exist.
I just wanted to pop in here with a quick post to 1) let you know that I am still alive and 2) offer a bit of insight that may come in handy in the future as you continue to read this blog. I feel like number one has been accomplished, because I’m here and saying that I’m Brad and I don’t imagine anyone would want to impersonate me so there you go.

If you’ve come around here much, you’ll know that I am a self-published, indie author. I honestly don’t know what I would say if a publisher approached me with a traditional deal, but it’s not something I’m spending a great deal of time pursuing. I like the freedom of writing whatever story or tackling whatever project I feel God leading me toward, or whatever I’m passionate about. I looked around a bit for an literary agent when Emaline’s Gift was in the rewriting/editing stage and discovered that many, many Christian agents wouldn’t even look at a fantasy novel. One got back to me to tell me that they liked my work but I didn’t have much shot of getting published if I wasn’t already famous for something else (have you noticed how Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly are suddenly bestselling authors?) because traditional publishers were taking fewer risks than ever. Even if I found my way into a contract, would a Christian publishing imprint permit a book like The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living? I’m very skeptical—and yet I felt the Holy Spirit planted the idea for that book and sustained me through its writing. It was an act of obedience, of following Christ, to write and publish that book—and the Lord has used that work for His glory.

I believe this pie chart will help to illustrate  my point.
(Of course, one of the definite downsides to indie publishing is the dreaded burden of marketing, without a budget and with cobbled-together know-how perhaps of dubious value. Of course, the author feels called to writing, not marketing, and it can be difficult and discouraging to take time away from the next book to promote the ones that came before. Which all goes to say that, while I definitely feel God’s strong influence in each of my books, and while He has graciously used each to impact at least some readers, the number of people who will ever hold one of my books in their hands [or on their Kindles] is never likely to be very large.)

Anyway, as an indie writer myself, I’ve taken to reading quite a bit of indie fiction, and I delight in using this blog as a way to spotlight authors my readers may not have ever heard of. I do this most often through author interviews, which I feel have developed into pretty good chats that often (hopefully!) contain some fairly insightful—even challenging and provocative—questions, and give you a good idea as to whether this author is someone you’d enjoy reading or not (regardless of whether I cared for the book, which is all a review could do). I have enjoyed this greatly and I’ve read some truly wonderful indie books, including Adam Bolander’s fantasy The Slayer and the Sphinx, William Woodall’s coming of age tale Cry for the Moon, and Alana Terry’s harrowing The Beloved Daughter, which was one of the best books I read in 2013, indie or otherwise (and just added a Grace Award to the bevy of accolades it has deservedly won). I really feel like indie books are coming into their own, as indie film and music already have, and that the more we see the big publishing houses back away from taking risks, the more we’ll find work that is truly unique, excellent, and worth reading in indie published books.

I thought about posting an image about so-called "Grammar Nazis" here,
but way too many of them actually called those heroes among us
"Grammar Nazi's," and I just...well, I just couldn't.
But the lack of marketing support and knowledge or wide distribution options aren't the only differences between indie books and those traditionally published. Mainstream books by major authors certainly make it to the market with errors, but the editing help offered by the publisher usually reduces the number of typos and grammatical mistakes significantly. Editors are also available to indie authors, of course, but they are usually quite expensive (it is perfectly possible for someone to be an incredibly gifted storyteller but not have the funds to commission a professional cover, hire editors, etc.), and I can personally attest to the variance in quality. For one of my books in particular, I proofread it personally countless times, hired a professional editor to do the same, found countless mistakes they missed in my final edit, then had an astute and generous beta reader provide me with a lengthy list of necessary corrections that had still persisted to the near-final draft (and, actually, she is an author named Annie Douglass Lima and I almost listed her fantasy Prince of Alasia as an indie book well worth reading, but held my hand simply because I didn’t want the list dominated by one genre, but I’ll mention it here!). I didn’t feel like hiring an editor in that case turned out any more of a professional product than my books for which I’ve done all the proofreading by myself. And proofreading is something I believe the author can do by themselves, if they are extremely diligent and prepared to learn the rules of the English language—and if they’re able to be consistent in a number of grammatical gray areas. It simply takes a lot more than a reread or two.

But proofreading and weeding out spelling and grammatical errors is actually the least expensive type of editing. Traditionally published authors also have the benefit of those who evaluate the story for consistency and tone and pacing and continuity (you might be stunned how easy it can be for many authors to lose a bit of the forest for the trees). I have one author friend in particular who sometimes likes to talk out issues he’s
I feel like this level of discourse really
benefits the reader in the end.
having with his current story with me. I greatly enjoy these brainstorming sessions, working together to help guide his story away from cliché and toward more satisfying twists that are consistent with the characters and the world (even if I may not be much more than a sounding board, since I don’t know how many of my suggestions really make it to the page, but that’s okay, too—they’re his books!). Another perspective—that of an outsider who knows something about storycraft—is priceless, but doesn’t come cheap. A skilled editor can also provide valuable insight into the writing process itself: Do the metaphors rely too much on cliché (“Jon felt like a million bucks.”)? Is the tone consistent and appropriate for the story? Does the prose ever get in the way of the story?

This lengthy intro (just in case you needed more proof that this is really me writing this blog, and that I am indeed alive and well) has now struck at the root of what has probably become my biggest pet peeve as a reader (beyond releasing an error-filled book, for which I believe there is really no excuse): words that get in the way of the story. The phrase I have been bandying about is that this sort of prose is “too writerly,” and it is driving me crazy.

Let me warn you that this is a bit of a contentious topic amongst my writer colleagues. See, there can be a certain compulsion as an author—not universal, perhaps, but I don’t think it’s exactly rare either—to make decisions about word choice and sentence structure that one would only really find in a certain type of book.
I have never and would never read the books, but
the Amazon reviews I've read for 50 Shades of Grey are
quite amusing. Apparently, the writing is quite bad.
These type of sentences will not be found in nature. Sometimes they consist of big, unusual words when smaller, more conventional ones would do just fine (or better). Sometimes there are so many descriptors and adverbs (oh good heavens, watch if with all the adverbs!) that the paragraph rambles on endlessly, stealing any momentum from the scene. Sometimes metaphors or word pictures are so convoluted or unlikely that a critical reader can only come to the conclusion that the sentence is something akin to fancy-sounding gibberish. Does this stem from the author’s desire to appear intelligent, or to attempt to elevate their prose above others in the genre?

Please note that I’m certainly not without sin. Hopefully, my annoyance with this sort of writing as a reader will lead me to cut down on it as a writer. I’m not trying to say that an author has no license to use words that the reader needs to look up. I think us voracious readers tend to have much larger vocabularies, on average, than most non-readers because of all we have learned through context or, if need be, grabbing a dictionary. And I’m not saying that the writer ought to not take care with word choice. In my opinion, Vonnegut’s prose is so wonderful and poetic that it immediately elevates the work, regardless of its topic, and I’d love to write like him.

I am simply offering my opinion that I like to read stories, not listen to writers be writers. In fact, I rather think on whole I’d like to be a storyteller rather than a writer, if I had to choose (a storyteller that generally uses proper grammar and punctuation and all, mind you). And that’s why I consider “being writerly” to get in the way of the story. When I feel like the writer is trying to impress someone, I can’t focus on the story. When I feel that they’re using a fancy word instead of a simple one simply for the sake of variety, in takes me
For my part, I'd rather be swept away to a different world than
to be grounded by an onslaught of words.
right out of the scene they’ve set. For me, the best writing is subtle and unobtrusive, fading into the background, so the stories and the characters, the emotions and the plot take center stage.

I’ll give you an example. Lots of examples would be helpful, I’m sure, but I feel like I would be too tempted to dig out some of the books I’ve read that contain lots of offending passages and quote from those and I don’t feel like that would be fair to the authors. But I’m not sure I could come up with great examples on my own. It’s more like I know it when I see it. So I’ll give you an example that is not a very good one but is at least marginally connected to the topic.

When I read a book, dialogue attributors tend to fade in the background and not get in the way of the story when the author uses common ones: said, asked, replied, etc.

“Where are we going?” John said.

John said attributes the dialogue to John. That’s its function and it does it well. The dialogue itself is generally the most important thing here, a point which is reinforced by the fact that, when a limited number of people are conversing, we can actually drop attributors that are unnecessary. If the reader knows who is saying each line, we’re good. If the characters are actively doing something at the moment, we can mix it up a bit by focusing on the action and using that as an implied attribution:

John stood and brushed himself off. “Where are we going?”

But too much of that can be excessive, especially if the action is fairly inconsequential. So what is the author left with, especially if more than two people are present for the conversation? Said, said, said. Now, as a reader, this doesn’t bother me in the least. The dialogue attributors do precisely what they are intended to do: they attribute dialogue to the speaker. The words themselves get out of the way of the story.

Tragically, this panicky author flopped his
head down on S-A-I-D.
However, for us authors, looking at all those saids can make us panic. Look at all that repetition! What a bad writer we are! We must fix it! So we do our best to mix it up. Now, instead of John merely saying, he declares, he mentions, he states, he announces, he reports. In other words, Johnny stops being a person who simply says what’s on his mind—as you and I tend to do—and starts to be a character whom a writer is forcing to declare when he really just wants to say. And for me? It takes me right out of the story because the author’s attempt to artificially add variety feels clunky and woefully conspicuous. Being writerly is getting in the way of being a storyteller.

(Now, are there times when it is perfectly appropriate for John to mention something or report to someone? Sure. But, in these instances, the context will support the word choice, and a good writer’s instincts will choose mentioned over said during the writing or rewriting process, as opposed to putting it where it doesn’t belong later because they have a problem with the repetitive saids. The context will support these exceptions because said and mentioned are not synonyms. They have slightly different meanings and each connotes something different for the reader. In high school, one of my English teachers shared the belief that there was no such thing as a true synonym—that there is always a best word for any given sentence, because even words with very similar definitions carry with them different connotations—and I rather believe this is true.)

But, in my opinion, dialogue attributors can get worse. A book that has a fair amount of dialogue will run through all of said’s linguistic siblings, cousins, and extended family before long. What to do when even they get repetitive? Why not throw any verb—especially those involving the mouth—into dialogue attribution to see if it sticks? I’ve seen:

“Where are we going?” John gritted.

“When will we get there?” John huffed.

“Who else is coming?” John bristled.

“Whatever shall I wear?” John queried.

“Why is this blog post making such a big deal out of this stuff?” John gesticulated.

Now, some of these are worse than others. Still, I would contend that most of us average human beings tend to ask much more often than we query (although if you want to query querulously at the quarry, I certainly won’t stop you). And there may well be those reading this blog who shrug and wonder what the big deal is. That’s fine. This is about one of my personal literary pet peeves and you may have no beef with it.

But, please, for the sake of argument, would you mind doing something for me? Permit me to present the following line of dialogue:

The monkey bear and marsupial boldly followed the manatee past Red Bird’s monstrous lair.

Would you mind saying that for me? Oh, sure, you might get some weird looks, but that doesn’t bother me in the least. Just say it. Said it? Great. Now, grit it for me, would you? Are you gritting it (do you remember what I said about writing gibberish?)? Maybe try huffing it (it’s not paint or rubber cement or anything so we should be good)? Incidentally, I wouldn’t mind seeing some YouTube videos of you guys gritting or bristling that line. Just leave some links in the comments, okay?

"Tell me, John. How long have you been gesticulating?"
Due to my pet peeves as a reader, I have trained myself to show restraint as a writer. To be honest, John would be merely saying quite a bit in my books. If you don’t gloss over it like I do, it may bother you. But, hey, I tend to say quite a bit myself. In some books, John’s hardly saying anything, instead spending his time bellowing, whispering, declaring, gritting, moaning, and sighing. Sounds like John needs a doctor, and possibly a psychiatrist.

I’m reminded of the Hemingway quote in which he responded to a disagreement with William Faulkner:

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

Some writers look at Hemingway’s position and think the point is that they are being told to dumb down their writing, or to never use a single word your entire readership doesn’t know, but I don’t think that’s it at all. I do, of course, think any perception that a writer that uses big, fancy words might be inherently more talented than a writer who writes in a more accessible manner is absolute poppycock. Big emotions mean much more than big words. Ultimately, however, it’s my position that the tone and verbiage of any book should probably be dictated by the story. My problem comes in when I get the impression, rightly or wrongly, that an author is going back to make changes that result in a disparate tone, practical gibberish, or are trying to write in a style or using words that they are not comfortable with or do not fit the story.

I’m reading a book right now in which the author takes a very long time to get through a simple scene because she feels the need to use dozens of words where a few would communicate the story well enough. Not much has happened in the book so far, but we’ve got paragraphs upon paragraphs going on about what little has transpired, with the protagonist endlessly overanalyzing everything. It’s very slow going. A quote from the play and film Amadeus keeps popping into my head. Struggling to come up with some criticism for a Mozart composition, members of the royal court conclude that his work had “too many notes.” Mozart of course insists that he uses precisely the number of notes he requires, and yet I often feel this way when I feel an author has lost sight for of the story itself in favor of being writerly: that there are simply too many words.

But we’re not here to second guess the decisions of other authors. We’re simply here because I wanted to share this particular authorial pet peeve because I can pretty much assure you that the criticism of being “too writerly” will surely surface in my interviews and mini-reviews in the future. If you don’t think the sort of prose I’ve described is a big deal, or if you like it, that’s fine. Pet peeves don’t have to be universal, by any means. Tell me why you like this sort of thing (feel free to type or, if you can, grit your comment). Or share your own pet peeves as a reader. They don’t have to be rational (I’ve heard some readers swear off either first or third person, which seems pretty darn arbitrary to me...and would make you miss out on some great books!), and that’s fine because we all have different tastes and preferences and there’s no such thing as the perfect book that will please every single reader. Heck, Jesus was perfect and a storyteller and had plenty of enemies and continues to attract critics.

But enough from me. What really grates your cheese?