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Upcoming Books, News, and Pizza

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Small-Town Girl

A little over a week ago I was given the final cover art for my next Love InspirSmall-Town Girl Fronted release! Isn’t is gorgeous? I love that Lake Michigan got a place of honor on the cover. Small-Town Girl releases in August (although Amazon says it’ll send it your way in by mid-July!).

Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

Goose Harbor, Michigan, is the perfect place for Kendall Mayes to start over and open her date-planning business. When she encounters handsome loner Brice Daniels, who is struggling to keep the shipping business he runs going, she sees an opportunity. A weekly sunset cruise catering to couples and tourists will keep their dealings strictly business. Kendall has had enough of failed romances, and Brice is too burned by love to give it another chance. But despite their reservations, they soon let down their walls. Yet when Kendall’s silent business partner is revealed to be Brice’s longtime enemy, staying together might be next to impossible.

The Ranger’s Texas Proposal

Last year I got a call from my editor asking if I had any interest in writing a book in a series of six books with five other authors. I said yes immediately before I realized that five of the six authors writing for this series all had “best-seller” attached to their name. Guess who was the odd man out? Yup. Talk about intimidating! But the other authors were a dream to work with and I learned so much from them.

These books will release in back-to-back months for six months and mine is the second book (coming out in November). The difference in writing The Ranger’s Texas Proposal (as opposed to my Goose Harbor books) is that my publishing house came up with the general plot and character sketches and then I wrote and fleshed it out. I *loved* the process and I adore the story that came out of all of this. Texas Ranger Heath Grayson really worked his way into my heart and his struggles hit me hard (not ashamed to admit there was a lot of at-my-desk-crying happening while writing this one). I’ve been told by my publishing house that the story got three editors crying at their desks over the book/characters – so that’s fun! I’ve never done that before.

I don’t have a cover yet, but I will share it the second I do. However, the preorder is up on Amazon and here’s the blurb:

When Texas Ranger Heath Grayson agrees to investigate thefts at the boys ranch, he’s also hoping to solve a decades-old murder case: his father’s. Getting involved with pretty, pregnant widow and boys ranch volunteer Josie Markham is not on Heath’s agenda. But the more time he spends with Josie, the harder it is to ignore their growing attraction. The somber ranger is convinced a wife and child are not in his future. But with a little help from the boys at the ranch, he may just realize a family is what he needs most of all.

More Goose Harbor

The fifth book in the Goose Harbor series has a name and release date: Apple Orchard Bride is Jenna and Toby’s story (we’ve meet Jenna in many of the other books) and it’ll hit stores January 2017.

I’m currently writing the sixth book in the series RIGHT NOW! And there are solid plans for more Goose Harbor books after that.

More News

I’ve been getting a lot of emails and PMs asking when to expect the final TimeShifters book. I’m always so appreciative when people reach out to me – especially about Gabby and Michael. Those two and the TimeShifters series are all very close to my heart and I think about them often. I would love to continue their story, but at present I’m contracted to write several other books for my publisher and can’t devote enough time to my independent projects. Book three (Reaching Tomorrow) is completely plotted – I just need to find a gap of time to write it in. Like my Amazon Author Page or follow this blog or subscribe to my newsletter for updates on when Reaching Tomorrow will become available.

Last but not least I’m sitting on some very exciting news about a few projects that I’m working on with a team of other authors that amounts to at least two more releases before the end of 2016. I can’t share the details yet … but stay tuned!

I’m sorry there was no pizza in this post. I just felt like the title needed a little something else and pizza did it.

Why I Write Young Adult Fiction

“Since it is so likely that (children/teens) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” –C.S. Lewis

Beware: Spoilers for Allegiant, The Fault in Our Stars, and possibly Lord of the Flies and the Harry Potter series (but if you haven’t read or at least know the ending to those last two…please come out from under that rock pronto).

Like many others, I was excited to get my hands on Allegiant, the final book in the wildly popular Divergent series. I loved book one, tentatively liked book two, and looked forward to the last installment.

allegiant

All to my utter and complete disappointment.

Allegiant and subsequently its author, Veronica Roth (who, for the rest of this will be known as VRoth) failed readers on so many levels, but more than anything it/she failed a generation of teen readers who are looking for a new brand of hope.

See, when an author writes a book they can’t just willy-nilly send it out into the world. They must keep in mind that their words have the power to shape and affect people. An author, especially someone with a huge readership, has a responsibility to their readers. They must offer hope within the pages of their book or it’s a pointless waste of time for the author and more so, the reader.

Author William Faulkner said in his acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize, “The writer’s duty is to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.”

Does there have to be an “and they lived happily ever after” ending? Absolutely not. Suzanne Collins’s (author of The Hunger Games series) editor put it best when she said that young adult books don’t need a happy ending, but in the end, there must be “a window left open”—a way where we can see that the characters we’ve grown to love can move on from tragedy.

There must be hope.

Teens today are growing up in a far different world than the one I grew up in (and I’m not that old). I’m of the Harry Potter generation. The books of my youth were stories of teens that could rise up and save the world. My generation was the one told that if we go to college and work hard then we’ll get good jobs and we can accomplish anything. I’m the generation just in front of today’s teens—and the teens of today have watched as the bottom dropped out of my generation’s lives. Where going to college hasn’t landed many of my friends a job, instead it has left them drowning in debt. Where many parents are divorced and a significant amount of people I know have watched their family home seized by forecloser.

Teens today have grown up watching this all unravel. For all of the aware part of their lives, our country has been at war. Think about that. They don’t know of an America not at war. Polls show that their vision of success is very different than my teen generation (which is only ten years ago). Today’s teen sees success not as owning a home, graduating college, having a family, or starting a business, instead the number one measure of success in recent polls showed them wanting to be debt free “at some point in life.” That’s it.

Contemporary teens aren’t looking for books about teens saving the world. They only ask for the small hope of saving their small corner of it. So popular books for this generation are ones that in the end show that in the midst of a messed up world, you can find your own peace/hope, even if it’s just between you and one other person.

Fiction has always been meant to combat the reality of life. VRoth failed us here. She didn’t show us what could be possible. Instead she smacked us in the face with what is. And we don’t need that. Because we’ve all dealt with more than enough loss and hardship and heartbreak. We don’t need books that repeat what we live every single day, we need books that show us that in the midst of a heartbreak world, we can find our own little pod of happiness/joy. That just because the world we live in is going to pot, doesn’t mean we have to lose hope.

Whatever her purpose, VRoth showed teens with Allegiant one horrible thing: their life, their struggles, their fight for right…none of it matters in the end. Which leaves teens asking: what’s the point? If nothing I’m working for matters…why try? I know that’s not the message she meant to send, but when an author is careless with their responsibility to readers, this is the kind of thing that can happen.

I’ll admit I spent a good amount of time reading Amazon reviews for Allegiant in order to see if I was the only one left disillusioned. I wasn’t. Sadly, I’m in the majority with the one star reviews.

Most of the five star reviews I read were people who applauded VRoth on her bravery in “giving a realistic ending.” To this I say: there is a whole genre dedicated to realism. If you want stories that make you feel like someone has stabbed your heart on the last page with no chance for recovery, then feel free to read that genre. But for the ninety-five percent of people that read for enjoyment and escapism, sorry, we want some glimmer of a happy ending. If the Divergent series was meant to belong in the realism genre then it was marketed terribly because right now, all we have are broken promises to readers.

Also, even within realism, hope is usually the end game.fault

Take the book The Fault in Our Stars which falls in the realism genre, the teens in the story who fall in love both have terminal cancer. In the end of the book (I said there were spoilers…) Augustus dies. Why weren’t readers rioting over that? Because a promise wasn’t broken—when they picked up the book they knew they were going to read a story about dying teens so a teen dying at the end of the book was something they were braced for, if not expecting.

Even still, The Fault in Our Stars ends with hope. Hazel realizes that although Augustus has died, her love for him doesn’t have to. Death doesn’t have to change the definition of relationships. My grandfather, who is deceased, is still my grandfather because I’m living and can claim him as such. The last line of the book is in present tense whereas the rest of the book was in past tense. Meaning life goes on. This is a hopeful message.

VRoth killed her main character which is just hard to do well, especially in young adult fiction. Unless the author brings the character back after death (like Harry Potter), a theme/point is better demonstrated through killing a beloved secondary character like Augustus in The Fault in Our Stars or Piggy in Lord of the Flies (how’s that for old school). Otherwise, just save it for realism or adult fiction. Period.

All of this spurs me on to write the young adult stories that keep running around in my head—the ones full of turmoil and struggles and hurt, but all of which are covered in and end with “an open window” one that blatantly leads my readers to hope.

Jess

The Makings of a Villain

A couple weekends ago Handsome and I went on a date to see Skyfall, the newest James Bond movie. What struck me—besides how gorgeous Daniel Craig is, how amazing the movie was, or mesmerized by the gun fights I became—was how brilliantly well-done the bad guy, Silva, was.

Which got me to thinking, when writing…what makes a really great villain? You know me well enough by now to guess…I went and made a list 😉

1)       Do not make them cartoonish.

Twisting their mustache and cackling whenever things go according to plan is not allowed. Evil for the sake of evil is incredibly difficult to write without the character becoming a cardboard cutout. It’s far more chilling to make an evil character that has actions and behaves in a way that a typical person would react given the right set of circumstances and a hard enough push. Think about it, what’s more scary: some pure evil abstract character who is trying his hand at world domination, or the Jeffrey Dohlmer-type who just walked past you in the grocery store?

2)      Play on real/current fears.

Why did the Joker in The Dark Knight chill us to the bone? Because even though Gotham is fake, it felt like we we’re watching a post-9/11 world much like our own.

3)      Make your villain intelligent and challenging.

I’m sorry, but a stupid and easily overcome villain just means that your hero was equally stupid (as if he couldn’t handle anything harder). Craft a character that makes the reader think there is no hope for the hero. When a hero is forced to go above and beyond to overcome a villain it makes your hero more credible in the end and his journey worthwhile. Along the same lines, give your villain interesting and meaningful things to say. Make them both compelling and convincing.

4)      Give them qualities that are sympathetic.

The best villains are the ones we as readers, despite everything, feel a connection with. Remember, no person is all good or all evil. Just as much as your hero should have flaws, your villain should have some admirable qualities. Does your villain, like President Snow from the Hunger Games, enjoy cultivating roses? Or does he provide care for his sickly sister? Rescues abandoned pug puppies? Possibly he’s like Darth Vader and the love of his children holds him back in the end. Give the villain some secret like this that the hero can discover—then you can explore if your hero is the type of person to use the villain’s vulnerability as leverage or is he too honorable for that.

5)      The villain should have sufficient motivation.

The villain wants something, or needs something to occur, and they have a belief that what they are doing is necessary in order to accomplish their goal. I once heard the saying, “Everyone is a hero of their own story” and that thought has stuck with me. See, no one views themselves as the villain.

Not even your bad guy, no, your villain thinks he’s the good guy!

Remember that as you write. In his head he has formed justification for why he does what he does. And these motivations must come across on the pages. As a reader I must be able to process that maybe I would have chosen a different path, but I understand why the villain  is the way he is and feels the need to take the actions he does.

If you master these five, then you’ll have one excellent and compelling villain. After that, you can play around adding deeper layers. Think Darth Vader (in the original trilogy) his character arc serves as a lesson for what will happen to Luke if he doesn’t get his act together. Or, the musical and book Wicked serves as an excellent example of seeing your villain in a different light. Ask yourself while writing, if given different circumstances to view them through, would my villain still be a villain?

Who is your favorite (or the best) villain in a movie or a book? What makes them stick with you? Did I miss an ingredient to a good villain? What would you add to the list?

Why Dystopia Fiction?

It wouldn’t be going out on a ledge to make the claim that the dystopian storyline is really big right now. Trends like this in fiction come and go quickly—but I don’t see dystopias leaving us any time soon.

Just like the Twilight series started the spark of the seemingly never-ending vampire/paranormal trend, the latest dystopians (in my humble opinion) are just the beginning. Movie magic helps keep fictional trends alive much longer than books normally enjoy. With two more Hunger Games movies, and the Divergent series just beginning to cast actors, there will be more, not less, people reading and looking for new dystopia fiction in the future.

Dystopia fictions are characterized by featuring a future society that is messed up and controlling. The story is usually filled with pain and hardship. Dystopia fiction shows us the worst of humanity.

Why on earth would anyone want to read about that?

Because these stories serve as warnings, moreover, they remind us about real life.

Rosemary Stimola, the agent who represents Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games said, “I don’t think the readership is tired or these types of stories. This is population of young people who don’t remember a time when the country was not at war. It makes perfect sense that their literature would allow them a way to exercise their thoughts about the nature of good and evil, and that it might reflect violence and great loss.” –quoted in “YA Comes of Age,” Publisher’s Weekly, 09/30/11

Sure, dystopian fiction is dark, and many shy away from it because of this fact, but I believe dystopian stories have the ability to shine the brightest and impact readers the most. Because when everything shakes down, the reason we’re attracted to these stories isn’t to read the bad, but to see the hope that they offer.

The main theme in every single one of these stories is that one person, or a small group of people, must take a stand against all that is wrong and evil in the fictional society. In the midst of unimaginable suffering, good rises to fight against seemingly insurmountable odds and wins.

We learn the impact that one life—one person—can have.

Maybe, just maybe, it makes us wonder if little old us can make a difference in our own world. We realize that our actions matter in the big scheme of things. And dare to hope that if push came to shove, we’d have the courage to rise against the worst sort of evil, no matter the cost.

Image courtesy of prozac1 –   http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

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If I find a YA book or romance book that is to die for, I’ll share the details. My author friends even stop by!

The Perfect Way to Kill a Character – why authors do it

Warning: This post includes spoilers for Harry Potter, Divergent, Twilight, and Hunger Games. Read at your own story-spoiling risks.

You’re reading a book. It’s three in the morning, you should be sleeping, but you just can’t stop turning the page. The characters have come to live for you. You’re invested in your story.

Then it happens…

That horrible author kills one of your favorite characters. Oh the humanity of it! You want to toss the book across the room. In fact, if the author was right there, you’d give them a piece of your mine. Tell them what that should have written. Ask them why.

Well, because we’re mean, heartless people who like to torture our readers.

Um, that’s absolutely a lie.

Authors kill characters because they have to. Believe me; it pains us more than it pains you. We created that character. We know them in a way that’s never shown on the page. But sometimes a death has to occur. There comes a point when a stubborn main character needs to lose someone important to them in order to cause change, or we the readers need to grasp how dangerous the world the main character exists in truly is.

J.K. Rowling is masterful at this. Many of the most beloved side characters in the Harry Potter trilogy perish. Why? Because we needed proof that Voldemort really was dangerous. We (the readers) had to believe that if the Death Eaters won, that the world would be left in a terrible situation and there would be a lot of suffering. Characters we loved had to die so we could see that the danger was very real and know the stakes that Harry and the D.A. were up against. Fred Weasley, Cedric Diggory, Dumbeldore, Lupin, Snape, Hedwig, Dobby, Mad-Eye, and Tonks had to die. More than that, Rowling handled all their deaths with respect. We felt each one and mourned them. In the end, we understood.

Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, also handles killing her characters well. At the end of Divergent Tris loses both her parents and has to kill her friend, Will. This had to happen for us to believe that Tris was in grave danger carrying out her mission. Even more, these deaths had to happen to prepare her to be willing to sacrifice herself to save Four. We wouldn’t have believed the power of the mind control if all these deaths hadn’t happened.

Twilight is an excellent example of a story that failed because it needed death. Meyer’s did her story a disservice when she decided she was too attached to her characters to put them in any real danger. The fourth book of the Twilight series is nothing short of jumping the shark for this very reason. The Vulturi become a laughable group of enemies. Sure they kill humans, but…um…isn’t that pretty normal for a vampire? I mean, that doesn’t make them scary. You can repeat one hundred and five times in a story how powerful an enemy is, but when the enemy appears and they can’t do anything to hurt the good guys, well, you’ve just lost the story. Not to mention wasted 400 pages worth of my time. The only way the story could have been redeemed at that point would have been for a Cullen to die. But Meyer’s couldn’t do it. She loved her characters more than her story, and it showed.

On the other hand, sometimes authors can overdo their point when it comes to using death to show how dangerous the story world is. The Hunger Games trilogy is a good example of this. Sure, in book one, Rue had to die. There was no other way. We mourned her. It caused a change for the reader and for Katniss. But by the time we get to book three, Collins’s use of death was gratuitous at best. Kill Finnick? Why? We already knew the terror of The Capitol. It served no point to kill him and it wasn’t done in a manner that respected the impact of that character. Collins allowed her theme to railroad her characters, which is unforgiveable. My friend Amanda Stevens had an awesome post about The Hunger Games that I highly recommend.

Sidenote…yes…I cried when Dobby died.

Review for: A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island

Looking for a summer read? A book that’ll transport you on a mental vacation? Author Cara Putman gave me a copy of her new release, A WEDDING TRANSPIRES ON MACKINAC ISLAND, and it did just that.

Mackinac is a small touristy island located in Lake Huron. One of the things I really loved was that this book is laced with wonderful details—fudge shops, the grand hotel, horses clipping down the street, and people on bicycles—it’s written so well it made me want to pack my bags and book a one-way trip to Mackinac!

Add this quaint setting to a charming love story, and it would have been the perfect beach read…but Cara upped the ante. Instead of the typical boy-meets-girl-love-story, A WEDDING TRANSPIRES became an exhilarating can’t-put-it-down suspense/mystery story that had me flying through the book, trying to figure out the details of the crime.

What really happened the night of the drowning? Who killed the owner of the fudge shop?

Yet through it all, the mystery didn’t lose the love story which includes a love triangle. Who would Jonathan choose? The high-school-sweetheart who was the only woman he ever loved? Or the woman with a two-year-old son who needed him?

So, in the end, I’d call this a summer-read with a punch! It was great, I loved that there were so many layers and it wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill love story. I enjoyed the heart-pounding moments where their safety was in jeopardy, and I always enjoy a good who-done-it. As if that wasn’t enough, Cara packs in a powerful message: sometimes we have to dig up past pain in order to heal.

Much love -Jess

P.S. You should check out Cara’s website, she has so many other books to choose from!

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Back cover copy, from Barbour:

Can the truth set Alanna Stone free?

Attorney Alanna Stone has never forgotten Jonathon Covington–or the pain of his betrayal. In fact, he’s why she’s avoided returning to Mackinac Island. But an exhausting, high profile case and an urgent plea from her parents bring her home. She immediately finds herself thrust into controversy as an unsolved murder once again turns public opinion against her family. Jonathon has been waiting for her return, but the woman he sees now has little in common with the one who left. Will they be able to lay aside the past and let God heal their hearts, or will reconciliation come too late?

Murder and Mayhem

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*guest author Lillian Duncan

Really? Christian Fiction and murder/suspense novels. On the surface the two don’t seem to go together. After all, how can a book where murders, mayhem, and bad guys abound promote Christian values?

Can a writer of suspense novels make a difference in a life? Surely not, you say. It might be good entertainment but that’s where it ends. Not so, I say.

Jesus used stories to teach a point. People love stories. Can you honestly say there hasn’t been a book or a movie that changed your opinion on a matter of importance? If you can, I believe you but that puts you in the minority.

Stories can touch our hearts, stir our imagination, and teach us. Stories allow us to see the truth without the actual experience. Stories give us the opportunity to learn, change, and grow without all the growing pains.

My latest novel—DECEPTION was recently released. And I’m soooooo excited about it.

This is a book that wouldn’t go away. I wrote it several years ago, but couldn’t find a publisher. I put it away and started working on something else but….the story nagged at me…pestered me…wouldn’t let me alone.

So, I started working on it again. Got some nibbles on the rewrite. More than nibbles, really—some editors and publishers were very interested. But again, the deal fell through. Uh..sigh…what’s a writer to do?

I put it away and started another project. But….again it wouldn’t let me alone. This story wouldn’t get out of my head and for a good reason.

I wrote it after the death of a dear friend with whom I was estranged from. I’d always planned to reconnect with her—when the time was right. But I waited too long.

Lesson learned. It was a painful lesson.

What was the lesson? In life, you aren’t guaranteed second chances.

So when an opportunity presents itself—you better take it. There may not be a second chance. Forgive the people you love and even the ones you don’t. Because again—there may not be a second chance.

In DECEPTION, Patti is estranged from her twin sister. And with good reason, but as the story proceeds Patti comes to understand being right isn’t a good enough of a reason to be estranged from a loved one.

And I believe that’s why this story wouldn’t go away and leave me alone. There’s a message to be learned and I’m sure each of us have learned it or need to learn it. I’m hoping people will read DECEPTION and decide to reconnect with that friend or family member before it’s too late.

If one person reconnects with an estranged loved one, then I’ve succeeded. And that’s why I write stories of faith….mingled with murder and mayhem.

To learn more about Lillian and her books visit: www.lillianduncan.net.

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Lillian Duncan writes suspense novels with a hint of romance. She believes books can be entertaining and uplifting at the same time. Along with novels, she writes devotions for ChristianDevotions.us
She lives in the middle of Amish country in Ohio with her husband and menagerie of pets, including four parrots, a Jack Russell Terrier and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that she’s thinking about renaming Clifford–since he continues to grow and grow and grow…

She’s been a speech-language pathologist for over thirty years. Most of those years were in the Cleveland Municipal School district where she worked primarily with deaf and hard-of-hearing students. As a  writer, speech pathologist, and an educator, she believes in the power of words to change lives, especially God’s Word.