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Last week on my blog I introduced you to author Bonnie Grove. This week I’d like to tell you about one of her novels, a story titled Talking to the Dead.

The title fascinates me as much as the story that follows. Here’s a brief plot summary (no spoilers).

Talking to the Dead

Talking to the Dead

Summary:

Kate Davis is shocked by the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, Kevin. They were married only five years when he died, and Kate’s grief quickly becomes debilitating. She hides in her house, haunted by the recurring voice of her departed husband. Kevin’s terse comments burst in intermittently and unexpectedly on Kate, gradually morphing from ordinary to unkind, even nasty, and Kate begins to question her sanity. There are huge holes in her memory of her life before Kevin’s death. All she can remember is his last words to her: “Don’t wait for me.”

As Kate’s memories begin to return in bits and pieces, her reactions to them initiate a series of events that becomes worse with each new remembrance. She discovers that everyone, including herself, has secrets.

As she reviews her memories, beginning with her marriage, issues pop up that she’s never admitted even to herself. She tries counseling, psychiatric help, group therapy, all with ridiculous or disastrous effects, but after one particular counseling session she comes across Jack, a “pastor of sorts” who invests himself in the lives of troubled youth. Kate finds understanding and acceptance with Jack that she’s never received from any of her friends or family, but how can she rid herself of Kevin’s voice, and does she want to?

My Take:

This book was a surprise, nothing like I expected it to be. It grabbed me and led me down winding paths I didn’t anticipate.

Technically speaking, the book is expertly written. Characters are real, well-rounded, believable, identifiable, vivid. The main character, Kate Davis, tells us her story in first person past tense, which works very well in this type of story, then switches to first person present tense for her returning memories.

In spite of the gravity of the issues, the author maintains a light style as Kate responds to situations with wit and desperate humor. Example: (p. 149) “I was instructed to rate my fear on a scale of zero to ten. Zero meaning I was bounding into the room, whistling “Mack the Knife,” not a care in the world, and ten meaning I was crawling away on all fours, weeping and hyperventilating into a paper bag.”

Author Bonnie Grove displays an amazing capacity to entertain with her witty observances and descriptions. Example: (p. 93) “It didn’t take long before I spotted a house that could only belong to Maggie. It was painted a painful shade of red and sported jaundice green shutters. The combination gave the house an odd aura. Like being sick at Christmastime.”

The plot of this story is filled with unexpected turns and detours that take Kate from bad to worse. Much worse.

I would interpret the theme as something like learning to trust God when everyone fails us, when others give a warped view of him. It’s a story of faith in the midst of upheaval and misunderstanding, and ultimately of a God who proves himself able.

A fascinating psychological study in a realistic setting. I’ve read it three times now. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a good read.

Bonnie Grove

Bonnie Grove

 

Some years ago I created a workshop titled What Every Beginning Writer Needs to Know. I’ve used a few of the main ideas for this blog and added/modified others.

 

  1. How do I become a writer?writer

I become a writer by writing

Some people write every day without fail. If you can do that, great. If not, do the best you can. Try your hand at various types of writing to see what interests you most.

I become a writer by reading

Read what others write. Study their use of language, of technique, of style. Read for fun but also train yourself to read analytically.

I become a writer by connecting with other writers

One of the best ways to connect, as a newbie writer, is to find a writing group near you. Ask questions about their purpose, their schedule, their skill levels. Most groups are open to new people and willing to share and help one another.

I become a writer by continuing to learn

Besides a local writing group, there are usually workshops and conferences you can attend where you can meet other writers and learn with and from them. Online courses are everywhere on the web, so check into those as well.

I become a writer by setting writing goals and establishing priorities

How badly do you want to write? Ask yourself the difficult questions and decide how much time and effort you are willing and able to set aside for this. Be committed.

I become a writer by listening to the Spirit of God within me

Perhaps you feel a call or at least a draw into the writing world. Listen to God’s Spirit within you and obey. God will lead you if you are willing to step out and follow.

 

  1. Begin with a Plan

I worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from this excellent resource. It’s a stretching experience that can help draw us out of our respective shells. If you’re looking for a strictly Christian workbook of similar purpose, try The Creative Call by Janice Elsheimer.

day planner

 

 

 

 

  1. What and how do I write?

What do you like to read? Research that particular genre and try it out.

Exercise: Write the Cinderella story in your genre of choice (romance, news story, mystery, fashion column, etc.)

 

  1. Organize your work

Some people need outlines, charts, timelines, maps and other methods to organize their writing. I do. Others keep a lot of things in their heads then forge ahead to see what happens. Experiment to see which category you fit into, or how you can combine the ideas to work best for you.

 

  1. Use Available Resources

There are countless writing books that can help a newbie writer. Browse through the Writer’s Digest Books for a sample. Some of my favorites are:

Plot & Structure

Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham

Plot by Ansen Dibell

Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress

Conflict, Action & Suspense by William Noble

Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

 

  1. Use Social Media

This point was not in my original workshop! I didn’t know anything about social media then, and I don’t know very much about it now, but I am learning. If I can do it, so can you. There’s no getting around the fact that social media is necessary for writers today. When you consider it, social media sites help you to write, to read, to connect, to learn, to set goals and priorities, and even to be encouraged spiritually. We can hide or we can use this resource for the glory of God through our writing.newer twitter

* Special tip: I’ve been learning how wonderful social media is for an introvert. I can meet new people and not have to go out, dress up or speak off the cuff. I can also promote and support other writers, which brings me immediate response and recognition. It’s a win-win situation.

 

  1. Keep a Balanced Perspective

We all start somewhere. There will always be those who write better than we do, and there will always be those who are not as advanced as we are. As long as we allow our Creator to teach us about creativity, we will remember that it is not of ourselves, it is a gift.

 

Happy Writing!

Want to connect on social media with me?
My website/bloghttp://janicedick.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @JaniceDick54
Amazon Author Pagehttp://www.amazon.com/Janice-L.-Dick/e/B001KIAKLK/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/janice.dick.56

 

author photoAbout Me: I began writing intentionally in 1989. My historical trilogy was released in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the first two books winning First Place in the Canadian Christian Writing Awards. Besides historical fiction, I also write inspirational pieces and book reviews, and put in many hours of editing, mentoring, and speaking. My first contemporary fiction manuscript awaits publication , and a new historical fiction series was just released (October 2013).

I was born and raised in southern Alberta, Canada into an ethnic Mennonite farm family, blessed with a loving and stable childhood, and lots of relatives who told stories of Russia, emigration and early life in Canada. After graduating from high school, I attended Bible college in Saskatchewan, where I met my future husband. We moved to a farm in central Saskatchewan after our marriage and raised three children, who have now blessed us with ten amazing grandkids. 

 

Bonnie Grove

Bonnie Grove

Janice: Hi Bonnie. Thanks for taking time for this interview.

BONNIE: Hey! Good to be here.

Janice: Let’s start in medias res (I can spell it but I can’t pronounce it). Why do you write?

BONNIE: How do these things happen? You spend a bunch of years at jobs that make you unhappy and leave you feeling vaguely lost. Cast around for something that will make you feel fulfilled, that has purpose, that you’re good at or would like to become good at. Try one thing, then another.

Writing stuck for me because I think in story. In school, I was the kid who did average or below if something was explained to me straight on, but if it was explained within a story, I’d excel. Drove my teachers mad. They never figured it out and neither did I, not for years. I don’t consider it something that makes me special—it’s just my brain and what are you going to do about your brain?—more something I had to come to terms with, live with.

It was lots of work, and when I came to the conclusion that most of my misery and joy was tied to the fact that I think in story, I settled down a bit. It could have gone either way. When I was young I studied acting and theater. Studied plays and the theater history. When I started writing my first book I was about sixteen and all I could manage was a very bad paperback romance. Bad in the sense that my story was terrible. Please—don’t write in defending romance novels. There’s no need, really. In my twenties I began a new book more as therapy than anything. Life was rocky in pretty much every way that mattered to me and I needed a place I could control and understand. That book, after many, many incarnations, became Talking to the Dead, my first published novel.

Talking to the Dead

Talking to the Dead

Janice: When did writing become an essential part of your life, assuming it has?

BONNIE: Is it? That sounds a bit romantic to my experience. Essential means bare bones, right? The fewest things needed to survive. Writing can’t possibly fit in that category. I don’t mean to sound like a grump, and I know you aren’t asking in a dreamy-eyed way, it’s just that, for years, I’ve heard writers say stuff like, “I write because I cannot not write.” I get it. It’s a good answer in a pinch. Short, to the point, with just a hint of the ethereal. But, for me, it’s not honest. I can—and have—gone long stretches without writing, and I was fine. Happy, even. Not the point, though, right? You’re really asking when did I say, “That’s it, I’m all in.” That was eight years ago when my family and I moved from Alberta (where I had a cushy job I liked) to Saskatchewan (where I had no job, no friends, no family and two very young children at home). I wrote two books in a year and both were published. Somewhere in that sequence of things is where I must have pushed all my chips to the middle of the table.

Janice: I appreciate your honesty and your perspective. Refreshing.

I loved your first novel, Talking to the Dead, as did everyone I told about it. Did you draw a lot on your counseling experience when writing it?

BONNIE: For the window dressing, yes. Very much. By that I mean the nuts and bolts of therapy. What happens during different types of therapy sessions, that sort of thing. But, like I said, Talking to the Dead was very much about me trying to make sense of myself and my world. For years in interviews, when I was asked if Kate Davis (the protagonist from Talking to the Dead) was like me, I always said she wasn’t. I didn’t mean to lie. I just didn’t see at the time—wasn’t honest enough with myself—to admit that she was, is, in fact, me. The events in the story are allegorical, meaning they aren’t exactly what I went through, what I had suffered in my twenties, but it was all me spilling out on pages. I think that’s why I struggled so much with writing the ending. For me, it isn’t over.

Janice: I believe you moved from CBA to ABA [Christian to mainstream publishing] after Talking to the Dead (or at least after writing it). How has that change been for you? What are some of the differences you observed?

BONNIE: It was all about telling the truth about myself, the stories I love and the ones I write. Finding my fit. But as for differences between the two, there isn’t much. Business is business and the rules are the same no matter which market you write for.

Your Best You

Your Best You

Janice: I’ve noticed on Facebook that you’ve completed a number of manuscripts since. Can you give us a list of books you’ve written/published in ABA?

BONNIE: It’s painful, you know? To have met with early success—and by that I mean being published straight out of the chute—and then struggle publicly. All writers struggle, but most have the luxury of doing so without a wide audience. I’ve struggled very publicly since the release of Talking to the Dead in 2009. I’ve written four novels, each topping 100,000 words. I’ve been told by some of the most important names in publishing that they love me, that I’m just what they want . . . but. So far, there’s always a but. I’m working through one more but right now with my latest manuscript, and I’m trying to stay focused and content, and some days I succeed.

Janice: Been there, done some of that too. It can be a bumpy road.

Would you describe your writing process? Do you do a lot of plotting, planning, researching first, or just jump in and do the details later?

BONNIE: I plan now. I didn’t know anything about writing a novel when I wrote Talking to the Dead. I just wrote. Lots of stuff was fixed in editing. I follow an open, 22 point story structure grid to plan out a novel before I start writing. Which sounds complicated because it is. Writing is hard work.

Janice: What comes first for you—an idea, an incident, a character?

BONNIE: My brain is a mosh pit. It’s impossible for me to line up the contents long enough to count what came first. The closest I can come to an answer is to say my ideas are a collision of many ideas coming together and arranging themselves into something I think is compelling.

Janice: What part does social media play in your career and what, in your opinion, is the most effective?

BONNIE: Depends how you measure efficacy, I suppose. I have way more fun on Facebook than I do on, say, Twitter. Twitter hurts my head. It’s lonely. Facebook is like having people over for dinner. But does that sell books? I don’t know. It doesn’t hurt. I like the people I hang out with on there. So that’s it, I guess, the one I have the most fun with. Otherwise, it’s just forced.

Janice: What’s the hardest thing about writing for you? And the best thing?

BONNIE: Writers (all creative types) are dreamers. We want to spin worlds, invent, tell stories, and let the “real” world take care of itself. The real world meaning actually being published and all that entails. How often have you heard a writer say, I don’t like to promote my own work? That’s artist code for, you take all the financial risks and leave me alone with my toys. The only money writers tend to think about is the money that ends up in their own pockets. So, being unrealistic about the business of publishing is hard. Being all dreamy-eyed because an agent signs you, taking yourself out for a celebratory dinner because a publisher asked to see the first 100 pages of your manuscript. I’ve done all the clichés. Probably invented a few new ones. Over time it gets messy and sad. Choices have to be made.

The best thing is the writing itself. Story is the solid ground I crave. My compass. It’s entirely selfish, but I’ve discovered that my self-indulgent pursuit of story can end up soothing other people as well. I like that very much.

Janice: How do you balance writing time with personal time?

BONNIE: Publishing will eat your life if you let it. When writers get together they never talk about their children or yesterday’s sunset, or God. They talk about writing, publishing and all its components. It consumes you. If you’re a writer and you think, bah, that’ll never happen to me, then I wish you well. And when it happens, you’re welcome to come sit beside me and no hard feelings and no I-told-you-so. We’ll consider it a rite of passage, something we had to go through before we could begin to be realistic and makes sense of things. After that, you learn to pace yourself. You’ve lost so much time—years, usually—feeding the bottomless pit of analyzing writing, talking endlessly about the business, and writing to succeed, that you begin to realize you can pace yourself better. You can sort through what actually needs to be done and stop telling yourself it all has to be done RIGHT NOW. I’ve been so off balance in my writing life and what did I gain? My motivation today is that Ebenezer: I won’t go back to being consumed. I like my life. I like the people I live with, the people I hang out with. Books don’t last forever. People do.

Janice: Thanks for that. It’s something we all need to remember.

What books are you reading now and what are some of your favorite books/authors?

BONNIE: I did a self-directed reading study recently. I studied Ibsen’s plays, then Chekhov’s short stories. I’m reading a non-fiction about psychopaths, and one about self-publishing. I’m anxiously awaiting Marilynne Robinson’s newest.

Janice: What did you learn while writing your latest book?
BONNIE: That I’m a geek. I get really absorbed by geeky things—maps, geography, history, science, natural history. I’ve embraced that part of myself. I allow myself to geek out over the discovery of a new ant species (mirror turtle ant if you’d like to look it up), and I’m learning to trust the ways my mind wants to wander. That, and I’m not as far along the road of not caring what other people say about my work as I had hoped.

Janice: That last is a tough one.

What’s your best advice to beginning writers?

BONNIE: Find another line of work that makes you happy, that you can do for long periods of time, and take the writing slowly. Give yourself more time than you ever thought you’d need. Double that length of time. Grow older. Grow wiser.

Janice: Thanks, Bonnie, for this interview. I’ve enjoyed it.

BONNIE: Thanks for asking me, Jan.

Bonnie’s Amazon Bio:

Bonnie Grove started writing when, as a teenager, her parents bought a typewriter (yes, during the age of dinosaurs), and she clacked out a terrible romance novel that her mom loved. She’s been turning out improving prose ever since.

Trained in counseling, and psychology, Bonnie developed social programs for families at risk, while landing newspaper articles and stories in anthologies.

Her non-fiction, Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You, came out of her experience working with families in crisis, and her belief in people’s ability to change their lives for the better.

Her novel, Talking to the Dead, came out of that crazy place inside her head that has more questions than answers. Questions about grief, love, sex, God, therapy, and how laughter makes everything okay—if only for a moment. The novel has won awards, and is published in languages she doesn’t speak.

Bonnie thinks in story, and continues to write novels–mostly because she’s too far gone to stop now. She has completed several since Talking to the Dead, and is currently working her butt off to ensure they make their way into your hands. Stay tuned!

Bonnie makes her home in Saskatchewan, Canada with her husband Steve, and their two children.

For more info on Bonnie and her writing, check out the following sites:

www.bonniegrove.com

www.novelmatters.com

 

For the past several weeks, our prairie skies have been constantly crisscrossed by vees of migrating Canada geese. The subtle throb of beating wings is almost hidden by their constant honking, which continues from first light to coyote’s call. Apparently, the incessant honking is an encouragement to the front-flyers to keep it up.flying geese

Geese are smarter than we give them credit for. They travel in groups, having chosen the opportune time for their journey. They have a goal—finding warmer climates—and an incentive—leaving chilly temperatures behind them—that keeps them motivated. They are innately aware that they need to encourage each other, and especially those in the lead.

We are all on a journey in a sometimes-difficult life, at least one that does not promise clear sailing. We often try to go it alone, without the expertise of the more experienced or even the encouragement of those traveling in the same direction.

We tend to forget that eternity calls, reminding us of fair havens ahead.

We often fail to encourage one another en route. Encouragement is as simple as telling someone you’re praying for them, or sending a card or email note just to let them know they’re not alone.

Let’s be more like Canada geese. Let’s keep winging our way toward the goal. There’s better weather ahead and we need not fly alone.

God bless you on your journey.

II Thessalonians 2:15-17 (NIV)

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

I have a book in my writing library titled Magazine Writing From the Boonies, by Mark Zuehlke and Louise Donnelly. It’s a cute little purple number with realistic suggestions on how to write from where you are.

Many people, writers among them, live and work in the cities of the world, or towns, or even hamlets. But there are some folks who insist on taking things to the extreme and living in a rural location. My name is Janice L. Dick and I am a rural writer. Forgive me, but that’s just how it is.Sunset at REd

I’ve been a country girl all my life, with only a six-month stint in the city before I married, and I hope to remain a country girl for the rest of my life, as circumstance and health permit. Rural life is like living at the lake year round. Sounds wonderful, but of necessity it includes long drives to wherever you wish to go or have to be. In my part of the world where winter settles in for seven or eight months of the year, bicycling is not an option, but I don’t mind. I’ll make that sacrifice for the opportunity of living where I do.

Many people, including book printers, do not understand the concept of rural living.

“Please give me your street address so we can mail your books out to you.”

“I don’t live on a street. My house is on the NE corner of my quarter section.”

“But how do you get your mail?”

“Post office box.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but we do not deliver to a post box. We’ve already discussed that.”

“I’m sorry too, but that’s all I can give you.”

“Is there at least a gas station where the courier can drop off your book order?”

“Nope. But there’s a post office.”

And so the conversation continues. Finally, I weaken, call my Rural Municipality Office and ask if the secretary there will receive and sign for my book shipment and call me when it arrives. I feel like I’m being punished for living in the country.lawn and kids

Would I change my location if I could? Not on your life. I like it here, away from the noise and traffic of the city, from the gossips of the towns and the prying eyes of the hamlets, with only the coyotes to howl me to sleep at night. So I suppose I’ll have to be content to receive my book shipments through a third party, to having frustrating conversations with city sales people, because I’m a writer who has chosen to live in the boonies.

At my age, a title like this makes me take notice. I sit up straighter, pull my shoulders back and suck in my middle.

That’s what we want to do with the middles of our stories: be aware of their presentation and do what’s required to improve them.

We’ve talked about Beguiling Beginnings with more than enough zip to catch the readers’ attention and pull them into the story. We may have a good idea where the story is going and how it ends, and often the ending is intense enough that we can hardly wait to get there. Perhaps we write it early on, to be adapted later. But now we must focus on what comes between an exciting beginning and an intense ending.

If you look back at Fiction 101 — Part 8, the one about outlining or structuring a novel, you’ll see that we talked about various methods of structuring. One idea was the Plot Skeleton (from Angela Hunt). When we use the Plot Skeleton method, we start with the head (the protagonist), then the neck (the incident that starts things rolling) and then the ribs (the complications).

Let’s talk about the ribs. They run up and down both sides of the chest. Convert that image to a two-column page and put + on one column and – on the other. Something good happens, then something bad, back and forth, balanced but with ever increasing importance and tension as we go along, until we reach the crisis.

If we use the rib scenario / two-column page, we can fill in any number of events that will sustain interest and increase tension as we move forward with our stories.

Another way to hold up the middle is with subplots. Wikipedia defines a subplot as: a secondary strand of the plot that is a supporting side story for any story or the main plot. These subplots connect with the main plot in some way through one of the characters, either a major or, more often, a supporting character. Subplots are less important than the main plot, so they get less time in the scheme of the story, but they add interest and tension, as well as helping to fill out characters.

So, instead of getting bogged down with our main plot, trying to keep up the interest, we can employ subplots to switch up the focus to include other events, journeys and characters.

It’s also absolutely necessary to remember that character development must happen throughout the novel. Every scene should either move the plot along or show character development. Every scene should be based on a goal and include conflict and tension. It only all works out in the end!

The plot thickens, as they say, getting more involved. The characters meet more obstacles, face more discouragements. The goal of the main character as set out at the beginning of our story seems consistently more unattainable . . . right until the end.

All these elements make the reader sit up and take notice. What’s happening here? How are the characters ever going to come out of this in one piece? We must make the reader guess, frantically turn the pages, forget about dinner and bedtime. Let’s exercise our writing expertise, work out with subplots and character development, and make that middle firm.

I listened to the audio version of this story a few weeks ago and will never forget it. I’d read / listened to Charles Martin before (The Dead Don’t Dance, Where the River Ends, Wrapped in Rain, The Mountain Between Us), so I knew the journey would involve both my mind and my heart. This expectation was not disappointed.

I think a digital or print version would have enhanced the experience, making it easier to keep track of the hop-scotching plot. But even with that non-visual disadvantage, the story pulled me in easily.When Crickets Cry

Reese tells his story in first person, beginning with winsome little Annie Stephens selling lemonade in the small town near where Reese lives. When he discovers Annie’s story, Reese once again faces his own story, his and Emma’s, which leads us to who and what he is and the haunting background that led him to this out-of-the-way place along the Tallulah River.

Setting is an important aspect of this story. From the hidden bays and backwoods of the Lake Burton area to the hospitals in the city, from the laid-back rural life to the intensity of urban society, the setting is strong and influential to the story.

Martin’s writing is lyrical; the story is poignant. Characters, both main and supporting, are fully fleshed out. They speak and move true to their character. Everything that happens has a reason, even if the reason is not easily obvious.

Charles Martin writes this book in a non-linear fashion, which works well, adding tension with each leap from now to then. Rather like putting together the pieces of a puzzle and placing the last one with satisfaction.

Only once did I take exception to Martin’s choice of scene placement. One of the pivotal scenes of the story ends at a crisis point, slanted so the reader assumes one direction. Then, after several intervening scenes, we realize we’ve been duped. The outcome was not at all as we suspected.

Other than that particular misleading point of tension, I would give this book five stars. It’s captivating and definitely worth the read, another immutable image for your story heart.

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