Fantasy Friday – Project Gemini by Jill Williamson


Project-Gemini cover

A Review

Project Gemini, a young adult novel in the Mission League series by Jill Williamson, is a mildly speculative story most suited for young teens.

The Story. Spencer Garmond, AKA Jonas Wright, is a promising basketball player. He’s also been recruited into the development program of the Mission League, a secret branch of INTERPOL, which aims to collect and analyze intelligence regarding “rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” As part of his training, he went on a practice mission to Moscow after his freshman year in high school. He’s now preparing for his second trip–this time to Okinawa, Japan.

The problem is, Spencer, who learns his real name is Jonas Wright and that he’s been in a type of witness protection program because his father betrayed the Mission League and killed his mother, has made some enemies–or so it would seem from the prophecies he’s received.

He himself is gifted with dreams and glimpses that show him snatches of the future, but so has the daughter of his instructor, Mary Stopplecamp. Because of what this thirteen-year-old middle schooler has dreamed, she warns Spencer not to go to Japan. He’s not convinced, however, that he can’t intervene to change these events, as if the prophecies are merely forewarnings, not actual predictors of what is to come.

Based on her dreams, Mary then tells Spencer to beware of foreign women. He himself has a dream of a beautiful Japanese girl, one who is sometimes in trouble.

Upon arriving in Okinawa, Spencer does in fact meet the girl of his dreams–or rather two of them since she has an identical twin sister. In addition, one of the assignments he receives is to keep track of and monitor the activity of his dream girl. Or her sister.

He’s drawn to her, and she to him. When her former boyfriend forces her to go with him, Spencer springs into action to protect her. The fact that he took a scooter without permission and left the group on his own, instead of calling for help, gets him into considerable trouble, however. And Mary’s continual warnings make him begin to question who he can trust.

Mission-League-web-logoAfter all, there are some pretty bad players hanging around, some suspected of involvement with a notorious Japanese gang. And now Spencer has reason to suspect there may be a connection to his Moscow enemy, Anya.

Excerpt. Read a sample chapter of Project Gemini (Mission 2: Okinawa).

Strengths. One of Jill Williamson’s many talents as a writer is voice. She manages to capture the voice of a young teenage boy to the point that her character comes alive.

I’ve read a number of Jill’s books now, spanning three series and a stand-alone novel, and none of the characters has the same voice. Each is distinct, unique, individual.

Achan, the slave boy turned king in the Blood of Kings high fantasy novels, is a very different person from Mason, Levi, or Omar in the Safe Lands books. In turn, they are all very different from Jason, the cloned boy living in a laboratory in Replication. And none of them is like Spencer, the hero of the Mission League adventures.

Not only does Jill capture the voice of a teenage boy, she taps into his heart and soul–what motivates him, what he hopes to accomplish, how he processes the various things that pull him in one direction or another.

In other words, Jill has created a believable character who also happens to be a likeable kid. He’s trying to turn his life around, but he’s got enemies that seem determined to keep him from doing so.

The plot is action packed, with tension on every page. Who can Spencer trust? How can he complete his assignment and heed the warnings of the prophecies, too? And why does this new Mission Leaguer, Grace, have it out for him from the moment he met her?

Because Jill writes Christian fiction, she does not back off from dealing with the concerns that confront teenage guys: lust, girls, sex, sports, drugs, parties, and lying to get what they want. Interestingly she also shows the divergent paths adults can take in raising teens. (Or maybe that comes mostly in the novella due to release in a month or so). At any rate, Jill shows. She doesn’t preach. But Spencer eventually comes to understand where he goes wrong and what he has to change, and the reader follows right along with him.

Weaknesses. I know reviews are more credible if the person writing them exposes faults. The problem for me is that I get so caught up in Spencer’s story, I tend to gloss over any small inconsistency or plot problem. It’s a stretch for me to identify weaknesses.

I think the characters are all rock solid and believable, but on retrospect, I do think there is a segment of the plot toward the end that happened so fast, I wasn’t sure how all the developments came about.

There’s also some description that could bog down a reader (I sort of glazed over at places)–notably a section about ropes (anyone who has read the book will probably know what I’m referring to).

Recommendation. The Mission League books are terrific stories perfectly suited to younger teens–thirteen to sixteen, boys or girls. More mature pre-teens may also like the stories, but there is some frank discussion about attitudes toward and behavior with the opposite sex, so it would be good for parents to be aware of this.

Project Gemini (available on Kindle for only $2.99), and the previous books in the series, The New Recruit and Chokepoint, would make perfect gifts for anyone in the target age group and their parents. And if you’re like me, you’ll buy the book for yourself, because it’s just that enjoyable a story.

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Gray Days


rifts-on-earth-1265066-mI know people back East and in the South are experiencing a particularly hard winter. They’ve had snow, certainly, but also Cold.

On the West Coast we’re having a hard winter, too, but you wouldn’t know it for the most part. Our problem is, the weather’s been too nice.

We haven’t had any rain as we usually get this time of year. January is the second wettest month of the year for us, and we got all of a trace of rain. In fact, since July, which is when they start the rain-total year, we’ve received under an inch of precipitation.

Today was a gray day, though. The weather forecasters had predicted only a twenty percent chance of rain, but I’m convinced God can bring us rain, if He wants, when He wants, no matter what the prognosticators say.

In fact, I’m praying that we’ll have rain and lots of it in the months to come, in part because we need it so much, but also because our governor dissed God publicly.

Two weeks ago Governor Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency and asked us to cut back our water consumption by twenty percent. As part of his speech he said that his declaration wouldn’t cause it to rain, and that some people thought the answer to the problem was to pray for rain, which was as likely to bring rain as was his declaration.

Either the Governor doesn’t believe God hears and answers prayer or he doesn’t believe God can do anything about the weather.

He’s wrong on both counts. I mean, Elijah, Scripture says, was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (See James 5:17-18.)

So God answers prayer about the weather, according to His will.

I also thought about the Assyrian commander who stood outside the walls of Jerusalem and told the people of Judah God couldn’t save them from him, that they shouldn’t listen to their king and put their trust in God’s deliverance.

Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, “The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” (2 Kings 18:29-30)

As if that wasn’t enough, he sent a written message a bit later saying

“Thus you shall say to Hezekiah king of Judah, ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you saying, “Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” (2 Kings 19:10)

He went further, equating God with those false gods worshiped by the nations around Judah:

Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? And when have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD would deliver Jerusalem from my hand? (Isa 36:18-20)

Of course, this commander, a man named Rabshakeh, was wrong to say what he did about God. And Governor Brown is wrong to say what he did about prayer and the unlikelihood that rain would result from asking God for it.

Whether or not God chooses to send rain is His decision. He chose to rescue Judah and sent the Assyrian commander home empty-handed.

God may not rescue us from this drought, but the fact is, He CAN send rain. He, not the weathermen, not Mother Nature, not uncontrollable jet stream patterns, is in charge of the weather, the political climate, the economic situation, the tides, the paths of comets, the rising of the sun and its setting. We are foolish to think God does not actively “hold all things together” as His word says He does.

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col. 1:16-17)

So I do pray for rain, that God may be glorified over all these meteorologists, who truly do their best, and interpret the data with as much accuracy as possible. It’s just that they can only tell us what generally occurs when barometric pressure and wind currents and precipitation readings are what they are. They don’t know God’s mind or take into account His power.

He and He alone will decide if we need a drought or rain. But as for me, I will rejoice in every gray day that comes our way, and I will pray that God will be merciful and turn those predictions on their head and show His power so that all may see we have a mighty God who rules the Heavens and the earth!

The Kindness Of God Extended Through The Kindness Of People


US_Navy_100211-N-3879H-006_U.S._Naval_Academy_midshipmen_lend_a_hand_by_shoveling_sidewalks_and_helping_stranded_motorists_in_the_streetsSometimes God’s qualities, such as His kindness, seem nebulous because . . . well, He isn’t digging us out of the snow when our car slips off the road, He isn’t bringing meals when our son is in the hospital and we’re stretched for time, He isn’t watering our plants when we go on vacation.

The thing is, God shows His kindness in a variety of ways, and one of those is through the kindness of people He sends to us at just the right time.

I’ve experienced this in any number of ways during my adventure in “self-publishing.” It’s really a joke to call it “self.”

I learned fairly soon during my first Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference that traditional publishing was a team effort. When I first heard it, I didn’t particularly like that idea, to be honest. I thought the real work was done by the author. I was schooled, however, to amend that opinion. There were editors and cover designers and layout people and printers, sales people, distribution teams, promotion and PR representatives. It was a team effort to get out a book.

“Self-publishing” at that time simply meant the author paid for all those things to be done.

Then along came the ebook revolution and Amazon’s Kindle Direct, and suddenly self-publishing really was self-publishing, wasn’t it?

PowerElements_of Story Structure finalIn my experience of publishing Power Elements Of Story Structure, I learned it’s still a team effort. I brain-stormed titles with my critique group and one, the talented Rachel Marks, volunteered to design the cover. Another member, the brilliant Merrie Destefano, conceived of a series, not just a stand alone, and made suggestions about a forward and endorsements.

So that entailed another group of people–those willing to read the book and write something to let others know what they thought. Those same people, writers themselves, also voluntarily worked as my proof readers, catching a number of errors that had gotten by me.

I still needed Amazon, of course, but to get to that point, I needed someone with technical know-how who could walk me through the publishing process. A friend from the Mount Hermon conference helped with that.

Once the book was about ready to go, people needed to know about it, so another group of friends rose to the occasion, posting the cover reveal and/or follow-up posts with the Amazon link once the book was available.

And still I need help. Reviewers. I hadn’t even thought about that until one writer friend volunteered to do a review as soon as he was free to read the book (in February, I think he said).

Happily, reviews have started coming in. How else will people know if other writers are finding the book helpful or not?

Here’s an excerpt from the first one (posted by someone I’ve not met, no less):

Power Elements of Story Structure is one of the most accessible books on writing that I’ve read . . . (I wish I had read this before I ever began writing, but I’m deeply appreciating how it’s helping me to see my current work.) If you’re interested in writing a novel, this is an EXCELLENT resource.

Well, honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better first review, I don’t think.

I’m really amazed at all this. Each of these people is so kind. They’re giving of their time selflessly. I mean, what does a reviewer gain by taking time to write something on Amazon? But as I understand it, reviews are gold for books. The kindness of each reviewer translates to a boost for my book.

But more than that, the kindness of each person who has helped in any capacity is a demonstration of God’s kindness. He is extending His kindness through each of them. How cool that God has used this team of people to show me His kindness through a “self-published” project! 😉

Thinking Biblically


Bible-openThinking Biblically ought to put Christians at odds with our culture. How could it be any different? Western culture says humans are their own masters, captains of their own fate. Christianity says, God is our Master and, in fact, Lord of all.

Western society is an odd mix of democracy and equality tangled with one-upmanship capitalism. We’re all equal, which means we don’t care who we step on as we climb our way up the ladder of success. Christianity, on the other hand, has no such confusion. We are to share with the needy, give no bribes, play no favorites.

The world in which we live says we are to protect what’s ours. Build fences (which make good neighbors), sturdy banks, efficient security systems. The Bible says we are to trust God, love our neighbors, give our shirt when someone takes our coat.

Our culture says there’s a drug for all your needs. Feeling a little anxious? Try something to calm you down. Need more sleep? Take a sedative. Not alert in the morning? How about some caffeine in a cup? God says, let your requests be known to Him. Don’t be anxious. Make Him your refuge and your strength.

I could go on and on–about our attitudes toward people of different races or ethnicities, toward those in governmental authority, spouses, parents, bosses, toward discipline, money, enemies, borrowing, work, education. There are a hundred ways Christians should stand out as different from our culture.

The point is, believing God to be omnipotent, sovereign, good, all knowing, and my personal friend ought to change the way I do things. But it seems there’s too much noise drowning out God’s voice, too many activities to crowd out time with our sure Counselor.

I think the bottom line is this: none of us can think Biblically if we don’t read the Bible. Regularly. As though the answers to all the problems we face day after day are within its pages.

I remember one particularly difficult year when I read the book of 1 Peter every day for a week or more. I wanted to hear what God had to say and it seemed like that book had the answers. But as each day wore on, I found myself back with my same attitudes and worries. So I’d dig into 1 Peter again. I wish I’d been better at putting what I was reading into practice, but I hadn’t learned to pray with those things in mind.

I knew God would hear and answer prayer according to His will. I just hadn’t figured out that the Bible told me at least a part of His will. So when He said, “casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you,” I didn’t draw the conclusion that God’s will for me was to cast my anxiety on Him.

It seems rather obvious now. But my learning to think Biblical was and still is, in process.

To be honest with you, I’d prefer to be in the social center rather than at odds with society. I don’t like feeling like an outsider, a misfit, someone who doesn’t belong. I spent too many years as the new kid who’d just moved into town and had to find a way to be accepted.

Now as an adult I learn I don’t fit because my citizenship is in heaven. I have a different mindset, a different allegiance, a different hope, a different strategy, a different goal.

Part of me would like to pull in and find a comfortable place with like-minded people where I’m understood and secure. Except, then I’m not positioned to accomplish my goal or live out my strategy or demonstrate my hope or allegiance.

In short, thinking Biblically isn’t easy. It puts me at odds with my culture. And that’s actually as it should be.

Published in: on January 28, 2014 at 6:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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Remembering


Lord's_cup_and_BreadAt church Sunday we took communion. It’s one of the religious rituals Christians adhere to, since Jesus Himself instituted it. “Take, eat; this is My body,” He said. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Same with the wine, which He said was His blood. Then the command, recorded in 1 Corinthians: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

So today I was reading Psalm 77–and the author, a musician named Asaph, said, “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; / Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.” Then he began to recount things that God did to bring Israel across the wilderness to the Promised Land. In Psalm 78, also written by Asaph, he said

They did not remember His power,
The day when He redeemed them from the adversary,
When He performed His signs in Egypt
And His marvels in the field of Zoan

The rest of the Psalm recounts the things that God did for Israel and their callous response:

Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God
And did not keep His testimonies,
But turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers;
They turned aside like a treacherous bow.
For they provoked Him with their high places
And aroused His jealousy with their graven images. (vv 56-58)

In light of Jesus telling believers to remember, Israel’s not remembering stands out in stark contrast. They had symbols and rituals to remind them, too. God instituted a system of sacrifices and the celebration of Passover and the Sabbath day of rest. And still Israel forgot.

Christians have baptism and communion, the latter being the only one that Jesus ordained specifically as a remembrance.

I recall thinking recently that the need for this continual remembrance seemed odd. How could a believer ever forget Christ’s body broken for us or blood spilled for the cleansing of our sins?

And yet, how many people today identify as Christian but speak only of Jesus as a good role model, a great moral teacher, even a way to God. But they leave out the concept of Him dying to buy forgiveness for sins. So, yes, it seems there are people who remember Jesus but forget His broken body, His shed blood.

Remembrance, then, needs to take a high place for the Christian. If we forget what God has done for us, we lose the purpose of His coming, we lose the way of reconciliation with God which He provided.

Another thing Asaph paired with remembrance was telling–specifically telling the next generation.

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
We will not conceal them from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD
,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. (Ps. 78:2-4, emphasis mine.)

Of course a person can’t tell something he doesn’t remember, so the telling starts with the remembering.

How often the prophets admonished the people of Israel for forgetting God, His covenant, His law, His Sabbaths. No wonder Jesus instituted Communion as a way to remember. We are a forgetful people, more mindful of what’s happening today than what Jesus accomplished all those years ago.

So to help us remember, God gave us His word, written down so we could know for sure what He said and what He meant. He gave us the symbols of bread and wine and the rituals of eating and drinking. How easy, how common, how routine.

And I think that’s the point. Jesus didn’t demand we go on some long, hard pilgrimage or pay some enormous portion of our income in order to connect with Him. For one thing, he doesn’t want a part of our time or product. He wants our whole lives. All of us. Each moment, not just Sunday. Every dime, not just a tithe.

So in the simple acts of eating bread and drinking wine, everyday kinds of things, Jesus says, Remember. And in the remembering resides praise!

Published in: on January 27, 2014 at 5:48 pm  Comments Off on Remembering  
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CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Outcasts By Jill Williamson


CSFFTopBloggerJan14What a great tour for Outcasts, the second book in Jill Williamson’s The Safe Lands series. Not only did the tour participants provide great content, a number of people shared the posts via Twitter or Facebook. Reviews of Outcasts spread to Amazon and Goodreads and any number of other social media sites. In other words, buzz is happening.

RebelscoverIn the end, twenty-two bloggers posted about Outcasts. Notably Meagan @ Blooming with Books posted a short interview with Jill, asking specific questions related to the Safe Lands; Jason Joyner discussed why dystopian fiction is the perfect genre for Christians; Julie Bihn speculated about the third book in the series, Rebels, based on the back cover reveal at Goodreads; and Shannon McDermott took an intriguing look at the various factions opposing the Safe Lands regime. (Sadly, due to illness, Steve Trower was not able to regale us with his usual Tour Tuesday Tunes post. I’m sure it would have been remarkable!)

In all there are a grand-total of thirty-four posts connected with the tour about Outcasts. Several pointed to the captivating (pun intended) book trailer for the first in the Safe Lands series, Captives. If anyone is still vacillating about whether or not to jump in and read this series, perhaps the video will help you decide.

Also, the new plan, for now anyway, is for me as the CSFF Grand Puba or Overlord or Head Honcho–whatever names our members use–to choose the winner of the Top Tour Blogger Award instead of putting it to a vote. So, I’m happy to announce that the January 2014 winner is Julie Bihn! Congratulations, Julie, and thanks for giving us such interesting and original content in your posts.

And now the video:

Published in: on January 23, 2014 at 6:53 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Outcasts By Jill Williamson  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 3


Outcasts cover

A Review

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring the young adult dystopian novel, Outcasts, second in The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson. Several of our tour participants have remarked about dystopian fiction and its predilection for gloom.

In my view, this genre is one of those that can show how the Christian worldview stands in stark contrast to that of a view that ignores God.

My introduction to the genre was Brave New World, followed soon after by 1984. I believe I came to understand the world better for having read those books, yet I wouldn’t want a steady diet of that kind of literature. It is, quite frankly, so hopeless, it’s depressing. Until a person realizes there are key components of truth left out.

Jill Williamson has not left those out. The picture she creates in her Safe Lands series, of a hedonistic society literally rotting away, could be depressing, but there’s more to the story. There are characters working to escape, bring down, and cure the corrupt society. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. Continuing the story begun in Captives, Outcasts features the three brothers from Glenrock–Levi, Mason, and Omar–as they deal with their present circumstances. They have rescued their women from the harem and now must do the same for their children who are either in the state boarding school or nursery.

Omar and Mason continue to live as nearly normal lives as possible while plotting with the people of Glenrock who live in hiding. Levi has taken up the mantle as elder and leader of his community, though he’s finding the role much more challenging than he could have imagined.

Who is he to trust? How can he get everyone on the same page, with Omar making his own superhero plans and constantly vapping and consorting with Safe Land women, even as Shaylinn is carrying his baby; with Mason bent on finding a cure for the disease the flakers carry. What hope does Levi have to reunite all his people and get them to safety?

Strengths. I’m not sure where to start. The characters are so strong in this book–with complex motives and heartfelt struggles, both internal and external. They are captivating, so much so that when I finished reading the book, I found myself planning to go back to the story in the evening, only to realize that I had to wait until the next book comes out. The point is, I wanted to know what happened to the characters I’d come to care about.

But just as strong is the worldbuilding. The Safe Lands have their own entertainment, society celebrities, fads and fashions, slang, cliched greeting, technology, political system, and state secrets. The place feels real!

Which brings me to the plot. So much is going on in this story. There is the overarching question–can the Glenrock citizens escape? But there are relational questions for various characters, too, and then there is the greater question about the Safe Lands and what they are hiding, what they are doing to their citizens, and who might be behind the whole thing. It’s intriguing on some level on every page.

More importantly, Outcasts and the other books in the series are addressing important issues, without preaching. Rather, the choices the characters make show all that a reader needs in order to discern what worldview addresses the pressing problems best.

Weaknesses. I have no serious complaints. I’m sold on this series and find myself lost in the world and engaged with the characters and the ideas presented in the story. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.

But there was one place where I felt the story could have been stronger. Without giving spoilers, it’s hard for me to discuss in detail. Suffice it to say, one character seemed to act in a surprising, if not uncharacteristic, way, with consequences that turned the story (and still must be dealt with in the next book). Perhaps a little more foreshadowing or a closer look at this character’s development would have made the story stronger at that point.

Recommendation. Outcasts and The Safe Lands series are must reads. Not just Christians can embrace this story because it is one of struggle between two distinct ways of life that anyone can understand and appreciate. It is also about how the gulf between the two can be bridged and how the leadership of the two sides can go astray. It’s a big story, a powerful story and shouldn’t be missed.

It’s also clearly targeting older teens, but adults can appreciate the story just as well. The third book in the series, Rebels, is due out in June, so I suggest you read Captives and Outcasts between now and them so you won’t be left out.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 2


SafeLandslogo

Second Books

Most fantasy series are actually one story told in multiple books. The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson is no different. The story opened with Captives, continues with Outcasts, and concludes with Rebels, due out this summer. Which makes the January CSFF Blog Tour feature the second book in the series.

More often than not readers find second books to be a bit of a let down. In writer parlance, some suffer from “sagging middle” syndrome. Often times the pace seems slower, with nothing of particular note taking place, and/or a “been there, done that” feel to the plot.

For example, the second book in the Hunger Games series, once again threw the heroine, Katniss, back into the games she had just conquered.

None of this is so for Jill’s Outcasts. This book two is a different story while still moving toward a resolution of the greater question.

For one thing, the protagonist is a different character. Yes, there are multiple points of view and the same characters that appeared in Captives are also in Outcasts, but this is predominantly the story of a different individual than was the first book.

In addition, there isn’t any territory covered in the first book that’s repeated in this one. Sure there are similarities. After all, the story is about escape, and there are many people who need to get away. But the circumstances are different, the people are different, the methods are different, the dangers are different.

In short, rather than sagging, this second installment of the Safe Lands series ramps up the tension. I haven’t gone back to compare ratings or comments with the reviews CSFF participants gave Captives, but the comparatives I’m reading would indicate that Outcasts is an even stronger book than Captives.

Here’s a sampling:
* “Outcasts is a first-class dystopia – realistic characters in a riveting but believable world that brings all sorts of ideas into play against each other. I am planning to continue with the Safe Lands series; this is a world still to be explored – beginning with what, exactly, it means to be liberated.” Shannon McDermott

* “If Outcasts is any example, this series should end in a fantabulous manner. . .” – Meagan @ Blooming with Books

* “I actually really like Mason, Shaylinn, and even Omar, as well as the rebel Zane–so much that I actually very much care what happens to them, something I don’t feel at all in maybe half the books I read.” – Julie Bihn

Clearly, there’s no drop off with Jill Williamson’s book two. Readers are in safe hands!

But again, don’t take my word for it. Check out what the other tour participants are saying. You might want to read Nissa’s insightful comparison between The Safe Lands series and Hunger Games.

Or how about Julie Bihn’s revelation of Safe Land SimTag technology, or something quite similar, in existence today.

There are others (see all links at the bottom of my Day 1 post) you won’t want to miss.

You also might enjoy exploring the Safe Lands site. Lots to see and do.

Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 7:01 pm  Comments (6)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 1


Outcasts cover

Addressing Frank Topics

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Outcasts by Jill Williamson, book 2 of the young adult dystopian fantasy series The Safe Lands. Because of Jill’s experience working along side her husband with youth in churches, she understands the pressures and temptations, hopes and desires, teenagers deal with. Rather than side-stepping frank topics, Jill faces them head-on, and I think this series is the richer for it.

I can’t think of the last time I read a book in which one of the point of view characters was struggling with lust and addiction. If only those twin demons were not part of the inner life of today’s youth. Unfortunately, I think the truth is the opposite. Our culture has held up sex as the Great Desire and the Inescapable Conduct. Consequently kids from homes and churches that teach abstinence automatically are faced with a struggle.

Their own desires are fanned into flames by the music aimed at their demographic, TV and movies, their peers, and sometimes even their parents (some wishing to live vicariously through their teens). When the culture tells them sex is natural (it is), and all that matters is that they do it safely (it is not), but the church, and more importantly, the Bible tell them sex is to be reserved for a monogamous marriage relationship between a man and woman, teens are bound to struggle. Their own passions align with the culture. Their head says one thing, their desires another.

Who helps teens navigate across this divide? Too often this is a period of their lives when they are distancing themselves from their parents as part of their growing-up-and-becoming-independent stage. Do youth leaders talk frankly with teens about how to handle the urges they’re experiencing? I suspect so. But I also suspect these kinds of talks simply give teens more information.

Stories are different. They show. Outcasts shows. Here’s a teen, two teens, three teens dealing with the same stuff, the same sexual desires, the same craving induced by mood-enhancing substances. The characters take different paths and the outcome of their choices is a natural part of the story. No preaching. No lecture. No one drawing conclusions for the reader.

Instead, the story itself gives models for teen readers. They can draw their own conclusions, understand, perhaps, their own feelings a little better in light of the struggle they see the characters experience.

The subject matter is frank, not graphic or indulgent, but not pretending that things are better or easy, even when a character wishes to change. Outcasts is an honest treatment of sensitive material, without making it The Focal Point of the story.

I think this is a huge triumph for both Jill Williamson and the editors at Blink for bringing this book, this series to readers.

Other CSFF members participating in the tour are listed below. A check mark links to a CSFF post about Outcasts.

Now It’s Available


PowerElementsOfStoryStructure1000I’ve been having a lot of fun seeing the beautiful cover Rachel Marks designed for Power Elements Of Story Structure floating around on the Internet. Now at last I can tell you it is available for purchase. It’s an 89-page ebook for Kindle priced at $2.99. Here’s the descriptive blurb on Amazon:

Power Elements Of Story Structure, first in the series Power Elements Of Fiction, provides practical help for beginning writers as well as reminders for seasoned novelists. This informative writing manual addresses important elements such as where to start a novel, openings that hook readers, backstory, creating tension, foreshadowing, and much more. Together with intermittent writing exercises, the instruction serves as a concise guide for writing a novel.

“Anyone dreaming of writing a novel needs this book as a guide.” – Sally E. Stuart, founder of the Christian Writers’ Market Guide

“In Power Elements of Story Structure, Rebecca LuElla Miller has distilled the wide variety of instruction and opinions about plot and structure into one pithy and focused volume.” – Carrie Padgett, freelance editor and author of Short, Sweet & Sassy

Power Elements of Story Structure by Rebecca LuElla Miller is a reassuring overview of the main techniques necessary to write a strong and page-turning novel. With clear examples, exercise prompts and focused chapters, Miller provides a fine resource for both the beginning writer and the experienced author.” – Michelle Ule, NYTimes best selling author of three historic novellas and one contemporary novel.

“In Power Elements of Story Structure, Rebecca LuElla Miller has written an excellent resource for writers. Beginning writers will learn basics, from planning a novel to story structure to strong, satisfying endings—all tools to help hone their skills. Veteran authors will receive a refresher course that will help maintain excellence in the writing craft. I look forward to the next installments in this Power Elements of Fiction series.” – Sharon K. Souza, author of Unraveled

“I love books for writers, and I’ve just discovered another valuable resource in Rebecca LuElla Miller’s new book Power Elements of Story Structure. Add it to your library!” – Nick Harrison, senior editor, Harvest House Publishers and author of Power in the Promises and Magnificent Prayer

Now I’m looking forward to receiving some reviews on Amazon. At least I think I am. 😉

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