Books Of Note – Fade To Blue


I realize I’ve been stacking up a few novels I’ve wanted to review, and it’s time to rectify that.

Contemporary Christian women's fiction

Today’s novel is Fade To Blue by Julie Carobini (B&H Publishing).

The Story.
After Suz’s husband divorces her, she and her son Jeremiah retreat to her brother’s central California coastal home where she wants to recoup and start again.

Little does she know what this move will bring, but as the pieces of her new life begin to sort themselves out, her ex-husband makes contact, tells her how he’s a different person after a stint in prison, and makes plans to be involved in their son’s life, if not in hers as well.

Suz wants to support her ex-husband’s fledgling faith and wants to do what’s right in God’s eyes regarding her family, but she’s also got a new job, new friends, and an old flame to deal with. On top of everything, her brother has some strong opinions about what she should do.

Strengths.
Lest I forget, let me mention first, the setting of this story is rich. Julie Carobini has obviously done her homework, injecting appropriate details about Hearst Castle where a part of this story takes place. These particulars make the story more believable and help to pull the reader into “the fictive dream.”

In addition, Julie is adept at creating believable characters that I care about. Suz Mitchell is another in the growing cast. She is vulnerable because of the circumstances her ex-husband has put her through, but she is nobody’s victim. She has a plan for her life and the drive to get started.

At the same time, she struggles with guilt, the desire to do her job well, to fit in with her co-workers, respond to the whispers at church about her divorce, honor her brother, find a way to get out on her own as soon as possible. And then there is Seth, the man from her past. In other words, this character is a complex, realistic person.

The story is not action drive in the sense that adventure or romance fills every page. But in a quieter way, it is nonetheless a page turner because Julie created intrigue. Various characters have something they’re holding back, something that motivates their actions and keeps the outcome in doubt.

The “second chances” theme is woven throughout the story, and because of the way things work out in the end, the issue is not cut and dried. In other words, Julie gave thoughtful attention to the fact that second chances don’t necessarily end well.

Weaknesses.
I don’t remember specifics, but I recall thinking that there were some uneven places in the writing — perhaps suffering from a demanding deadline. I suspect most readers won’t think twice about writerly distractions.

Recommendation.
This is an enjoyable piece of women’s fiction. Yes, there is some romance, but I wouldn’t characterize this story in that genre. It’s primarily for Christians — some of the key internal conflicts are ones only Christians experience. Consequently, I highly recommend this one for any reader who enjoys Christian women’s fiction.

Published in: on August 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm  Comments Off on Books Of Note – Fade To Blue  
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Fade To Blue And Julie Carobini


Writer friend and fellow SoCal resident Julie Carobini just released Fade To Blue (B&H Publishing) and is currently touring the Internet and holding various book signings at local book stores. (She has a signing down my way this coming Saturday).

I jumped at the chance to host one of the blog tour days. It’s a delight to have Julie share some thoughts about writing especially in light of yesterday’s article, “Where Are We Going?” And as a double treat, I’ll be posting a review of Fade To Blue (available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD.com, and many of your fine local book stores) some time later.

In case you’re not familiar with Julie’s work, she’s the author of five novels and countless non-fiction articles. Her specialty, as you can see if you visit her blog or web site is beachy fiction. If you’d like to follow Julie’s cyberspace tour, you’ll find a list of her stops here. Tomorrow is Pam Wiseman‘s turn to feature Fade To Blue.

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Writing At The Crossroads
By Julie Carobini

I found myself stuck. In my last book, A Shore Thing, one of the supporting characters, Suz, continued to pray for her soon-to-be ex-husband, even as he sat in jail for committing a felony. In Fade to Blue (released this month), Suz became the heroine. I already had a strong sense of her character, so I began the process of asking, “What if …?” and applying those questions to this very real person in my mind. Eventually, I found myself with more questions than answers.

What if …

But just when she does …

What if …

And at about that time …

What if…

As I followed single-mom, Suz, it quickly became apparent that one aspect of the story—her divorce in the midst of faith—would become an issue. So I continued to write and plan, to follow Suz on her path of finding out what she wanted to do, and to learn if her desires matched up with her faith.

Inevitably, my heroine found herself at a crossroads.

May I be honest? If faith wasn’t a thread in this story, I could let my character do or say whatever pop culture dictated. The issue of her divorce might not have been an issue at all and some other conflict would have risen to the top of the plot point chain. In Suz’s case, however, her faith is the point on which she pivots, so how could I ignore her struggle?

As Christians who write, we have to be so careful, though. I’d never want to steer someone wrong, or, as the Bible says, to “cause my brother to stumble.” Yet I have no interest in sermonizing either. Instead, I want my characters, no matter what the issue, to struggle with their decisions the way we all do at times. And that means that as writers we too have to press in to those corners where we inevitably find ourselves.

The answers don’t always come easily. If you write, maybe you’re like me, and you often find yourself listening to the voices of many more than your muse. There are readers, of course, but also reviewers, editors, sales and marketing—even critique partners—all who have opinions about what our characters should or should not do. Daunting, isn’t it? But in Jeremiah 6:16, the Lord gives this advice to savor: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

To writers, this verse suggests standing at the crossroads with our characters. It suggests contemplation, prayer, and continuing to show up and write even through the tough patches.

With Fade to Blue, after I prayed and wrestled to the point of a near-ulcer over my heroine’s decisions, my pastor “happened” to deliver a sermon that provided the perspective necessary to taking that first step out of her crossroads—and I was ready with pen in hand. Don’t you love when that happens? No peptic medication necessary!

I love what Donald Maas says in Writing the Breakout Novel: “Some say success as an author requires a big ego: I say that it requires a big heart.” So true. Not only that, I believe that those big hearts must be softened by our experiences with God’s grace.

Next time you find yourself at a crossroads in your novel, don’t shy away, instead press in. Pray hard. Shut out the voices for a while. Instead, think about what it’s like to hold a seashell, constantly turning it over in your hand. Though they’re often tossed into the sea with nary a glance, seashells are intricately beautiful—even when broken. The more you examine your characters lives, no matter how shattered or sinful they may be—the more beauty can be found. Why? Because it’s in those dark places where God’s grace shines brightest.

Published in: on May 12, 2011 at 5:18 pm  Comments (4)  
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My Friend Amy’s Faith in Fiction Saturday – Escapism


I need to explain. On Saturday I went to my friend Julie Carobini‘s book signing (latest release is Sweet Water – and you can read my review here) held at a bookstore in my corner of SoCal.

Yes, I’m fully aware the title to this post says “My Friend Amy” not “Julie.” 😉 (There is method in my madness!)

As it turned out, Amy, author of the blog My Friend Amy, was also at the book signing (which I discovered, was also for Mike Yorkey, co-author with Tricia Goyer of the historical novel The Swiss Courier).

So today I stopped by My Friend Amy’s and discovered that she has instituted Faith in Fiction Saturday’s in which she will introduce a topic or ask a question, then those who wish can blog on the same. Cool idea! 😎 And as it happens, I want to blog about the latest topic:

Which brings me to today’s question…is Christian fiction too often characterized by escapism? And if it is..do you think it’s truly healthy for Christians to constantly take in messages of faith that are light or too easily resolved? Is it okay to have a less than happy ending in a Christian fiction book?

Let me start with the last (since the last shall be first 😛 ). I definitely think it is okay to have a less than happy ending in a Christian novel. First, such an ending seems desirable according to Hooked, the Writer’s Digest instruction book I’m currently reading. The most satisfying ending according to this author, Les Edgerton, is a win-lose ending. I suspect this is because it mirrors real life, and certainly the Christian worldview of life.

Our experience on earth is hard and then we die, but the loss leads to great gain—eternity with our loving God and Father. It’s the idea of grieving with hope.

Which leads to the other parts of the question. Is it truly healthy for Christians to constantly take in messages of faith that are light or too easily resolved? I don’t think it’s healthy at all. Once in a while, sure. There are some days that seem to require a light-hearted approach, whether from laughter or “it all comes right in the end” stories. But just like an exclusive diet of chocolate, as yummy as it is, does not make for a healthy body, exclusively reading fiction that sugar-coats reality instead of revealing it isn’t healthy for the soul, in my opinion.

A sugar-coated ending to the “story” of Jesus’s life would have had Him calling on those legions of angels at His command and crucifying Pilate and the Pharisees on the cross meant for Him. Instead, He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Nothing sweet about the end of His earthly life. And how glad I am that He was willing to make the sacrifice He did. Because He walked the lose-win storyline, I can too.

I think, because we Christian authors know joy awaits, and we wish to encourage through our stories, we may give the false message that everything ends well. What we need to be showing is that even when everything doesn’t end well, the believer has reason to hope.

Now to the first question: is Christian fiction too often characterized by escapism? Some is, and the temptation is for all of us Christian authors to unintentionally write an escapist story.

I tend to think, though, that the stories that dig deep, and explore truths that aren’t easy or obvious, won’t feel like escapism even if they have a happy-happy ending. The characters will be changed by their experiences, not untouched by them, and that doesn’t feel like escapist literature. The escape kind has the characters acting as if death and wounds and fear vanish after a good night’s sleep. 🙄

So what are your thoughts about escapist literature?

Sweet Waters – A Review


Julie Carobini, who refers to herself as a beach-lit writer, is a talented novelist. Her latest book, Sweet Waters, first in the Otter Bay series put out by B&H Publishing Group, is another delightful example.

My favorite thing about Julie’s writings, from the first time I read her work in a mentoring seminar at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference is her unique voice. My one desire is to see more of that in her novels, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, a mea culpa: I read Sweet Waters a month ago—right after I got it. But I had just completed back to back tours for Robin Parish and Andrew Peterson, and was sort of “reviewed out.” However, once I set the book aside to review “later,” it disappeared on the “waiting for later” stack. 😦 The delay between finishing the book and doing the review is in no way a reflection upon my opinion of the story! With that being said, on to the review.

The Story. Tara Sweet, oldest of three sisters, decides after the death of her father, her mother’s remarriage, and the breakup with her boyfriend, to leave her midwest home and head for California where she remembers happy years as a small girl.

When she arrives in the town she has romanticized, however, she begins to unravel realities regarding her family that destabilize her world.

Add in a growing friendship with firefighter Josh Adams who has his own problems to work through and the friction between her and her sisters, and Tara’s dream of recapturing the joy of her early years seems lost forever.

Strengths. I’ve already alluded to “voice.” In this particular novel, the characters’ voices come through. From dinner-owner Peg to successful sister Mel and empathetic employer Nigel, each has a distinct voice. Here’s a taste:

“You made it here a day early,” I say.

Mel glances around, her eyes stopping randomly, staring at the kitschy beach decor that came with our cottage. Her attention turns to me. “It works. And close to the beach too. You didn’t have to fight it out with someone else, did you? There’s no little old lady crying in her soup over losing this one, I hope.”

I shake my head. “Being on your own hasn’t changed you one bit.”

“In other words, I’m still as nasty as always.”

The distinct character voices help create realistic, believable characters, another strength of the novel.

As is place. I feel as if I’ve been to Otter Bay because Julie makes the setting come alive, a hard thing to do, in my opinion. Characters come alive by what they do and say. A setting comes alive by how the characters interact with it. Julie does this well.

The story is interesting and tension abounds. Why is Peg so set against the Sweets? Are the snatches of history Tara begins to uncover true or are they lies?

There is also strong, believable, well-integrated Christianity. Many of the characters profess faith and some live it out while others don’t. Some characters show no interest in God or “religion,” and some act in overtly sinful ways. The variation makes the world seem more real and the faith of the faithful true.

Weaknesses. I’ve mentioned voice several times. I do think Julie has a natural fresh voice and her characters pop off the page because of their distinct voices. I think I want more of that. Mel has a somewhat snarky voice but isn’t particularly likable. Tara, however, is the sensible one and has the least distinct voice of all. I’d like to see her stand out from the crowd more. But then, she wouldn’t be Tara. So it’s a curious point.

Another one is that this book is labeled Christian fiction/romance, and certainly B&H is known for its romance. However, this book is not your typical romance. I’d say it has romance in it, but it isn’t a romance. Someone picking the book up expecting to find a typical boy-meet-girl, yada-yada-yada story, may be disappointed.

I wasn’t. Rather, I was pleased with the depth and insight and character growth, with a little romance along the way as a nice bit of spice.

Recommendation. This book came out in August with a “Pure summer, pure enjoyment” marketing tag. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Sweet Waters is nothing but light, summer entertainment. This is a quality book and an enjoyable story, in the fall and winter and spring as much as in the summer. I highly recommend this book to women looking for a good story.

Published in: on September 14, 2009 at 12:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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Christian Fiction—Art or Tract?—Part 2


Author Gene Curtis made the comment to yesterday’s post that the premise of “Christian Fiction—Art or Tract?” is wrong, that there is no one way and that God can use a Christian’s work regardless if it was intended as “secular or evangelistic.”

In large part, I think Gene has it right, but I think there are a couple things that need to be cleared up.

First, preachiness is poor writing, but a novel with a clear Christian message is not necessarily preachy.

Somehow the idea has filtered into the Christian writing community that a solid, clear theme equates with preachy, and that just is not so.

“Preachy” is when the message comes directly from the author to the reader. I suppose it could even be from a character to the reader. The point is, if the message is delivered in such a way as to intrude upon the story and make the reader think, He’s telling me this, then it is preachy. It’s bad fiction. It’s the exact same thing authors do with background or setting if they don’t understand how to skillfully weave the information into the story. (Those are sometimes called info dumps and feel the same as preachiness—this information is in this part of the story because the author wants ME, the reader, to know this).

Having said that, I want to clearly state, I do not think fiction should be a tract. Tract writing is non-fiction writing and therefore governed by a different set of rules. To write fiction as a tract would mean the author is employing non-fiction rules for a story. That will inevitably end up with a story that is preachy.

Please hold off on the comments because there’s more. Writers can write compelling stories with overt Christian messages. Sharon Hinck‘s Becky Miller books come to mind, as does Julie Carobini’s Chocolate Beach. From what I’ve heard Katie Cushman‘s A Promise to Remember would fall into that category as well (it’s on my to be read pile—Christy Award winner John Olson called it “flat out brilliant.”) I’ve mentioned George Bryan Polivka‘s Trophy Chase Trilogy as examples of overt Christianity in the fantasy realm.

Fantasy authors can also write allegory, or stories with thinly-veiled representations of God and Jesus. If these are done well, just like stories with overt Christianity, they should not be denigrated because they contain a clear message consistent with the Christian message. They are not tracts. They are not preachy.

They also may or may not be art.

If an author aims to create art, I think there is a timeless and universal value to the work that he aims for. Can such a work include the Christian message?

What else is more timeless or universal?

The next question then is, how? I’ve already said, I think overt Christianity is one way—the story is about Christian characters acting as they do, with the struggles they face. I’ve also mentioned “allegory” (we call it that, but apart from John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, few stories are real allegories).

Then there are stories like Auralia’s Colors, simply a fairy tale with no intention of showing God, but authors say they believe the art itself reflects Him.

Yesterday I mentioned a third way—not overtly Christian in any of the ways I described above, but also more than just a beautiful story. This third method of writing is to weave the message below the surface, below the thin veil, far enough below that people may miss it or wonder if what they’re seeing is really there at all. These stories would aim to employ unexpected types, not allegorical representations. Things won’t “add up” in a neat and complete way, but there will be truth moments when the character learns or grows—and does not summarize what it is he’s learned for the benefit of the reader.

I know that isn’t particularly clear. I think an illustration or two will help. Look for that on Monday. Or more on Book Buzz. Or something about something else. 😉

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