The Button Girl—A Review

One thing is true about having the kind of stroke I had: my recovery has allowed me to do more reading again. Here’s one of the best books that I enjoyed recently. (This review is a repost of one I published at Spec Faith last week).

The Button Girl by Sally Apokedak is a digital, soon-to-be-in-print-also young adult fantasy intended for the general audience. See excerpt here.

The Story

Young Repentance Attwater has reached the age of “buttoning,” or marriage, but she lives in a breeder village under the control of the overlords. She decided years ago when she witnessed her brother taken away from his family into slavery that she would never bear children only to lose them to the overlords. Even if she had to go into slavery herself. Even if she’d be separated from her family, from her sister who she wanted so desperately to protect.

When the day of the buttoning ceremony, Repentance must decide if she will follow through on her commitment or if she’ll become like her mother—contented, and powerless, in the face of the overlords’autocratic rule.

The Setting

The Button Girl is set in a fanciful place, in an indeterminable time, where overlords rule lowborns, where some people live in the hot, swampy fog created by the hot springs and others live in the sun on the top of the mountain in the ice castle, where some have gifts of moon cloth and others have skimmers and still others have dragonsticks or sun cloth, but the overlords have taken control of it all.

The land is appropriately “other” for a fantasy, and feels very real and vivid.

The Characters

The cast of characters in The Button Girl is not overwhelmingly large and each individual has clear, discernible motives. Repentance is the point of view character, and like many teens, she thinks she knows better than her parents. She may not be able to change the world, but she wants at least to gain some measure of control over her own circumstances. But she underestimated the effects of her choices. She didn’t know or understand all the factors, and in the end she must make a heart-wrenching choice that she never anticipated.

She’s a likeable character, and all along I found myself cheering for her and hoping that she’d found the path to safety and happiness.

The other characters remain true to form and each acts in understandable ways. Sober is a compelling character. The king is sympathetic and powerless, Comfort is vulnerable, the prince is selfish and greedy. They all act in ways that are true to their character. Together they create a story that is intriguing, to say the least.

The Plot

Repentance doesn’t want to have kids because she doesn’t want to give them up to the overlords. She doesn’t want to stand by idly as her own parents did when the overlords took their sons. She wants to protect her younger sister Comfort, but realizes she really can’t do anything to keep her safe. Against the helplessness of her life, Repentance decides to control the one thing within her power—she can refuse to button.

But to make that decision, she is dooming herself and her would-be button mate, to lives of slavery.

Only after her choice is irrevocable does she realize the ramifications of what she’s done—and the evil far outweighs the good.

Throughout her journey, Repentance struggles with why Providence has allowed the overlords to have control over the lowborn. Is Providence unfair? Or does He even exist? Why do her prayers seem to fall on deaf ears?

Repentance continues to act rashly, and one poor decision seems invariably to lead to another.

In the end, she knows what she should do, but does she have the strength of character to do it?


The Button Girl may be a YA fantasy, but readers of all ages will be delighted with this story. It’s filled with gripping tension, engaging characters, a fantasy setting that comes to life, and above all a problem that is so relevant to our times.

Apokedak gives no easy answers, but she does put her character into a situation that forces her to choose, and in so doing she allows us to see more clearly what our responsibilities are today. It’s a brilliant way to address what our culture faces.

I give this book my highest recommendation. Readers of all stripes, but especially fantasy readers, will be thoroughly engaged throughout. This is a book you won’t want to miss.


Published in: on June 17, 2017 at 12:25 pm  Comments Off on The Button Girl—A Review  
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The Oregon Christian Writers Conference

Agent Sally Apokedak at Red Lion Inn at Jantzen Beach, Portland, Oregon

Agent Sally Apokedak at Red Lion Inn at Jantzen Beach, Portland, Oregon

I number of years ago, I had an editing client, Carol S. Fitzpatrick, from Oregon whom I met when she and her husband were down in Southern California. They came to church with me, then took me out to lunch. We had a delightful time and became friends. I not only edited her middle grade novel but a nonfiction project she had—a help for classroom teachers in their task of teaching reading.

More than once she told me that I really needed to go to the Oregon Christian Writers Conference. Even after we both attended Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference (which I love), she told me how wonderful the Oregon one was and how she was sure I’d like it.

As it happened, another couple friends, agent Sally Apokedak and author Jill Williamson also raved about what a good conference OCW is. Well, I finally got my chance to go, and they were all right. The carrot on the top, though, is that I attended as a presenter, not as a conferee.

From start to finish, the conference was wonderful. Several weeks before the event I received a handwritten note from the prayer team with a beautiful, detailed prayer for this newbie. I suspect there’s a standard template they use from year to year, but that doesn’t minimize the effort, thought, and prayer that went into that note.

I had a very disruptive email glitch right about the time that Things Were Due for the conference. Except, I didn’t know that these things were due, nor that the things I was sending hadn’t gotten through. In spite of this, the organizers of the conference, in particular director Lindy Jacobs, were kind, professional, and unruffled.

We worked around the problem while I discovered what was happening with my heretofore exceptionally reliable email provider which I’d long recommended for its attack on spam without disrupting legitimate communication. (Needless to say, my faith in my email provider has taken a hit).

The overall feeling I have of this conference is calm. Yes, there was an air of excitement among the writers as they registered that first day. You could tell they were anticipating the conference with joy and expectation, but there wasn’t a frantic rush to get the attention of the top agents (there were more agents in attendance than I’ve found at any time at Mount Hermon).

There was a variety of “Coaching Classes”—morning instruction by a single writing professional centered on a particular topic. Sally Apokedak taught “Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels That Sell,” for instance, while Karen Ball taught “Taming the Most Common Fiction Dragons” for beginning writers, Jane Kirkpatrick taught “Weaving Story Threads in Fiction” for intermediate writers, Nancy Ellen Dodd taught “The Language of Screenwriting” for screenwriters, and Randy Ingermanson taught “How to Be an Insanely Great Indie Author.” There were others, some fiction, some nonfiction, some on marketing. The point is, there really was something for everyone.

On top of these great Coaching Classes, the afternoon included a wide variety of workshops (including “Blogging And Blog Tours—The Whys And Wherefores” by yours truly). There were also a couple panels—an editors’ panel the first day, then an agents’ panel on day two.

The evenings included excellent talks by our keynote speaker, Pastor Ed Underwood (Church of the Open Door in LA), followed by Night Owls—a pitch session one night (led by Jill Williamson, teaching writers how to pitch their books to editors or agents), a critique clinic the next (led by me, giving writers the opportunity to have the first three pages of a manuscript critiqued by a small group), and an autograph party following the awards ceremony on the last night.

Meanwhile, writers could sign up to have 15 minute appointments with agents and editors to pitch their work or ask questions.

The thing that I think set OCW apart from others I’ve attended were Mentoring Appointments. These were half hour writer-to-writer meetings. I had the opportunity of serving as a mentor and realized after a few appointments how great this aspect of the conference is. The other writers weren’t pitching me something. They simply needed someone to listen, offer advice, and pray with them.

To be honest, they were similar to the parent-teacher conferences I participated in during my years as a middle grade teacher. Then I was answering questions about how a parent could help his child do better in school. In the mentoring appointments I was offering advice about how the writer could help his writing project in one way or another.

That’s a bit of an over-simplification, but the point is, people often need a neutral individual with some experience to give them guidance. These mentoring appointments offer that opportunity to conferees.

Would I recommend the Oregon Christian Writers’ Conference? Absolutely! Would I return as a presenter? In a heartbeat if I were asked. It was a wonderful experience and I met some great people, reconnected with others I’ve met throughout the years. For instance, Sally Stuart, founder of The Christian Writers Market Guide, was there, and I was able to thank her in person for endorsing my first writing book, Power Elements Of Story Structure.

Author Jill Williamson, winner of the 2015 OCW Trailblazer Award

Author Jill Williamson, winner of the 2015 OCW Trailblazer Award

I was sitting with Jill Williamson during the awards when she won the 2015 Trailblazer Award. I attended Sally Apokedak’s Coaching Classes. I met Ben Wolf for the first time and was able to congratulate him for his engagement and for winning the book award in speculative fiction. I had a delightful dinner talking with Susan Maas, a long time member of the Oregon Christian Writers Association responsible for the conference. I met Sherrie Ashcraft and Christina Tarabochia who founded Ashberry Lane, the publisher whose author Angela Ruth Strong won the Young Adult/Middle Grade Book Award for The Snowball Fight Professional.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Great time hanging with writerly people. Such a wonderful conference.


A History Lesson
Sometimes the bits of culture I look at are things I don’t like. Abortion is one of those. Friend and fellow writer Mike Duran recently addressed the issue and a surprising (to me) discussion unfolded, started by someone who took a strong stand in favor of abortion.

After several rounds of comments, Mike finally asked him to stop because he was not saying anything new. Before I read Mike’s request (which I took to heart as much as I expect the pro-abortionist did), I’d posted what I consider to be a blistering comment, in which I called some of the things the pro-abortionist said ludicrous, insulting, and wrong and his position despicable, reprehensible, and unconscionable.

The thing is, I had more to say! I didn’t address some of the worst of what this commenter said. In response to Sally Apokedak who related that she had had two abortions but knew of God’s forgiveness, he said

Maybe you had two abortions and killed two of your fetuses, but Sally, you didn’t do anything wrong for which you need to be forgiven! You did the morally right thing under the circumstances. Let’s face it – you weren’t ready to be a mother. If God exists, you did exactly what he would want you to do. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

That he would claim the moral high ground for killing human life. He didn’t want anyone calling the unborn babies. Rather he wanted us to use precise scientific language in a discussion like this, calling these unborn zygotes and fetuses. But he pretends to know what God would think (if he exists!).

Well, Scripture, not this man’s imagination, shows us what God thinks. One such instance is the conception of Samson. His parents were childless until one day an angel appeared to his mother who then related to her husband his message:

But he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and now you shall not drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean thing, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death. (Judges 13:7)

So, before she conceived, she was to observe the conditions of a Nazirite because her son, Samson would be a life-long Nazirite. And that life started in the womb, at conception, deduction leads us to believe.

Job, in one of his discourses makes clear statements about his own life:

“Did not He who made me in the womb make him,
And the same one fashion us in the womb? (Job 38L15)

His comment is reminiscent of David’s:

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them. (Ps. 139:13-16)

Or how about this clear statement of faith:

Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb;
You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts.
Upon You I was cast from birth;
You have been my God from my mother’s womb. (Psalm 22:9-10)

Isaiah echoes what David says about a person’s conception:

Thus says the LORD who made you
And formed you from the womb (Isaiah 44:2a)

And again a few verses later:

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb (Isaiah 44: 24a)

Some chapters later, he speaks of God’s hand upon him:

The LORD called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me. (Isaiah 49:1b)

Just as Samson was set apart as a Nazarite, so Isaiah was set apart spiritually. Clearly God not only physically formed the unborn, but He interacted with them spiritually!

God also gave Isaiah purpose, while he was still in the womb:

And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant (Isaiah 49:5a)

Jeremiah’s experience was much the same:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5)

Shall I go on? There’s more!

It’s upsetting to me when someone slanders God’s name and lies about Him, and I felt a need to set the record straight. Far from approving of abortion, I suspect God looks at these unborn aborted babies as orphans who He takes special notice of.

Here’s another piece of intolerable disinformation from this same commenter:

The right to life begins wherever the human community decides to assign it!

In short, people like this commenter put “the human community” in the place of God. Mankind has simply made himself into an idol. It’s the very thing Satan tempted Eve with: Don’t you want to be like God, knowing good from evil? Some scholars suggest that idea of knowing good and evil was the desire to determine good and evil for ourselves, just as the pro-abortion people do.

Killing life is not good. This commenter conceded that after conception, the union of the sperm and egg is life. He simply didn’t want to call it human life. As if the product of two humans could be some other kind of life. It’s so illogical, it’s hard to believe intelligent people hold to these views. Yep, they are heinous, reprehensible, and unconscionable ideas. I don’t know how a civilized society can hold to such selfish savagery as abortion!

Published in: on February 4, 2015 at 6:33 pm  Comments (7)  
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Admirable Qualities

Recently Sally Apokedak, now an agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency, wrote a blog post about the qualities of compelling fiction characters. It’s a good list. About half of them I’ve seen in Donald Maass’s excellent book Writing the Breakout Novel, but I think all Sally’s additions are good ones.

What struck me was how different the list is from what I like and look for in the real life people that I hang with. But even more striking is how different these qualities are from the ones God says He values.

Yes, God does name some specifics when it comes to the qualities He esteems.

While our culture has taught us to admire the aggressive, take-charge protagonist who has a New York attitude or a bit of swag or an assertive insistence, God says the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit is “precious” in His sight (1 Peter 3:4).

Gentle and quiet?

He even says later that when we give an account of the hope that is in us we are to do so with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).

Through Paul He tells us that our speech should always be with grace (Colossians 4:6).

Through the prophet Micah, God tells us what He requires of us:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)

In Deuteronomy we learn that God wants us to love Him and obey Him, to fear Him and serve Him. Elsewhere we see that God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

People that have these qualities would make the best bosses, I think, and the best spouses, friends, co-workers, neighbors, pastors, teachers, you name it. Just not the best protagonist in a work of fiction.

Why is that?

The main reason, I believe, is that we want the people in our life to be more like God and the characters we read about to be more like us.

We know ourselves to be flawed, in need of change and redemption, so we can relate to a character that struggles as we struggle. Not in the same way, necessarily, or because of the same things, but identifiably so that I see myself in what the character goes through.

At the same time, I believe we humans, following Satan’s lead, want to set ourselves up as god in our lives, so the power of the aggressive, in charge, snarky, assertive character who determines to make things right is appealing. We like to win with him as he blows away the bad guy or at least knocks him across the room.

Even sacrifice, which we admire in real life and in fiction, is better when it is bold and memorable and successful. Something seems wrong and sad about someone who gives his life for another who also ends up dying. We want the sacrifice to “work,” to pay off, to be effective.

It seems to me, then, that our fictitious characters are a mixed bag of what we are and what we wish we were. We want them to learn and grow because we want to learn and grow. We want them to win because we want to win. We want them to fight for justice because we wish we’d fight for justice.

Fiction characters aren’t us and they aren’t entirely a reflection of the values of society, but they show us a lot of both.

Published in: on October 11, 2012 at 5:39 pm  Comments Off on Admirable Qualities  
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Saying No To Free Gifts

Several months ago I mentioned a giveaway fellow speculative writer and friend Sally Apokedak has going. Those who sign up to receive a newsletter about children’s book, including young adults, will be entered in a sweepstakes with the possibility of winning a Google Nexus or Kindle Fire. The question has come up from time to time: with the possibility of winning such a cool prize, why doesn’t everyone who hears about it enter?

I’ve thought about several possibilities.

1. They already have an ereader and don’t think they need another.
2. They don’t want to take the time to fill out the form (which now only consists of supplying your name and email address).
3. They don’t want to give the required information. Originally subscribers were also asked for a physical address.
4. They don’t think they have a chance of winning.
5. They see so many give-aways, they are numb to them and barely notice them.
6. They don’t want the newsletter, so they aren’t willing to have it arrive, even twice a year, to clutter their inbox.

As you might have guessed, this post isn’t about promotional giveaways. This morning I saw a clear parallel between those who decide to say no to an author’s giveaway, and those who say no to God’s great giveaway: the free gift of salvation by God’s grace through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son.

The first reason seems to me to be the strongest. Those who say no to God’s free gift of salvation don’t think they need salvation. Maybe they think they’re good enough or that God is such a good guy he’ll overlook their reprehensible thoughts and behavior. After all, there are so many who are worse. You know, murderers and the like, people who nobody wants to hang with for eternity. As long as they’re not as bad as those guys, then maybe they can get by.

Another possibility is that they think they can do enough to earn their own salvation. Maybe they ascribe to the “no charity” motto.

Maybe they think they shouldn’t need salvation and are too proud to let everyone know they actually do.

Secondly, I suspect there’s a good number who say no to God’s free gift because they’re too busy to pay attention to His offer. They don’t want to slow down to find out what exactly they would have to do and how their lives would change if they said yes. They might even promise themselves “someday,” thinking they’ll give it more thought later.

Undoubtedly there are some in the third camp–they wouldn’t mind a free gift if the price weren’t so high. Well, yes, it’s free, but there’s personal information they have to disclose–sins they have to confess, truths they have to believe. Getting to a place where they are willing to be so personal is asking too much in their book.

It’s possible some say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t think it’s real. They think He doesn’t exist or He doesn’t care. Or they think their lives have been so unutterably evil that God couldn’t possibly extend salvation to them.

A fifth reason for saying no to God is that there are so many offers on the table, each saying this about God or that or the other. He’s interested in making you healthy and wealthy, he hates gays, he will bring everyone into heaven eventually, he is one with the universe–in us all and all of us in him–and so on. Who knows if the story about Jesus dying in their place to pay for their sins so that their salvation is free, is reliable and true when there are so many other possibilities?

Lastly, there are undoubtedly some who say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t want to see Him showing up in their house, at their place of business, at their parties, or any of the other places they hang out. Salvation, frankly, isn’t appealing because God is attached to the gift. They don’t want “such a tyrant” bossing them around.

Amazing, isn’t it? Something so valuable, so necessary, so life-changing, and yet person after person refuses the free gift. They have their reasons, after all.

Published in: on September 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm  Comments (4)  
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Unity And Disagreement

Apparently I entered the Christian fiction wars again last week with my Thursday post, “The Misconception About Weaker Brothers.” The irony is, I actually intended to remove some of the shrapnel the combatants so often use to snipe at each other. But according to Fred Warren at Spec Faith, Sally Apokedak at Facebook, and Mike Duran in the comments to the above post, I apparently initiated an incursion. Not my intention.

The truth is, Christians aren’t supposed to be warring with each other. Paul said to the church in Philippi

make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Later in the book he scolded two women who weren’t living in harmony with each other, and earlier he pointed out there were some believers preaching Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives. About the latter, he said, So what? Just as long as Christ is being preached, that’s all that matters.

Which brings me to the fiction wars. The issue in question is whether or not Christian writers should use profanity and cussing in fiction. (Sometimes references to sex get thrown into the mix as well, but of late the topic has centered on “certain” words).

Both sides have their reasons and their verses–one of the more popular being Romans 14, which I addressed in my “Misconception” post and even more so in “Weaker Brothers, Legalists, And Christian Fiction”, believing as I do that so many of us are ignoring clear passages of Scripture in order to make this a treatise on how to handle “gray areas.”

In all honesty, I don’t see why Christians can’t look at each other’s writing and conclude, So what? Just as long as Christ is being preached. OK, I could hear it from the abstainers before I’d finished typing the sentence: But they’re not preaching Christ. They admit it. They don’t even think they have to have good theology in their books. They’re sacrificing truth at the altar of art.

I submit that this position isn’t tenable. No one knows what God can or will use in someone else’s life or for what purpose. For example a story with some of “those words” may well bring a reader to the author’s Facebook page or blog where he will hear the gospel or at least interact with Christians.

At the same time, I can hear the accommodaters saying, YIKES! Preaching in fiction? That’s been the whole problem with Christian fiction and the very thing we’re crusading against!!!! (OK, maybe only two exclamation points. 😉 )

So what, I say. There are Christian brothers and sisters who have a different vision of fiction than you do. But aren’t we to be serving the same Lord? Aren’t we to have one purpose?

Not the same methods, mind you. It’s the whole feet-hands-ears-and-eyes argument showing that even the small and apparently offensive parts of the body are important and necessary. So why can’t abstainer writers simply look at the accommodater writers and say, there go those smelly old feet. I’m sure glad they’re trudging the mean streets for me. Or why can’t the accommodater writers say, there are those Bible-thumping hands. I’m sure glad they’re out there contending for the faith, even in stories.

The fact is, there are no winners in the Christian fiction writer wars. No winners. None. When we judge each other or treat each other with contempt, the Church loses. We are to love each other as a demonstration of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. When we fail to demonstrate love for one another, we give the world the opportunity to discredit God’s name.

This does not mean we need to wave the white flag of surrender or that we need to find a position with which we can all agree. I suspect we won’t. This does not mean we should stop stating what we believe. Most of us have that right and freedom–thank God.

It does mean, however, that we refuse to fight with each other, that we respect those who disagree with us, that we stop treating them, even in subtle ways, as incompetent or inferior, either spiritually or artistically. It means that we make a decision to value our witness over our ideas about writing.

Book Awareness

The hardest thing about being a writer these days is getting noticed. I’m convinced of this.

I judged several contests this year and it’s apparent to me that there are some really good writers out there. I’m also a critique partner and an editor and a blog tour coordinator. I see lots of books, some that I’d like to see hit the NY Times best seller lists. But reality is, they probably won’t.

Promotion of books is hard.

It’s harder now than ever, I think, because we have had an explosion of indy publishers and an ever-growing number of self-published authors. How does anyone set themselves apart from that crowd?

I just left a Facebook Launch Party chat for one of the best books I’ve read this year. I got there late and already there were nearly 300 comments. Wow, I thought. Three hundred!

But guess what. If each of those comments was from a person who has bought or will buy the book, that’s small potatoes. And this book deserves BIG potatoes! 😉

Speculative middle grade and young adult writer Sally Apokedak is working to build her tribe, and as a result has come up with a great idea. She’s creating a semi-annual newsletter about the best picture, MG, and YA books–a great tool for parents looking for Christmas presents in the fall and for summer reads for their kiddos in the spring.

On top of this, Sally is giving away prizes. Just for signing up for this wonderful newsletter (and trust me, one look at her web site and you know she does things up right), you’ll be entered to win a Kindle Fire, or one of the other prizes available. What a deal.

But with all the goodness, you’d expect hundreds and hundreds of people to sign up, wouldn’t you? Let’s just say, she hasn’t reached those numbers yet! 😮

What’s it take, I wonder. Giving things away doesn’t seem to get you noticed any more these days.

Everyone blogs and Tweets. Writers are speakers and do interviews and book signings. Yet that’s the deal–everyone does it. How does a writer separate from the pack?

Is it brilliant marketing? A great public relations campaign?

Or do we say that God works all things for His purposes? Great marketing campaigns have been known to lay an egg and small, unheralded projects have been known to hit pay dirt.

So here’s what I think. If I ever publish my fantasy novels and they find a readership, everyone will know that it’s God at work (one of those “wonders and signs” I wrote about recently 😉 ) because I’ll tell you flat out: I haven’t got a clue how a person or a book can separate from all the others out there to actually be noticed. As I see it, it has to be something God brings about.

Published in: on June 26, 2012 at 6:52 pm  Comments (6)  
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Fantasy Friday – Introducing Jill Williamson

What is it about Alaska? Seems like more and more Christian novelists are from Alaska — Sally Apokedak, Sibella Giorello, and Jill Williamson.

Of course Jill doesn’t really need an introduction. After all, she’s won two Christy Awards for the first two books she published — By Darkness Hid and To Darkness Fled (Marcher Lord Press) — and I suspect her third, From Darkness Won, will be up for nomination next year.

Rarely does a novelist enter the publishing world and find such acclaim so quickly. The only other writer I can think of is another fantasy author — Karen Hancock who won four straight Christys with her first four published novels.

That should tell you what kind of writer Jill is. What readers might not know is that she once had aspirations as a fashion designer.

After graduating from her high school and studying at the University of Alaska, she headed off to the lower forty-eight to attend college in Idaho where she ended up meeting her husband, Brad. Together they trundled to New York so that Jill could test the waters of the fashion industry by attending the Fashion Institute of Technology.

A year later, as planned, they moved to Los Angeles, this time so that Brad could explore his interest in the movie industry. As time passed, however, God changed the direction of their hearts, and they both became increasingly interested in ministry, particularly to young people.

Eventually Brad took a job as a full time youth minister. Jill hoped to develop her own speaking ministry too, and started writing articles for periodicals for teens as a means to that goal. In the process, she discovered fiction and began writing novels.

And she loved it! But what about her ministry goals? How did this little “writing hobby” fit in with what God was calling her to do? Thankfully her wise pastor encouraged her to continue with her writing as a way to connect with the teens she wants to reach.

And what, precisely, does she want to get across to her readers? “That God is the desire of our hearts.”

Now she and Brad — and their son — live in Eastern Oregon. Besides being a gifted writer and faithful wife, Jill is a mom and a speaker. Yes, she reached that speaker goal and does talks for schools and libraries and teaches at writing conferences and clinics for children, teens, and adults.

As far as Jill’s writing is concerned, she’s represented by Amanda Luedeke of the MacGregor Literary Agency and is contracted for a new series with Zondervan. In fact the first book Replication: The Jason Experiment is scheduled to release in December! While her Blood of Kings series could best be described as epic fantasy for all ages, Replication is a teen science fiction/suspense novel.

Under miscellaneous, I just have to add, Jill has very good taste in books and television shows — we have a number of the same ones listed in our interests at Facebook, which by the way is a great way to keep up with her. You might also want to follow her on Twitter.

For fans of her fiction, you can subscribe to her Podcast to hear her first novel and soon, a serialization of the second. One way or the other, I suggest you make room for the work of this talented writer. I might even suggest that her books, available at Marcher Lord Press, would make great Christmas presents for that reader in your family.

And The Winner Is …

The title of this post is a little misleading because no one is actually winning anything. However, I did want to share the results of the “It’s All In The Opening” poll since I mentioned it with some frequency last week, either here or at other social media venues. According to those who voted, there was a clear front runner and a solid second place, with the other four books lagging behind.

Not only do I want to give you the results, I want to do the Big Reveal: who wrote each of those excerpts. In other words, who did you all end up voting for based solely on the writing of their first one hundred or so words?

So, after 90 votes and an unknown number of abstentions, here are the books, the authors, and the results in the order in which they appeared in the poll.

– – – – –

Choice A The Opposite Of Art by Athol Dickson (Howard Books, A Division of Simon & Schuster), *9% of the vote.

Sirens called him from his dreams. When the racket stopped, he rose and crossed the little bedroom of his hotel suite to lean out into the night, trusting his life to the freezing wrought iron railing just beyond the window so he could gaze down into the alley where a couple of New York City’s finest had thrown some guy against the bricks. Even from five floors up, even in the dark, Ridler recognized the lust for violence and the fear down there, but that was nothing compared to the play of the police car’s lights on the wall across the alley.

– – – – –

Choice B The Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead (Thomas Nelson), 10% of the vote.

“And I say that you’re a fool, Addison Fletcher!” the brawny man declared, striking his ale mug against the bare wooden table for emphasis.

“God smite me where I sit if I tell a lie, Coll Dawson!” Addison protested, his eyes flicking heavenward for the briefest of moments.

“Ah, but — did you not say,” declared Coll, cocking an eyebrow and pointing a finger. “Did you not say that you got this account from another –”

“From Rob Fuller,”piped a voice from the end of the table.

“Aye, from Rob Fuller. And who’s to say that a tale told by Rob Fuller is true or false? Swearing oaths upon secondhand tales is not wise.”

– – – – –

Choice C The Monster In The Hollows by Andrew Peterson (Rabbit Room Press), 39% of the vote.

It wasn’t a sound that woke Janner Igiby. It was a silence.

Something was wrong.

He strained into a sitting position, wincing at the pain in his neck, shoulders, and thighs. Every time he moved he was reminded of the claws and teeth that had caused his wounds.

He expected to see the bearer of those claws and teeth asleep in the bunk beside him, but his brother was gone. Sunlight fell through the porthole and slid to and fro across the empty mattress like a pendulum, keeping time with the rocking of the boat. The other bunk’s bedclothes were in a heap on the floor, which was typical; Kalmar never made his bed back in Glipwood, either. What wasn’t typical was his absence.

– – – – –

Choice D The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead (Thomas Nelson), 8% of the vote.

From a snug in the corner of the Museum Tavern, Douglas Flinders-Petrie dipped a sop of bread into the gravy of his steak and kidney pudding and watched the entrance to the British Museum across the street. The great edifice was dark, the building closed to the public for over three hours. The employees had gone home, the charwomen had finished their cleaning, and the high iron gates were locked behind them. The courtyard was empty and, outside the gates, there were fewer people on the street now than an hour ago. He felt no sense of urgency: only keen anticipation, which he savoured as he took another draught of London Pride. He had spent most of the afternoon in the museum, once more marking the doors and exits, the blind spots, the rooms where a person might hide and remain unseen by the night watchmen, of which there were but three to cover the entire acreage of the sprawling institution.

– – – – –

Choice E The Button Girl by Sally Apokedak (unpublished manuscript), 20% of the vote.

The lantern, dangling from Repentance Atwater’s upstretched hand, cast a pool of yellow light around the village midwife, as she stooped beside Joy Springside’s sleeping mat. The rest of the cave lay in darkness.

“Push, now, Joy!” the midwife commanded.

Joy, her face scrunched with the effort, pushed.

The baby came finally, all purple-skinned and slick with blood and screaming his protest at the world.

Screaming his protest.

A boy!

It wasn’t fair! Lantern light splashed up and down the walls as Repentance’s hand shook.

She grimaced, as the babe’s squalling bounced off hard stone walls and bruised her raw nerves. She should never have agreed to this.

– – – – –

Choice F Pattern Of Wounds by J. Mark Bertrand (Bethany House), 12% of the vote.

A uniform named Nguyen is on the tape tonight. The flashing lights bounce off the reflective strips on his slicker. He cocks his head at my ID and gives me a sideways smile.

“Detective March,” he says, adding my name to his log.

“I know you, don’t I? You worked the Thomson scene last year.”

“That was me.”

“Good work, if I remember. You got a line on this one yet?”

“I haven’t even been inside.” He nods at the house over his shoulder. A faux Tuscan villa on Brompton in West University, just a couple of blocks away from the Rice village. “Nice, huh? Not the first place I’d expect to be called out to.”

“You think death cares where you live?”

“I guess not. Answer me one thing: why the monkey suit?”

– – – – –

So what I’m wondering … after seeing the book covers and learning who the authors are, would you change your vote?

Something to think about.

* Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

Fantasy Friday – Is Harry Potter A Character Readers Love?

Of course opinions about literary characters vary from reader to reader, but some general consensus eventually forms. More than one person has said that Harry Potter is a likable person but not someone to love.

I’ve thought about this some and have to agree. But in the same way that opinions vary, so do the reasons for the opinions. My friend and fellow speculative fiction writer, Sally Apokedak, concluded that she didn’t love Harry as a character because he was an angry young man.

That wasn’t on my radar screen at all. In fact, I thought Harry was quite docile in the opening book, even compliant. It is in book one that readers should have fallen in love with him, I think. But I didn’t.

He was in dreadful circumstances and he bore them well. When thrust into the limelight, he didn’t revel in it or try to capitalize on his fame.

Actually, he didn’t do much of anything. Instead, stuff happened to him. He didn’t craft a plan to go to Hogwarts to get out from under his home circumstances. Instead, the opportunity came to him, and he went along with those who told him what to do, whether that person was Hagrid or Mrs. Weasley or his teachers.

Here is the reason I don’t believe I loved Harry Potter as a hero of a series of brilliant novels — he was not the agent that made things happen. Consequently, I feared for him but didn’t get in his corner and cheer him on to success.

Granted, when presented with a definite choice, Harry came through with good decisions. He stood up for Nevile, the brunt of many students’ ridicule, he refused Draco Malfoy’s offered friendship, he chose Griffindor as his house instead of Slytherin, and throughout the series he did things like going back to warn Hermione of impending danger when the troll was in the school.

In the end of the series, he even forgives and rescues Draco and offers Voldemort a “chance at remorse” (Wikipedia).

Yes, Harry had moments when he was angry, generally times when he seemed painted into a corner. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the ministry rep, who later became the headmistress who replaced Dumbledore, didn’t allow the students to learn defense against the dark arts because she and others in wizardry leadership did not believe Voldemort had really returned. Harry knew they were wrong and that their actions laid the wizarding world open to danger. He was disgruntled until he had a plan of action.

Was he vengeful as some believe?

When his godfather was killed, he was angry and when Dumbldore was killed, he determined to destroy the hidden parts of Voldemort that kept him alive. These responses don’t seem untoward or out of the normal range of emotions for someone in those circumstances. I believed his reactions to be realistic and believable, and I wasn’t at all put off by them.

More amazing was how his desire to do whatever was required to bring an end to Voldemort crystalized. The compliant child became the determined savior willing to give up his own life to bring an end to the evil that threatened the rest of the wizarding world.

His actions were admirable. They were not lovable. For me to have gotten behind him in a more meaningful way early on, I think Harry would have had to be a different person. But then the books would have been completely different.

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