I have long been a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books, and this latest in the 8-part and counting series did not disappoint.

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This book continues the epic tale of Claire and Jamie Fraser begun in the first book, Outlander, as well as dozens of added characters picked up along the way like Brianna, Roger, Lord John, William, Jenny, Ian, Rachel, Buck, Fergus, and Marsali, to name a few.  Fans of the series will recognize the usual feast of relational tension, medical drama, mystery, action, and intelligent fantasy that has characterized Diana’s books.

Gabaldon gives readers some excellent plot twists in this book, too.  I don’t want to spoil it, so all I’ll say is the main twist is fantastic!  I didn’t see it coming at all and it really satisfied.  

Like all of her books, My Own Heart’s Blood is a meaty, sink-your-teeth-into kind of book that will get under your skin and stay in your head for a long time after.  And, like the other seven, I plan on reading this one over again.

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There will be more books in the Outlander series, but during the long wait for the next instalment, we can always console ourselves with the perfect new TV adaptation of Outlander.  And apologies if my review gets you hooked.  Consider yourself fairly warned.  

For those of you who like reading time travel romance and prefer shorter, easily digestible stories, my new story Circle Round the Sun is one of six in a new anthology: Twist of Time, from Highland Press.  It is currently out on Kindle and will arrive in print in the next couple of days.  

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Time = the fourth dimension and a measure in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future 

But what happens when two of those dimensions collide? 

Six stories of love past and present: from the breathtaking fjords and conquering 
Vikings of Norway to the lush green isles of Ireland and its ever-battling lairds; 
from the white sand dunes and sculptures of Egypt and the vanquishing Roman soldiers to a simpler life in the early USA, including the iconic Route 66. 

Participating authors: Cheryl Alldredge, Jean Adams, Erin E.M. Hatton, Cheryl Norman, Karen Michelle Nutt, and Susan R. Sweet

 

Find the book on Amazon

Word Alive Press interviewed me about my upcoming book Legacy of Faith and my process in writing it.  If you’re interested you can see the interview.  

 

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I’m breaking my long, unintentional silence to let you know something very exciting–for me at least! ;)  My longtime labour of love, Legacy of Faith, is finally going to see the light of day.  

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Legacy has won the Word Alive Press annual publishing contest.  Apparently the judges “fell in love” with the manuscript, and I hope you will, too.

 

Legacy of Faith tells the story of three generations of my own family who were involved in ministry and faced, and overcame, incredible hardships.  John Mackilligen is a Covenanter–an illegal Presbyterian minister in 1600s Scotland.  William McKillican is a minister too, and when his entire congregation emigrates from Scotland to the backwoods of Canada in the early 1800s, he follows them there.  And Jennie McKillican, a spinster nurse, travels to China as a missionary.  All three face challenges that shake their faith and inspire generations to come.

 

Here are some excerpts I shared while I was writing Legacy that you might enjoy.  

Meet John

Meet William

Jennie Under Siege

John and his Enemy

 

Keep an eye open for the release date.  I’ll be sharing news here.  

In this excerpt from my time-travel short story, Mason gets some advice from a famous painter.

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Mason spent the night under Botticelli’s roof, along with the apprentices and under-artists who lived there.  He lay awake through the few hours left before dawn, casting about between the wonder of where and when he was, and the heart-bursting delight of meeting Alessa.  

 

In the morning, he was haggard and sore from the hard bed, but eager to prove his worth in the studio of one of his greatest idols.  Sandro lent him the use of his canvas and oils and an easel, and he set to work making paints by hand, in the manner he’d studied at school, and began to paint.  

 

He started with vague shapes and free movements, not quite sure what he was going to paint until Sandro appeared at his shoulder.

 

“She made an impression on you, did she?”

 

Startled, he looked to the artist, then back to his canvas.  He hadn’t realized, but a figure was taking shape there, a dancer, with a smudge of golden hair and a green dress.  

 

He smiled ruefully and nodded.  

 

“Ah, love.”  Sandro sighed and sat on a nearby stool.  “I’d bet you’d give anything to know if you made the same impression on her.”

 

“Is it that obvious?”

 

“I myself am not a stranger to the pangs of love.”  A shadow crossed his expression, a faraway look came into his eyes.

 

Mason held his breath.  Was Sandro speaking of Simonetta Vespucci, the married lady he was rumoured to have loved?  He wanted to ask, but it would have seemed strange for him to know anything about it.

 

He settled for a safer question.  “That sounds like an interesting story.”

 

“A sad tale.  Not one, perhaps, for a man happy in the early days of love.”

 

“I like sad stories.”  

 

Sandro laughed bitterly.  “You wouldn’t like to live in one.”  He seemed to hesitate, as though deciding whether or not to tell.  With a quirk of his lips, he began his tale.  “There is not much of a story.  Everyone knows it, perhaps.  But I loved a lady once.  She was the most beautiful woman who ever lived.”  Mason noticed his eyes wandered to his own half finished painting, lingering on the face of Venus newborn from the sea.  

 

He continued.  “But she could never be mine.  She was married already when I met her, and so I never revealed my heart for her.  But I like to think, to console myself with the thought, that if she had been free, she might have loved me.  I’ll never know.  She died.”

 

“I’m sorry.” 

 

The artist looked up and met his eyes.  “As am I.  Sometimes I am sorry I never declared my love for her, even in secret, even knowing nothing could come of it.  But it would have distressed her, I think, and so I’m glad I didn’t.  I’ve never loved another since her, and I don’t think I will as long as I live.  I want to be buried at her feet when I die.”  He glanced out the window, in the direction of the Church of Ognissanti where Simonetta Vespucci was entombed.  Where he would one day be entombed.

 

“You’re right,” Mason said.  “It is a sad story.  And I wish you hadn’t lived it, for your sake.”  He held out a hand to grasp the artist’s shoulder in brotherly solidarity.

 

“I don’t.”  Sandro smiled sadly.  “Whatever cruel hand fate has dealt us, love is still worth the pain.”

 

“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, eh?”

 

Sandro looked at him oddly.  “An accurate sentiment.  Eloquently put.”

 

“I can’t take credit.  It’s from a poem.”  Mason realized with a twinge that the words were from a poem written nearly four centuries from now, written by a man who had yet to draw his first breath, let alone feel any pain of loss.  He couldn’t get used to that feeling.

 

“I suppose what I want to impress on you, young Mason, is that you do not know if you have tomorrow.  I was not free to confess my love to Simonetta.  But your way is clear with this Alessa.  You should tell her how you feel.”

 

Mason glanced at the vague shape of the dancer on his canvas, drawing in his breath and holding it.  

 

Did he love her?  Could he possibly know after one brief meeting?  

 

With a quickening of his pulse, he admitted such a thing might be possible.  But there was only one way to find out.  He must speak with her again.  And soon.

 

After all, it was a miracle he’d ended up in the Renaissance in the first place.  He had no guarantee how long this supernatural glitch would give him.  

 

It was more than a mystery now, more than tracking down La Bella Ragazza.  Now that he’d found her, the draw of her was so much more than a beautiful painting.  

 

He let out his breath, slumping his shoulders slightly.  

 

Sandro clapped him on the back.  “Go to her!  No one would fault you for it.”

 

Mason glanced back at the master for confirmation.  But he didn’t need to be told twice.  

 

With a grin, he unrolled the sleeves of his chemise and rescued his borrowed doublet from the corner of the workshop.  Sandro tossed him a hat.  

 

“Go and get her,” the artist said. 

 

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As always, please feel free to let me know your honest opinion.  :)

Have you ever heard the expression “jump the shark”?  It’s a term from television, stemming from the moment when the show “Happy Days” passed its peak.  Now people use it to describe that tipping point of any TV show.  I’d like to suggest we writers can jump the shark, too.

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It’s all about keeping tension in your work.  If you lose the tension, you lose the story.  Too often I’m guilty of this.  So here’s a look at a few things that might help keep that tension alive right to the very end.

1) Keep it messy.

I’m a fan of the happy ending.  I like things all neatly put together and wrapped up in a pretty bow.  So the temptation I have to avoid in my writing is resolving problems too soon.  Don’t give your characters a break unless it’s absolutely necessary.  In fact, load on the problems as much as possible.  Let the relief come at the end, where it belongs.

2) Play on emotions.

The feels!  I love a good story that makes me weep and mourn along with the characters.  Do that.  Make the feelings raw and deep.  If your reader feels along with the characters, they will be more invested in the outcome.  

3) Dangle a carrot.

Don’t be a mean writer, though.  Your characters – and your readers – have to have some hope to cling to.  Show them that there is a big payoff waiting at the end, if they can just be patient.  Dole out hope in carefully measured portions along the way.  Then they have something to look forward to.

 

Don’t forget how you suddenly lost interest when your favourite TV couple got together too soon, or how disappointed you were by how easy it was for that book character to finish his quest.  Don’t do that to your readers!  Keep that tension alive!  

My 12-year-old son, a voracious reader, recommended this YA dystopian book to me.  Here’s my opinion.

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Thomas comes to himself in an elevator, his memory wiped, and emerges into a boxed in area called the Glade.  Inside are a bunch of young boys with their own cobbled-together society and their own slang.  Their objective: to survive, and to find a way out of the giant, shifting maze that surrounds their home.  Thomas soon learns that they are hunted by frightening creatures called Grievers, and watched by the maze’s creators, but no one will tell him much else.  But despite the giant holes in his knowledge, Thomas is driven to unravel the mystery and help the Gladers escape the maze.

The Maze Runner is a fun, gripping mystery that keeps the reader guessing right up to the end, and beyond.  The story is filled with great twists and steady pacing, the characters are interesting, and the setting is imaginative.  Fans of the Hunger Games or Divergent will especially like this one.

Like most young adult fantasy novels, this one is going through the Hollywood machine, too, so if you want to read it first before seeing the movie, act fast.  It looks like it will adapt well to the big screen.

I’m looking forward to reading the two sequels to this one, which I’m told give up few answers until much later, and the prequel that explains how the Gladers got in the maze.  I’ll be reviewing those as well, so keep an eye on my blog in the future.

In this excerpt from my work in progress, a time travel story set in Renaissance Florence, Alessa has just met Mason, and has seen a portrait of herself that has yet to be painted.

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Alessa couldn’t feel as sorry as she ought.  Oh, Matteo was trying as hard as possible to make her feel sorry, appealing to her sense of family honour, of filial duty, of love for him and for Grandfather.  But he couldn’t make her sorry.  Wretched, yes, but not sorry.

 

She endured his lectures all the way home, glad at least of his company and the safety of the carriage on the dark road even if her magical evening had ended so abruptly.  

 

“What have you to say for yourself?” He pinned her with a stern look so like Grandfather’s that she drew away, eyes wide.  

 

He softened then and held out a hand.  “I’m sorry, Alessa.  I know how you feel about things.  It was a cruel accident of birth made you a girl, otherwise you would have had the same freedoms—and responsibilities—as I do.”  

 

She took his hand in forgiveness.  “I don’t regret begin born a girl, Matteo.  I rather like being a girl.”

 

He looked at her skeptically.  “In any case, what is cannot be changed.  You are a girl, not a boy, and you have the family you have.  You simply can’t go flitting off into the night alone like some serving wench to dally with strange men.  What might have happened had I not found you when I did, I don’t want to imagine.”  He shuddered at some horror involuntarily brought to mind.  

 

Alessa scoffed.  “Nothing happened, or would have.  Mason is nothing like that.”

 

“How do you know?  Do you know anything about him?  None of my acquaintances have met him before tonight.  Do you know he appeared in Florence wearing the most outlandish garments this morning?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What?”  Matteo stared at her.  “How did you know?”

 

Alessa realized her mistake and blushed, though he couldn’t see it in the dark.  “I heard.  I also heard he was in the company of the artist, Botticelli.  Doesn’t that vouchsafe his character?”

 

Matteo shook his head.  “The word of an artist?  You are sheltered, my dear sister.  Things may not be as bad as Grandfather says, but the art community is not the picture of moral uprightness, either.”

 

She shook her head and looked out the window, frosting the darkness outside with her breath.  But Matteo’s seed of doubt had taken root inside her heart and was sending down roots into the hidden places.  

 

What did she really know about the stranger?  The more she thought about him, the more mysterious he seemed.  He had been seeking her, just as she had been seeking him.  And he had a portrait of her—a portrait that as far as she knew never should have existed.

 

Memory of the painting sent a chill through her, not entirely unpleasant.  It was undoubtedly her.  Not just the face and the hair, but the dress.  That was the strangest part.  She had altered this dress only today, but the mysterious painter had captured every detail to perfection.  It couldn’t be possible, but that painting had to have been made only today.

 

Besides that, there was the state of her in the picture—her hair unbound and flowing around her shoulders, just as she’d imagined earlier today, her dress unlaced and half-open at the neck, the deep flush of her cheeks and the knowing smile in her eyes …

 

Alessa blushed deeply even now, thinking about someone painting her like that, seeing her like that.  It just wasn’t seemly.  But at the same time, she wanted to know what would make her look at someone like that.  It was a look she’d never given anyone before, she was sure of it.

 

“What are we going to do with you?” Matteo said with a sigh, startling her out of her strange thoughts.

 

“Oh, please!” She placed an appealing hand on his arm.  “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

 

He gazed at her for a long moment, appraisingly, then sighed again.  “I couldn’t.  It would break Grandfather’s heart, for one.  And yours.  For all your foolishness, I know you didn’t mean to hurt anyone.  I’ll have to swear the groom to secrecy, as well, you realize.”

 

“Yes.  Thank you.”  Alessa lowered her eyes, miserable at having caused this trouble.

 

“But you’ll have to promise not to do this again.”

 

Her eyes snapped back to his, wide.  How could she promise such a thing, after the night she’d had?  It would be tantamount to vowing never to see Mason again, never to be free again, and though she wanted to do the right thing, her mouth wouldn’t let her say the words.  “I can’t.”  Her voice broke.  “God help me, Matteo, I can’t.”

 

At first he frowned.  She could see the outlines of his features, mask-like in the dim wash of the carriage lantern.  But then he softened, resigned.  “I doubt anything would stop you.  Nor me, if I was in your plight.”

 

She watched him, eyes wide as though she might miss something.  

 

“Alright.  Promise me, then, sister—don’t do this without me again.”

 

She inhaled deeply, unaware till now that she’d been holding her breath.  “I can promise that, at least.  Oh, thank you, Matteo!”  She threw herself on him, holding him tight. 

 

As always, please share your honest opinion.  :)

If you have a daughter, you know this song.  You’re probably singing it right now.  And if you’re anything like the millions of people who love all things Frozen, this song probably resonated with you.

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There is something profound about the song, the moment in the movie when frightened, oppressed, crushed little Elsa blossoms and becomes the powerful snow queen. 

It makes me think about all the ways I’ve let fear control me: fear of what people will think, fear of failing to meet some self-imposed standard.  It makes me long to become what I was meant to be.  

When I told my husband this, he asked me: “What does letting go mean for you?”

I didn’t know the answer.  I still don’t.

But I am thinking about it.  And I encourage you to think about it, too.  

What was I made for?  What do I love to do?  What makes me feel most alive? Then go out and do it.

But just remember one warning: just like with Elsa in Frozen, we can’t just let go with abandon and forget about the world and our responsibilities.  We can’t isolate and live out our passions alone.  

So I need to figure out how to let go, just a little bit at a time, until I’m building my own ice palace, but leaving the fjord thawed, too.  :)

The internet is full of helpful lists of questions to ask your date so you can get to know them.  But have you ever thought about using these questions to get to know your characters?  

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After all, you’re about to embark on an intimate journey with this person.  You need to know more than just height, build, hair colour and eye colour.  Just because they’re not actually real doesn’t mean these aren’t important things to know.  And even if you never use these details in your writing, they will inform how you think about your character, resulting in a more multi-faceted picture.

So, here are a few things off the top of my head.

  1. What’s your biggest goal in life? (Most important question you will ever ask your character!!)
  2. What was your childhood like?
  3. Have you been hurt before, and how have you responded?
  4. Do you have a nickname, and how did you get it?
  5. What are your hobbies?
  6. What is your relationship like with your family?
  7. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  8. What do you think about love?
  9. Are you easily convinced, or a skeptic?
  10. What would you die for?

This is in no way an exhaustive list.  I hope this will serve as a starting point when it comes to getting to know – really know – your character.  Feel free to add your own questions in the comments below.  :)

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