CAFE: A gathering place. A place of refreshment.

Thirsty for the latest releases in Christian fiction? Ready for a peek into the world of publishing and writing conferences? Hungry for spiritual and real-life nourishment? Pull up a seat; you're in the right place, and I'm so glad you've stopped by.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Review of SALTY LIKE BLOOD by Harry Kraus, MD

Isn’t this a great title for a book? If the title and intriguing cover don’t pull you in, then the stellar writing of Harry Kraus, MD will. I met the author at the Minneapolis ACFW conference last year where I learned he was a physician who writes medical thrillers. I confessed that as a nurse, I had not really attempted to write a medical novel, but as we talked I realized bits of my nursing experience and fascination with aberrant personalities have shown up in my stories. I think Dr. Kraus shares some of my fascination. His medical expertise certainly lends flavor and credibility to SALTY LIKE BLOOD.

On to telling you about the book. From the back cover: When does a parent’s love for a child who’s missing cross the line into obsession?

When the daughter of David and Joanne Conners disappears from her grandfather’s waterfront property on the Chesapeake Bay, panic and shock turn quickly to grief and despair. David is convinced his child didn’t drown, but his wife, Joanne, refuses to hold on to false hope. Their search for closure leads them down different paths, threatens their already strained marriage, and brings them both to the brink of ruin. Of course I won’t tell you what happens, but I will tell you that just when you think you’ve figured it out, the story twists in a new direction. Intelligently written in an very readable style, grief, mercy, and forgiveness are explored brilliantly by the author. He takes you to the edge of reason, where only a fine line separates revenge and justice. The Chesapeake Bay setting, the smell of the salty air, and the piles of cooked crabs were extra touches that really connected me to the characters and the story. Delightful book!

Dr. Harry Kraus is a practicing surgeon in Virginia and has served as a missionary surgeon in Kenya. He is the author of two non-fiction books and several novels, including the 2002 bestseller, Could I Have This Dance? Thanks, Dr. Kraus for a great read!

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I'm privileged to have Amy Deardon visiting the blog today. Hope you'll sit back and read about Amy, her book, A Lever Long Enough, and her insights about writing. After the interview you'll find Amy's article - Story Structure. Thanks, Amy, for visiting the Café today and allowing me to share your research with my readers. Congratulations on your recent book, A Lever Long Enough.

Carla, thanks for allowing me to visit!

Tell me a little about yourself?
I’m married and fortunate enough to be able to stay at home with our two children, now 15 and 13. In my life B.C. (before children) I did bench science research and taught anatomy and physiology at an undergraduate level.

How did this book come about? Or to put it another way, how did you decide to write this particular story?
Lever is about a small military team that travels back in time to film the theft of Jesus’ body from the tomb. I like to think of it as The Case for Christ meets The DaVinci Code.

In my mid-twenties, I undertook a personal quest to investigate the claims of Jesus’ resurrection with the goal of destroying them. To do this I studied biblical and extra-biblical accounts of Jesus and numerous commentaries by believers and skeptics alike, listed the facts agreed upon, and began to explore scenarios that could explain what was known. To my surprise and considerable dismay, the evidence kept pointing away from naturalistic explanations and eventually formed a virtually certain case for the resurrection of Jesus. Finally I admitted defeat and became a Christian.

I wrote this book because I was blown away by the case for the resurrection, and I wanted others to understand it.

So you were a scientist before you became an author? How has that helped you in your writing process?

Like science, fiction writing requires persistence and attention to detail. However, scientific and fiction writing are opposites. To write an article, you must put the facts up front: this is what was investigated, this is how, this is what was found. In fiction, to create tension you must always leave one or more questions unanswered. If a character says something, the other character can’t just answer, he must delay, or go off on a tangent; otherwise the writing is *on the nose* and boring. Another difference is that in scientific writing one must include all the details, whereas in fiction writing it’s important to only write what advances the story. For example, no one wants to read about how a character picks up a bottle of water, unscrews the lid, and takes a deep refreshing drink unless the character is about to give a speech and is afraid he will cough unless he can, just maybe, unobtrusively grab a bottle of water first. Jeopardy or tension needs to be in everything.

The biggest surprise I found when writing fiction was just how vulnerable it felt. Scientific writing is technical and impersonal.

What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

The temptation for me is always to just rip ahead and write. I did this with Lever – I was learning fiction techniques as well so it probably wasn’t so bad, but I ended up throwing out so many many pages of good writing because the story wasn’t going in the right direction. I didn’t know why not, just that it wasn’t right.

For my current book, I laid out an outline and write from that. I go off on tangents, of course, but before I go too far down a new uncharted path I analyze the direction to fit it into the story. It seems to work for me. There is nothing neat about piecing a story together though; even with the best preparation it takes a great deal of trial and error, because things always look different in the writing from what you planned.

How did you develop the characters in your novel? Charts? Interviews? Or did you just start writing?

I knew generally who they were. As I wrote, the story events forced me to make more choices of what they were like, and I also invented story events that would test them precisely at their weak points. It was an organic process, an interaction between character and plot.

What do you want the reader to gain from A Lever Long Enough?
I’d like someone to race through the story to find out what happens next, then shut the book and say, wait a minute… My goal was to demonstrate (without the use of fictional miracles) just how remarkable is the case for the resurrection. My prayer is that God can use this book to open the mind and heart of a skeptic.

Who’s your favorite author?

My favorite fiction author is Michael Crichton – I love his amazing premises and intricate plots.

What is the latest book you’ve read?
I just reread Testament by John Grisham. This is a surprisingly spiritual and inspiring book, thoughtful.

Coffee? Tea? Sparkling mineral water? Or . . .
Every morning I make a big pot of tea and drink as I write. It’s very soothing. I’ve recently discovered white tea (Lipton makes an awesome blend with mango and peach flavors), but I also like spearmint, and chai. Earl Grey is the pits (never understood why Captain Picard on Star Trek requested this!)

Coffee? I can drink it without gagging, but it’s never to be chosen, at least by me. My husband loves it though.

Seltzer with a little bit of orange juice, please.

Shall we move on to chocolate?

What new project (s) are you working on?
I currently have two book projects. The first is my prequel, Nest Among the Stars, about the space station disaster that occurs to one of my main characters (Sara) before she emigrates to Israel. It’s a lot of fun for me to be writing, and involves the time machine in an unusual way.

The other project came about from my experience writing Lever: after finishing, I decided there MUST be a better way to organize a story, so I took maybe a year dissecting numerous novels and movies to better understand how a narrative is put together. The Story Template describes the algorithm I’ve developed to allow a writer to develop a resonant, compelling inner/outer story (novel or screenplay) from the germ of an idea. I’ve refined it through story-coaching multiple students, and am excited because this method of story development truly seems to work!

Can you tell me a little more about your algorithm?
I was amazed to find how remarkably consistent story is even across genres. The events may be different, but they always cause the story to twist in a certain way. Briefly, story can be divided into four themed quarters, and is marked by story posts at predictable locations. (Some of the posts landed within a range of just 2 or 3 percentage points of the whole in all the stories I looked at).

The structure of story, I believe, is laid deep within our souls, not invented but merely described. The closer the outer form of a novel or film conforms to this inner template, the more the story will resonate within us. Interestingly, the events during the last week of Jesus’ life as described in the gospels, from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem to his resurrection, perfectly mirror the proportions of the story template. I believe that God implanted this story template into our minds as yet one more way we may respond to Him.

It’s your turn. Any closing thoughts or words of wisdom?
Just, the Lord is awesome! Everything goes back to Him.

Thank you, Amy, for being my guest today. I’ve loved having you and wish you all God’s best with your writing. Read reviews and buy A Lever Long Enough here. You can learn more about Amy Deardon here. You can also find the story tutorial for preliminary story development she developed here.

In my studies of story structure, the biggest surprise I found was how little story development varies. My dear friends, we are such very boring creatures! No matter the genre, the same development of story events occurred, over and over and over. For this blog entry I wanted to give a quick summary of story structure according to me. Much of this is not original work -- I'm not that brilliant -- but I've synthesized the work of smart people with my own humble observations to come up with a model of story structure that works for me, during my work in coaching writers.
During my studies, I tore apart about 20 *good* modern novels (ie novels that I enjoyed), ranging in genre from literary to adventure to mystery to YA to science fiction, plus a bunch of movies. I did word counts or timed scenes with a watch, listed everything into columns, and then analyzed the commonalities of story progression across genre.
The story can be divided into four more-or-less equal parts, each part with a distinct theme. Furthermore, there are definite story POSTS that occur reliably in the progression of the story, and land reliably within a range of a few percentage points of the whole. I'll put them down very briefly, and use the film *My Big Fat Greek Wedding* to illustrate. BTW I could have picked just about anything to illustrate, but this is a cute movie :-)
ACT ONE: demonstrates the original or starting position of the protagonist, plus the set up to show how he moves into the main story.
Ordinary World -- shows what the protagonist's *normal life* is like. Toula is a 30 year old unmarried Greek woman working in her (extremely intrusive) family's restaurant.
Inciting Incident -- shows a potential change offered to the protagonist, either a choice or an assignment. Toula finds a college brochure that might offer her an opportunity to achieve something different by taking a few classes.
Argument -- the protagonist isn't sure if he will enter the new world or not. Toula must convince her father to allow her to take some courses at the college.
Door -- represents a *journey* into the new world. Toula enters the college campus and starts taking classes.
ACT TWO FIRST PART: the protagonist learns how the *New World* works, and also thinks that once this little journey is over he will be *unchanged* (able to straddle or return to the Ordinary World). This is often shown as a series of three encounters, each increasingly involved.
Toula is shown changing her image to become more glamorous (hair, clothing, ditching the glasses, makeup etc.), answering questions competently in class, and socializing with other students (something she couldn't do as a kid).
Midpoint: an often flashy event that represents either a false high, or a devastating loss, that makes it clear the protagonist can no longer go back to his Ordinary World. Toula meets Ian, a high school English teacher, and starts dating him even though she knows her family will *never* accept him because he isn't Greek. Shortly afterwards, Nikki tells Toula that the family knows about her romance with Ian, and then Toula must sit before the disapproving family committee that tells her to break it off.
ACT TWO SECOND PART: the protagonist scrambles to regain equilibrium while the antagonistic forces gain power. Toula's family tries to match her with other *suitable* bachelors without success. Finally Ian proposes to Toula, who joyfully accepts, but her family only reluctantly agrees. Ian yields to these powerful forces by becoming *Greek*: becoming baptized and participating in Greek family activities, including a fabulous party in which Ian's conservative parents are contrasted with the noisy Porticullis clan.
Slide: another often flashy event that serves as a funnel. The nature of the climax is now clearly seen. Often there is a sort of *death* present here; think Obi Wan against Darth Vader in the first Star Wars movie. (observation courtesy of Blake Snyder in his Save the Cat!, a book I highly recommend). Toula comes home with her wedding plans, only to learn her family has already ordered the invitations and the bridesmaids' dresses.
ACT THREE: the protagonist gears up for the final encounter, although it looks unlikely that he will ever win. Toula is dismayed that her family is so intrusive, and that her family and Ian's are so different.
Darkest Moment: The very worst position that the protagonist can possibly imagine. While preparing for the wedding that morning, Toula realizes she will never be free of her family.
Help from Outside: a small action that allows the protagonist to regroup and win. This story post I recognized courtesy of Nancy Rue and Angela Hunt in a NANGIE writing class I took a few years ago. Toula's grandmother shows Toula her own wedding crown, and Toula realizes that her family all love her and that she is connected to her family in a deep and profound way.
Climax: an often flashy sequence in which the protagonist ultimately wins, if not the outer conflict then certainly the inner (think Rocky). Toula and Ian have a beautiful, Greek, wedding and reception. Toula's father makes a joke that shows how Toula's family and Ian's family, although different, are ultimately the same.
Resolution: tells how the protagonist's life will go on. Toula and Ian are shown several years later in a house next door to her family's house, walking their daughter to Greek school.
******OK, there is the story structure in miniature, sort of. Try laying these story points over any story you like -- you'll be surprised at how well they'll match!This column is for dear friends. I hope it provides some food for thought.***copyright 2008 by Amy Deardonall rights reserved.
Carla here. Story structure used with permission. I loved having Amy here and will be looking closely at my own WIP to see how it measure up. Would love to hear your comments. What sort of story structure do you use?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bless a Young Writer

Sara Mills, a gifted young writer, lost her husband last week. As a gift to her, many in the writing community are promoting her books and asking our blog readers to buy them, share them, and show your support for a grieving mom. This interview is from Cara Putman's blog and used with permission here.

This interview ran on Monday -- and I just learned that Sara's husband died of a heart attack on Tuesday. He was young -- 40 -- and I am so grieved for Sara and her children. If you've considered buying one of these books, please follow the links at the end of this post to buy one or both books. I thoroughly enjoyed both, and may go buy them again they were that good.

Miss Fortune and Miss Match are delightful books set in NYC in 1947. Tell us how you got the idea for Allie and these books...

I got the idea for Miss Fortune in the middle of the night, when all good ideas come to me:
One sleepless night I was watching The Maltese Falcon and I started to wonder how different the story would be if Sam Spade had been a woman. She'd never have fallen for Miss Wunderly's charms and lies. She'd have been smart and tough and she would have solved the case in half the time it took Sam because she wouldn't spend all of her time smoking cigarettes and calling her secretary Precious.

The thought of a hard-boiled female detective got my mind whirling.

I paused the movie and sat in my darkened living room thinking about how much fun a female Sam Spade could be. Intrigued but not yet ready to dash to my computer, I changed disks and put on Casablanca (my all time favorite movie ever). The sweeping love story, a tale full of hard choices and sacrifice was what finally made the whole idea click in my mind. If I could just combine the P.I. detective story of the Maltese Falcon with the love story from Casablanca, and make Sam Spade more of a Samantha, I could have the best of all worlds.

These books are so good, I wish I'd written them. How did you set the stage to capture that gritty PI feel without being dark?

I find that a lot of PI stories are gritty and dark, focusing on the worst of the humanity, and while I wanted the Allie Fortune mysteries to be exciting and tension-filled I didn’t want them to be stark and hopeless.

One of the things I tried to do to counteract the darkness was to give Allie a multi-layered life. She has cases, relationships, friends and family, all of which I hope combine to make the stories textured, rich and full of life.

Allie is a character I'd love to have coffee with. What did she teach you while you wrote these books?

Allie was a great character to write. One of the things I learned from her was that human relationships (man/woman, mother/daughter, friends) are complicated and full of unspoken rules and expectations. Allie is a rule-breaker at heart and it complicates her life on a regular basis. One of the storylines I loved most is Allie’s relationship with her mother and how it grows and changes and how it’s shaped her.

Another dimension of Allie’s character that really taught me a lot was her willingness to do whatever was needed to help those she loves. There is no price on that kind of friendship and it’s a characteristic I’d like to see more of in myself. Okay I admit it, I’ve got a bit of a friend-crush on Allie. LOL.

One last question: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would that be and who would you take with you?

If I could go anywhere right now I’d head to Monterey, California (I’m writing a book set there right now) and I’d plant myself on the beach with a notebook, writing my story as the waves crashed. Sounds like my idea of heaven on earth. There’s something about the wind-shaped Cypress trees and the crash of the surf in Monterey that calls to me. I don’t know why, it just is.

469260: Miss Fortune, Allie Fortune Mystery Series #1Miss Fortune, Allie Fortune Mystery Series #1

By Sara Mills / Moody Publishers

In 1947 Allie Fortune is the only female private investigator in New York City, but she's kept awake at night by a mystery of her own: her fianci disappeared in the war and no one knows if he's still alive. Until Allie finds out, she will have no peace. When there's a knock on her office door at four in the morning, Allie suspects trouble as usual, and Mary Gordon is no exception. Mary claims someone is following her, that her apartment has been ransacked, and that she's been shot at, but she has no idea why any of this is happening. Allie takes the case, and in the process discovers an international mystery that puts her own life in danger.

Meanwhile, the FBI is working the case as well, and she is partnered up with an attractive, single agent who would be perfect for her under other circumstances-if only she knew whether her fianci was still alive.

469270: Miss Match, Allie Fortune Mystery Series #2Miss Match, Allie Fortune Mystery Series #2

By Sara Mills / Moody Publishers

FBI agent Jack O'Connor receives a letter from Maggie, a woman he used to love, saying she's in trouble in Berlin. The FBI refuses to get involved, so Jack asks Allie Fortune to help him investigate. Allie and Jack pose as a missionary couple who want to bring orphans back to the United States.

A child finds important documents that everyone in the city - Soviets and allies alike - want for themselves. Maggie refuses to tell Jack what the documents are, saying if things go wrong, they are better off not knowing. Through the course of the search, Allie's past is brought back to her, half a world away from home.

To order Sara's books follow the links on the titles. They're also available in Christian book stores and online at Amazon.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


May you experience the beauty and majesty of all creation on this day of Resuurection.
Christ is risen!

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Chasing Lilacs

Ta-Da! The new title of my debut book. Someone asked me why I'd gone from a weed (see previous post about my beloved Dandelion) to a flower. Actually, I didn't make the decision on my own. My wonderful publishers with marketing and sales expertise that I don't possess, wanted a title that suggested the essence of the story. This is perfect.

And as some of you have asked me to tell you about my publishing journey, I will share a couple of things here. After the initial angst of getting the physical contract and pinching myself that my dream was soon to come true, I had a number of things to do right away.
  • Submit book covers ideas that I liked. Alas, the dandelion ones have been snuffed, but I'm all over that. Completely. I haven't thought about it once. Honest. This was a fun exercise that took up some anxious moments while I was waiting on my first round of edits.
  • Have a professional photo made for the back cover of the book. THANKS, Sarah, for a great job.
  • Substantive edit. These came on the eve of my going to Dallas to the CBE. I read over them briefly and let some of my editor's comments filter through my head all weekend. Many positive comments (for which I am grateful). Quite a few things to fix and muddles to clear up. I spent about ten days doing this, and two days before turning the edits in, I panicked! Up-until-the-wee-hours panic. Since my story is set in 1958, I had weather scenarios around holidays. Perfectly feasible weather incidents (like heat waves, blue northers, and blizzards). WHAT IF someone remember the Christmas of 1958 and distinctly remembered that the blizzard that December came on the 29th of the month and not the 25th?? I researched the temperature (highs and lows), the moisture, and noted whether it was rain or snow for every single day from July 2 until the following April. Many cups of coffee and a couple dozen tweaks later, I was satisfied that I had gotten it right. Lesson learned: Check the weather if your story is time sensitive.
  • Title change requested. This was another one of those marathon searches. Two trips to Barnes and Noble to look at every title on the General Fiction, Literature, and Inspirational Novels shelves. I wrote pages and pages of titles, combining words in some rather clever ways, thinking of every subtle angle that my story contains. I hung out for hours of Amazon searching for similar titles. I really wanted a title that had not been done before. I submitted a few to my editor. Chasing Lilacs was chosen unanimously by my editor and the marketing board. This pleases me for a couple of reasons. It does fit the story, but now I also feel that I am part of a team that is trying to make my book the best possible. Gratitude clings to me like a favorite sweater.
  • My edits were accepted - contented sigh here - and I await the copy edits. They won't be done until June, so now I have more than two months to return to my unfinished book that has waited patiently at the edges of my consciousness. I can't wait to see what happens with my new characters.

I probably won't tell you every detail that happens along the way, but when the cover is ready and other exciting news comes along, you'll be the first to know.

In the meantime, there are other folks' books to read, writing lessons to learn, and lilacs to enjoy. The buds on my backyard bushes are just beginning to open. Soon they will be in full bloom and I'll be chasing the scent of lilacs in my own backyard. Lovely.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I use to frequent antique stores, where invariably a kindly shop owner would ask if there was a specific item I was looking for. A gentle shake of the head would send them scurrying behind their counters and leave me to peruse the wares at my leisure. The thing was, I often didn’t have anything in particular in mind, but when it appeared, my heart would amp up a notch and I would know—this is it! Perfect.

That’s how it was with you. I had a sense that I was looking for something, rolling the possibilities over in my head. I didn’t go in strenuous pursuit, but there was a void waiting to be filled. When you came, it startled me at first, and I pretended you weren’t there. But already, you’d flirted with me and whispered, “I’m the one.”

Afraid of taking your hand, I held back, but you ignored me and set up house in a room in my heart where you waited patiently for me. You weren’t pushy, yet you stoked the fire in me and wrapped your tendrils around my fibers. When I acknowledged the inevitable, it was time to introduce you to my circle—just a few in the beginning, then an every-widening expanse. At every turn, kind eyes lit with approval, welcoming us.

Those early days were magical—words flew from my fingers as I wrote with you beside me. My muse. My encourager. And at night I would dream about you. About the future.
I admit, there were days when I paid you no mind. Not just days, but sometimes weeks on end when life intervened and I strayed away from you. Yet every time I returned, you were there, waiting with a golden glow that said, “Glad you made it.”

Me too. As a matter of fact, you made me so proud, I wanted to show you off to the world. We ran off to Amarillo and were met with a “Howdy Y’all” and a round of applause. Another time, in Oklahoma City, you perched beside me, calming me with your presence. When our name was called, we floated in tandem to shake a few hands and have our picture made.

So caught up with you I was in those days that when murmurings came warning me not to get too attached, I disregarded them. Yet, sometimes in the dark of night I would convince myself that should we part, I would survive. But that would be sometime in the future, not now.

We journeyed to Dallas and raised a few eyebrows, but in the midst of so many scribes, we were only a ripple. Still, they engraved your name . . . and mine on a plaque. Texans are generous like that.

When a West Coaster called and inquired about you, I was stunned. You, of course, said nothing, but gave me a playful wink. We’d been called for a higher honor. We danced with joy and waited, wondering if we could touch the stars or travel to heights unknown. The next summons came from the other direction, from the land of country music. Fitting really, since we were but two country critters at the core.

And again, the murmuring crept into casual conversations. Be careful. You don’t want your heart to be broken. We lifted our heads and nodded, then together we sighed in contentment when our names were joined on a dotted line.

The blow came when neither of us was looking—almost in the same way we had begun. We didn’t expect it, then there it was. But now, only one of us would continue on.

I don’t feel as brave now, and I will miss you, my friend. You’ve been a faithful companion, the best there is. My heart is sorrowful as I say good-bye to you, my Dandelion Day. I’ll try my best not to let you down.

Carla, who is awaiting the new title of her soon-to-be-published book, the one formerly known as A Dandelion Day.