Stepping outside the box: The Poisoner’s Handbook.

We all have a particular genre we’re magnetically drawn to.  For me, it’s mysteries.  For others it’s romance.  And for more others it’s historical.  Then there’s the whole Amish thing. ;)  No matter what it is, we’ve all got a particular type of book we go for right away, but do you ever step outside that box?

I made a decent sidestep outside my box recently and I found one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  I was actually sad when it ended, and yet all along the way I kept thinking, “This just isn’t my type of book.”

The Poisner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in the Jazz Era.
Okay, yes, the word “murder” drew me right away.  I was ready for a good mystery and the cover was so vintage.  What I got was actually the history of science, chemistry, and the development of the criminal investigation process wrapped up in one fascinating true case study after another.

Now, I know you might be thinking this has to do with crime so it’s still within in my box.  To which I might reply, I can’t even begin to tell you how far a jump it is from the cottage crimes of Christie to the chemical break down of chloroform, the development of radium, and how bootleg whiskey was used by the Nazi’s to create neurotoxins.  Seriously, I read a book detailing chemical formulas and I understood it!…Well, at least while I was reading the book.  The real gem, of course, was the true stories.

So, have you stepped out of your book box recently?  Ever?  At least once?  If not, you might want to give a shot.

Just a quick note:  I thought I should mention that, while I wouldn’t say The Poisner’s Handbook is gratuitous in any way, there is some straight to the point removing and mincing of brain matter, a few unpleasant crime scene and experiments and a quick autopsied overview.
…Yet another reason this book was so unlike me.  Frankly, if I can handle it, you can, but I thought it was worth the warning. ;)

Once Upon A Time…We lost the originals…

The book is always better than the movie, right? But sometimes I find that it’s not just better. It’s outright wildly different.
Personally, the most interesting cases I find are original fairytales. All of us have probably seen Disney’s version of them somewhere close to a hundred times each. ;) But haven’t you ever wanted to know what the original Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, or Cinderella was like? Okay, so maybe that’s just me. You might be interested, however, to know how different they are and what we lost in translation.
The differences can be quite amusing in their weirdness. The older and more obscure version of Cinderella sports a number of unique moments. For instance, she didn’t just have two wicked sister. She had a Cyclops and a Triclops for sisters. The Cinderella character’s name is actually “Two Eyes.” She was very common looking. ;) “Beauty” from Beauty and the Beast, wasn’t an only child taking care of her father. She was the youngest of six children, several of whom are turned to statues by the end of the story.
Often the most striking difference is the motivation and desires of the main characters. A fairy godmother didn’t show up to give Cinderella a beautiful dress just in time for the dance. She came to provide her with food. Cinderella, as it turns out, was starving to death. And the Little Mermaid didn’t want to become a human because a prince was waiting for her on the beach. She was distraught over the fact that humans can go to heaven when they died whereas mermaids became nothing more than sea foam.
I can naturally see why Disney changed things. After all, singing mice probably work a whole lot better than the goat in the real Cinderella story…Let’s just say he didn’t make it to the end. And it’s much nicer to say the price for the Little Mermaid to achieve two legs was simply her voice…Instead of severe pain with every step. But too often when changes were made the point of the original stories was lost in the hustle of all those colorful ball gowns.
“Love conquers all” is never really the issue. “Happily-ever-after” in the sense we say it today actually seems vacant next to the originals.
The real Beauty and the Beast ends with the line, “and their happiness, as it was founded on virtue, was complete.” The Little Mermaid’s happiness only comes when the angels whisk her away to heaven.
As for “Cinderella?” Well, going off to the live in the castle with the prince is not the end of the story. Before the final page could turn she forgave her sisters for all the horrible things they’d done and took them to live in the palace with her. Only then, could she really say, “And they lived happily ever after.”

Fan Fiction

Yes, fan fiction. Ever heard of it? Anyone else find this subgenre as enjoyable as I do? ;)
Before I go on, I guess I should define the term itself, because there can be confusion on occasion. An author inspired by a particular book who consequently writes something similar is NOT a fan fiction writer. Fan fiction occurs when an author takes a classic novel and expands on the original story and characters.
It can come in the form of sequels to a famous novel, like Stephanie Coles The Phantom Returns, modernizations, like Debra White-Smith’s Romance and Reason (originally Sense and Sensibility), remixes that suggest the story was told wrong, like many of the stories suggesting the “wicked witch” was misunderstood, or retellings of the original story from a different character’s point of view, like Janet Alymer’s Darcy’s Story.
I have become a great fan of fan fiction, particularly the Jane Austen version. Why? Because I want more! Jane only wrote six novels…that’s it! But through the world of fan fiction I can experience Austen again in whole new ways. :)
The genre actually started in 1914 when Sybil Brinton wrote Old Friends and New Fancies. She basically took all the characters left unmarried at the end of Austen’s novels and twisted them into existing Austen plots. So, for instance, Georgiana Darcy finds herself in the position originally occupied by Emma, as she tries to set up a romance for a friend, only to end up the object of affection. The Fitzwilliam Darcy; Gentleman trilogy by Pamela Aidan is considered by many in the fan fiction world to be the pinnacle of the genre. It is another retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point of view, but adds a unique layer by weaving in the historical context of the time area. England, it seems, was a much more volatile place than the originals portray. ;) This is not to say that all fan fiction is good. Authors who turn Austen’s stories into erotic novels still boggle my mind. :P
Fan fiction is of course not limited to the Austenphiles. ;) As of yet I have not tried out Phantom of the Opera fan fiction, but I am tempted, partly just because I love that they call it “Phan Fiction.” Oh, come on, you know that’s cute. :)
I’ve also discovered that there is a great deal of fun in writing fan fiction. Yes, I’ve given it a shot. I picked out a small character in a famous novel whose ending I did not find satisfactory. It was both fun and challenging to look at the world from her eyes.
So, have you read or heard of any good fan fiction lately? Or, more importantly, have you ever read a book and found yourself thinking, “I would have done that differently.”

Commenter’s Choice! (A follow up and what’s coming up.)

In the previous post we talked the art of book covers. I told you what I thought and showed you a few of my picks for best cover design. Now it’s your turn. The following is a selection of covers several people told me were their top picks for favorite cover art.
I will say, among all the people who left comments on the previous post there were some definite trends that developed. Several people stated that they preferred photographs over illustrations on covers. The words “must have intrigue” came up often. A distain for books with covers that have nothing to do with the book came up (I hate that too). And a number of people admitted to overlooking books with lack luster covers.
So, publishers if you’re listening (dreams) listen to the people!!

Now to the covers. Just a little disclaimer. I haven’t read any of these books, so I can’t officially recommend them. This all about the cover art. There’s just something about these covers that grabbed the readers. :)

Have a great weekend!
And thanks to Susan, Jon, CMOM, and Joanna for your cover picks! :)

A quick notice to what’s coming up on Monday. The post is title “The Overused Plotline.” I am frankly a bit afraid of offending people. ;) Be prepared to give your opinion.

Reviewing The Book Cover?

I’ve noticed an interesting trend recently amongst book reviewers. After reviewing the book itself, they toss in a comment or two on their feelings towards the cover. I think this is kind of a neat idea because the cover is a huge factor in the sale of the book. We are told not to judge a book by its cover, but when faced with rows of books we are unfamiliar with we’re naturally going to grab the one with the most interesting cover. (Be honest ;)
First and foremost, I think the cover of a book should represent the genre. Marketers will tell you most people stick to a particular genre. So, if you write mystery you want to catch the eye of the mystery reader and if you write romance you want to catch the eye of a romance reader. In many cases color alone will separate different genres. For instance: Dark, moody colors for mystery and light or bright colors for romance.
Personally, I have a couple things I don’t like. Book covers that simply show the location of the book bore me silly. :P One of my favorite writers put out an awesome suspense novel about human smuggling. The cover? A quant picture of the Chesapeake Bay area the story took place in. If I hadn’t already known the author I probably wouldn’t have picked it up.
I’m also iffy on the trend of putting a picture of what the character looks like on the cover. Sometimes it works, but sometimes I want to say, “That is not what the character looks like!” ;) I do know a lot of people who prefer the character’s picture to be front and center, however.
Below I’ve got a few of my favorite book covers and why I think they work. Here’s your part. Leave me the name of a book who’s cover you like! On Friday, I’ll put up a “Reader’s Choice” with a selection of your reviews. I can’t wait to see what you think makes a good cover! :)

The color pop is great, plus the image plainly says “Drama and humor!” ;)
The color and frilliness clearly say “romance,” but the designer also achieved a sense of intrigue. Frankly, it’s better than a lot of mysteries I’ve seen.

I really like this particular rerelease St. Martin’s did of Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Each cover is a simple, but eerie photograph that captures both the mystery and the vintage look Christie has come to be associated with.
This is the first romantic-western I was ever inclined to pick up. Why? It stood out on the display because every other book in the genre had a picture of a girl in a dress standing in front of some form of western scenery. I am not exaggerating. :P It gave me a “Hm, wonder what that one is about?” moment.
By the way, I would highly recommend all of these books.
So, what about you?

Spread the Awesome Day: Reviews and Giveaway!

Yes, today is “Spread the Awesome” day out in the blogosphere and here at Benedictions I’m celebrating with my first book giveaway!
What is “Spread the Awesome” day, you ask? It’s an ingeniously little event thought up by blogger-extraordinaire, Elana Johnson. We all know books are sold by word of mouth, so today we’re using our blogs to spread the word about our favorite authors and books.
I’m shinning the spotlight on a new favorite author of mine, Deeanne Gist. I stumbled upon her first novel, A Bride Most Begrudging, last summer by chance. Honestly, I hesitated, because I’m not usually a fan of American historical fiction, but the backmatter was interesting so I gave it a shot.
I read the entire book in two days and it instantly found a home on my list of favorite books. It was both witty and moving. The type of book that sticks to you…kind of like soul food. (Okay, so I’m from California and don’t know a thing about soul food. You get the point. :)

Want a teaser?
Drew O’Connor just wanted someone to help clean his house and care for his younger sister, but when a ship of “tobacco brides” reaches the shores he finds himself stuck with a feisty young woman who claims to be a English countess, kidnapped and forced to the New World against her will. Read more

After enjoying Bride so much, imagine my delight when I found out for Deeanne’s newest book, Beguiled, she joined with mystery writer J. Mark Bertrand to create one of my favorite genres: Contemporary Romantic Suspense. Let’s just say Beguiled kept me up long past my bedtime. :D

Want another teaser?
Professional dog walker, Rylee Monroe, never feared the streets of Charleston’s wealthiest neighborhoods, until a thief started targeting the residents. Though harmless at first, the crimes are becoming increasingly violent and it’s starting to look like Rylee might be the next target. Read more

Sound good? Marvelous, because I’m giving my followers a chance to win a copy of Beguiled with a signed bookplate. Yes, signed by Deeanne!
How do you win?
1 point for being a follower of this blog.
1 point each for following me on Face Book and/or Twitter.
2 points for each mention of this contest on your blog, Face Book page, and/or Twitter home.

You MUST leave a comment telling me want you’ve done, even if you’re already a follower of this blog. And include your e-mail address in the spam proof form. (i.e: emilyannbenedict(at)gmail(dot)com)
Contest ends at noon on Thursday. I’ll announce the winner on Friday.

So, would you like to know how Spread the Awesome day get’s even better? Lots of bloggers out there in the sphere are taking part in this celebration by featuring their favorite authors and giving away books and we’re all linked together. Visit the next link this chain by jumping over to Jen Wilks’ blog where she is featuring author Mary E. Pearson. You can also check out a long list of recommendations at Elana’s official recommendations page.
And don’t forget to spread the word about your favorite authors! :)

Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks Part 2

I’m back today with Warren Baldwin, author of Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks, and other gems from Proverbs. In the previous post I gave a review of Roaring Lions (very good) and we started talking with Warren about the process of writing on the subject of the Proverbs. Shall we pick right up where we left off?

What do you think the difference is between Biblical proverbs and the proverbs of other cultures?
WB – God and godliness is at the center of the biblical proverbs. We know that Egypt had some highly developed proverbs about the time that Israel did. In fact, there is some indication that the cultures may have been borrowing from each other. One Egyptian named Amenemope has written proverbs that sound remarkably similar to Prov. 22:17-24:22. There is some debate among biblical scholars as to which culture borrowed from the other.
Proverbs from other cultures wanted to produce good people and responsible citizens. The biblical proverbs try to do the same thing, but with the added ingredient of making the person godly.

Writing Questions
Do you have any particular method for planning out and writing your books?
WB – Yes. For the essay-style of Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks I continue to read Proverbs and focus on individual verses. A follow-up volume in this style is about one-half finished.
I am writing another book on Proverbs for teenage Bible classes. This is a very different writing process. For it I am gathering verses on a similar theme and reading and studying all of them as a unit.
I also have a book about one-half finished on marriage. For it I am selecting topics and reading, studying and writing on the topics I have settled on.

Was there anything about the topics in this book that impacted you the most during the writing process?
WB – Probably the topics on anger, envy and resentful attitudes. I have struggled personally in these three areas. I take comfort in the thought that I am on a journey to becoming more god-like, but not perfect. Some of the chapters in this book were written to me!

Is there anything you absolutely need when you sit down to write?
WB – Three things. One, a sense of direction for what I’m writing, even if it is only for a page. Two, a sense of purpose. I have to believe that what I am writing is going to express what I want it to say and will be of benefit to someone. Three, belief and patience. If what I am writing is for a book that will not see publication for years, as opposed to an article that might be published in a few days, I have to believe that what I am writing is really going somewhere and be patient for the journey.

Do you have any future projects you are working on right now?
WB – Yes. Two more works on Proverbs, a marriage book, a book of meditations for men, and a book of Christian doctrine. The last one is actually finished (for 3 years now) but needs a lot of editorial work. I simply haven’t gotten back to it yet.

An all important question for all writers: What do you find is the best way to promote your work?
WB – Another good question. You’ve had many of them, actually. The best way for me to promote my work is to get out and speak. I do seminars on Proverbs for churches, men’s retreats and Bible camps. I have done several and have several more scheduled for this year.
Another way is through blogging. But I think the personal, face-to-face method has worked best for me. Warren at a recent book signging with the owner of the store.

Fun Questions
After having lived and ministered in so many different regions of the U.S. do you have a favorite?

WB – I have loved all three states Cheryl and I have worked in – Florida, Wyoming and Kansas. But, I must admit that the mountains and snow of Wyoming keep my thoughts wandering back there.

Are you very computer literate or do you just know enough to handle day to day life?
WB – I am not very computer literate! That is a hindrance. But, I have other things I value as more important so I don’t take the time to learn more, by choice.

I gathered from your book that you and your family are very big fans of participating in sports.
WB – Yes, being involved with our kids in sports have been very important to our family. It isn’t a matter of sending the kids to athletic events, but of taking them and even coaching them. A couple of years ago Cheryl and I estimated the number of sporting events we went to over the years, and the hours involved, and it blew us away. But they drew our family together and have provided us with many wonderful memories. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

So, I have to ask, does Wii sports sound fun or annoying?
WB – Fun! Our three kids bought Cheryl and me a Wii set for our anniversary and birthdays last year. We have thoroughly enjoyed the games and sports.

If you had to choose a pen name, what would it be and why?
WB – Haven’t ever thought about that before! Maybe “Green Mountain Man.” I grew up in the Green Mountains of Vermont and used that term for my CB handle years ago.

Would you like to learn more about Roaring Lions and other writings by Warren? Check out his website. And don’t forget his blog, Family Fountain! He also has an upcoming book signing on April 1st in Ulysses KS and does Proverbs seminars for Churches. Contact him for more information.

Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks

Most of us have heard the phrase, “A proverb a day keeps the devil away.” That line probably has plenty of truth in it, but there are some days when we need more than just a quick recitation of words in the Proverbs. I had the pleasure recently of reading a book that sought help me do just that.
Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks, and other gems from Proverbs, by Warren Baldwin, is a collection of discussion on 118 different Proverbs.

Backmatter:
For over two thousand years the book of Proverbs has provided wise counsel and spiritual direction for God’s people. The short, rapid style and the piercing truths of Proverbs penetrate the readers’ heart, challenging them to align their lives with the wisdom they proclaim.
Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks, and other Gems from Proverbs brings the ancient proverbs into contemporary focus by applying their truths to modern situations. Marriage, parenting, friendship, work, money, and other topics are brought under the scrutiny of this ancient wisdom. Each chapter in Roaring Lions is a short essay on a specific proverb that makes God’s word to you come alive with fresh relevance.

As I read through the book I really felt Roaring Lions can be read in three different ways.
-It could easily be used as a daily devotional. Each essay does give you a thought to ponder for that day by applying it to situations in the world we face.
-It could be used to look into specific topics. The book is divided into eight different sections, centering on issues like marriage, discipline, relationships, and accepting God’s will.
-It could also easily be a nice, long weekend read. I rarely read non-fiction books quickly, but I found myself reading through the sections with the same intent I have with most novels.
I did plan on keeping the book on my nightstand so I could go back and check the topics whenever I wanted to, but both my parents have decided it’s their turn to read it next. :)

Interview with Warren Baldwin: Part One

To start, just give me a little bit of your background.
WB – My dad was in construction and we had a family farm, but at an early age he pushed reading and education on his four kids. He wanted us to know how to work hard, but he also wanted us to be able read and write well.
I attended college to study Bible, then went on to seminary. I am still taking graduate classes in Bible and related subjects thirty years after graduating college.
Cheryl and I married in 1982. We have ministered together with three churches in Florida, Wyoming and Kansas. We have three children ranging from age 17 to 24. Our son is now a youth minister in Wyoming.

Roaring Lions is your first book. Is there any particular reason you chose the Proverbs to start with?
WB – I chose Proverbs because of an intense study I was doing on it for Bible classes, sermons and my radio program. I developed so much material that I wanted to find another outlet for it. A book followed.

How did you decide which proverbs and subjects to cover?
WB – Good question. I would read through Proverbs over and over and these particular proverbs spoke to me. I studied them in commentaries and Hebrew language works to see what they might have meant in their original setting, and how they might apply to life today.

The first two sections of this book are about marriage and family. Do you feel these can still be relevant in the lives of single people or couples without children?
WB – Absolutely! The time to begin preparing for marriage and parenthood is long before actually marrying, or even dating. Having a happy, godly marriage for a goal when we are still single helps motivate us to live the kind of life that will have us ready for when the “right” person comes along.
Sadly, I’ve known some guys who one day wanted to settle down and marry a good woman. But, at the time, they were living for the pursuit of pleasure. When they happened to meet a good woman and wanted to develop a relationship with her, she was not attracted to the lifestyle and rejected any overtures.

Join me on Wednesday for the rest of the interview with Warren. We’ll talk more about Proverbs, writing, and some fun stuff too. :)
In the meantime you can learn more about Warren’s writing through his website: http://www.warrentbaldwin.com/ and his blog: Family Fountain.
He also has an upcoming book signing on April 1st in Ulysses KS and does Proverbs seminars for Churches. Contact him for more information.
Until next time…. ;)

From Writing to Tchaikovsky: Interview with Sarah Scheele Part 2

I’m back today with Sarah Scheele, author of the Facets of Fantasy collection and the American Homeschooler serial. In the previous post we talked about Sarah’s work. Today we talk about writing, reading, and vegetables. ;)

Writing Questions
Are you a “by the seat of the pants” writer or do you have detailed outline before you start to write?

If there’s a person who is allergic to outlines, it’s me! I’ve tried to use outlines to organize my thoughts, but once I start writing, they always fly out the window so I don’t bother with them anymore. My characters run the show. I pick up a pen and they do what they want to.

Your stories often have deeper meanings behind all the action. What are some of the issues and themes you like to address in your writing?

Something I address in all my books is the need to go below the surface when making judgments. People and situations are both very complex and we can make serious mistakes if we don’t examine them carefully. In every story characters either deal with the assumptions of others, or have their own radically challenged.

More specifically, I often analyze homeschooling as a subculture, because it is one that many people have mistaken assumptions about. I portray homeschooled young people dealing with these misunderstandings. This also gives me a chance to put in a lot of realistic humor and detail, which I love to do!

I examine Christian issues as well, often in a subtle rather than direct way. In Facets of Fantasy I use personal relationships and allegory to explore several key themes of Christian thought, and in portions of American Homeschooler church social life is shown–and yes, frequently satirized.

What inspires your characters and storylines the most? Real life? Other works of fiction?

I’d say real life is my inspiration for the characters. Sometimes I create a character who personifies an idea, but mostly my people come out of observation of life. I am often influenced in plot creation by older works of fiction, if I can find a good device that hasn’t been used in awhile. I read extensively in older authors, particularly from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

Is there anything you absolutely need when you write?

Quiet….quiet….and more quiet. I have to be uninterrupted, no TV, no people coming in and out. I’m always overdosing on music because it helps to drown out noise and create that bubble. Music also inspires me and keeps my plot ideas flowing. My taste is varied–Celtic, classical dance pieces, opera and foreign pop.

Fun Questions
What song/playlist are you currently overdosing on?

Right now I’m listening to: Makassar and Si Cara by Al Bano and Romina Power; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Soundtrack; Sus Ojos se Cerraron by Kendra Springer; Come by Namie Amuro; Dierdre of the Sorrows by Mychael Danna; Ch’ella mi Creda by Giacomo Puccini; Sleeping Beauty Finale by Tchaikovsky; and Every Heart by BoA.

Can you cook for yourself, or would you live on microwave meals if left on your own?

I can definitely cook for myself! I’ve been preparing nightly dinners for my family for ten years. Most of it is from scratch too–I’m great with piecrust. I live on a farm, and we have an orchard and garden, so I know how to make jam, cook fresh corn in season, and do everything that can possibly be done with zucchini.

Are you a “cozy in a sweaters” Wintery girl or a “happy in sandals and sunglasses” Summer girl?

In Texas you’ve got to be a Summer girl! I can dress up when I have to, but I don’t even wear shoes most days. And I don’t like being curled up indoors at all. Winter depresses me. With such wide open skies and fields around, it is wonderful to be outdoors. If you see a girl writing on a porch in blue jeans and bare feet, that’s probably me.

If you had to choose a pen name, what would it be and why?

Actually, I like my name a lot! It’s a really nice coincidence that I’ve got an alliterative name by birthright. If I had to choose a pen name….well….maybe the name of someone already famous. People might be more likely to give my book a chance!

I highly recommend giving Sarah’s work a chance! Want to know more?
Read more about Sarah and her work at her website and blog. And don’t forget to stop by her Face Book page to start reading American Homeschooler today for free!
Facet’s of Fantasy is now available in Traditional Print and eBook. Check it out!

Do happy endings really exist?

I read an interesting book this weekend that asked the question, “Is there really such a thing as a happy ending?” You know, the type that takes place at the end of a book or movie.
Guy meets girl, they marry: happy ending.
Or, creative genius reaches his goal, his work is recognized: happy ending.
Well, the answer to that question is simply, NO. (Hold on with me her for a second.)
The answer is no because life goes on! Well, in the real world it does. Life doesn’t just stop in a blissful glow because we’ve reached a goal. There’s still work to do!
Trust me, getting a book published wasn’t the end of the story for me. In fact, it’s just a step on a path that still leaves me feeling out of breath sometimes. :-) But I’m still glad I’m here.
The point of this short post? Don’t think of happy endings as endings. They are in fact new beginnings.
In a sense, aren’t you glad that’s the way it goes?

By the way, if you’re looking for a good little book to spend a day or two on, I can recommend Beth Pattillo’s Jane Austen Ruined My Life.
I love that title. :)