Monday, December 14, 2009

Moving Words

As a writer, I'm always interested in discovering moving words in the books I read and learning how to emulate similar responses that they evoke in me.  Literary agent Rachelle Gardner had a Words Move Me contest on her blog last week in associationg with Sony Reader's Words Move Me website.  Sony's site lets you share some of your favorite words - excerpts, thoughts, etc. of books that have had an impact on you.  I didn't win the contest, but Rachelle did choose my entry as a favorite.

I understood at that moment fully and
suddenly why he would not carry me, and why he had not
come to my defense in times past when I was battling for
my place in the world. It was not because he failed to love me,
but because he loved me so well.
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

The Heretic's Daughter was Kathleen Kent's debut novel.  It always amazes me when an author's first novel becomes well loved by so many.  I can think of a few starting with our friend Laura Frantz's The Frontiersman's Daughter.  Others that I've enjoyed include Ruth Axtell Morren's Winter is Past, Julie Klassen's Lady of Milkweed Manor,  Deeanne Gist's A Bride Most Begrudging, Tamera Alexander's Rekindled, and Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders.

Neither The Heretic's Daughter and Year of Wonders are classified as Christian fiction.  Both novels do, however, have spiritual elements as the characters consider the role of God amidst their circumstances. It is the former novel that inspired me to write Hope Springs Eternal in which my characters ask the question "Where is God?" as they struggle to find hope in their own trying situation.  Reading The Heretic's Daughter only reinforced that desire to show in my own writing the struggle that faith can sometimes be.  Yet, since they are both mainstream publications, I found myself considering who my target audience is - mainstream readers of readers of Christian novels.  Couldn't it be both?  I think in my heart of hearts that I desire to write in a way that transcends the line that most draw between Christian or secular books and explores faith issues in a genuine way that might be appreciated by both.  I bring the "non-Christian" books up first because I am pleased to see the subject of faith addressed in mainstream publishing. Although, what appealed to me about these particular novels were the slice of history they covered, and also that The Heretic's Daughter included a few true life (secondary) characters from my own family history (yes, I have ancesters everywhere!).  A book needn't always be overtly Christian for me to enjoy, yet I almost exclusively read Christian fiction because it has all of the elements I enjoy (and write about) most, such as the Christian fiction titles that I mentioned above.  The Frontiersman's Daughter is an excellent example of a Christian novel that I believe transcends audiences. 

As I consider these debut novels I ponder what makes the author's work stand out right from the beginning of their career.  I've  already uncovered one element that I find that makes them appeal to me - authenticating faith.   Other qualities I admire are a well-formed protagonist (strong, striking, transformation),  a rich setting, a well-woven plot, skilled/eloquent writing, and a theme that has the capacity to change my own heart - the words must move me.

What are some of your favorite debut novels? Why did they move you?


  1. Carla, What a coincidence:) Guess who shared my table at the Kentucky Book Fair? Kathleen! On the other side of me was Silas House. So I felt blessed both ways! I haven't read her book but she had paperback and hardback that day. From what I understand her book is doing very well and looks terrific. She's a very nice lady and I thought it funny they put the daughter books together.

    Thanks so much for your gracious words about TFD. You are such a blessing to me!

  2. Laura, That is so awesome. You'll have to go to her website. She has done a lot of research and seems like a very interesting person. Funny, the book previous to yours that I couldn't put down was hers.

    I mean it, you book is one of my all time favorites and I think many people would be blessed to read it.

  3. Oh, this is an easy one for me. The Underneath by Kathi Appelt is definitely one of my all-time favorite debuts (I'm going to do a review later this week). All you have to do is read a few pages to understand why, and it has everything to with words! The language and fluency of that book are hypnotically beautiful. In addition, she so magically and successfully weaves three - yes, three - storylines together, that I found it nearly impossible to believe. READ IT! You'll see what I mean. ;-)

  4. Thanks for visiting my blog. I had fun looking around yours. Lots of good stuff. Blessings on your writing.

  5. Carla, I've reserved an audio copy of THD at my library--you made this book sound irresistible!

  6. Hi Carla -

    I loved Christina Berry's book, Familiar Stranger. The characters' struggles rang true.

    I'm looking forward to Christina's future books. If she's this good now, she'll be dynamite as she gains more experience.

    Susan :)

  7. Laura's book The Frontiersman's Daughter is my pick for best debut of historical Christian fiction. It just sweeps you along into a beautiful story, time and place.

    My fave debut for contemporaty Christian fiction this year was Home Another Way by Christa Parrish. It was raw and real and beautifully told.

    What I liked about both these books is that they didn't force themselves to follow any tired old formulas.

  8. I was a little late in reading it, but just finished The Shack by Wm. Paul Young. It was an amazing book. Finding hope in tragedy. I also entered the Words move Me contest. Yeah, I didn't win. :( Rachelle chose your entry as a fav? I read through them, didn't notice it was you. That's great! Thanks for the book review. It's on my list.

  9. It's great hearing about some of these debut novels that you all recommend!

    Mary, that was a good insight about the books not being formulatic. Now that I'm a writer, sometimes when I'm reading I just know what story elements are coming next and it takes the joy out of reading for me. TFD was refreshing in that way. That is a good reminder to try to keep the story fresh and not seem canned.

  10. Lori, I hope you enjoy that! I believe the author is the reader of the audio version. Another book about the Salem witch trials was done recently by Susan Meissner. It was done a little differently, but it also was well done.

  11. Hey, Carla! Guess what? Rachelle picked one of my quotes too! That made me almost as excited as if I'd placed--even though it wasn't my writing! Ha! My entry was W.Dale Cramer's "Summer of Light"--the Man with No Hands. I love that book!

  12. I love your list regarding what makes an author's work stand out right from the very beginning. I have a difficult time identifying what works as opposed to what doesn't work, but reading that list had me nodding my head and agreeing. Thanks for articulating what I knew deep down but couldn't formulate on my own. LOL.

    I'd add believable dialogue that moves the story along. Sometimes that can be overlooked. I read a historical recently that used modern terms in dialogue a few times and it was really noticable and took away from that 'otherworld ambiance' that I look for when I read a historical. I was surprised that an editor hadn't caught the errors -- they were so glaring. I think attention to that kind of detail elevates a historical novel above the rest.

    I'd have to pick TFD as one of my favourite debut novels as well, for all the reasons mentioned by you and others here. That book reads as if its author cared about it, loved it, nourished and coaxed it along. The attention to detail never faltered and that indicates to me that she respects her readers and I appreciate that. She's not just writing historicals because they're in 'vogue' -- she's writing from the heart and that really comes across to the reader.

    Julie Klassen's 'Lady of Milkweed Manor' was the first Christian novel I ever read. It was a book club selection and I was so impressed I had to look for more of its kind. I didn't realize that it was her debut novel. I'm stunned at the talent in inpsirational fiction!

    I love the humour in Deeanne Gist's books. I've read all but one of hers. You've got to love an author who names her heroine Essie Speckelmeyer just on principle! LOL.

    I've only read one of Tamera Alexander's book. The Inheritance, which wasn't her debut but the rest of her work is at the top of my 'must read list'.

    Like I've said before -- I'm new to this genre of fiction and so excited to have so many excellent books to choose from. I could go on and on and on and on and...

  13. I think that sometimes the debut novels are the best because authors have been able to spend years polishing them.

  14. Excellent post! And congrats on being one of Rachelle's selections. She has good taste. ;-)

    My favorite debut novel in the CBA this past year was The Moon in the Mango Tree, by Pamela Binnings-Ewen. It starts a little slowly, but the writing is lovely, lovely, lovely, and it soon pulls you into a very unusual story.

  15. Good point, Eileen. No pressure, Laura. No pressure.

    Here's a list of debut's that some of you mentioned that weren't mentioned in the original post.

    The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
    Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry
    Home Another Way by Christa Parrish
    The Moon in the Mango Tree by Pamela Binnings-Ewen

    Again, I appreciate your input!


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