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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Writing Self-Help: How Should Authors Portray the Protagonist in Young Adult Books?

by Lorilyn Roberts

For a book to make an impression on me, I must be able to identify with the protagonist. I think that is even more true with young adult readers. I remember reading a book by Randy Alcorn where the main character was a black man. I wondered if I would be able to relate to the protagonist. Mr. Alcorn did such a great job, I found myself fighting in the Vietnam War, being injured, and dealing with all the issues that the protagonist brought into his life from that event. 

I read the book for pure enjoyment, not knowing one day I would go back to school to get my Masters in Creative Writing. That book made an impression on me that never forgot. I realized that if a book is well-written, a reader should be able to identify with any kind of protagonist, and for me that even included a black man who fought in the Vietnam War.

Another example of a memorable protagonist is Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. I read the book when I was a young seventeen-year-old. I went to Margaret Mitchell School and grew up in Atlanta. I had frequently been to the area called Tara and knew the historical setting well. But it takes more than that to create a relationship between the protagonist and the reader. Why did I identity with Scarlet O’Hara beyond the obvious?

The author, Margaret Mitchell, created a main character that was believable, endearing, and unpredictable. Scarlett represented a strong woman who was determined, smart, beautiful, passionate, and full of envy and jealousy. 

When I read Gone with the Wind  as a young adult, I wanted to believe I was like her. I admired her, particularly her strong will, determination, and self-confidence that I lacked. I actually did possess many of her qualities; even the hard-headedness and being too independent. It caused me many issues just as it was Scarlett’s downfall. I could relate.

Young readers today, typically young ladies, are very much like Scarlett O’Hara in many ways. The women’s movement has done much to propel women in the direction of Scarlett. Plus, human nature doesn’t change. We might live in different eras and face different problems, but the way a protagonist tackles those problems is what makes the story marvelous and memorable. The conflict, the twists and turns in the plot, the emotional turmoil, the uncertainty, with sub-characters who bring out the best and the worst in the protagonist, makes for a great story.

A classic is one that has staying power and can be enjoyed by multiple generations. No matter how many times I read the book or watch the movie, the final scene is etched in my memory when Scarlett asks Rhett, “Where should I go, what should I do?” and Rhett replies, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” What an awesome way to end a six-hundred page book.

Above all, authors need to make the protagonist reader-friendly, especially in young adult books. I've read several negative reviews by readers on Amazon who simply didn't like the protagonist. Perhaps she was too self-centered, too immature, or too flawed. Young adults want to read about heroes and heroines. Give the reader a flawed main character whom he or she cares about, put the protagonist in a life or death situation, add a little bit of magic (young adults love that), and chances are you will hook your reader all the way to the last page. Of course, it's easier said than done, but someone will write that next best best-seller, and it might as well be you.

A great book to help with character development is: Creating Unforgettable Characters, by Linda Seger. You can purchase it on Amazon here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Two Generations - One Mysterious Girl - Jordan's Shadow by Robin Johns Grant

Today I am featuring Robin Johns Grant as she talks about her new book "Jordan's Shadow." When I offer to feature authors on the John 3:16 blog, I never know what I will receive. When I read Robin's feature, I was hooked. What a compelling premise, especially as a mother. I can't wait to read "Jordan's Shadow." Here is Robin in her own words.


My second book, Jordan’s Shadow, just came out a few days ago. Whenever people find out I’ve published a book, they generally ask one of two questions: How long did it take you to write it? And…where do you get your ideas?

So I’ll just assume that if we were face to face right now, you might want to ask me those questions about Jordan’s Shadow—even though the answer to at least one of those questions is a little embarrassing.

Where do I get my ideas? Usually I invent characters first, get to know them gradually, put them in various situations until a plot emerges. This involves the highly technical skills of make-believe and daydreaming, skills only writers or young children can truly master.

Jordan’s Shadow was a little different. A thought struck me one day (while I was daydreaming), that mothers don’t really know what their babies will be like or look like when they grow up. Those babies gradually change over time as they settle into the adults they become.

Well, I like a little spine-tingling creepiness in a story, so I started to think…what if a mother saw her child growing and changing and gradually turning into someone she used to know? And what if it was someone she didn’t like? Someone she had shared a terrible experience with in the past?
Now for the embarrassing part: how long did it take me to write this? Not years…decades! And I don’t mean just to get it right. It took me decades to get a first draft.

I thought this premise was so intriguing I couldn’t let it go, but I also had nothing but a premise. No characters, no plot, no spiritual take-away. Who were the mother and daughter going through this? What was the terrible experience in the mother’s past? And other than shock value, why did this story matter?
Answering those questions took me many years. And even when I had a skeleton plot and characters, the story was taking place in two different time periods, which was a challenge to my writing skills.

As for the spiritual component, that grew naturally as the other parts came together. As I got to know the family I was subjecting to this madness, I “discovered” that the family matriarch was a no-nonsense pragmatist who didn’t believe in anything beyond the physical world, and wouldn’t let her daughters be exposed to any such foolishness, including the church. Starving her family for God and the spiritual led to tragic consequences.

Now that it’s finally done, I’m glad I stuck with Jordan’s Shadow. It has some important take-aways not just about the God-shaped vacuum in all our lives, but about mother-daughter relationships, about the importance of family, and that it’s never too late to redeem the past.

Plus it’s as much fun as a spooky ghost story around a campfire!

If I’ve made you curious by now, stop by Lorilyn Roberts blog tomorrow to read an excerpt!

Robin Johns Grant published her first novel, Summer’s Winter, in 2014, and her second suspense novel, Jordan’s Shadow, has just been released. Summer's Winter won a bronze medal in the Romance - Suspense category of the International Readers' Favorite Book Awards, and Robin was named 2014 Author of the Year by the Georgia Association of College Stores.

Family and friends are happy that Robin’s imagination is finally paying off. She’s always had way too much of it. She started making up stories before she could write them down (dictating them to her mother) and always had her head in the clouds. She was obsessed with books and movies like Harry Potter and Star Wars and did a lot of crazy fan stuff, which helped her dream up Jeanine and Jamie’s story for Summer's Winter. It’s a romantic suspense novel, but as John Granger (author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures) said, it’s also “a romance-thriller about fandoms…and explores the important intersection of literature, spirituality, and imagination.”  

As a Christian, Robin can’t help but explore spirituality in her writing, but wants to do so in a way that reflects the awe and wonder of God and eternity.

With a degree in English, several non-fulfilling jobs under her belt, and a mid-life crisis coming on, Robin returned to school and earned a master's degree in library and information science. She now has her best day job ever as a college librarian, which keeps her young by allowing her to hang out with students.

With her wonderful husband Dave and formerly feral felines Mini Pearl and Luna, Robin lives in Georgia.  She is also surprised to find herself part owner of a pit bull named Pete, who showed up as a starving stray puppy at her mother's house.

Keep up with Robin at these sites:

Amazon (read about and purchase her books):
Website and blog:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ivory and Ice by Sandra Julian Barker

Ivory & Ice
by Sandra Julian Barker 

ISBN: 1490413103
June, 2013
e-book $1.99
p-book $9.95

Buy on US Amazon
Buy on Canada Amazon

About the Book:
     Three 6,000 year-old bodies are discovered frozen in a glacier in Austria.
     Where were they going? What were their thoughts on that day so long ago?  When Beth Leyton, a budding anthropologist, discov­ers the answers, they have a surprising affect on her 21st century life. Beth’s personal struggles parallel that of Jaen, a young woman from the ancient past who is on a quest of her own. Jaen is traveling across the mountains, leaving her dear family to join Baarak, the man she loves. What will her new life be like?
      Jaen and Beth live 6,000 years apart — yet the journeys they are each taking are not really so different. Human nature and the needs of men and women over the centuries have changed very little. The same Creator is active in both lives. The ancient past comes alive, mingling with the present as Beth is led to a gripping reality.

A note from Sandra on why she wrote the book:  
“I’m fascinated by the fact that people have changed very little since the beginning in the Garden of Eden. In my story, Jaen from the ancient past, is actually wiser about life and more stable in her relationships than the present-day Beth, who struggles with both. I wanted to present a people that might be only a dozen or so generations removed from the great flood and have religious beliefs that would reflect that. I’m so pleased with the way this story turned out. It truly developed a life of its own as I wrote. All of my books seem to do that.”

About the Author:
Sandra Julian Barker is an award-winning short story and travel writer, and has a story in the best selling, Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul. Her first novel, Ivory & Ice, has been followed by four more e-books available on Amazon, with two more books in the pipeline. Sandra's greatest desire, however, is to bring honor and glory to God through the talents He has given her. You can contact her through her inspirational blog at

Also available are:  Deadly Masquerade, The Frenchman, The House (a novelette), and The Stuff ofNightmares: a collection of short stories.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Matheny Manifesto book review by Joe Buonassissi

The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager's Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life 

ISBN: 978-0553446692
US prices - Canada, $2 higher
e-book - $10.99
p-book - $24
audible - $17.99

Buy the book on US Amazon
Buy the book on CA Amazon

From the Publisher:
 “Nothing worth doing right is easy.”
–Mike Matheny

   Mike Matheny was just forty-one, without professional managerial experience and looking for a next step after a successful career as a Major League catcher, when he succeeded the legendary Tony La Russa as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. While Matheny has enjoyed immediate success, leading the Cards to the postseason three times in his first three years, people have noticed something else about his life, something not measured in day-to-day results. Instead, it’s based on a frankly worded letter he wrote to the parents of a Little League team he coached, a cry for change that became an Internet sensation and eventually a “manifesto.”

   The tough-love philosophy Matheny expressed in the letter contained his throwback beliefs that authority should be respected, discipline and hard work rewarded, spiritual faith cultivated, family made a priority, and humility considered a virtue. In The Matheny Manifesto, he builds on his original letter by first diagnosing the problem at the heart of youth sports−hint: it starts with parents and coaches−and then by offering a hopeful path forward. Along the way, he uses stories from his small-town childhood as well as his career as a player, coach, and manager to explore eight keys to success: leadership, confidence, teamwork, faith, class, character, toughness, and humility.

   From “The Coach Is Always Right, Even When He’s Wrong” to “Let Your Catcher Call the Game,” Matheny’s old-school advice might not always be popular or politically correct, but it works. His entertaining and deeply inspirational book will not only resonate with parents, coaches, and athletes, it will also be a powerful reminder, from one of the most successful new managers in the game, of what sports can teach us all about winning on the field and in life.


Joe's Review:
Jerry Jenkins has done it again! What a helpful, well-written page turner. Not only does this book provide excellent advice for coaching (whether sports, business, or family), but it's encouraging to learn there are people of principle like Mike Matheny still on the planet. Our world is starving for true leaders. In politics, religion, sports, business, and just about every other human endeavor, true leadership is a rare thing. How refreshing to see that Mike Matheny gets it—he doesn't use his people to build his work; he uses his work to build his people.

As an incurable baseball fan, I found Matheny's insight into his baseball life fascinating. His comments about players and coaches, whose names were familiar to me, made me feel like I knew them as people, not just as statistical avatars.

Every "coach," (and we all coach at some level), regardless of his arena, should read this book to get his true north bearings before assuming responsibility for others. Mike Matheny is the real deal. His leadership style has been forged by the wisdom of the Scriptures and honed by living it out in shoe leather—he walks the talk. Mike, may your tribe increase!

Joe Buonassissi

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Goodreads Giveaway - "Meander Scar" by Lisa J. Lickel

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Meander Scar by Lisa J. Lickel

Meander Scar

by Lisa J. Lickel

Giveaway ends February 20, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Friday, February 6, 2015

What is Meant by “Authentic Voice” in Writing Young Adult Books?

By Lorilyn Roberts 

When I was a young girl, a black lady named Helen used to take care of me while my mother worked. Helen’s voice was soothing and loving; when I heard her voice, I knew I was safe. Later, my mother remarried and we moved away to another city. I used to think about her and wistfully wished I could hear that voice call my name one more time: “Lori.”

One afternoon, quite by surprise, I arrived home from high school and I heard a voice from the past in the basement of our home laughing and talking to my mother. I stopped for a moment, thinking, could it be? But it was too outlandish to even consider, I brushed it aside as impossible. Then I heard my mom call me, “Lori, come see who came to visit you.”

I rushed down the stairs and there she was. Helen said, “Lori, it’s so good to see you.” My first thought was that her voice sounded exactly the way I remembered it from a decade earlier, a sweet sound, distinctively hers no matter how long I went without hearing it. That made an impression on me that I have never forgotten. All those years, I had longed to hear her once more and thought I never would. If I heard her voice again today, I would recognize it as Helen’s.

To me, that is an authentic voice – one which is identified as belonging to one person and no one else. It translates into writing. We must each have our own unique voice. My voice should identify me as Lorilyn Roberts.

While I think it’s good to read and examine others’ style of writing, we should strive to develop our own. I am still playing around with my own style because writing fiction is much harder for me than nonfiction. I have come to realize, though, it’s what I feel comfortable with, what flows naturally, and where my creative process takes me. It’s what I was born with. God gave me a voice to talk; He has given me a voice with which to write. 

Involved in that is a process of learning. Children have to learn how to talk, and that’s much easier and more natural than learning to write, but they still have to learn. In the same way, writers need to develop their own authentic voice and not be afraid to claim it. They should not try to write something intentionally or unintentionally that imitates someone else.

A great example of voice by a young adult is Anne in The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank. Anne was writing to “kitty,” her best friend. Her spunky personality shone without pretense or excuse for why she felt the way she did. She was comfortable in her own skin. There is a term called self-actualization, where one uses everything he or she is to become what he or she was created to be. During Anne’s confinement, she was able to verbalize her innermost fears, hopes, dreams, ambitions, and little triumphs as she learned to rise above the horrific situation she was in and “cope.” 

It’s a tribute to her that such a young girl could come so far into understanding so much about herself and who she was. The amazing thing, which was a God-given gift, was that she had the capacity to write it down so that future generations could empathize and understand what she went through. It’s a great achievement, I believe, in the use of authentic voice, to come so close to knowing Anne Frank and yet never having met her. 

Her authenticity came out in the graphic descriptions of the people in the attic; what it was like to live there for two years locked away from society; their everyday struggles, from using the bathroom to what they ate to what they did to occupy their time; the frequent references to the war and who was winning; their fears of being discovered and their constant squabbles among each other; and even Anne’s innermost thoughts about love and sexuality.

In one way or another, I could relate from my own life experience. I knew she was real and what she suffered was genuine. I wanted to read more to learn what would happen. I was engaged and transported back to a war fought before I lived. I wanted to save Anne and her family. It was hard for me to believe she died before I was even born. This book is a masterpiece.

A third-person narrative can also have an authentic voice, but it needs to be so close to the person’s feelings, thoughts, and actions that you can’t tell the difference. If a book is well written, I won’t even notice if it’s first person or third person unless I stop and think about it.

More than any other genre, young adult books need an authentic voice. YA readers need to be able to like the protagonist and identify with her feelings, thoughts, and goals. That makes writing for young adults challenging but very gratifying when well done.