Tuesday, March 18, 2014

“Standing out in a sea of Dystopia” Guest Post by Rebecca Finlayson

Today we have author Rebecca Finlayson on the blog, talking about her experience with writing YA dystopian.

When I go into a bookshop or a library in the UK it’s always satisfying to see so many books on offer for the YA market. In our fast-paced world we can access everything we want, when we want, at the touch of a button – and even get frustrated when it doesn’t pop up instantly. (First world problems or what?) 

Anyway, to see so many YA books around and to know that teenagers are reading them and devoting hours to them, is great and exciting for any lover of books, particularly.

The challenge that I had with “X&Y” was making my book stand out. There are so many great YA Dystopian books out there, after all. It was a mountain to climb.

The first thing that encouraged me, though, was that I had a story to tell that – as far as I could tell – had not been told before. Genetic engineering had been touched on in various stories but it wasn’t the main story. I thought it would be fascinating to look at it through the eyes of a teenager.

The second thing was the position of my female lead. Olivia Adonane is from a very wealthy, very powerful family, and so to have a protagonist in a position where she literally has everything to risk made for very interesting writing from my perspective!

Another important thing was setting. Most of the YA Dystopian books I’ve read and enjoyed (The Hunger Games, Divergent, and the Gone series) take place in the USA. I thought it would be really interesting to have the focus on Britain, and how it would have adapted to the ‘System’ which is in place.

Apart from the authors of the above books, one particular author who has inspired me is Joanne Harris. She does plot so well, and the stories and twists of her novels like “Gentlemen and Players”, “Holy Fools” and “Five Quarters of the Orange” are just fantastic. I’ve learned a lot from her work about timing in particular – for example, what to reveal and when to reveal it.

I really enjoyed writing “X&Y”. The subject matter made for really fascinating exploration, and putting the characters in a quietly brutal setting was equally thrilling and difficult to work through. It’s been great having people read my work and give me feedback from it, not to mention seeing the number of downloads increase, particularly on my “free promotion” days!

Below is the opening chapter of “X&Y”. You can head over to Amazon Kindle for a free seven-chapter sample.

Thunder rumbles in the early hours of this morning and when I wake I think of Lily and what we’re going to do today. We’re meeting before school so we can post off our university applications together. To anyone who does not know who we are it seems such a little thing, but in this day and age it is not. My Ambition means I’m guaranteed a place at a prestigious institution, but Lily’s venture is a little more uncertain. Her portfolio, given to her parents when she was still in her mother’s womb, states that her Ambition is to be a waitress, which I’ve always thought was some kind of mix-up, as I’ve never thought she was right for the Service Industry. Very clumsy, and perpetually distracted by “higher things”, as she calls them, her different Preparation Experiences in cafes and restaurants have always ended spectacularly badly, though I will give her current boss come credit; she is unremittingly patient.

Lily is also extraordinarily clever, which is why I persuaded her to fill in a university application in the first place. Strange, I think, considering her family’s Ambitions, that her Tag gave her the chance to advance as much as she has. I know that Lily thinks this is too risky, bordering on dangerous – especially when the admissions boards find out about her humble family background. What harm is there in trying, though? Despite her reluctance, I know when she gets offered an opportunity to study Philosophy and Poetry she’ll be ecstatic and all the fear will have been worth it.

My own Ambition is very different. I will be following my father down the Designer route. First, six years of medical school followed by three more years of theoretical and practical study at the School of Human Design. I will learn how to create Tags with which to start unborn babies off on their uniquely selected paths, learn to further the research that reduces – and, hopefully, eventually eradicates – glitches in the System, and such like. My father is the most renowned Designer in the country, the head of the Triad – the Triad comprises of the country’s top three Designers – and one day I will take his place. It is a huge responsibility, but it is one for which I have specifically been Designed. I have no need to doubt myself.

“Good morning, father,” I chime, kissing him on the cheek as I bounce down to the dining room for breakfast, schoolbag and big brown envelope at the ready. I fling them down untidily on a chair and fix myself some cereal. “Where’s mother?”

“Still in bed; she’s a little under the weather this morning. Not to worry though, she’ll be up and about in no time,” he says while sipping his coffee and reading the newspaper.

“What is the news like this morning?”

“Calm, as usual,” he smiles, and my curious doubts are quieted. Why do I harbour them? Our Society is near perfect. While other nations are constantly embroiled in bitter civil struggles, slowly destroying themselves from within, our country enjoys peace and prosperity. The “Utopia”, that the old writers dreamt of, is being achieved at last. I just wonder what the other countries are doing so wrong. Father soon breaks me out of my reverie.

“Is that what I think it is?” he asks, indicating the brown envelope.

“Yes,” I say proudly. “I wonder which school will want me.”

“All of them, I expect. Look how strong your application is, after all.”

“It doesn’t hurt that I have your name on it, though,” I say slyly.

“True,” he says, winking at me. “But if your Ambition was not to follow in my footsteps, they would turn you down as any other school would turn down an applicant whose Ambition did not meet with their requirements.”

“There’s something I wanted to ask you related to that,” I say. “You know Lily, my best friend?”

“Yes?” His tone is careful. He has never met Lily and there’s something about his wariness whenever I mention her that makes me uneasy, like he doesn’t think we should be friends.

“Do you know if her Tag and her Ambition portfolio got mixed up somehow before she was born?” I ask.

“I don’t know; I wasn’t assigned to her case. You would have to find that out from her hospital. Why?”

“Well, her Ambition is for her to be a waitress, but she’s not suited to that at all.”

“Waitressing is a perfectly good and sturdy profession,” my father says, his tone reprimanding.

“I know; I’m not being high and mighty. It’s just that, Lily doesn’t seem to enjoy it at all. She seems much more interested in pursuing Academia after Mandatory Education is over. I just wondered whether her original Portfolio was along the lines of some kind of Higher Educator, and the folder got mixed up in the hospital.”

“That’s impossible,” he says, though his dark eyebrows narrow a little over his thick-rimmed black glasses. 

“Are you sure this isn’t just some Secondary Interest that she is feeling quite strongly about at the moment?”

“I don’t think so,” I say, although my instincts tell me to shut up.

“Even in between her work breaks she’s always reading a book of some poet or another. She excels at school – really, she would do much better at my school – and it crushes me to think she can’t do what she really wants.”

“She wants to be a waitress,” my father says quietly. “If her portfolio says so, then that is what her Tag has prepared her for, and that is what she will do. I think you might be seeing more in this situation than there is.”

“But-” I start to argue, about to reveal that I’ve helped her fill in university application, but something in his voice tells me that would be dangerous. His mobile phone rings and he frowns when he sees who is calling

“What is it?” he snaps into the phone. His eyes widen as the speaker on the other end rapidly relays information, though I can’t hear what he is saying. “I’ll come immediately.” He clicks off, his expression a mixture of annoyance and something else. Dismay?

“We’ll talk about this later,” he says quickly as he dons his suit jacket and picks up his briefcase and I assume he means our earlier conversation. “I have to go. I’ll see you for dinner. We’re going out to The Glade tonight.” He kisses my head and leaves. Soon I hear the car rev up and speed away, gravel flying everywhere.

“Sure,” I murmur, wondering what on earth that was about.

Find the book online:

About the Author…

Rebecca Finlayson was born in the north of England - specifically Blackburn, Lancashire – but actually spent most of her childhood in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire (fans of Harry Potter will recognise that name!). Inspired by reading a children’s version of “The Odyssey” 20+ times while growing up, she decided to study Classical Civilisation at Warwick University and took a job as a Teaching Assistant upon graduating. After two years she decided to take a year out in order to do some charity work but, more significantly, pursue some writing projects that had been nagging at her for some time. The first of these projects to be completed, a Young Adult Dystopian novel entitled “X&Y” is now on sale on Amazon Kindle. The second – a fantasy novel entitled “The Secrets of Nethiaria: The Magician’s Book” will be out in Spring 2014.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spotlight: Believe by Sohail Malik

Published: November 25th, 2013

They are the most brutal Empire we have known for generations. I am a seventeen year old slave boy, who must endure a life of servitude and sacrifice to keep my family alive. They took away my mother, my sister, my friends, everything I have cared for including my love. I inadvertently struck out and my actions started a chain reaction which led to war and a full scale rebellion. They have sent two armies to crush our resistance. I have an army of 300 maltreated slave children. They have an army of 5000 battle hardened men. I have hijacked an armoured State train. They have a limitless arsenal of the most sophisticated weapons on the face of the earth. I have promised my army of slave children to get them to freedom or die trying. They have vowed to kill every single slave child and have promised to handsomely reward the one who brings my head. I have made a pledge to my younger sister and will cheat death as many times as it takes to fulfil it. They are planning victory celebrations as a foregone conclusion, and have ordered ingeniously gruesome deaths for my soldiers and our families. What they don't know is . . . we have a stolen nuclear warhead in our possession and we intend to deliver it to the Emperor's doorstep.

Find the book online: Amazon

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spotlight: A Special Love by Krissy Bells

Published: February 27th, 2014 (Harold Blue Publishing)

Links: Amazon, Goodreads

When Robert Adler and Meredith Conrad fall in love, all that is left for them to do is prepare to live a fairy-tale life. With the blessing of their second child, a son named Michael, everything they have always dreamed of begins to become a reality. But his autism diagnosis is something they never anticipated. The struggle they face after the diagnosis puts a strain on their family that begins to tear them apart. Years later, Michael begins high school, and the true love his older
sister Ann Marie finds there helps bring her insight and appreciation of Michael’s unique gifts and identity. It might be just what is needed to put their family back together.


“What are you, retarded?” Luke yelled, his words echoing throughout the cafeteria. Michael jumped backward, caught only by the table behind him. He leaned back, startled. Luke’s monstrous shout drew Ann Marie’s attention, along with the rest of the lunchroom’s, to the altercation. He swung around to find Michael to be the perpetrator of his chair’s assault. “My bad,” he said. “You are retarded, you idiot!” He grabbed the plastic water bottle from Michael’s hand and poured it over his head. Distracted by the water falling over him, Michael began to smile and bounce up and down. “Look, he likes it!” Luke said, and with the bottle now empty, he whipped it at Michael. It rebounded off of his forehead and landed on the floor.

A silence now resonated through the cafeteria, only pierced by the taps of the empty plastic bottle bouncing on the tile floor. Michael’s face, only seconds before filled with joy, was now changing. After the bottle struck him, his expression became carnal. Michael’s eyes squinted, his forehead crinkled, his jaw clenched, and he exposed his teeth. He emitted a soft but growing roar as he prepared to retaliate.

“What is this weirdo doing?” Luke turned his back, laughing with his friends. Ann Marie approached the scene, silently sliding between them, coming face-to-face with her brother. She took his hands in hers, terrified at what he might do. Still furious, he stared past her to the back of Luke’s head.

“You want to get your soda, don’t you, Michael?” she asked. Michael’s focus was unfazed. Ann Marie stepped to the right, interrupting his line of vision. “Michael, look at me. Look at Ann.” His eyes met hers briefly and then darted back to Luke. “No, Michael, look at me.” She moved, meeting his eyes again. “Let’s go get a 7 Up.”

“No, a Coke, Ann. I want a Coke!” Michael replied.

“Look at this,” Luke said, now turning toward them to observe their exchange. “This retard has a hot girlfriend!”

Ann Marie turned, but before she could speak, someone stepped in between them. Like Michael, Kevin McKendrick was new to Willow Creek, though his arrival had sent the school’s female population into a frenzy. He was clean-cut but casual, usually found in a T-shirt and jeans. He was still unsure of his place there, thus he had so far kept mostly to himself, choosing to remain polite but distant. Ann Marie had noticed him in her U.S. history class when he had done a presentation on the Revolutionary War. He was hard not to notice. He looked more like he belonged on the cover of a magazine than in a classroom. Though his back was now to her, she could easily tell it was him; his tall, brawny frame and closely cropped chestnut hair was a clear giveaway.

“Apologize,” he said.

About the Author...

Krissy Bells was born and raised in the Detroit metro area. A former school secretary, she now spends her days as a stay-at-home mom. She is passionate about her family and friends, her Dachshund named Harry, and anything topped with cheese or chocolate. Krissy can be contacted at authorkrissybells@gmail.com. Thank you for reading!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Reading the Prophets: Guest Post by Heather Zempel

Today we have Heather Zempel, author of Amazed and Confused, on the blog talking about the Prophets of the Old Testament. Be sure to check out her new book as well as all the other books in the InScribed series
Several years ago, a friend of mine commented, “I really hope I don’t get seated next to Obadiah at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, because I’m going to have to tell him, ‘I’m really sorry, dude, but I never read your book.’”

I laughed, but I also embraced a new mission to help people navigate the odd world of prophetic writings. They seem so weird and irrelevant. In Handbook on the Prophets, author and professor Robert Chisholm admits:

The prophetic literature of the Hebrew Bible presents great interpretive obstacles. Its poetry, though teeming with vivid imagery that engages the imagination and emotions, challenges the reader’s understanding because of its economy of expression, rapid shifts in mood, and sometimes cryptic allusions. The reader of the prophetic literature quickly realizes that these books were written at particular points in time to specific groups of people with whom the modern reader seems to share little.

So true. However, Chisholm also contends that they demand our attention because they are the Word of God and contain a message that transcends time and space by helping us see dimensions of God’s character more clearly and challenging us to relate to Him and the world around us according to His ways.

As I read the prophets with new eyes, I realized they were more relevant than I had thought. The prophets accepted the tension of living in a fallen world while waiting hopefully for a new world to come. Their hearts pounded for justice, and they warned that religion was empty unless accompanied by action. They lived through circumstances that didn’t make sense, questioned authority, and challenged people to live at a level higher than the rest of culture expected of them. To me, it seemed the Prophets might be the most real, raw, and relevant writings in the entire Bible. The world in which these authors lived, though separated from my own by thousands of years and thousands of miles, also felt very familiar. Their voices and their messages were as critical and germane to my life as they were to a distant generation; it just took some unraveling and cultural and historical insight to ensure their words resonated in my ears the way they hit their original audiences.

The prophet Habakkuk begged God for revival and that He would turn the hearts of faithless people back to Him. God’s answer to Habakkuk was “Take a look at the nations and watch what happens! You will be shocked and amazed” (1:5, The Voice). The vision God gave Habakkuk was on of warfare and exile. Not exactly the response you’d expect from a “good God.”

Have you ever prayed for something or someone in earnest, seeking God’s will, only to be left confused by God’s response? Have you questioned why a good God would allow bad things to happen to good people? Has a long-standing prayer request gone unanswered? In Amazed and Confused I’ll tackle these questions head-on by exploring the book of Habakkuk,

How do you respond when God’s actions seem out of line with his character and promises? Amazed and Confused proceeds systematically through the book of Habakkuk, exploring the prophet’s prayer, God’s response, and the prophet’s journey from confusion to worship. Please join me on this journey of discovering the Minor Prophets and the wealth of wisdom they have to share. I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback if you do. Leave me a message on my website, heatherzempel.com or connect through social media, Facebook.com/heather.zempel or twitter.com/heatherzempel.

**Amazed and Confused is part of the InScribed book collection. Learn more about InScribed and other books in this collection by visiting InScribedStudies.com. Parts of this blog are excerpts from my book, Amazed and Confused, released March 4, 2014 through Thomas Nelson.

Heather Zempel - Heather Zempel is the discipleship pastor at National Community Church in Washington, DC. Having obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biological engineering from Louisiana State University, Heather worked as an environmental engineer and as a policy consultant on energy and environment in the United States Senate. Heather lives on Capitol Hill where she can be found searching out the best barbeque joints, watching college football, and enjoying theater with her husband Ryan. In addition to InScribed’s Amazed and Confused : When God’s Actions Collide with Expectations which is  available now (http://inscribedstudies.com/) Heather is also the author of Sacred Roads and Community is Messy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Top Ten Popular Authors I've Never Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I stole today’s topic from last week, because today’s *chosen* topic was one I’ve done over and over and over…and over (Top Ten All Time Favorite Books in X Genre). But because I was slack last week and didn’t post, it all worked out nicely. J So here’s my last week’s list this week.

1) J.K. Rowling. Go ahead, hate me. Nah, I’ve never read Harry Potter. How am I still breathing.
2) Gayle Forman. Literally all her books are on my to-read list.
3) Susane Colasanti. Her books look so cute, though.
4) Sarah Dessen. I half-way read one of her books in middle school, but that doesn’t count.
5) Jodi Meadows. I have Incarnate on my shelf, I promise you!!
6) Kiersten White. Heard so much about her, never read a single sentence she’s written.
7) Jennifer Echols. I’m dying to read Such a Rush.
8) Maggie Stiefvator. Why am I such an awful person.
9) Jennifer Armentrout. Basically everything she writes, everyone loves. Or so it seems.
10) Abbi Glines. One summer I’m just going to solely read Abbi Glines.

Share your Top Ten in the comments below!