Plum Upside Down by Valerie Comer

Plum Upside Down by Valerie ComerI have read many of Valerie Comer’s books and keep coming back because of the strong characters, and the conflicts they face in both life and faith. It says a lot for her writing I got confused when I started Plum Upside Down as to whether I’d already read this book because I knew the two of them in relation to each other. I soon figured out where Keanan was first introduced and his conflict with Chelsea begun, but it had been a couple of years since I read Dandelions for Dinner, and for even minor characters to stay so clear just demonstrates why I keep coming back.

I believe Plum Upside Down may be the most complex of her works I’ve read so far, regardless of series. This is definitely a discussion-worthy book for the faith aspects as well as what these two people face as a couple. I had some issues with how the book seemed to be condoning peer pressure where faith was concerned, though it was often unintentional, especially in how it made Chelsea feel unworthy and worthless. I shouldn’t have been worried. That is only one of the very real issues struggled with in the story. There are a lot of snap judgments and assumptions between the two of them that make everything more difficult.

Chelsea is not firm in her faith in the beginning, though she refuses to admit it to herself as much as to anyone else. She sees how easy and deep a relationship with God seems to be for the other inhabitants of Green Acres and considers herself lacking in comparison. It doesn’t help that the organizational skills she thought would make her a valuable member of the community are unnecessary on the farm. She’s reduced (her words, not mine) to simple farmhand labor, an indication that she’s certainly not perfect either. The pressure to do something more, be something more, is never stronger than when she’s with Keanan.

He dismisses Chelsea’s gifts and how she’s been using them, because he sees anything tied to privilege as tainted. He embodies the phrase “Holier than thou” for me not it how he acted as much as in how he judged the worthiness of others, or most specifically, of Chelsea. He doesn’t seem to have any difficulty accepting how the other members of the farm have chosen to express their faith or find their calling, but from the start, he judges Chelsea as a pampered princess who should face up to her own lack of value.

It’s interesting the contrast in perceptions from one of the other farm members who pointed to how Chelsea jumps in where needed without complaint, but its Keanan’s perspective that has the strongest impact on Chelsea, and not always in a good way. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my mother years ago. I said I felt like I wasn’t contributing enough to helping people. She turned around and pointed out the many hours of programming I did while volunteering for my online writing group, efforts, along with being part of the moderating team, that helped others get the inspiration and encouragement that’s critical to living full lives. I had not even considered that in the context of giving because I fell into the position and enjoyed what I was doing.

This is how I see Chelsea. She devotes hours organizing events for her church in Portland even after she moves to the farm, allowing them to provide for the less well off in their community and even fund outreach missions like Keanan went on. Without efforts like hers, those missions wouldn’t happen, but because it’s not hands on in foreign countries, it has no value to him. This also raised another issue for me because elevating missions abroad while ignoring the suffering at home is another form of judgement. It’s saying because people in Africa, to use the example from the book, don’t have the same life as in America, their life is worse off than every person in America (where the book is set). Starving in a land of plenty is still starvation. I’m not saying Keanan believes this, but that his words imply that he does, something tied up with his own history, and an attitude that exists in the real world.

Remember what I said about discussion worthy? As a reader, I had to be patient, but Keanan has his own issues that brought him to such judgements. His break from privilege left a bad taste in his month, and he can’t see how that’s tainting his view of the world until he’s hit over the head with a very heavy brick. I still think he has room to grow in that direction, but he comes to some pretty shattering conclusions by the end that point him in the right direction. And to his credit, he doesn’t fall back on the bad habit of blaming others as he does with Chelsea in their early relationship but faces up to the truths God reveals to him.

After what I said above, you’ll think I didn’t like Keanan at all, but that would be far from the truth. He’s wonderful with children, caring, and truly focused on helping people see into their own hearts. It’s quite likely an afterimage of fighting his attraction to Chelsea that makes him so blind to her strengths and to her weaknesses. She’s the only one he pushes to abandon everything she’s known and do what he thinks is the proper calling, and while that’s the part I don’t agree with, he does recognize her own fears eventually and helps her to resolve them where her faith is concerned, so it’s certainly not all negative between them. If it were, Chelsea would not have been inspired to break down her barriers instead of settling for an okay, but not transcendent, life.

I thought for a while that Chelsea would be called upon to make all the adjustments in the story, which isn’t why I read romances. A proper relationship is a mutual compromise that allows something stronger to grow out of the union. Had she persisted in seeing herself as the lessor, a child at Keanan’s knee, the relationship wouldn’t have worked for me at all. Instead, she grows and he’s hit with a brick. Yes, I’m avoiding spoilers, but things get scary and crisis-filled for a good while which allows both of them to look at what they are doing to each other and in their relationship with God, making this a fascinating, deep story.

This book focuses very heavily on faith and learning your own value and purpose, but it is still true to the Farm Fresh series by also having hands-on work descriptions and out-there housing options that involve everyone to put into place. I love how Green Acres brings disparate people together as a community and a family whether they live at the farm or only come to visit. The heart in these books is tangible even when the main characters are frustrated or struggling with what their hearts tell them is true on both a faith and relationship level. Besides, the characters are real enough to linger across years, as are their questions.

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The Fourth NaNo 2017 Progress Report: Endings

It’s been an interesting month for sure. Like many creatives, this year was not a very productive one, and I started November without much hope, having written a fraction of what I normally do each year. On the other hand, according to the NaNo site, I’ve spent fourteen years (not including this one) building up the habit of writing a lot in November.

There have been years when I swore I could not, and would not, do NaNo; years I prepped in advance; years I jumped in at the last minute; and years I switched projects right before starting, making waste of all my preparations. I’ve experienced pretty much every variant except not writing. They say forming a habit makes things easier, and that might just be the case, because despite everything this year has thrown at me, I’m on the verge of finishing my seventeenthfifteenth NaNo.

However, don’t let that make you think things went as planned. They most certainly did not. Traps and Treachery has passed 85,000 words and will have at least another 1,000 added on, meaning I never started my second project. I did realize I haven’t published Steam and Shadows yet, so I may shift the “bridging conflict” from the beginning of Traps to the end of Steam if that is workable. It depends on a lot of factors I don’t have time to assess right now, but it is one of the advantages to having a closely knit series rather than a collection of standalone novels (at least when you look at the volumes in The Steamship Chronicles).

Beyond length, an interesting thing happened during this book.

Something that should have been the main crisis, and has been what the characters were fighting for/struggling toward throughout the second volume, may just have turned into an epilogue. That is not remotely to say the characters weren’t involved in the true crisis, or that their choices and labors weren’t key to the resolution, but something they learned on the journey turned out to be more pressing. It’s hard to explain without spoilers, but once I have the second volume all out, I’ll be fascinated to see people’s reactions (well, I always am), because it’s an odd thing to have done, and yet it’s the right, logical choice.

This is one of the consequences of letting the characters drive the story, and curiously enough, it still matches the outline perfectly. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind, I already knew we were headed in this direction. I certainly hadn’t predicted the return of one particular character, and yet, she wouldn’t have been herself if she hadn’t had one final moment in the sun before the volume completes.

This is the fun part about writing. It’s as much as a journey of discovery for me as it is for my readers, regardless of having a road map from the start. My outline is like a map with a line drawn for the route you plan to follow. It says nothing of what you will see, learn, or discover on the way. It doesn’t show the roadblocks that send you on sometimes fascinating detours. It fails to speak to the changes you experience in your perspective either. All it does is tell you where to point the car each day so that you can be confident of finding the end to your journey…eventually.

As to the end of this particular journey, when I was chatting with my husband over texts about the final scene being almost more of an epilogue, he jotted down what he thought it should be (joking of course) and then agreed to let me share it with you:

Colin:

Sadly, no one lived happily ever after as a re-occurrence of the Black Plague wiped out every human on the planet leaving the Naturals, who had an inherent immunity, to play with all the machines at their leisure until one developed sentience and led the rise of the machines that wiped out the Naturals. The otters were pleased as they destroyed the machines and inherited the earth.

Note: He apologizes for the run-on sentence as he didn’t know I would be sharing it (with his permission) *grin*.

You might think his thought is a little out of left field, and it certainly is for this series, but the funny part is how I’ve already written a novel that swallows up at least half of that premise. Maybe you’ll remember this moment when I release that one someday.

Right. Stats. Here they are for the last full week of NaNo:

Day Total New Words
21 36,533 1818
22 38,247 1714
23 40,444 2197
24 43,356 2912
25 45,056 1700
26 46,335 1279
27 49,015 2680
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5 Interesting Links for 11-24-2017

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

Techniques (Promotion)

A look at ways to reach your book’s audience through defining your reader in specific terms.
https://www.selfpublishedauthor.com/node/455

Aliens (Science)

The search for alien life does so much more than is considered in how it supports not just sciences but the integration of specialties and broadening of political perspectives.
https://www.livescience.com/59969-looking-for-aliens-good-for-society.html

Technology (Society)

A look at the effects of online dating…with some surprising twists.
https://www.technologyreview.com/s/609091/first-evidence-that-online-dating-is-changing-the-nature-of-society/

Musicians (Interesting People)

A fascinating look at Joni Mitchell in the context of her life and her influence on others.
https://www.theringer.com/music/2017/10/16/16476254/joni-mitchell-pop-music-canon

Sleep (Health)

A look at sleep in modern America, the consequences and ways to improve.
http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/10/16/558058812/sleep-scientist-warns-against-walking-through-life-in-an-underslept-state

Forged: A Fantasy Short Story

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Tempted & Taken by Rhenna Morgan

Tempted & Taken by Rhenna MorganI think it was Axel in the book who commented about the brotherhood going international, but he’s right. Darya brought in a new twist before the Men of Haven novels could fall too much into a pattern. Some elements were the same in both the brothers helping Darya out and the relationship cementing about half way in to leave more room to devote to the external crisis, but if the broad strokes were similar, the specific story is brand new.

She’s on the run and living under an assumed name when she crosses paths with Knox. Sure, his mind drew her first, but she struggles with a crush on him that’s both physical and mental when she decides to ask for a programming mentorship. She’s got persistence where she doesn’t think she has talent, and he’s the best programmer she knows of. Her attraction is more of an inconvenience than anything else, but when it’s obvious Knox returns the sexual interest, she is determined to indulge in another of her fantasies.

It may be because Knox has specific sexual hang-ups (or rather relationship ones), but while this book is just as explicit as the others, it felt as if more time was spent on the sex…a little too much for my preference…and once again it pushed the boundaries. That said, while I did feel one scene in particular went on too long, each scene served to break away the barriers that had made Knox into a welcome lover but never a boyfriend despite his half-suppressed dreams of finding someone he could trust enough to tear down those walls.

Trust made up a huge theme in the story, in both the personal and suspense threads especially considering everything about Darya, even the name she first gives, is a lie. Knox has a lot to lose, though he’s worried more for his heart than his life despite Darya’s fears. Darya holds her secrets close because she thinks revealing them will put the man she loves and his whole family at risk, but Knox isn’t going to let her go without a fight, no matter who he has to face.

I loved seeing their relationship come together, especially with how the other brothers tease and push Knox into setting his fears aside. Darya’s trying to live up to the sacrifices made in her name, but she feels it as a debt until Knox’s family of the heart makes her one of their own.

While a Russian is her enemy, not only is Darya Russian, but she tells them about others who have helped her, some living in the same gray area of honor and violence the Brotherhood seems to find itself in all too often. I liked how the portrayals were not one-sided, but rather showed different cultures with similar rules, and some bad eggs.

I can’t give specifics without spoiling, but there’s one point when I thought Darya would run, and the story would spring from that point. Instead, she did something much better, and yes, the story did hinge on that choice, but in a way that felt more original than many suspense novels.

Ultimately, despite my quibbles about the amount of sex, this is a true addition to the series with characters that have depth; the same balance of alpha male meaning support and protect rather than cage (critical in this book); and a focus on chosen family standing up for each other no matter what. I also very much appreciated how Darya worked with Knox rather than letting him take over for her, not just in the major crises but always. It’s a strong series with a real sense of honor that flows throughout.

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The Third NaNo 2017 Progress Report: Distractions

Consistency hasn’t really been a thing this year, but I have managed to write–something–every day. I did a little better on average, I think, but managed to burn through a good bit of my cushion this week, then raised it again to end up with 1375 words to spare. I also had both my third best day and my absolute worst day this time.

I also recovered not once but twice from writing downturns, and the story is still carrying on well. Perhaps a bit too well.

This year’s NaNo is not as much of a mish-mash as I’d hoped. I mentioned wanting to finish Traps and Treachery at 70,000 words but it now stands around 75,000 words, and there’s still a bit more to work through before the end. When the series runs between 50k and 65k, tucking an 80k or higher novel into the mix is strange.

Maybe I’ll do some as a novella if there’s a good break point, but this is how I write. I follow the story and let the characters point out what they would do in each instance. That offers up some surprises, but generally, those are better than what I would have pushed through.

I haven’t had a lot of complaints so far, but I will see if I can do something about all this length in the editing phase. If not, I’ll be happier to put out a good story than continue a word count pattern. If yes, I’ll have a handy pile of excerpts to share. Either way is a win.

Here are the numbers I was talking about:

Day Total New Words
15 26938 1721
16 29149 2211
17 30935 1786
18 31059 124
19 32293 1234
20 34715 2422

Ah, yes, the title says distractions, and I haven’t really addressed that part of my tale. In the chart above, you will notice on day 18 I wrote only 124 words. I’m lucky I managed that much.

I helped my husband sell his wildlife photography at the Nevada Humane Society craft fair, but when the event had ended, instead of heading home as planned, we lingered to collect part of the local wildlife.

Meet Biscotti, the newest member of our family. She was found on the streets, but from her behavior is not a true feral. Yes, this most likely means someone abandoned her, but their loss is our gain.

©Colin Fisk (cell phone photo)

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