Humor Author Deborah Dee Harper

Deborah Dee Harper

A versatile author—that’s Deborah Dee Harper, who writes humorous mystery and inspirational fiction for both children and adults. Her children’s adventure series, Laramie on the Lam, was published in 2012 and will be re-released in four books soon. Misstep, her 2015 debut adult novel, is published by Write Integrity Press under the Pens of Mystery imprint. Misstep is the first book of her Road’s End series, and from the following description, is a full-flavored read:

Retired Air Force chaplain Hugh Foster and his wife Melanie dream of a peaceful life as innkeepers in the pre-Revolutionary War village of Road’s End, Virginia. When Hugh is pressed into service at tiny but historic Christ Is Lord Church, their dream crumbles right along with the old building. One of Hugh’s first challenges is Emma River, a woman who needs no one—especially God—and lives in seclusion in her home, Rivermanse, guarding her dark secret and hated by most of the town. With a church in desperate need of repair, a dwindling congregation, and a record-breaking blizzard, the town’s residents—comprised mostly of ornery senior citizens—are forced to outwit some drug dealers who are bent on revenge against the church caretaker. Poor drug dealers.

Misstep Cover concept update 5 (1)Laramie-cvr

Deborah, welcome to the Scriblerians.

Thanks, Cynhia. I’m so happy to be here.

You like to mix humor, mystery, and spiritual inspiration in your fiction. Which mystery writers influenced you the most and why or how?

I don’t know that mystery writers, per se, influenced me, unless it was just a natural extension of all the reading I did as a kid and beyond. I did love Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew books, although I just discovered that Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym and more than one person has written under that name. Nevertheless, I guess you’d say that she (or they, as the case may be) influenced my early writing and started me on the path toward writing mysteries. And by early, I mean about 4th grade. My first mystery was titled, The Mystery of Castle Dawn. That was as far as that ever went—the title. I should finish it someday! Of course, Stephen King, James Patterson, John Grisham, all of whom have some element of mystery in their books are favorites of mine and I suppose that may have rubbed off on me too.

Some elements of Misstep remind me of a few of my favorite movies and television series from the 80s and 90s, such as Funny Farm, Murder She Wrote, and The Golden Girls (without the sexual references and innuendo). Without spoiling the story, please share with us how you used characters and situations to tickle the reader’s funny bone.

In Misstep, one of the characters is a young man about 18 years old who comes to town in the middle of the blizzard. His name is Sherman—a bright, nearly fluorescent orange-haired fellow—who brings Sophie with him to appear in the town’s upcoming outdoor live nativity. Sophie is a camel. With all his other problems, the last thing Hugh Foster needs to take care of is a camel. Nevertheless, Sophie is here and needs a place to stay, so Hugh directs Sherman to pull the camel’s trailer over by the 18th century henhouse. Sherman misunderstands and puts Sophie in the henhouse, which receives several visitors throughout the night, some of them less than happy to see Sophie there.

Is humor a natural part of all your fiction? What other books in addition to the ones already mentioned contain humorous elements?

Yes, humor permeates most of what I write. I’ve written two other books in the Road’s End series, Faux Pas and Misjudge, which are full of humor. Other manuscripts are being developed and they too have an element of humor throughout. It seems to just pour out of me as I write.

It’s a blessing when something comes easily in our writing. So much about being a writer is hard work. Do you have a favorite scripture verse that motivates you as a writer or keeps you centered?

As part of my email signature, I’ve included Psalms 68:3, “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.” It reminds me that living as a child of God is not only a glorious adventure, it’s filled with humor. God gave us our sense of humor; we need to use it!

I agree!

More about Deborah and where to connect with her:

Deborah Dee Harper lives in Tennessee but spent four years in Anchorage, Alaska, where she hiked rugged paths to blue glaciers, watched the whales (and otters, sea lions, Dall sheep, ptarmigans, bald eagles, black bears, foxes, wolves, you-name-it) in their glorious natural surroundings. She even chased a grizzly bear down a dirt road to get a picture of it. She got it too (and survived to tell the story)!

http://www.deborahdeeharper.com

Author Facebook page http://tinyurl.com/nrg8ola

Goodreads Author page www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomdeborahdeeharper

Twitter handle @deborahdeetales

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Never Too Crazy to Read

The past four months have been the craziest of my life.

Take one couple’s residential pack-up and a move nearly 500 miles spanning three states, traveling in a small sedan with four dogs weighing a total of 130 lbs., and you have the setup.

movingboxes

Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

Yet, mentally and physically exhausted at night, I continued my habit of reading a novel for at least a half-hour or more before falling asleep. Fiction took me by the hand and led me into worlds far removed from the stress of boxes crowding every room, dozens of accounts requiring changes, and last-minute veterinarian and doctor visits. Each fictional world–even an unfamiliar one–felt more normal than the real one I lived in and gave me a short period of peace and relaxation.

I’ve always loved books, but their priority struck me when I made a note (on one of many lists) to be sure to include my Kindle in the car with essential personal items in case the moving van arrived late at the new house. It was critical that I immediately have something good to read.

When I hear someone say life’s too crazy and there’s no time to read, I smile a gentle little smile and hope one day that person will discover the truth.

During which difficult times did you find solace in a book?

How Do You Define the Horror Genre?

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

 

I’ve been “bear baiting” a bit in my last posts on horror. Yes, I have tried to be evocative, but I want to alter the tone for this blog. There are people that actually enjoy horror and probably don’t know it. Recognizing and defining horror fiction has become difficult in the new millennium, and not because it’s really hard. The true reality of horror as a genre has been eclipsed by the successful marketing of  the modern horror slasher and spatter films. Talk about horror as a genre and no one brings up Universal Studios “B” monster movies anymore. What everyone thinks of are films that are wall-to-wall blood and gore. Movies and movie franchises like the Saw films, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and others have done a lot to obscure modern horror stories of the 18th and 19th, and 20th centuries. Maybe that’s because we have a hard time defining what “horror” as a literary or film genre is.

How should we define the horror genre? One of my favorite working definitions of horror comes from Dr. Donna Casella, instructor\scholar of film theory, film studies, and early American Literature at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Casella states that horror is an, “An atmospheric genre — populated by creatures of dread – that plays on human and cultural fears.” Give a story a creepy atmosphere (whatever that is) to give it legs, while making sure the themes play against cultural fears and throw in creatures of dread (monsters, but monsters that can be human, or natural creatures, as well as supernatural).frankenstein-cartoon-character_zJJoosvu

The first recognized modern horror genre is known as Victorian Gothic horror. Reading those books says a lot about what got under the skin of the people of that time, especially women. During the Victorian era, significant amount of horror was written by women for women. That’s pretty progressive, considering society of that time didn’t allow women to vote, hold property, or even have checking accounts. I fell in love with Gothic horror when taking a graduate course on women authors. As tough as the stories from that era could be to read, many that were preserved had rich payoffs and were completely worth the effort.

If you accept Dr. Casella’s definition as a primary definition, and I do until someone comes up with a better one, horror as a genre can be about every day things, as well as the paranormal. Remember Stephen King’s Cujo? An adorable St. Bernard becomes one of the scariest monsters in twentieth century literature.

Horror can also contain the fantastic or mundane, but to be sure, horror isn’t always about ghosts, vampires, zombies, blood and gore, or flesh-eating monsters. Creatures of dread can be rats (Willard 1971), sharks (Jaws 1975), bears (Night of the Grizzly 1966), rabbits (Night of the Lepus 1972), relatives (Uncle Silas by Le Fanu), and even ordinary people turned murderous for one night every year (The Purge 2013).

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

One of my favorite all-time horror movies is Jack the Bear with Danny Devito. Devito’s character is a host for late night horror movies on television. There was no blood or gore, but when a neo-fascist shows up to indoctrinate a vulnerable neighborhood kid in Hitler style Aryanism, the atmosphere amps up and propels the creature of dread theme forward.  And yes, I consider neo-facists creatures of dread. Remember, horror has to play against personal or cultural fears. That doesn’t mean horror is always intended to incite fear, sometimes it’s an incredible tool for evaluating fears.

Lest you think horror can’t be humorous, you should check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahme-Smith. I laughed a lot in spite of the “bone crunching” scenes. The novel can very tongue-in-cheek in parts, at least I thought so. See what I did there? I didn’t say whose tongue in whose cheek as this is a zombie novel, right? Let’s move on.

A very hilarious and clever book is a grammar textbook called The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Elizabeth Gordon. I have used this to successfully tutor college students in English grammar. Yes, infinitives, prepositional phrases, gerunds, passive voice, and everything else English can be truly terrifying, but Gordon successfully mimics the Gothic horror style and uses it to teach English. Pretty useful for a genre blacklisted in the minds of many .

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

 

Douglas Winter, horror author and critic once stated,“Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.” But if you think the only strong emotion allowed in horror is horror, terror, or dread, you’ve not read very much. Pathos is just as much a part of horror as the emotion of horror itself. Consider a truly iconic horror/monster movie of the twentieth century, King Kong (2005). Personally, I find a lot to dread in this scene as to what it says about humans.

One of the founders of the Horror Writers Association, Robert McCammon, once said, “Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and it takes nothing for granted. It’s not safe….Horror fiction can be a guide through a nightmare world, entered freely and by the reader’s own will. And since horror can be many things and go in many, many, directions, that guided nightmare ride can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the readers loose.” (Twilight Zone Magazine, Oct 1986).

Once horror is allowed to grow beyond zombies, vampires, werewolves, and Amish vampires in space (author Kerry Nietz is my hero) in the minds of the audience. The genre of horror becomes a potent agent of confrontation and change. So let’s remember there’s more to horror as a genre than just wall-to-wall gore.

Does your novel need a Teacher’s Guide?

One of my few fond memories of the junior high years occurred in seventh grade English class. Together we read Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.

Our teacher seemed to have a lot of knowledge of the story, and she made it come alive. But I never noticed her referring to notes. She reviewed new vocabulary words with us and asked an occasional question to spark discussion, but otherwise we simply read. It didn’t feel like school at all! It was reading, something I did for pleasure at home when I had the opportunity to get books from the library. (My parents didn’t have the budget for purchasing books at the time.)

TeenBoyReading

By eighth grade, my family moved. Organized reading at my new school consisted of the SRA Reading Laboratory.

Laboratory? That was enough to discourage me right there. It was a color-coded system of cards containing segments of stories, at least in its early stages when I encountered it.

And I hated it.

“Why can’t we read a real book?” I asked my teacher, and she ignored the question.

I’ll admit that the top reader in my class said she enjoyed using the system. (In case you’re unfamiliar with the SRA Reading Laboratory, it adjusts to students’ reading abilities by starting them at a color/level they’re capable of and allowing them to work through and upward into higher levels at their own speed.)

But back then I wondered if these dissected stories were real literature. At thirteen years old, I hadn’t been exposed to enough books, particularly the classics, to recognize them. And I wasn’t fond of having to stop reading after each segment/card to answer questions before I could continue. Talk about interrupting the flow of a story.

I’m sure the SRA Reading Lab has improved since my day, and if you or your child loves it, that’s great. If you’re a teacher, and it helps assess and place students at the appropriate reading level and encourages their reading, I think that’s wonderful.

But each time the teacher passed out her copies of Around the World in Eighty Days, I felt such a thrill. I couldn’t wait to get that book into my hands again, and I was sorry when we turned them in at the end of class. I would’ve been extra sorry if I’d known how rare an experience reading a good book together as a class would be. I never again experienced a group read in school.

Do entire classes ever read a book together nowadays? I hope so. (And I don’t mean each student reading the same book on a computer screen.)

To encourage teachers to bring more classic and new literature in paper form into their classrooms for a group reading project, more and more middle-grade and young-adult authors are creating teacher’s guides.

I’ve looked online and found a few I like for some of my favorite debut novels. One was on the author’s website, another on the publisher’s. Everyone seems to do something a little different, but these guides are not simply a list of several discussion questions, as for a book club. They include a variety of activities and questions covering a number of subjects, from the arts to the sciences.

My Teacher’s Guide for Bird Face is on my website, www.cynthiattoney.com, listed under My Work on the home page as well as on others. It’s a reproducible PDF, so anyone is welcome to download and copy it as needed for use. It’s currently eight pages long, but each time I review it, I think of something I want to add.

I just came across a 45-page guide for using a novel to teach reading and language arts specifically: How to Teach a Novel. I wish I’d found it much earlier because it’s loaded with ideas for teaching any novel.

This is probably the longest post I’ve written for The Scriblerians, and there’s more I’d like to say about developing teacher’s guides! But I hope those of you who are familiar with them or who’ve begun creating one yourself will share some of your knowledge in the comments.

Thanks, happy reading, and happy teaching!

cynthia-toney Cynthia

Giving Thanks for Books and Reading

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA As both an author and a reader, I am thankful for everyone and everything that contributes to creating and enjoying a book.

I’m thankful for my eyesight, which I’ve come close to losing a number of times. I would’ve learned to read Braille, but how would I have been able to appreciate beautiful fonts and book covers?

Which leads me to being thankful for artists, designers, and photographers who make the presentation enjoyable. And the manufacturers of computers, layout programs, ink, paper, binding materials, printers, and large presses. Plus all the individuals who invented them or use them to produce books.

Although I’m a fan of printed paper, I’m also thankful for electronic devices that allow people to read more books conveniently.

I’m thankful for editors, publishers, and literary agents who never tire of reading others’ work and improving upon it (at least that I’ve seen admitted).

Speaking of improving another’s work, I cannot express enough thankfulness for critique groups. The critique partners I’ve had the honor to share manuscripts with are worth their weight in gold. And I give thanks to beta readers who read pre-published work for the love of reading and who offer their invaluable opinions.

I’m thankful for bookshelves and those who build them (including my loved ones–and you know who you are). And everyone who sells and buys books for bookshelves in schools, stores, and public libraries.

I give thanks for electricity and reading lamps and, on behalf of readers from centuries past as well as those who use them still, gas lamps and candles.  Oh, yes, and sunlight. May darkness never hinder our reading.

Most of all, I am thankful for my Creator who guided me to write and for my country, where I am free to think, to write, and to read what I wish.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope it includes reading a good book!

cynthia-toney Cynthia

In Honor of Poets and Poetry

I remember certain poems from childhood.

Their rhythms and rhymes soothed me like a lullaby, and I’ve found myself seeking them during troubled times as an adult. The glorious mental images they evoke likewise give me peace.

Through online searches and library books, I located some of my favorites so that I could offer a few samples here.

EagleFlight

While reading Tennyson’s The Eagle, I became that eagle—powerful and free. The poem itself is powerful–and short–with appealing alliteration.

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;

Close to the sun in lonely lands,

Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt he falls. 

Daffodils group

I knew Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud as the title Daffodils, and it cheered me. Here are two excerpts:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance. 

and

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

snowtrees

I’d memorized Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, and it came back to me almost in its entirety. But the ending is what always got me. It spoke of responsibilities.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep. 

birdhouse

I found The Builders by Longfellow as an adult but wished I’d read it as a child. We build a better world with honest deeds, no matter how small, and we prepare for the next. Here’s the beginning:

All are architects of Fate,


Working in these walls of Time;


Some with massive deeds and great,


Some with ornaments of rhyme.

Nothing useless is, or low;


Each thing in its place is best;


And what seems but idle show


Strengthens and supports the rest. 

I hope children and teens continue to be exposed to the work of these great poets and find comfort in them.

Two books of poetry for young people that I enjoyed lately are Poems to Remember, which inspired my most recent personal blog post, and The Children’s Treasury of Classic Poetry. I’m sure there are many other good ones.

Do you have a favorite poem? How does it speak to you?

cynthia-toney  Cynthia

My Head Hurts From All the Rules

freeimages.co.uk medical images I’m beginning to wonder if too many of us fiction writers are too closely following the same popular writing rules. And I’ll tell you why.

The openings of at least half the adult novels I’ve read lately were eerily similar. Each story started with an action beat. A character slammed, banged, or shoved something or other. Pages had few, if any, prepositional phrases and were devoid of adverbs and filter words. (Filter phrases such as “I/she thought” and “I/he felt” pull the reader out of deep point of view, or POV.) Narrative was minimal. Most description and background information was worked into the dialogue, which was the only place that had a distinctive voice. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading most of these stories. But I’d like to know if anyone else has noticed that some novels published today follow the same rules so closely that they appear to be written by the same author.

On the other hand, I’m reading a YA novel titled My Beautiful Disaster by Michelle Buckman. It breaks all the rules I try so hard to follow. Telling, not showing, makes up the first five pages. But I kept reading! The story is loaded with filtering. The main character felt, thought, doubted, imagined, etc., so I wasn’t in deep point of view. But I kept reading—because the story read as though a friend confided in me. Adverbs were sprinkled throughout. They didn’t bother me at all! They told me what I needed to know in a fraction of a second so I could move forward quickly (tee-hee).

My Beautiful Disaster was published in 2007, so maybe that was before these rules became widely enforced. You’d think this book might employ a high concept to keep the reader engaged in spite of breaking the rules, but that’s not the case. It’s just one of those stories about ordinary events that makes me care enough about a few of the characters to want to learn what will happen to them.

In general, YA fiction authors dare to break rules more often than others do. I’m not a fan of anything way out there, but as long as prose adheres to the precepts of good English and has an engaging story, I tend not to complain.

In my recently completed manuscript, The Other Side of Freedom, I started out using more prepositional phrases than I perhaps would use now. I knew firsthand from hearing my ancestors speak that the Italian immigrant characters, including my young main character, would’ve used a lot of prepositional phrases in translating Italian to English. I can still hear my grandmother and other relatives talking in my head today. Trying to follow the current rules, I wound up eliminating a good many prepositions in the manuscript, but did I damage the authentic voice in doing so?

I’m curious what other writers, readers, and publishing professionals think of this phenomenon–that following the same set of popular rules may destroy the unique quality of our writing. I wonder if the pendulum is about to swing in the opposite direction, away from the rules that many authors now follow and back to styles of writing found in previous decades.

Having said all that, I’m still a huge fan of deep point of view and also admire a clean writing style, often avoiding books that are too wordy.

Have you noticed a similarity in style between novels by different authors who obviously follow the same set of rules? Have you enjoyed a novel published in the last year or two that breaks many of the rules mentioned here?

cynthia-toney Cynthia