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Friday, April 22, 2011

Northlight: Book Review and Interview with Deborah Ross

If you like a strong female lead character and beautiful landscapes, you'll love Northlight by Deborah J. Ross, "a tale of healing and adventure and some very cool horses" (Northlight Introduction).

Northlight is a science fiction/fantasy novel by Deborah J. Ross (writing as Deborah Wheeler). Ross cares deeply about her characters, and this is clear in her writing. The main protagonist Kardith is a tortured but beautiful soul that your heart will ache for. Kardith and her beloved gray mare take us on a journey through rich landscapes and deeply experienced life-altering events.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Women's fiction versus other genres of literature

Today I read an interesting article over at Big Al's Books and Pal's on the topic of differentiating romance and chick lit genres. I think that Donna Fasano, the invited expert, explained the differences quite well. At least they made sense to me.

If I understood her correctly, while each genre may and generally does involve a romantic element the focus of each is different. In the romance novel the romance itself is the focus, whereas in the chick lit novel the romantic relationship is at most a factor in the protagonist's growth or journey. Donna says that in chick lit, "Whether the protagonist ends up with a man is not as relevant as the learning process she experiences through various situations that culminate in her resolving her issues..." See the full article for more: BigAl's Books and Pals: Chick Lit and Romance Fiction / A Defining Moment.

A lively discussion follows this article. I was surprised to find a comment attacking the genres for being 'silly' and 'boring'. For one thing, the comment was not on topic. No one asked for a personal opinion of the genres. Secondly, it was rude and arrogant. The attacker tried to impose his distaste for the genre on others. Third, it wasn't smart, since he is now an author with at least one less potential fan. But I digress.

The comment that the genres are silly and boring did start me thinking: Romance and chick lit have been mocked and belittled for ages, yet they are as popular as ever. No amount of eye-rolling or finger-gagging is going to change the fact that women love these books. But despite their popularity, have the genres truly been accepted as legitimate forms of literature? Yes, we read them, but how many of us are proud of it? Are we more likely to boast about reading a well-known piece of historical fiction or the latest chick-lit favourite?

Why can't we enjoy both without feeling guilty? Why do we need to sneak around to get our romance on, reading historical romance and romantic suspense novels, for example - forms of fiction that combine romance with a more accepted genre - in order to feel justified in our choice of book? Why is romance bad? There is a reason that most works of fiction - murder mysteries, science fiction, fantasy - tend to include a romantic element. Romance, love, attraction - these things are part of the human experience. We all want to have some amount of them in our reading. Some of us want to wade a little deeper into the waters than others. To each her own.

The majority of romance and chick-lit fans are probably women, but I'm certain there are men who enjoy these books too, or would if there weren't such a stigma surrounding them. Remember the depiction of a man reading a Playboy magazine hidden between the pages of something more socially acceptable? Now picture a man reading a chick lit novel held inside a Playboy magazine. Now stop ROFLing and come back to me. Seriously, guys, you deserve a good love story as much as we do. These days, authors are writing books for men that follow the same patterns as the chick lit novel. See Elizabeth Ann West's discussion of chick-lit for men.

To the critics of romance and chick-lit, I say this: You are entitled to your opinion, but examine whether it is in fact an opinion of the works within the genres, or a reflection of an internal conflict. All of the books in a genre can't be bad, and it's okay to like a book that falls within a genre that you wouldn't normally gravitate towards. I'm not sure it makes sense to criticize an entire genre for being silly or boring. I do appreciate the attacker's comment though, since it has opened my eyes to my own critic. I too have spent time, if only through my own feelings of embarrassment, shunning the romance and chick-lit genres. Well, no more!

A good book is a good book, no matter where it comes from. I am grateful to authors like Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes for accompanying me on what would otherwise have been seriously boring plane rides.


For more on Donna Fasano, please see her guest post on my blog: A Life of Comedic Plights.

Elizabeth Ann West is working on her first novel. Learn more about her by visiting her web site.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Children's Author Spotlight: Margaret Wise Brown

Today I'd like to share with you another of our favourite authors. Margaret Wise Brown lived from 1910-1952, and in that time wrote hundreds of books for children. She wrote about things that children wanted to read about, the things that happened to them in their own lives. She was a pioneer in this respect, moving away from the traditional fairy tale and fable styles of storytelling.

The first story we read by Margaret Wise Brown is still our favourite. Big Red Barn tells the story of farm animals living and playing together by day and retiring to the Big Red Barn in the evening. The story has a lovely rhythmic feel.
By the big red barn
In the great green field,
There was a pink pig
Who was learning to squeal.
Big Red Barn was one of the first books I read to my son, Jack. He could eventually recite parts of it himself.

Goodnight Moon is another favourite among babies, toddlers and preschoolers. It too has a rhythmic feel that children will become accustomed to.
Product description from Amazon.com: Perhaps the perfect children's bedtime book, Goodnight Moon is a short poem of goodnight wishes from a young rabbit preparing for--or attempting to postpone--his own slumber. He says goodnight to every object in sight and within earshot, including the "quiet old lady whispering hush."
Margaret Wise Brown created patterns with words. Kids learn to expect what's coming next, and they become very comfortable with these stories. No wonder they want to hear them again... and again... and again...

Another of Brown's classics is The Runaway Bunny. This cute story is about a boy bunny who talks about running away and his mother who assures him that no matter where he goes she will find him. In the end he decides that he might as well stay put.
Product description from Amazon.com: A little bunny keeps running away from his mother in an imaginative and imaginary game of verbal hide-and-seek; children will be profoundly comforted by this lovingly steadfast mother who finds her child every time.
Jack still enjoys this book at 3 1/2. Though he can't read all of the words on the page yet, the pictures help him to remember the story and he'll often read it to himself (and his stuffed friends, of course).

If you were to ask Jack, he might say that The Diggers is his favourite Margaret Wise Brown book. After all, it talks about construction vehicles and trains, two of his favourite things! The version of the book that we have is illustrated by Daniel Kirk and may not be in print any longer. We found ours at a used book store. The prose is sometimes jarring to us adults - it's not what we would consider Brown's best - but boys will love it all the same.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Guest Blogger, Alexis Leno:
Writing vs. The Day Job

Alexis Leno is the newest, and I think it's safe to say youngest, author among our guest bloggers this week. She has just recently published her debut novel, Shifting Fate. I am one of the full-time mothers she refers to in her post below, and I relate to the dilemma she presents. I hope you will enjoy the following essay by Alexis Leno, and join me in wishing Alexis all the best in her writing career!


Writing vs. The Day Job
Alexis Leno

I know that, for many of us, writing is not our main source of income. Akin to authors like Nicholas Sparks, we write AND work. And, I’m not just talking about those of us that physically go into work each day, but all of the full-time mothers out there and family caregivers. With all of these responsibilities, how do we find the time to sit down and practice our craft?

We make time. For me, there are those lonely hours at night where I can’t sleep that I find my computer calling to me. I am a full-time student, currently, and I generally spend my days setting time aside for actual homework. If I don’t, I will get distracted by the stories in my head and put off my other responsibilities.

For the past week, I have been on Spring Break and I am currently in the market looking for a full-time job. One of my offers is a really neat research opportunity. This week, I have been sitting in and watching them work their systems in an effort to become better acquainted with the work they are doing before I start. I never realized how exhausting it would be and how, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t feel like doing anything, not even writing. I just want to sit around and watch television, let the words go in one ear and out the other. My brain stops working.

So, I am asking those of you out there reading this: what do you do to find the time and get your brain working again? I found myself unable to sleep and wrote well into the night, but this is unrealistic. I can’t have two full-time jobs, writing and work. I will never sleep! My current solution is to just find the time each day, sit down and write some words. Any words will do.

Most authors recommend this, but have they ever had to juggle multiple responsibilities at once? Have they had to work, be a mother, a wife, and a writer? I find myself lucky to just be a student and a writer, but as I grow older, my responsibilities will grow. In all likelihood, the time I have to write will diminish. I am not writing for the fortune, but rather for the inherent need I have to get my stories out of my head on and the page.

The only thing I can say is that with my growing responsibilities will come greater knowledge in how the world works. This can only help my writing. I hope, that like others out there, I will continue to find the time to do what I love to do. I know that we all wish that writing were our full-time job. Even when it is, it isn’t.


Alexis Leno has just recently published her debut novel, Shifting Fate, now available on Amazon.com. She is currently working on the sequel to Shifting Fate and a Master's Degree in Software Engineering. Alexis enjoys reading, writing, and cooking. You can learn more about Alexis by following her on her blog.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Guest blogger, Donna Fasano:
A Life of Comedic Plights

Today's guest blogger is Donna Fasano, author of The Merry-Go-Round and Taking Love in Stride. Donna has written over thirty books under both her own name and her pen name, Donna Clayton.


A Life of Comedic Plights
Donna Fasano

            I told my husband I agreed to write a funny story for Cookie's Mom and that I was thinking of writing a travel piece. He didn't ask who Cookie's Mom was, or why she needed this story. He simply started rattling off farcical anecdotes, and it didn't take long to realize the common denominator in all of them was ME. I instantly heard the character named Michele from American Pie saying, "One time, at band camp. . ."
            The conversation went something like this:
            Dear Husband (DH): "How about that time when we were in France, and you went out for lunch and ordered lemon sorbet?" He chuckled. "When I returned from the conference you couldn't sit up straight. I don't know how you made it back to the hotel."
            Hey, the temperature was soaring that day in Antibes. The picture on the dessert menu looked cold and refreshing. How was I supposed to know two jiggers of vodka would be poured over the scoops of icy deliciousness? 
            I murmured, "It was the best sorbet I've ever eaten."
            DH: "And how about that time you went out for a walk in Harrogate and didn't return until nearly dark?" He grinned and shook his head. "Thought I was going to have to gather a search party."
            Who would have guessed that the tiny hamlet towns of the UK have blocks that rarely consist of four, neat right-angled turns? I can still hear the soft Scottish brogue of my hero when he said, "Ah, but you're a wee bit off." 
            DH: "And how about that time in Brussels when you marched up to that bakery window and asked for a loaf of pain?" He laughed outright.
            Now, wait. That was an honest mistake. I knew 40% of the people of Belgium speak French, but my hunger was such that I merely forgot French isn't a phonetic language. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
            DH: "Then there was that time when we arrived at the airport from Italy, and you tossed me the brightest smile and said, 'Oh, look! Of all the people in the airport, this cute little doggie chose to come say hello to me!'" He chortled.
            How was I supposed to know the US Dept. of Agriculture has a Beagle Brigade? And besides that, I meant to eat that orange while we were in flight.
            I'd had enough of his help. "Never mind. I'll come up with my own funny story," I told him before turning on my heel and leaving in a huff.
            While having lunch with a friend, I told her about Cookie's Mom, my need of a funny story to blog about, and my DH's 'help'. My friend's laughter over my travel foibles finally made me loosen up a bit.
            "You have to admit," she said, "he has a point. You never fail to end up in some screwball predicament or other." Before I could bristle, she added, "Remember that time I took you to the airport?" Her mouth widened with a laugh.
            Images swam in my head of an airport security guy who, after rifling through my suitcase, ended up shadow-boxing me for a package of peanut brittle he'd found. All heads in the small airport had turned as, once again, I had become part of a spectacle. My friend's example was proof that these comedic plights follow me around everywhere, even right here on US soil.
            I sighed. "Maybe I should write about my own traveling experiences."
            I rose from my chair, accidentally bumping into the teen clearing off the neighboring table who slipped and poured the watery dregs in the glass he was holding down the neckline of a burly businessman who just happened to slide his chair backward into the path of the liquid. The domino effect couldn't have been more perfectly timed had it been set up by the crew of Punk'd.
            After offering profuse apologies to all parties concerned, we beat a hasty retreat. In the parking lot, I lamented, "Cookie's Mom needs a story!" I searched my purse for my keys. "I'll work on a travel piece."
            "Why limit it to travel when you're whole life is a funny story?"
            The blithe comment made me glance up to see my friend looking pointedly toward the restaurant. My eyes widened. "How can I do that in 700 words or less?"


Donna Fasano is a best-selling, award-winning author whose books have sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide. She recently acquired the publishing rights to her first 11 books and is making them available for Kindle, Nook, other e-readers (via Smashwords) and in paperback. She's a wife and mother who loves to read, cook, hike and travel...and refuses to let the 'country bumpkin' in her keep her from seeing the world.

You can visit Donna at her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Donna Fasano's books are available on Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Guest Blogger, Andre Jute:
Which small words do you hate most?

Today's guest blogger is Andre Jute, author of Iditarod a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth and The Larsson Scandal the Unauthorized Guerilla Critique of Stieg Larsson. I am currently working with André on two editing projects. He is a pleasure to work with, and I'm learning a lot from him. When it comes to the written word, André knows his stuff!


Which small words do you hate most?
by Andre Jute

If you ask most people which word they hate most, they’ll probably choose the teenagers’ ubiquitous all-purpose “like”. If they’re teachers or parents of young adults, they are 95% certain to hate “like”. Me, I don’t object to “like” quite so much. It is a fad, a fashion, and like all fashions, it will pass and be forgotten. Better to wait it out than give it legitimacy by trying to suppress it. Who would now like to be "hip”? Most women would probably think anyone describing them as “hip” is calling them fat.

What I really hate are those hangers-on of lazy writers, got and had, two ugly little words that deface whole libraries like fungus. They rob sentences and paragraphs and whole books of their meaning, even of their urgency. Unless they are put on a strict diet, and their appearances rationed, they will cause the best stories to fall flat, and the most interesting characters to lose their fizz.

He got there by car. The word got has robbed that sentence of precision and all interest. Did he drive? Was he a passenger? Got has even made the sentence flabbier by 40% than it need be. He drove there. Or for the same wordage, let’s add something interesting that tells us something about the character. He drove there too fast. Or, if the author deliberately is just shifting furniture, perhaps as a contrast, how about the neutral but definitely less crude, and at least active, He arrived by car.

He’s got a ranch in Montana and a Gulfstream jet. He got them only for himself, like I got my car. Has he just bought a ranch in Montana? Or does he own a ranch, as he has like (couldn’t resist it!) forever, because he inherited it? Here, let my protégé Dakota Franklin fix a rich man in the reader’s mind in a single sentence: He keeps a ranch in Montana, and a Gulfstream jet, the way I keep a car solely for my own use. I trust everyone can see that got in place of kept would ruin that sentence. The second version is richer because it tells us something precise about the character that the grotesque first version doesn’t.

But if I hate got fiercely, for had I reserve a special contempt. It is much more common, much more ubiquitous and, because, unlike got, had has a good deal of legitimate utility, it is much harder to spot and root out, like a hardy all-seasons weed.

She had it coming. It looks legitimate, doesn’t it? It isn’t. It’s crisp and to the point, true. It is also a cliché, but we’ll pass over that lightly. That had screens the author’s meaning from us. It is a limp, meaningless word. Did she deserve what happened to her? Or did she bring disaster upon herself? Which?

He had eczema. Really? It’s passive, is it? He suffered eczema. Same three words, a world of itchy meaning away from had.

Had is not only limp, it can work actively against the writer’s intention when, from familiarity, he overlooks it. Rage, rage against the dying of the light, a burring voice said in his mind but he had neither strength nor will and let go. Nice work, but for one wretched detail. Surely, this poor fellow, dying, possessed neither strength nor will.  Or he could call forth neither strength nor will. Had in that place entirely drains the sentence of urgency, and with urgency of empathy from the reader for the character’s plight.

In some places the verb in place truly doesn’t need the grammarians’ stopgap had to help it out. Even the slime that had grown on the mud and stones of the bottom was gray. What is wrong with, Even the slime grown on the mud and stones of the bottom was gray. Except to grammarians, it is the same tense, it is an active sentence, and it is two words shorter.

This is such a common, and commonly overlooked, opportunity for tightening many, many sentences, that I give another example. …seemed somehow familiar, as if he had been there before. What is wrong with as if he passed there before. Or, if the tense needs to be preserved, or the author’s meaning is not passage but presence, what is wrong with as if he were there before.

The smart writer makes it part of his cutting and rewriting and copy-editing routines to search for and replace double spaces, had, got. That’s always a good start.

Copyright © Andre Jute 2011


Andre Jute is the author of over forty books including best-selling novels and non-fiction. His most recent books are a reissue of his young adult adventure yarn Iditarod a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth, and a volume of literary criticism, The Larsson Scandal the Unauthorized Guerilla Critique of Stieg Larsson.

In April comes the 25th Anniversary 4th Edition of his famous Writing a Thriller. He is the editor of the unified reissue of Andrew McCoy’s novels, and of his protégé Dakota Franklin’s Ruthless to Win series. He keeps a netsite at http://coolmainpress.com/andrejute.html and a blog, Kissing the Blarney.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Guest blogger, Gabriela Popa:
Aromatherapy with... stuffed peppers!

Today's guest blogger is Gabriela Popa, author of Kafka's House and When The Moon Had Feet. I have read both of these books, and enjoyed them. If you haven't already, checkout my review of Kafka's House and interview with Gabriela. Gabriela has a lovely, optimistic writing voice. She even makes cooking sound romantic!


Aromatherapy with... stuffed peppers!
Gabriela Popa
What do you do when you are tired, bored and sick of reading, watching TV or writing?  I'll tell you what I do: I cook. Last week, when I came home on Friday, I already had a plan for dinner. I was going to make one of my favorite dishes: stuffed peppers, Romanian-style. Here is how I prepared them, and here is how they looked, Before and After. 
Stuffed Peppers, Romanian-style - Before

Stuffed Peppers, Romanian-style - After
The pictures tell you how giddy they must have been for two hours under that aluminum foil down there in the oven. 
What I used: 
·       12 bell peppers (red, green yellow)
·       4 tablespoon oil (canola or olive)
·       1 cup chopped onion
·       2 cans (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes for sauce
·       1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
·       1 clove garlic, crushed
·       3 teaspoons dried leaf oregano
·       3 teaspoons dill (aim for fresh)
·       3 teaspoons parsley (aim for fresh)
·       2 teaspoons salt
·       2 teaspoons ground black pepper
·       3 eggs, lightly beaten
·       2 pounds lean ground beef or chuck
·       1 1/2 cups cooked long-grain rice
With a sharp knife (this is where you imagine you are a world-famous surgeon) you cut the tops off peppers (save the tops aside). Then, remove the seeds from peppers and tops. Rinse peppers and tops under cold water, and put them aside: they are ready for stuffing.
In a large skillet or pot heat oil until hot (think safety!), then add chopped onion and the spices (salt, oregano, pepper, dill, parsley) and, by mixing gently under medium heat, bring the onion to a charming translucent yellow. 
In a large bowl, mix the ground meat with the onion & spices mix, then, gently mixing, add rice, eggs, tomato sauce, 1 cup water and crushed garlic. Make sure the mix has enough water - it should be rather soft.
Stuff peppers with meat mixture and place them in the baking dish. Put a top on each pepper. Pour the diced tomatoes and extra water as needed over the stuffed peppers. Make sure they are covered in water (rice needs water to cook). Bake at 375° for about 90 min.
Serve with sour cream - they are de-licious!   
Gabriela Popa grew up in Romania, and now resides in St. Louis, MO with her husband. She maintains a blog called The Right to Publish where she interviews other authors, "all of them talented and really good looking".

You can read her complete profile on Amazon.com.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Guest blogger, Karen Cantwell:
“I’m No Julia Child”

Today's guest blogger is Karen Cantwell, author of Take the Monkeys and Run: A Barbara Marr Murder Mystery. In this post, Karen writes about a topic that I have no trouble relating to. I share with her an ineptitude for homemaking, along with a mother's love strong enough to give it a go anyway.


“I’m No Julia Child”
By Karen Cantwell

I love mothering — nurturing my children, loving them, guiding them, protecting them. Hopefully I do those things well. Sometimes I lament, however, that I am not the June Cleaver of mothers. I don’t wear dresses and pearls during the day; I don’t sew, knit, crochet, darn socks, clean the oven weekly, or scrapbook every minor and major moment in my children’s lives. Sadly, I don’t cook very well either.

It’s true. I burn toast. Regularly.

My culinary deficits are no secret. I admit with a smile that I have never cooked a turkey and gladly reveal that our luscious Thanksgiving dinners are purchased from Boston Market (they make WONDERFUL mashed potatoes). And after all — who wants to spend hours cooking over a hot stove on a holiday? Not me.

I assumed my kids were fine with the food arrangements in our home. They never complained (much). Not until recently anyway.

The day: Thanksgiving. We had just lapped up the last of the savory gravy from our plates, when my oldest son whipped out a shocker on me: “Someday, I’d love to have a real, home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner like other people.”

Ach! How long was the knife that just pierced my maternal heart?

I resolved then that I would, despite my general dislike for the activity of cooking, rise above it all, and learn to fix one Thanksgiving-type dish each month, until the following Thanksgiving, at which point I would serve up a delicious (or at least edible) meal for my neglected family.

The next day I decided I must have had too much to drink when I made that resolution. Me cook? Who was I kidding?

Fast forward to last week. It all started rather innocently. My son made a comment about the frozen, pre-made pasta dish I was throwing into the skillet. In 7 quick and wonderful minutes, we would have ravioli with marinara sauce. Pretty good stuff. I thought I was a genius for finding it in the frozen food aisle. My son didn’t agree. “Geez,” he grumbled, “now you can’t even cook pasta and open up a jar to add red sauce?”

I had to admit, I was getting pretty lazy. Truth be told, my favorite part of Star Trek The Next Generation is that voice-activated, microwave oven-looking gadget. Give it a simple voice command and voila, they’ve got food. If that's the future of cooking – I'm on board.

Now don’t get me wrong, my son and I were joking around. All in good fun. He’s not a spoiled brat. He’s evidently just undernourished.

So anyway, to make a long story longer, that was the first comment. It was the second that hit home. The same son asked me why I didn’t get meals from Dinner Out anymore. Dinner Out is this great place for people like me who can’t follow recipes very well. They provide the fixings and the directions for preparing. You pay, prepare and go home with five fabulous meals that you freeze and heat at your convenience. It’s very cool.

“Why don’t you do that anymore?” he asked me yesterday.

“Gee,” I answered. “I don’t know.  It got a little expensive I guess.”

He was quiet for a minute, then continued. It was the quiet moment where I should have braced myself for what was about to come.

“My friend’s sister works there,” he said. “They have Dinner Out meals all of the time. His mother is a bad cook just like you.”

So there you have it. I must learn to cook.

Will I?

It sure would be a lot easier if I could just channel Julia Child.


Karen Cantwell is the author of the humorous mystery, Take the Monkeys and Run: A Barbara Marr Murder Mystery.  When she's not writing, Karen loves gardening, watching movies, and spending time with her husband and kids.  While she loves writing, her passion is her family.  You can learn more about Karen, her books and short stories at www.karencantwell.com. You may also find Karen at Fiction for Dessert or hanging out with author friends L.C. Evans and Barbara Silkstone at A Moose Walked Into a Bar.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Guest Blogger, Christopher Bunn:
Moral Compass and Character

Today's guest blogger is Christopher Bunn, author of The Hawk And His Boy and The Shadow at the Gate, among other titles. If you haven't already, check out my review of the Hawk and His Boy and interview with Christopher. I think if Christopher were to write a full length novel based solely on the subject of lint, I would read it. His writing is that good.


Moral Compass and Character
Christopher Bunn

As a writer, one of the many fascinating things about story for me is the issue of the moral compass. By moral compass, I mean the ethical framework that either guides a story, or the ethical framework that guides any individual character within a story. The larger overall moral compass of a story is an incredibly involved and potentially contentious topic, and I'll leave it for another time. For this piece, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to muse a bit on the idea of a character's moral compass and why that might be important for writers and, tangentially, for readers. I realize that this topic is almost as equally complicated, so I apologize in advance for the inadequacy of only a few paragraphs.

Whether you're reading Anna Karenina or Very Good, Jeeves, every character you come across has some sort of moral compass pointing to their respective North Star. Some are more easily detected, of course, while others necessitate detective work. The moral character of Levin from Anna Karenina, for example, is painted in sure, deft strokes as the story unfolds. It would be difficult to avoid understanding how his soul ticks by the time you're halfway through the book. Bertie Wooster, on the other hand, arguably possesses a more elusive moral compass than Levin. His compass certainly exists, but it takes a little thinking and digging in order to unearth it from beneath Wodehouse's airy social commentary and humor. Children's books, of course, are not immune to this. One could probably write a doctoral thesis on the moral compass of the Cat from Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat.

No one has ever written a character devoid of moral compass. It simply isn't possible. Even the most avowed nihilist, whether he's throwing bombs in one instant and then walking old ladies across the street in the next, still possesses a moral compass (and nihilists, I would argue, possess one of the more simplistic and dreary moral compasses available). Trying to write a character devoid of a moral compass is equivalent to trying to imagine nothing. If you try to imagine nothing, you will not be able to escape imagining something. It's the same with creating a character. His moral compass will assert itself, whether you want it or not.

Why is this issue important for writers? I would argue that there is a certain obligation to the reader here. Regardless of age, we are all influenced by whatever we come in contact with. Countless studies have been done on the relationship between peers, influence, and the effects on the individual. I would argue that, in a small way, books stand in for peers in matters of influence. The results can be infinitesimal or they can be profound. In either case, the reader is influenced for better or for worse. Therefore, no matter what the genre, I think a writer should be kind enough to give the reader a character they can hang onto in their story. To borrow from Louis L'Amour, give them a character they could ride the river with. It needn't be the main character. It might only be a side character who wanders through the scene every once in a while. What's important is that the reader is given someone with a moral compass that has something worthwhile to offer.

Here, I would guess (in addition to the previously mentioned idea of obligation), is where the discussion can become contentious, because this raises the issue of which sorts of moral compasses are better, healthier, or more valuable. That is not a comfortable topic in our age where tolerance has achieved the status of virtue. I'll leave that question for another time, or for your own private, internal discussion. However, I would say that if a reader can be ennobled in some way by a character, even a little way, then the writer has given them a good gift. We all walk in a certain amount of darkness and we will walk more surely if the stories we read contain characters whose moral compasses point to a bright and steady North Star.


Here's an exerpt from Christopher Bunn's biography on Amazon.com:  
Christopher Bunn (1969-still alive) was born in California to parents of extra-terrestrial origin. After working a long and not-so-illustrious career that did not include a stint as a mule skinner, six months lost at sea on a life raft provisioned only with a crate of bananas, two years as a prize fighter, several shameful terms in Congress, nor a brief time spent in the circus as a lion tamer, he began writing novels in order to chronicle his life and the lives of other people who did not exist.

That Christopher is one funny guy! If you want to know what he's really been up to, check out his blog, Scribbles and Tunes.

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