“Driven to the Hilt III” : A Review

Blackboard

Driven to the Hilt: Tempered Steel. What is this book about?

In my own words…

Joshua didn’t ask to be kidnapped and transported to a faraway planet most people believe is a myth, but now that he’s there, now that he’s forged solid friendships and qualified to train as team leader—also known as “Assassin”—there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to keep his mates safe. With over a year of intense training under his belt, Joshua knows graduating as “Assassin” will be hard enough… But now someone is trying to take him out, sabotaging his team in the process. The question is: can he keep them safe while wearing a target on his back?

target-on-his-back

A Little Disclaimer

This could very well be the trickiest review I’ve ever written. Not because the story isn’t good, but because I read a draft, a diamond in the rough (as all drafts tend to be). I know changes will be made before this shining jewel sees the light of day, but I’m not exactly sure what they are.

So, today, I paint an impressionistic review… giving you the broad brushstrokes—and maybe a few little dots and daubs here and there—to impart impressions of what I most enjoyed.

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Bold streaks of color: The Action Scenes

Let me tell you, this book has some truly epic action scenes. The cards are stacked against our hero, but he rises to the occasion, ready to sacrifice for his friends. Why should his bittersweet setbacks throb in our hearts with such painful pleasure? Are we sadists, eager to witness our hero’s suffering? Or perhaps his nobility inspires us—with a character kind enough to sacrifice for his friends… if that’s what it comes to.

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Joshua is a humble leader. Uncertain as any young teen, but not without skills. And readers enjoy a hero who’s truly good at something. When forces come against him, what do silent witnesses say?

“I see why the [Drill Instructors] refer to him as a gameday player. His capabilities come out under pressure. Not just fast, but very precise in his movements. He took out two Combine trained opponents before being blindsided. Presumably, he has now learned the dangers of target fixation and won’t soon make that mistake again.”

Irregular splotches of paint: Teen Awkwardness

Wait—what?

Maybe it’s just me, but those of us old enough to have survived our teens might be more qualified than any youth to appreciate a good coming-of-age. Why should I find Joshua’s teen awkwardness so endearing? Maybe because he’s guileless and sincere, just the kind of boy any girl ought to like.

So how do the girls react to him—and he to them?

A playful curve formed in one corner of her mouth, “Sounds as if you’re determined to surpass my father’s record one day, what with all the records you’re breaking. Leading the highest rated Recruit team from JQuad, beating the previously undefeated Recruit sparring champion, destroying The Tube record…” She let the teasing implication hang off her lifted brow.

girl-smiling

Joshua blinked twice before focusing on turning his tall tea glass, “Ah, well, you know, it’s always a team effort and…” He could almost hear the blush creeping up his neck and desperately searched for something else to talk about.

But that’s not the end of the matter. Here’s a little excerpt of our hero’s awkwardness in training:

“You were only killed three times on that attempt, Mr. Joshua.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“I was not complimenting you, Mr. Joshua. Being dead three times rather than five times is not something to celebrate.”

Black Shadows: Emotion & Depth

Beneath all the bright colors—variegated dots and daubs—there exist dark shadows… dim translucent brushstrokes undergirding the whole with depth and emotion.

Joshua looked forward just as they emerged into the Junction. He was totally unprepared for slowtime to kick in, bringing their progression to a crawl, deepening the hum of the steel wheels on the rails, his eyes drawn to where the tracks led straight on… The mouth of the waiting tunnel was an ominous pool of black that pulled the train towards its dark maw, eager to be fed. Joshua sat frozen, helpless to stop them from being devoured by their unknown future, the inky half circle growing ever larger…

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Final Thoughts

There’s certainly more I could say about this third novel from DG Lamb. The new skills the Recruits learned piqued my interest—adding to the omnivision and tiny tell practices of book 2, the acting classes and alcohol tolerance—all aspects of what future covert missions might entail. I enjoyed discovering a little more of Joshua’s world. The descriptions inside the mines, in particular, took me back to my days of caving and satisfied, in the same way, that burning desire for exploration: Where does this dark passage go?

Besides that, what else can I say? I dare not commit the forbidden literary trespass of describing how it all ends… except to say, the book’s conclusion is powerful. In three words, it’s Raw. Electric. Energy.

So I’ll merely close with another excerpt:

Large red eyes locked onto him with ravenous intent before they slid under the surface, followed by a thick glistening sinuous tubular body that peaked in a ridge on the back, topped with a long continuous dorsal fin that cut a V into the glassy top of the black water. Finally, a flat wedge of a tail lifted and signaled the end of monster. It slipped out of view, but the silent roiling gleams of inky water marked the powerful push the tail provided, propelling the creature to where? Joshua shivered. The Water Dragon’s appearance had been startling, but its disappearance caused a gut-wrenching panic to rise and Joshua’s eyes began darting after every shimmering ripple—it could be anywhere!

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“Mr. Joshua?”

He knew that voice from somewhere and he knew he needed to respond, but Joshua could not pull his eyes from the now quiet body of dark water before him. There was also something else that was missing, something that belonged with this evil predator. The voice became more insistent.

Mr. Joshua?

Certain the Water Dragon was going to rise up to devour him the moment he looked away, Joshua turned his head toward the voice, but his eyes would not leave the water.

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“Josh?”

Drayev’s question broke the spell. He snapped away from The Swamp and was back in The Combine. With the transition came the answer to what had been missing – the stench of Stink Blossoms. With a small shudder, he looked at his large friend before refocusing on DI Betzee.

“Yes, Ma’am?”

“Are you alright?”

The DI’s loose blonde hair was a halo, backlit by one of the low-intensity lamps providing a minimum of illumination to the staging area in front of The Deep Six. Even though Joshua could not see her heavily shadowed face, he heard the concern in her voice. A low comment followed by a soft patter of laughter drew his gaze to the cluster of Students that was P-333. Perfect. I have to pull a psycho before the Aquatics capstone test and our first head-to-head with the Top Team on the board.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

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He locked eyes with Lorll, who stood two steps in front of her Team in the Assassin’s position. Unlike the rest of P-333, she was not smiling. In fact, she had been regarding him with almost the same predatory intent as the imaginary Water Dragon from Cypress Grove. Her body relaxed and she eased back into parade rest with a small knowing smile that held just a tinge of sympathy.

Her attempt to rattle him further made his steel inner core vibrate. Might as well own it. “Sorry, Ma’am. I was just having a little flashback to the formative days of my youth.” He regarded Team P-333, whose murmurs and laughter rose in volume.

“The reminder of having survived so many brushes with death is somewhat comforting, actually.”

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In the sudden silence, he saw Lorll’s eyes first widen a touch and then narrow in response to the hardness of his stare… “I’m ready to go.”

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About Tempered Steel

Driven3-coverKidnapped and brought to an unknown planet, Joshua Vernon must lead a team of diverse teens in training for deeply covert missions. As the strains of head-to-head competitions rise for the team, the risks become extreme, stretching his leadership skills to their limits.

All the while, mysterious antagonists maneuver from the shadows, some manipulating outcomes for their own sinister goals, others seeking to eliminate young Joshua altogether. Even with the help of his new friends Drayev and Sawyer, and the support of Dr. Calyse and Hobo, can Joshua survive this new adventurous world and its perilous threats? The demands will eventually exact a heavy price.

About the Author

AuthorDGLamb

Debut author D G Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.

 

Learn more here: https://www.driventothehilt.com/

“Driven to the Hilt II” : A Review

What follows is a shortened version of the review I published on Goodreads for “Driven to the Hilt II: Forging the Blade.” Some sections of the original review have been excluded. I also added in an excerpt, where appropriate, that wasn’t included in the original review. If you’re not familiar with DG Lamb’s “Driven to the Hilt” sci-fi series, I hope this post whets your appetite with the desire to dig right in! Bon appetit!

Goodreads Review

36434282Driven to the Hilt: Forging the Blade by D.G. Lamb

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

There’s nothing more satisfying than a fully-realized hero with heart and depth. For me, Joshua Vernon is that character. In this sequel, in spite of personal setbacks, Joshua nurtures the seeds of virtue and basic decency planted by his parents. I loved him in the first book, and—in the sequel as well—he’s a boy you love to love.

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Thrust into a new situation, (view spoiler on Goodreads or peruse the visual tour), Joshua struggles against the ghosts of the past while battling present doubts and new enemies. I thoroughly enjoyed his inventive solutions to problems… his interactions with others… his self discovery on the road from boy toward man.

Joshua’s sense of inadequacy was heart rending. And yet, the pain doesn’t come without satisfaction. New friendships are forged—as well as new skills… My heart leapt when he reached a victory he hadn’t expected. In my opinion, the author does an excellent job of balancing the emotional highs and lows. If readers had been left too long in the doldrums, the story would’ve been oppressive, but it’s not. I love the emotion; I love the sense of hope even more. I love the way this story feels like something that’s never quite been done before.

“Forging the Blade’s” psychological depth alone is intriguing, but the creativity of world building details elevates it to a whole new level. I loved the vivid descriptions of The Grotto in particular…

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“Welcome to The Grotto… what you see suspended at the other end are the Skyways for the Interconnectivity Mall!   Or as most people call it, The Rainbow Web.”

The Team was overwhelmed by the spectacle of the multiple interlocking bridges spanning the far end of the cavern, each supported by innumerable cables twinkling in complex rhythms of flowing different colored lights.”

It’s clear the author has given his world much thought… Bottom line: I love this story, I’m invested in Joshua as a character, and you better believe I’ll be following this series to the end! I sincerely hope you’ll check it out.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a review. My opinions are my own.

If you missed the Visual Tour, you can find it here.

DRIVEN 3-book GIVEAWAY | Fall GIVEAWAYS |Blog Tour Schedule (by category) | Facebook Party


forging-the-blade-coverAn inscrutable stranger offers him a deal that seems too good to be true. And it is. Joshua soon faces new challenges to survive in a place he had not believed was even real.

Having successfully evaded the colony’s underworld and corrupt police, Joshua finds himself trapped alone in a sterile white room. But it is no ordinary room, changing and shifting in response to his reactions and behaviors. Ultimately, he will have to make a choice… one that will forever change the direction of his life.

DG Lamb creates a dynamic world full of new challenges and lessons for an endearing young hero. Lamb’s extensive experience as a clinical neuropsychologist and his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms injects psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua and a host of engaging new characters.

About the first book:

Driven-to-the-Hilt-press-release-book-only

Already a social outcast because of his father’s alleged betrayal, young Joshua finds himself trapped outside the mining colony on the planet of Cypress Grove. He faces a murky rainforest infested with a creature so deadly, it has kept all humans confined inside their only settlement for decades. If he can manage to escape these alien wilds, he must then brave the even darker dangers of the colony’s underworld.

It is a tale of survival, a premature coming of age in an environment demanding resiliency, inventiveness, and self-reliance. But when teetering on the sharp edge of stark choices, decisions of life or death, can Joshua afford to consider questions of right and wrong, or does expediency rule the day?

About the Author

AuthorDGLamb

Debut author D G Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.

What fans are saying…

“…a debut novel that brilliantly introduces a series with huge promise of entertainment.” – R Oserio (Readers Favorite)

“…one of the most original and well-told stories I’ve ever read.” – S Cahan

“Author D.G. Lamb navigates Joshua’s trauma with a sense of surrealism that’s both poignant and true to life.” – CL Farley (Readers Favorite)

“It is emotionally intense and it is hard not to feel for the protagonist …watching him grow through the challenges is delightful.” – R Oserio

“Lamb does an outstanding job of displaying Joshua’s evolving worldliness while still maintaining a childlike sense of innocence about the character.” – CL Farley

“First-time author D.G. Lamb has established himself as a new talent in young adult novels with this first effort…” – S Cahan

“This book is not what I expected, but wow.” – Lara Storm Hitchcock | Article 1: Characterization | Article 2: Setting

On Amazon: Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 Preorder and cover reveal coming soon!

Fall Giveaways

Leading up to the Facebook Party I’m co-hosting on November 2, I’m offering several fall giveaways in the hopes of generating interest for the party and for the authors in general. Over the course of my blog’s lifespan, it’s been my great honor to feature the works of many talented authors, several of whose books will be included in these giveaways.

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Yaasha Moriah   |   RJ Conte   |   DG Lamb   |   J Andersen   |   Kerry Nietz

My Rationale

Though it might not appear so at first, there’s a connection between the authors attending the Driven III Facebook Party and the authors of the Fall Giveaway books:

  • Each one had a novel featured in Sci-fi September.
  • Each one writes relatively clean novels with deeper themes.
  • Each one is Christian, though some of the stories are less overtly Christian than others.

The specific books I’m offering in the pre-party giveaway also have in common that they’re either novels I’ve featured previously on my blog or ones I’ve rated highly in a review… and/or intend to feature on my blog in the future: Yes, Wings Beneath Water, I’m looking at you.

So, if you have an interest in the giveaways, I hope you’ll also make time to attend the Upcoming Launch Party with even more giveaways!

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But before we get to the pre-party giveaways, here’s a quick little teaser about each of the Facebook Launch Party authors:

Kerry Nietz

51woleooewl-_sy346_Kerry’s novel A Star Curiously Singing won the Readers Favorite Gold Medal Award for Christian Science Fiction and is notable for its dystopian, cyberpunk vibe in a world under sharia law. It is often mentioned on “Best of” lists. (From the author’s bio.)

By the way, this one’s free on kindle and it’s A-MA-ZING!


J Andersen

I haven’t had a chance to read J Andersen’s books yet, but they look incredible. Follow the link here for a spotlight on her Destiny by Design Series. The author has an intriguing personal story as well:

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From “My Writing History,” on J Andersen’s website:

Me: Hey, God, if you really want me to write a book, you need to give me a topic.

God: How about abortion?

Me: Ummmmm… That’s a little heavy, don’t you think? I mean, I am writing for teens, after all.

God: Nah, it’s perfect. That’s what I want you to write about.


DG Lamb

Driven

Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut recently won the TOP prize for Science Fiction from Independent Author’s Network for 2018!

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Besides that, DG Lamb is also a clinical neuropsychologist who’s managed to write a psychologically-compelling main character.

Note: The author is hosting a separate giveaway for the entire published series (books 1-3 so far); it closes on October 31.


As for my own prizes, I’ve divided the swag and books into three separate giveaways, all of which can be entered in the same way (described below):

Giveaway 1: Romantic comedy with a religious twist.

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New signed paperback of My Fault by RJ Conte + religious-themed magnetic page markers.

Premise: Quirky Cleo Stanton has a problem: she’s falling for the guy she ran over with her car when she should not have been driving… (Read more here.)

My review: If you like romance and need a little facelift—as in the corners of your mouth—consider reading this witty rom-com. But Beware! “My Fault” by RJ Conte is one of those books with the power to suck readers in. In that respect, it works as a weight lift too because this book is hard to put down! (Read more here.)

My blog article: I loved so many aspects of this book it’s hard to know where to start. How about… An Awesome Premise… (Read more here.)

Giveaway 2: Sacrificial love and truth.

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New signed paperbacks (Wings Beneath Water and Lucent Sylph) + “In Christ you are…” magnet and Colossians 1:15 bookmark + colorful bag/purse.

What do Wings Beneath Water and Lucent Sylph have in common?

“Bittersweet and beautiful, Lucent Sylph is a short story about sacrificial love.” (Read my full review here.)

Wings Beneath Water is “A poignant story about truth, sacrifice, and brotherly love. Absolutely amazing: 5+ stars.” (Read my full review here.)

If you’re looking for a little spiritual inspiration in the form of fiction, look no further. If these books don’t move you, I’m not sure what will. (By the way, Lucent Sylph is free on kindle!)

And let’s not forget the swag (magnet and bookmark + bag):

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Giveaway 3: On Becoming RESOLUTE!

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New signed paperback of DG Lamb’s Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut + two gently-used hardback picture books and a used copy of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

DG Lamb’s debut novel isn’t outwardly religious and there is some mild language. In that sense, it’s good for a general audience. However, the questions he poses in this novel delve deep into issues of right and wrong. Furthermore, author and neuropsychologist DG Lamb designed Protagonist Joshua with one major lesson in mind: No matter what we face, we all have choices. Like hero Joshua, we too can actively steer our lives rather than passively submitting to every threat. We too can become… RESOLUTE.

My Review: This book is not what I expected, but wow. The back cover blurb, which I remembered only vaguely when I started reading the novel is accurate, but the sword on the cover threw my expectations: In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “this is a fantasy.” Truth be told, this book is unlike any I’ve ever read. (Link to the full blog article review.)

Yaasha Moriah also wrote a pretty spectacular review, chocked full of useful information. For more Interviews, Reviews, and Guest Posts—Oh my!—check out the full Blog Tour Schedule (by date or by category).

>>> Enter the Fall Giveaway Here <<<

And be sure to sign up to attend the Facebook Launch party!

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A Visual Tour of “Forging the Blade”

Missed the visual tour for the first book? Check it out here!

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Having successfully evaded the colony’s underworld and corrupt police, Joshua receives a job offer he can’t refuse. But there’s a risk…

…he remained frozen in a crouch, fingertips pressing into the rough woven canvas. His sigh of relief hitched to a stop. Some   thing’s   not   right…      Ever    so    slowly, Joshua rotated his eyes up and looked straight across toward the office roof. There was something wrong about one of the shadows…    the hairs on the back of his neck rose to a stiff bristle.

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Two reflective green spots floated within the darkness, growing larger, and brighter, moving towards him across the roof of the office, until a feline face eased forward past the edge of shadow, intense emerald eyes fixed on Joshua. The psytiger’s ears pressed down further against its broad, flat skull, its upper lip peeling up to release the gleam of its five-inch fangs.

Joshua was rocked by a brief, full-bodied shiver. He whispered, “I    I found the cat.”

“Where is it?”

“Looking right at me.”

“Throw the capsule!”

“Can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Left it on the roof.”

A stunned silence hung in the earbud.

The cat flowed forward to the edge of the office roof. Its flexing paws forcing long needle-sharp claws to twitch in and out as wide shoulders rocked side to side and the massive head dipped even lower.

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Just when he thought he’d found a sanctuary—a place to call home—and someone willing to help him…

Betrayal…

[The man’s] face filled Joshua’s field of vision,     his expression intent,    earnest,    compelling Joshua to understand, “I know this does not matter to you at this moment, Joshua, but    this is always the hardest part for me.”

Driven-to-the-hilt-the-hardest-part

There was a prick on Joshua’s neck and his vision began to narrow. He waged a desperate fight to stay alert and in the moment,    trying to grasp onto his anger    to rage at the man who had betrayed him,    but he sank into a strange resignation, a seeping apathy…

No    NO!    I  am   RESOLUTE!!

Joshua desperately fought against the blackness that was closing in all around him,      pushing,      striving,      to hold it back,

he         could                 not.

A single thought formed as the darkness pulled him down

Mom?            

Joshua awakens… trapped alone in a sterile white room…

The voice took on a firmer tone. ‘Joshua, if you refuse to cooperate, you will only be making things unnecessarily unpleasant.’

driven-to-the-hilt-white-womb-quote

When Joshua did not respond, the floor became firmer and the light green shifted to a dark blue glow. Both the floor and the air around him became cooler. Joshua did not move. Before long, he began to shiver. He remembered his mother having read him a story about a dog race in a place called Alaska on Earth prime. It was particularly memorable because the very idea of snow had been difficult to grasp. Still is

‘Please answer the questions so that I can get you something to eat. You would like that, wouldn’t you?’

“You could get me something to eat now if you wanted to.”

‘No.’ Her response was heavy with sadness. ‘I wish I could. You were such a polite boy at first. But to give you something when you refuse to answer simple questions would be against the rules.’

“How am I supposed to know the RULES!” Joshua shouted back, “I just woke up here!”

‘You know, Joshua. I politely ask questions and you politely answer them. That is the only rule right now. If you do that, then I can give you things.’

Joshua snorted in defiance and was startled by the puff of fog that came out. The floor had become so cold that the muscles in contact with it started to ache. Although nights in the winter could get quite chilly on Cypress Grove, Joshua had never been this cold…

So Joshua just focused on walking around the cubicle…

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Driven-to-the-Hilt-our-boy-cropped

< Is this about…our boy? …There must be enough heat to make the steel malleable, to forge the blade. >

< True…it just occurred to me that I may have some good news relative to putting a lasting edge on our blade… His escalation in training will put him into contact with, how should I say, a catalyst that should bring him to a white-hot readiness. >

< That sounds quite promising, but it won’t precipitate a meltdown, I trust? >

< There is always such a risk when forging an instrument to possess a true potential for destruction, is there not? >

< There is indeed. But hopefully, you can hold the heat within the forging range and avoid spikes into the meltdown level. >

< I’ll do my best. >

Driven-to-theHilt-forging-the-blade-Joshua

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forging-the-blade-coverAn inscrutable stranger offers him a deal that seems too good to be true. And it is. Joshua soon faces new challenges to survive in a place he had not believed was even real.

Having successfully evaded the colony’s underworld and corrupt police, Joshua finds himself trapped alone in a sterile white room. But it is no ordinary room, changing and shifting in response to his reactions and behaviors. Ultimately, he will have to make a choice… one that will forever change the direction of his life.

DG Lamb creates a dynamic world full of new challenges and lessons for an endearing young hero. Lamb’s extensive experience as a clinical neuropsychologist and his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms injects psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua and a host of engaging new characters.

About the first book:

Driven-to-the-Hilt-press-release-book-only

Already a social outcast because of his father’s alleged betrayal, young Joshua finds himself trapped outside the mining colony on the planet of Cypress Grove. He faces a murky rainforest infested with a creature so deadly, it has kept all humans confined inside their only settlement for decades. If he can manage to escape these alien wilds, he must then brave the even darker dangers of the colony’s underworld.

It is a tale of survival, a premature coming of age in an environment demanding resiliency, inventiveness, and self-reliance. But when teetering on the sharp edge of stark choices, decisions of life or death, can Joshua afford to consider questions of right and wrong, or does expediency rule the day?

About the Author

AuthorDGLamb

Debut author D G Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.

What fans are saying…

“…a debut novel that brilliantly introduces a series with huge promise of entertainment.” – R Oserio (Readers Favorite)

“…one of the most original and well-told stories I’ve ever read.” – S Cahan

“Author D.G. Lamb navigates Joshua’s trauma with a sense of surrealism that’s both poignant and true to life.” – CL Farley (Readers Favorite)

“It is emotionally intense and it is hard not to feel for the protagonist …watching him grow through the challenges is delightful.” – R Oserio

“Lamb does an outstanding job of displaying Joshua’s evolving worldliness while still maintaining a childlike sense of innocence about the character.” – CL Farley

“First-time author D.G. Lamb has established himself as a new talent in young adult novels with this first effort…” – S Cahan

“This book is not what I expected, but wow.” – Lara Storm Hitchcock | Article 1: Characterization | Article 2: Setting

On Amazon: Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 Preorder and cover reveal coming soon!

A Visual-Emotional Tour of “Driven to the Hilt”

Loss…

Driven-to-the-Hilt-dad-honor-doubt-all-words-sml

Beauty…

driven-to-the-hilt-sunshine-fog-alone

Fear…

instinct-vs-cruelty-with-text

Guilt…

Driven-to-the-Hilt-tough-choices-nothing-will-ever-be-the-same

Abandonment… Loneliness… DETERMINATION.

Driven-to-the-Hilt-Abandoned-Again-rain-in-eyes


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About this book:

Driven-to-the-Hilt-press-release-book-only

Already a social outcast because of his father’s alleged betrayal, young Joshua finds himself trapped outside the mining colony on the planet of Cypress Grove. He faces a murky rainforest infested with a creature so deadly, it has kept all humans confined inside their only settlement for decades. If he can manage to escape these alien wilds, he must then brave the even darker dangers of the colony’s underworld.

It is a tale of survival, a premature coming of age in an environment demanding resiliency, inventiveness, and self-reliance. But when teetering on the sharp edge of stark choices, decisions of life or death, can Joshua afford to consider questions of right and wrong, or does expediency rule the day?

About the Author

AuthorDGLamb

Debut author D G Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.

What fans are saying…

“…a debut novel that brilliantly introduces a series with huge promise of entertainment.” – R Oserio (Readers Favorite)

“…one of the most original and well-told stories I’ve ever read.” – S Cahan

“Author D.G. Lamb navigates Joshua’s trauma with a sense of surrealism that’s both poignant and true to life.” – CL Farley (Readers Favorite)

“It is emotionally intense and it is hard not to feel for the protagonist …watching him grow through the challenges is delightful.” – R Oserio

“Lamb does an outstanding job of displaying Joshua’s evolving worldliness while still maintaining a childlike sense of innocence about the character.” – CL Farley

“First-time author D.G. Lamb has established himself as a new talent in young adult novels with this first effort…” – S Cahan

“This book is not what I expected, but wow.” – Lara Storm Hitchcock | Article 1: Characterization | Article 2: Setting

On Amazon: Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 cover reveal here. Preorder coming soon!

Author Website: https://www.driventothehilt.com/

 

What I love about “Driven to the Hilt”

Guess what? We’re only two weeks away from the cover reveal for Book 3 in the “Driven to the Hilt” series! In anticipation of that event, I decided to share some of the things I loved about the first book.

A few weeks a ago, I sent a copy of “Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut” to a friend in honor of their birthday. The idea was for friends to send one of their favorite books and to write inside the cover explaining why they chose that particular book.

Here’s some of what I wrote (transcribed below):

Inside-Cover-Driven-to-the-Hilt

Here’s a brief summary of what I loved about this novel:

(1) World-building – unique with life-like descriptions of completely fictional flora and fauna. (More here.)

(2) Characterization / Emotion – the author is a clinical neuropsychologist! ‘Nuff said 🙂 … But seriously, I LOVE Joshua’s character. (More here.)

AND, because I had so much to say about this novel, I also slipped a typed letter inside the front page—a letter that could be addressed to any prospective reader. So that’s what I’ll do:

Dear Reader,

I loved so many things about this story that it would be nearly impossible for me to fit everything I recommend about it within the small space at the front of the book…

First, the world-building is impressive. In the same way the movie Alien fascinated me in its presentation of a new species, DG Lamb’s Driven to the Hilt also fascinates with unique flora and fauna that definitively impact the plot. The world feels real…and different—there’s nothing cliché that stood out, no overused tropes or tired plot lines. No info dump…

Second, the characterization and, especially, the portrayal of emotion is beyond words to describe. The author is a clinical neuropsychologist and, as the back cover blurb says, he “uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.” … I would be very surprised if you don’t end up rooting for Joshua and cheering him on by the end.

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In spite of the sometimes dark subject matter…the overall narrative retains a buoyant feeling of hope. As Donald Maass says in The Emotional Craft of Writing Fiction, “The spirit you bring [to your writing] is the spirit we’ll feel as we read [your book], and of all the feelings you can excite in your readers the most gripping and beautiful is the spirit of hope.” In spite of moments in which the entire world seems to be working against him, protagonist Joshua—in memory of his father’s motto—remains RESOLUTE.

In the end, I think you’ll find there are many treasures to unearth from this story, including layers of theme, symbolism, and a beautiful mirror of the beginning at the very end. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did!

Sincerely,

Lara Storm Hitchcock


This September, there’s a lot going on!

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About “The Deepest Cut”:

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Already a social outcast because of his father’s alleged betrayal, young Joshua finds himself trapped outside the mining colony on the planet of Cypress Grove. He faces a murky rainforest infested with a creature so deadly, it has kept all humans confined inside their only settlement for decades. If he can manage to escape these alien wilds, he must then brave the even darker dangers of the colony’s underworld.

It is a tale of survival, a premature coming of age in an environment demanding resiliency, inventiveness, and self-reliance. But when teetering on the sharp edge of stark choices, decisions of life or death, can Joshua afford to consider questions of right and wrong, or does expediency rule the day?

About the Author

AuthorDGLamb

Debut author D G Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.

What fans are saying…

“…a debut novel that brilliantly introduces a series with huge promise of entertainment.” – R Oserio (Readers Favorite)

“…one of the most original and well-told stories I’ve ever read.” – S Cahan

“Author D.G. Lamb navigates Joshua’s trauma with a sense of surrealism that’s both poignant and true to life.” – CL Farley (Readers Favorite)

“It is emotionally intense and it is hard not to feel for the protagonist …watching him grow through the challenges is delightful.” – R Oserio

“Lamb does an outstanding job of displaying Joshua’s evolving worldliness while still maintaining a childlike sense of innocence about the character.” – CL Farley

“First-time author D.G. Lamb has established himself as a new talent in young adult novels with this first effort…” – S Cahan

“This book is not what I expected, but wow.” – Lara Storm Hitchcock | Article 1: Characterization | Article 2: Setting

On Amazon: Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 Preorder and cover reveal coming soon!

Author Website: https://www.driventothehilt.com/

Celebrating Science Fiction in September

Visit the Sci-Fi September Facebook Event page and/or the Pinterest page below for links to the science fiction novels to be featured daily throughout September. Please note, a novel’s inclusion in the list isn’t necessarily a personal endorsement as I haven’t had a chance to read them all. Nevertheless, I hope this little promo helps you find your next favorite read!

Also, follow the link here and share to support research for childhood cancer:

https://www.facebook.com/events/525745971219051/permalink/526878441105804/

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And now, take a moment, to share the title and author of one of your favorite science fiction reads in the comments below. Or, if you’re an author, feel free to share a brief description of one of your sci-fi novels. As for me, D.G. Lamb’s “Driven to the Hilt” series is one of my recent favorite sci-fi reads: (Check out the slideshow here.)


Driven-to-the-Hilt-press-release-book-only

Already a social outcast because of his father’s alleged betrayal, young Joshua finds himself trapped outside the mining colony on the planet of Cypress Grove. He faces a murky rainforest infested with a creature so deadly, it has kept all humans confined inside their only settlement for decades. If he can manage to escape these alien wilds, he must then brave the even darker dangers of the colony’s underworld.

It is a tale of survival, a premature coming of age in an environment demanding resiliency, inventiveness, and self-reliance. But when teetering on the sharp edge of stark choices, decisions of life or death, can Joshua afford to consider questions of right and wrong, or does expediency rule the day?

AuthorDGLamb

Debut author D G Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.

What fans are saying…

“…a debut novel that brilliantly introduces a series with huge promise of entertainment.” – R Oserio (Readers Favorite)

“…one of the most original and well-told stories I’ve ever read.” – S Cahan

“Author D.G. Lamb navigates Joshua’s trauma with a sense of surrealism that’s both poignant and true to life.” – CL Farley (Readers Favorite)

“It is emotionally intense and it is hard not to feel for the protagonist …watching him grow through the challenges is delightful.” – R Oserio

“Lamb does an outstanding job of displaying Joshua’s evolving worldliness while still maintaining a childlike sense of innocence about the character.” – CL Farley

“First-time author D.G. Lamb has established himself as a new talent in young adult novels with this first effort…” – S Cahan

“This book is not what I expected, but wow.” – Lara Storm Hitchcock | Article 1: Characterization | Article 2: Setting

On Amazon: Book 1 | Book 2 

Author Website: https://www.driventothehilt.com/

 

Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut

Part II: SETTING & WORLD BUILDING

Have you ever read a novel in which setting was an afterthought? Where the sense of place, like a backdrop in a photographer’s studio, could be swapped for another without any real change in the conflict?

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How about a story in which the world was so thoroughly enmeshed with plot that no skilled surgeon could ever hope to carve the one from the other?

Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut, by D.G. Lamb is such a book, and I hope to explore some lessons about world building and setting by examining a few excerpts.

Joshua stood transfixed by the sensation of heat on his cheek from the sun! He followed the golden beam’s path back up to where it gloriously streamed down from a small patch of sapphire blue sky, the sun just peeking over the hard golden edge of the covering cloud. He marveled as the mists separated to reveal the upper slopes of Mount Lipsig looming to the north of New Cincinnati. He squinted against the sparkling explosion of sunlight reflecting off the metallic microfibers embedded in the Permacrete monorail posts. Joshua was amazed he could actually see the train sliding up the silver monorail strand that curved above the dense jungles surrounding the colony. Several large rusty horizontal gashes in the mountainside marked the extensive mining operations, the reddish earth in sharp contrast to the surrounding verdant vegetation. But the magnificent view paled in significance to what had just happened: for the first time in Joshua’s life, he had felt direct sunlight on his face.

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What can we learn from this excerpt?

First of all, we’re getting a lot of detail here. Having read the story in its entirety, I can tell you what we’re not getting: filler. Some of the descriptions might not be strictly necessary to the story (do we need to know the dirt is red?), but here the foundation is laid for a setting that proves to be integral to the plot—even if you can’t see how yet.

So, one takeaway would be to make sure you develop plot with setting in mind (and vice versa). However, even if the plot and setting are inextricably entwined, what does any of it matter if the characters are nothing more than shifting pawns? Which brings me to my second point and my first Wired for Story quote:

Lisa Cron says, “Story is how what happens [PLOT] affects someone [CHARACTER] who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal, and how he or she changes as a result.”

With that definition in mind, never forget that any story element—be it plot or anything else—is completely irrelevant if it has no impact on the character. Lisa even goes so far as to say, “Every single thing in a story—including subplots, weather, setting, even tone—must have a clear impact on what the reader is dying to know: Will the protagonist achieve [his] goal?”

Anything that thwarts the character’s goal will certainly impact that character, but the effect doesn’t have to be external (physical). It could be emotional or mental instead.

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Now… Reread that last sentence from the excerpt: “for the first time in Joshua’s life, he had felt direct sunlight on his face.” Think on that for just a moment… Can you imagine never feeling the sun? Do you suppose Joshua was affected by that singular event? I sure do. And not in the same way you or I would be affected because—and this is important—you and I didn’t grow up on Cypress Grove. A character is, in large part, a product of his or her experience, which includes environmental factors as much as events. So, to fully explore characterization, writers need to give flesh to whatever world our protagonists inhabit. Also, to make the best use of setting, let no detail grace the page without making it integral to either character or plot.

On a final note… lest you think it’s not enough for Joshua to merely appreciate the moment, the burst of sunshine also speaks directly to his current goal of helping himself and his mother escape the pungent stink and shame of their swamp-adjacent housing. Joshua was, in fact, on a mission to win bets for his mother’s Café Fund when he witnessed the miracle—and then this: “A groan escaped Joshua as he realized… [A] man had used his sheet to video the rare direct sunshine and would now likely make… 20, no—50 times what Joshua could make from winning bets at a pickup stickball match.”

For me, that revelation was a sucker punch to the gut, drawn from a universal emotion: the if only of regret. And that scene wasn’t the last time the author achieved that particular effect—not just for Joshua, but for me as well.

architecture art artistic blue

In my final comment for this excerpt, let’s have a second look at a single line: “He squinted against the sparkling explosion of sunlight reflecting off the metallic microfibers embedded in the Permacrete monorail posts.”

Sparkling explosion… Metallic microfibers… Permacrete monorail posts. Each of these descriptions is specific, concrete, and—therefore—vivid.

Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer explains how to make writing more vivid as follows: “You present your story in terms of things that can be verified by sensory perception. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch… Describe them precisely, put them forth in terms of action and of movement, and you’re in business. Your two key tools are nouns and verbs… The nouns you want are pictorial nouns: nouns that flash pictures, images, into your reader’s mind. The more specific, concrete, and definite…the more vivid the picture. The noun rhinoceros flashes a sharper, more meaningful picture to your reader than does the noun animal.”

Let’s have a look at another excerpt to see how D.G. Lamb’s mastery of sensory details accentuates his created world:

Time slowed almost to a stop. This had never happened before. The aura of an altered reality strengthened. Details shifted into clean focus: the musky odor…; the rolling sheen on the small segments of chitin that covered the main body of the spiderviper; the slow snicking sounds as they compressed together to form a locked shell; the inverted V shape of the two hind legs on each side of the animal, articulated and proportioned like a spider’s, but covered in skin with tiny tufts of hair increasing in density down to tiny paws that were covered in fur…; a large rubbery lip pulled back above a dripping circular mouth filled with teeth, revealing a black fang tipped tongue where a nose should be…

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need the author to convey what Joshua’s thinking here. I can already feel it myself. The vivid details plant my feet in the same space with that deadly creature, and the slow description coupled with implicit negative expectations increases strain to the point of rupture. Which leads me to another aspect of storytelling this author excels at…

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TENSION

Janice Hardy, in her book Plotting your Novel, defines tension as “the sense of something about to happen.” K.M. Weiland differentiates between conflict and tension as follows: “Conflict indicates outright confrontation… Tension, on the other hand, is what I like to think of as the threat of conflict… Tension allows you to dial down the excitement and the altercations without losing reader attention. In fact, tension-heavy scenes can often be more gripping, simply because readers know the conflict is coming and they can’t do anything to stop it.”

Joshua happens upon that creature. Something is about to happen, but we don’t know what. The result? We’re riveted to the page with the need to know. BUT— How do we work tension into our own writing? → Drop hints to the reader about what might go wrong. Direct their attention, for example, to the shadows, the unidentified noises, the protagonist’s suspicions—to heighten foreboding and dread—as in the following examples:

As Joshua’s mother leaves to go to work: “The world felt …somehow… not quite normal, as if… it had stepped back to watch her.”

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Joshua came to a corner and looked up at the signpost across the pedway. His gut twisted as he recalled his mother’s look when she realized he had come to this place. The right half of a street sign hung on a rusty wire, occasionally tapping against a cracked security camera case that also dangled from the light pole. It stated simply: Ave. And whatever the maps said about the official name, that was what everyone called this stretch of pedway: The Avenue.

Everyone knew of the predatory spidervipers lurking in the jungle surrounding the city, but with The Avenue, the dark menace that hung in the air was personal. It came from an accumulation of the whispers and oblique hints of unspoken evil acts that had taken place there, from the look of fear and reproach that came over people’s faces when The Avenue was even mentioned.

And there Joshua stands—in the place his mother warned him against visiting. What’s going to happen? Something… Maybe not now, but eventually. Can’t you feel it in the tone?

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In a sense, these moments of tension, rich with world-building details (the mention of The Avenue and the spidervipers that serve to heighten a reader’s awareness), are nothing more than promises that whisper, “Trouble’s brewing. Are you ready?”

What do you think? How important is setting to you when you read and/or write? Are you ready to be immersed in Joshua’s world? Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a paperback (for U.S. residents only) of your choice of “Driven to the Hilt I” OR “Forging the Blade” AND a $10 Amazon gift card.

>>>>> ENTER THE GIVEAWAY HERE <<<<<


Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut

driven-to-the-hilt-coverAlready a social outcast because of his father’s alleged betrayal, young Joshua finds himself trapped outside the mining colony on the planet of Cypress Grove. He faces a murky rainforest infested with a creature so deadly, it has kept all humans confined inside their only settlement for decades. If he can manage to escape these alien wilds, he must then brave the even darker dangers of the colony’s underworld.

It is a tale of survival, a premature coming of age in an environment demanding resiliency, inventiveness, and self-reliance. But when teetering on the sharp edge of stark choices, decisions of life or death, can Joshua afford to consider questions of right and wrong, or does expediency rule the day?

Debut author D G Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.

(Available at Amazon. My official Goodreads review here.)

Driven to the Hilt: Forging the Blade

forging-the-blade-cover

An inscrutable stranger offers him a deal that seems too good to be true. And it is. Joshua soon faces new challenges to survive in a place he had not believed was even real.

Having successfully evaded the colony’s underworld and corrupt police, Joshua finds himself trapped alone in a sterile white room. But it is no ordinary room, changing and shifting in response to his reactions and behaviors. Ultimately, he will have to make a choice… one that will forever change the direction of his life.

DG Lamb creates a dynamic world full of new challenges and lessons for an endearing young hero. Lamb’s extensive experience as a clinical neuropsychologist and his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms injects psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua and a host of engaging new characters.

“I was immediately griped by the exquisite prose, the author’s ability to create vivid images in the minds of readers and to plunge them into the consciousness of the characters.” – Readers’ Favorite review

Available at Amazon.

 

Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut

driven-to-the-hilt-cover“Already a social outcast because of his father’s alleged betrayal, young Joshua finds himself trapped outside the mining colony on the planet of Cypress Grove. He faces a murky rainforest infested with a creature so deadly, it has kept all humans confined inside their only settlement for decades. If he can manage to escape these alien wilds, he must then brave the even darker dangers of the colony’s underworld…” (Full summary here.)

 


Part I: CHARACTERIZATION

I used to think of novels as being driven either by character or plot. Now I tend to think of character and plot as two interdependent cogs—interlocking gears in a whole. Characters drive plot via decision, where the choices they make are an extension of who they are. Likewise, plot affects characters: The best plots are personalized, designed (by their authors) to challenge the protagonist to their core.

I truly believe character is the lifeblood of every good story. So…

What makes a good character?

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I don’t know about you, but I find characterization to be one of the most difficult challenges of writing fiction, at least in terms of trying to describe how to do it well. Invent a world – check. Make stuff happen – check. Create a nuanced-but-not-inconsistent character with built-in experiences, fears, desires, and wounds, with whom readers can immediately sympathize – cheh—er—hmmm.

As The Deepest Cut’s back cover summary states: “Debut author D G Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.”

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If that description doesn’t make you want to read this book, I suspect you might be the exception… But do we all need a degree in psychology to create good characters? Given the plethora of fantastic personalities living between the pages of a myriad of different books—and the simple fact that not all successful authors are psychologists—I’d venture to say, “No.”

Whew!

Still, we can certainly learn from this author. Have a look at the excerpts below and see if you can quantify what exactly makes the characters so compelling:

Rachel turned to her son as their household computer paused the morning playlist. His eyes spread open again, not with feigned innocence, but in apprehension. Her heart twisted at what she saw. He’s still-…so young. His eleven-year-old face was open and vulnerable, miraculously not showing the scars from all that life had already put him through. And yet, …he’s not my little boy anymore. His upright posture and tendency to meet people’s gazes with his green-grey eyes combined with an above average height and athletic build to create the impression of a 13-or 14-year-old. His short hair was mostly her auburn, but had red highlights from his father. David.

It hit her in a flash: powerful arms encompassing her from behind, gently squeezing away her self-doubt, his warm breath flowing against her neck-

“Mom?”

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A little later in the same scene:

[Pondering her son’s deceit, Rachel] had decided on an educational approach, as was so often her way.

“Lying is still wrong even if you think something valuable will come from it. You obviously thought it was acceptable to break a rule and lie to me because doing so allowed you to get me a very nice gift. That’s called… using the ends to justify the means.” She tightened her lips to prevent a smile as her son frowned in concentration and silently mouthed the phrase to himself, committing it to memory. He obviously knew what came next.

Rachel’s head tilted forward and she looked up through her eyebrows. “Instead of having free time this afternoon, you will research and write a paper on the concept of the ‘ends justify the means,’ to include its origins and ramifications for moral philosophy. Hank, you may cue Joshua with the name Machiavelli later today if he asks, but nothing else.”

“Yes ma’am, provide the name Machiavelli if requested, but otherwise render no assistance on the topic of ‘the ends justify the means.’ ”

Her son held a very neutral expression. He thinks he is getting off light. …And maybe he’s right. -But I still need to get breakfast done and not be late for my first day of work at the Silver Lining Diner. She raised an eyebrow. “We shall see what else comes of this after I read your essay and see what you’ve learned.”

Rachel distributed half of the omelet to each of the plates Joshua had already set on the counter. He carried them to the table top that slid out from the cabinet between their Vertabed couches. As had become typical for them, they both paused to savor the first bite, taking a long moment to slowly chew with half closed eyes. After swallowing, they shared a contented smile. The ritual reminded her of how much closer they had become since David’s death. Rachel was again overtaken by the sudden fear that her son was growing up and would soon be leaving her…

She had almost finished eating when the missing puzzle piece unexpectedly clicked into place. Rachel looked up at Joshua as he speared his last bite, “So, just how big was this discount The Avenue merchant gave you?”

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Joshua looked up, blinked in confusion, and frowned, “Fort-no, ah… 60 percent off.”

“Wow. 60 percent off! That’s a really good deal.”

His face relaxed, “Yep. -I thought so too.”

“Hmmm, let’s see, 60 percent off of 16, that -would… be… six UDs and -hmm -40 cents, right?”

Joshua’s eyes began darting around the room like a cornered animal, “Would it? -I… ah -16? -That sounds like a lot. I don’t think… I’m n-”

“I know how much the SlipStone pans cost, Joshua, and I know how much spending money I give you. –Where did you get the extra money?”

His face contorted in anger. “Why can’t we just eat breakfast without you giving me the fifth degree?”

“It’s the third degree and I still need to know how you made the extra money.”

“OH. -Okay, –so do I need to write something about that, too? -Hank, remind me to write an essay on the third degree.”

“OK Joshua, I’ll remind you to write an essay on ‘the third degree’ later this afternoon.”

They sat frozen, Rachel in disbelief and Joshua glaring, with the tension mounting in the expanding silence. Finally, Joshua looked at the speared bite of omelet and eased his fork back to the plate. With hands in his lap, he looked up, but said nothing. That, of course, would not stand. Rachel’s mouth set into a thin determined line.

“Son?”

It was her turn to be thrown by a change in topic.

“Mom. My Orson 150 is… really …old. -…The clock rate on the processor –Ok -It’s just really slow, right? …So… that’s making it harder and harder for me to compete.”

Her jaw dropped in disbelief. “Joshua, –please, –don’t tell me you’ve been gambling with stickball again.”

His face told her before his words, “I just want to help with the Café Fund, Mom.”

“We both know that has definitely not worked out well before.” Rachel felt the flush of anger on her face. “I do not–want to come home and find you like… thatever again!

“Mom. -I’m a lot more careful now. -I never bet so much that someone would want to fight after losin-”

The flat of her palm hit the table with a smack. “Joshua! I -will -not -have this!” Rachel pushed herself up and bent closer, “You will not bet on stickball! –Ever again, Son!”

Joshua also rose in frustration, his eyes glistening and his words loud, “This is… so unfair! -You are always telling me that I have to be more grown up, to be… responsible! -And I am! -I always try to do like you say, to act like the ‘man of the house.’ ”

Rachel’s mouth went slack, her shoulders sagged, and she thumped back into her chair. “I… I have never said that, Son. -It was something your father always said when he went on deployments.” A hollow pain filled her eyes, her words were sad and wistful, “Actually, …it was one of the few things we disagreed on.”

Joshua’s eyes opened wide in rage and defiance. His words came out hot,

“Yeah? –Well, Dad was right and I wish he was here…”

Rachel stared at the unspoken words that almost shimmered in the air between them and silently finished the sentence… instead of me.

The gut punch had driven the air out of her lungs. Rachel blinked rapidly, trying to understand what had just happened, surprised when a hot tear dropped onto her cheek. Through watery eyes, she saw awareness spread across Joshua’s face and he dropped his head in shame. She forced herself to breathe and searched for something to say, something to repair the rift, praying that this would not stand between them. What came to mind did not feel adequate, but it was what she felt at that moment. She hoped it would be enough, even while she feared it would not.

“Joshua, there is no amount of money -anywhere -that is worth the risk of losing you.”

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What can we learn?

First of all, the characters don’t exist in a vacuum. Even though readers never get to meet Joshua’s dad, we see the ripples of emotion he still casts across his family. In her son’s face, Rachel sees her dead husband. Even David’s parenting style lingers, adding conflict to the scene. We feel Rachel’s loss while also understanding her marriage wasn’t perfect—which adds to the realism. The lesson is this: If you want to write believable characters, you need to give the impression of a fully-realized past.

One of the other reasons this scene works so well is that it’s not a generic interaction that could take place between any mother-son pair—it’s specific. And that, my friends, is another key to good characterization. Rachel isn’t a cardboard cut-out of the average mom. She’s a former teacher. A colonist in a harsh environment. A widow struggling through her grief. A dedicated mom. And all those attributes are reflected in the way she interacts with her world and with Joshua. She’s not simply a pawn planted in the story with the sole purpose of serving the plot. Rather, who she is (character) determines where this scene can go (plot).

Another key to characterization is likeability. While not every character in your novel needs to be well-loved, it sure doesn’t hurt if readers form a favorable bond with the main character, in this case Joshua. In my opinion, he’s a sympathetic character for the following reasons:

  1. He cares about others → He wants to help with the Café Fund. → Likeable characters won’t be completely selfish.
  2. He’s not perfect → He has real struggles that make him seem like a real person. Still, even in the face of an almost-cruel mistake (wishing his Dad were there), we see his regret. → We all have flaws, so perfect characters are unrelatable. But make sure readers can see their redeemability as well.
  3. He’s experienced loss → Because this is something we can all relate to in one form or another, we sympathize.→ Give your character a universal wound and the bond with readers is almost guaranteed.
  4. Others care about him → His mother is desperate not to lose him. That makes me care too. → Demonstrating the protagonist’s value through another character’s eyes is an effective way of inviting readers to care.
  5. The protagonist is proactive—resolute → He’s not just a boy sitting around and doing what he’s told. He’s actively trying to help his mom pursue her dream while also pursuing his own.→ Characters without agency are harder to invest in.
  6. He has interests and talents that make him uniqueRead the free sample at Amazon for more about Joshua’s stickball skills. → (a) Don’t settle for generic and (b) give your protagonist a skill.
  7. His reactions are human → He dodges questions, he shows emotion, he blurts unkind words then shows regret. Sooo human. I can’t tell you how much I love this kid. Seriously… read the book.

 

In this same excerpt, we get a hint as to the theme, but that’s a topic for another day. And how about that emotion? Did you pick up on any universals? Be sure to come back next week for more writing lessons from Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest CutSETTING, WORLD BUILDING, & TENSION

Enter the Giveaways below for a chance to win a paperback copy of this spectacular novel (1 winner, U.S. residents only), a possible $10 Amazon gift card (with preorder), or an e-copy available NOW. And, as always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


GIVEAWAYS

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3 e-books, claim now:

I loved this book so much I’m offering an e-copy to the first three people who respond to this offer:

Read my Goodreads review here then email me at storystormblog@gmail.com letting me know you’re okay with the kindle edition and are unconcerned by my slight caution regarding the story. (I’ll make a note in the comments below when all three e-copies have been claimed.)

Prefer a Paperback?

Enter the Paperback Giveaway here.

$10 Gift Card

Preorder the second e-book ($4.99) between now and June 15 for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card (to be awarded on June 17). Simply forward your preorder confirmation email to storystormblog@gmail.com, forward the e-book delivery confirmation email when you receive the e-book on June 16, and be sure visit the Paperback Giveaway link since a confirmed preorder is worth 5 entries toward the Paperback Giveaway (Winner announced on June 20 and stay tuned for another blog and more giveaways).