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):

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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

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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/

The Goose Girl

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Have you ever dreamed of being royalty? Maybe you’re an Anglophile and enjoy a little BBC or even just a monarchic fantasy (like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings). At some point in your life—if you’re a girl—you’ve probably imagined yourself in place of one animated princess or another. Maybe I’m just a dreamer, but the idea of living in a palace, surrounded by beautiful rooms (and—ahem—being married to a handsome prince) has a certain romantic appeal.

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Now imagine what your life would be like if you could communicate with animals? What would you say to your beloved canine, feline, or equine friends? What might they say back? Could be kind of amazing, don’t you think?

But what if you were a crown prince or princess who possessed the gift of “animal-speaking” in a kingdom largely suspicious of such a feat? The law might state you’re destined to rule, but your gift makes you an outcast—it works against you. People’s narrowed eyes and whispered rumors follow you around, the animals you speak to are your only friends, and—unlike your respected “people-speaking” mother—you have no skill for ruling the masses… That, in a nutshell, is Shannon Hale’s novelized version of The Goose Girl, the story of Crown Princess Anidori and her coming-of-age journey of self-discovery and fulfillment.

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It’s a clean young-adult-targeted retelling of the original brothers Grimm fairy tale, and I have to say, I was impressed. Depending on what you’re accustomed to reading, it might not be your particular blend of coffee (or tea), but for me two attributes stood out as potential lessons for aspiring authors. First, the lyrical style, rich with imagery and sensory details captivated me from the very first sentence. Second, the emotional journey grabbed hold and sucked me in—and still it resonates whenever I contemplate the basic message.

In my own words…

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Princess Anidori couldn’t succeed until she stopped trying to be her mother, and you won’t succeed either—except as yourself. As for the writing lessons, we’ll dig a little deeper into Hale’s style and emotional impact in the sections below…

The Style

What I find so fascinating about Hale’s style is that it contradicts a number of basic writing guidelines (like the sheer abundance of similes and the far narrative distance, which, on the face, appears “telling” with a shallow point of view)… and yet the overall effect is vivid, sensory, and beautiful. Take the opening, for example:

“She was born Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she did not open her eyes for three days. The pacing queen directed ministers and physicians to the crib. They listened to her breathing and her hummingbird heart, felt her fierce grip and her tiny fingers soft as salamander skin. All was sound. But her eyes did not open. For three days the grave-faced attendants came and went. They prodded her, lifted her lids, slipped thick yellow syrups down her throat.”

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First consider, “She was born…” In this opening sentence, the author is conveying facts—telling readers something they need to know. One of the biggest rules in fiction is “Show don’t tell,” and any use of the verb “to be” can indicate telling in progress.

Hale could’ve opened with the baby’s red-faced squall (or some quieter “show”). She could’ve employed dialogue to convey the same information stated via narration. Instead, she puts readers at a distance by inserting a narrator between them and the action. (And did you notice the point of view character isn’t clear?)

Even so…this style is—in my opinion—not only perfect for a fairy tale, but also—in Hale’s case—it avoids the common pitfalls of its narrative-heavy approach by incorporating sensory details through unique (cliché-free) vivid words and similes. As a reader, I might not have been much impressed if the physicians had heard Anidori’s “rapid heartbeat, felt her strong grip and little fingers as soft as a baby’s bottom” (or “as soft as silk”—take your pick). But “hummingbird heart” for a sound? And for touch, “soft as salamander skin” or “thick yellow syrups [that slip] down her throat”? Much better.

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The takeaway message is this: For anyone who’s ever tried to achieve deep point of view or “Show don’t tell” in their own writing, Hale’s style might seem to break “the rules” more often than not. But consider what Dwight Swain says in his classic book, Techniques of the Selling Writer: “To keep rules in proper perspective, violate them by design only. That is, make them tools for manipulation of your reader’s emotions. If that takes sentence fragments, non-punctuation, stream-of-consciousness, and one word paragraphs, by all means use them.”

If you can provoke emotion more readily by using (for example) a farther narrative distance—do it.

Emotional Impact

Is there any aspect of fiction more important than emotion? It’s true, a story with stagnant emotion can’t hold reader interest for long, but what about plot without emotion? There’s no need to debate which fictional element is most critical to success—no one aspect stands alone—BUT… I think any seasoned writer would generally agree that emotion is pretty high up on the list.

And I don’t mean the characters’ emotions, though that can be a factor.

On one extreme, characters melodramatically boo-hoo, with feelings so obvious as to bash readers over the head. Such tactics, however, are more likely to provoke eye rolls than engage reader emotion or interest. At the other end of the spectrum, a character’s emotional reaction might not be described at all and yet readers walk away with a deep sympathetic angst. The lesson? Sometimes story circumstances speak for themselves. Even when they do, there’s nothing wrong with showing a character’s realistic emotional reaction.

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Don’t let your characters emotions go up and down on a whim (like a hot air balloon).

Still, as Donald Maass says in The Emotional Craft of Fiction: “The most useful question is not how can I get across what characters are going through? The better question is how can I get readers to go on emotional journeys of their own?” He goes on to say, “What the novelist is doing…is not causing readers to feel as the novelist does, or as his characters do, but rather inducing for each reader a unique emotional journey through a story.”

So… When our hearts fist around strangled capillaries, damming up angst and blood as we read some imaginary scene, we know the author has touched us on a deep emotional level. If a scene milks our emotions, perhaps it somehow speaks to the cavernous vacancies in our own soul.

Even so, certain scenarios tend to have a universal impact: love, loss, injustice, rejection… We can put our feet in the shoes of a character who has—in a very specific and lifelike way—been subjected to these broad universals, and experience for ourselves what they might feel.

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Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith. Information and image from “The Goose Girl in Pictures”

Consider these snippets about Princess Ani from Hale’s novel (and the UNIVERSALS that describe them):

In her world of cold marble floors and aged tutors and whispering children, only the animal-speaking felt like her own thing and the [swan] pond her own place.” OSTRACISM & LONELINESS


The queen was like some terribly beautiful bird whose language [Ani] did not yet understand, and she felt her thin body fill with the desire to understand, and to please.” LONGING & FUTILITY


It is time you learn your place, Crown Princess. You will be the next queen, and your people will not trust a queen who makes up stories and seems to talk to wild beasts.” DISAPPROVAL & REJECTION


These people watch me, their future queen. I need to seem strong. She straightened and stopped her tears [at her father’s funeral], but next to her mother, she felt only half-formed.” INADEQUACY


Ani saw herself clearly in that moment, as a face in darkness gains sudden dimensions in a flash of lightning—a young girl, a silly thing, a lapdog, a broken mare. She did as she was told. She rarely gave thought to her duties or spent deep hours or acted alone. She realized she would never have been capable of taking her mother’s place. That realization did not bring relief. Instead, the thought of the journey and her unknown future chilled her skin and pricked her stomach with dread.” FAILURE & FEAR


The aunt pointed north, where few people lived and trees grew thick and prickly green all year, and where the girl could not follow. “I’m going home,” she said. She kissed Ani’s forehead, but her eyes did not leave the purple horizon. “Don’t forget all you have learned. If your mother discovers what I have taught you, she will take it away. I know her. The only thing she has ever wanted is shiny and fits around her brow. Still, you are better off with her, gosling. I would not wish my solitude on you. Stay and learn to be happy.” The princess sat on a stone, rested her arm on the back of a swan, and thought how her chest felt like a gutted walnut shell, and wondered if that sensation might last forever. She watched her aunt walk away, disappearing into a tiny spot of green that the eye tricked into a shadow of a rock a long way in the distance.” ABANDONMENT & LOSS

 

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What do you think? Can you relate to these excerpts? Do you agree there’s power in the universal? For a chance to win your choice of a paperback* or e-copy of Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, leave a comment below. Double your chances by sharing this article on Facebook and pasting the link below. If I get more than 20 different commenters, I’ll give away two copies instead of just one. (*Physical copies for U.S. residents only.)

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Walter Crane, watercolor sketch for 1882 edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Information and image from “The Goose Girl in Pictures”