This book was a wonderful insight into the world of alternative healing and the conflict between holistic medicine and Western medicine. Maria Miller, aka Erika Whittaker, seeks out a previously famous healer, Arpan, after being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Maria has already undergone chemotherapy, which has failed her, and, with a remaining life expectancy of only a few weeks, she has nothing to lose by investing her faith in Arpan. Arpan retired from healing twenty years previously and has been leading a life of austere solitude ever since. When he meets Maria, however, she is able to convince him to help her and he agrees to treat her.
Over the course of her treatment, Maria learns to face the internal fears and emotional shortcomings that Arpan believes have lead to her cancer. The descriptions of the various treatments is very detailed and convincing and I really grew to like Arpan for his goodness and forgiving nature. I became very fond of Maria too as you view the intense healing process through her eyes and almost suffer with her.
As the book progresses, the reason why Maria changed her name prior to seeking Arpan help unfolds, together with Arpan’s reasons for retiring and dropping out of the public eye so many years previously.
I found The Healer to be a fast paced and well written book with a number of twists and surprises. The ending really surprised me.
We have addressed hundred of writing related topics here on the blog; use the search button to find the ones you need.
This lesson is invaluable, so read carefully.
Wait, does invaluable mean no value or lots of value? Quick internet search… Okay.
Yeah, there’s gold in today’s lesson.
BODY LANGUAGE = GOOD
CRUTCH WORDS = BAD
Also, a way to find and deal with your crutch words. Didn’t know you had those? You do.
Tag, your manuscript is it!
First, let’s discuss dialogue tags: those little phrases that follow a section of dialogue.
“Run,” he said.
“Why?” she asked.
“There’s a T-Rex coming!” He exclaimed.
“Oh,” she said warily.
One of my favorite things to do is to wait until a new author writes “Why?” she asked and then I say, “Lose the tag, we know she asked – the question mark gave it away.”
It’s fun for me.
Most dialogue tags aren’t needed.
Try to use as few as possible in your story. Readers skip over them anyway, so if they aren’t even reading them, why put them in? Use “beats” instead – little phrases describing action.
He glanced over his shoulder. “Run!”
That’s a beat, describing what he did as he spoke, instead of going with: “Run,” he said.
Beats can easily be overdone.
Add your beats and let the MS rest, then read it out loud. That staccato sound you hear is bad beats. Add to them or scale them back. Vary the length and rhythm. Put a tag back in.
Sentences that sounds the same or have the same rhythm become dull to readers, and a dull reader puts your story down, never to return. They may not even know why, and it might be a great story otherwise. More on that in a second.
You can do nothing, too.
If two people are talking and one stopped, the next person talking is the other person in the scene. Readers will get that.
A combination of beats and tags and nothings will get your conversation across just fine.
– as long as the convo is to the point and interesting – but think about what actions are used when speaking, and what those actions say to the reader.
Some examples are when
Mallory puts her hands on her hips. In the kitchen no less. What’s that say? Did your mom ever do that?
She puts a hand to her forehead. Which means…
There are even lists you can get from the internet. Check them out and use some of the suggested beats for expressing what your character is feeling.
What about when Mallory won’t look at Doug when he’s talking to her in the bedroom? Been there!
LOOK – AT MY CRUTCH WORDS!
One more thing – the word look, or any of its evil friends.
We all have our own crutch words – words or phrases that we use too much throughout the course of a chapter or story.
For example, in my head I know what I mean when I say “He gave her a look.” I’m prone to saying things like “He gave her a look.” Like when I did something wrong as a kid, my mother would give me a look.
In my writer head, I know what I mean when I write that. You may not. Odds are my reader certainly doesn’t.
Now, if I write that my mom put her hands on her hip and raised an eyebrow and waved a wooden spoon at me while she looked at me, that sends a whoooooole other message than just “look.”
A look can be anything. That spoon wagging thing can’t.
So “look” is one of my crutch words. I have characters look out the window or look at the ground or look at each other all the time.
When you read a random chapter out loud to yourself, you will hear your crutch words. If you don’t spot them all yourself—and you wont—give an early chapter to somebody else and ask them to read it with the specific intention of finding words that you repeat too often. (Odds are, within your first five chapters you have established what your crutch words are going to be.)
And once you decide “look” is the devil – because it is – and you spend a week eradicating it from a 100,000 word manuscript as though pulling pieces of broken glass from your eyes (which you’d rather do at that point), you will replace it with glimpse, peer, eyed – until you want to heave your keyboard off the nearest bridge. THEN whenever you go to type “look” in the future, you will flinch like the keyboard gave you an electric shock. And you will type PEER.
In fact, you will type peer so much that it’s a new crutch word.
Yep. If you’ve been watching, you’ve seen lots of glances in this “final” version of my story. That task remains to be done. (It’s final, not final-final.)
So here’s how you get around that particular dog chasing its tail.
You can go online and you can find lists of words to use for substitutes. Synonyms are readily available, but some writer-oriented websites will have words to use instead of “look” or “walk” (stepped, crept) or whatever crutch word you are trying to avoid.
But before you do that, just read some of your manuscript out loud. One chapter will usually do it, three at most. And while you are thinking that takes a lot of time, it’s cheaper than paying an editor to do it and it’s an easy way to avoid bad reviews because your book read amateurish.
Now do a keyword search for the offenders and write down how many times each one appears. I put my list right at the top of my manuscript to keep me humble:
Look 445 (told ya)
Shook (head) 34
My beta readers will attest to this. And that list was before we started the editing! Now there are fewer looks but more glances. Ugh.
If the word “look” appears 15 times in 100,000 words, you are probably fine.
You still want to scroll through all 15 instances to make sure all 15 aren’t in the same paragraph, or ten times on one page! Just because it doesn’t occur very often overall doesn’t mean it’s still not too much where it does appear.
Then, go through and decide you’re going to replace half or more of the hated crutches with synonyms.
You’re going to spend a few hours with your brow furrowed at your screen while you try to figure out whether “peer” or “scanned” or “searched” is a proper replacement for the next time you used “look.”
And believe me, after an hour or two of doing that in a single day, you won’t know any good replacements for anything.
So don’t try to do it all at once.
(“Was” also needs this process, but for different reasons. Was is Satan because it’s less actiony than another verb. That, we’ll attack another time.)
Also, you may run into “staccato sentences” like we discussed above when we were replacing dialogue tags with beats. You can end up with lots of paragraphs or sentences that all start the same way. (That happens even when you aren’t replacing tags, by the way. A lot.)
What I recommend if you have three phases that all sound very similar or all start the same way…
She ran asxiu yhdscm nd fvpiqur hfmnj sdbvpiu egfkjbdn s fpoiryue wt kjnsc mcznvd
He looked xiu yhdscm nd fvpiqur hfmnj sdbvpiu eg
Jonah chuckled xiu yhdscm nd fvpiqur hfmnj sdbvpiu egfkjbdn s fpoiryue wt kjnsc mcznvd hjsfpo ueiw l ksdjgflmv no isdfjoiw
I sighed. Xiu yhdscm nd fvpiqur
… simply leave one third alone, rewrite one third, and reverse one third, more or less, until the staccato section stops being staccattoey.
So instead of “Jonah chuckled” you start with “Chuckling, Jonah… went and did whatever Jonah did.
With the next one, rewriting it might just mean taking the second half of the sentence and putting it first.
And of course leaving one third alone, you don’t have to do anything with those.
So those are two tips – and neither one is fun or easy.
Sometimes those are the little things that a reader might not be able to articulate as to why your story wasn’t as sharp or engaging as they were expecting.
These are the things that take it from less polished to more polished. And they’re reeeeeally dull to do.
In fact, they are absolute hell the first time you do it, a little less hellish the second time, and by the third or fourth time you do it – as in the 3rd or 4th story you write after learning about them – you just kind of get used to it.
This is the process of building your writer muscles. No pain, no gain.
Dan Alatorre has had a string of bestsellers and is read in over 112 countries around the world.
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I’m delighted to announce this new release by one of my favourite authors, Paulette Mahurin. All of her books are highly recommended.
IRMA’S ENDGAME SYNOPSIS
When newspaper headlines screamed in large bold print that one of the world’s leading heart-transplant surgeons, Peter Dayton, was arrested for the death of one of his transplant patients, shock waves were felt around the world. Particularly impacted was an attorney, Irma Mullins, who found it inconceivable that the man she once loved could have committed the heinous act for which he had been arrested. Determined to find out what happened, she embarks on a course of action to uncover the truth. But when all paths lead to one dead-end after another, and Dayton continues to maintain his innocence, she detours. Through desperation, frustration, fear, and determination she grasps at thin threads for anything that might uncover facts to help exonerate Dayton. What she ultimately discovers is both shocking and unbelievable. Written by the award-winning, international best-selling author, Paulette Mahurin, Irma’s Endgame is a story of friendship and loyalty, of betrayal and revenge, of mystery and discovery, of enmity and love. It is a narrative that shakes the very core of the scientific ground we all walk on and proves that what we think is real is not always solid terrain. This is a novel that will be remembered long after the last page is finished.
In the Full Light of the Sun by Clare Clark A beautiful story about art, history, and what is truly important.
In the Full Light of the Sun follows the fortunes of three Berliners caught up in a devastating scandal of 1930s’ Germany. It tells the story of Emmeline, a wayward, young art student; Julius, an anxious, middle-aged art expert; and a mysterious art dealer named Rachmann who are at the heart of Weimar Berlin at its hedonistic, politically turbulent apogee and are whipped up into excitement over the surprising discovery of thirty-two previously unknown paintings by Vincent van Gogh.
Based on a true story, unfolding through the subsequent rise of Hitler and the Nazis, this gripping tale is about beauty and justice, and the truth that may be found when our most treasured beliefs are revealed as illusions.
Brilliant on authenticity, vanity, and self-delusion, it is a novel for our times.
CLARE CLARK read History at Trinity College, Cambridge, and is the author of The Great Stink, a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and The Nature of Monsters. She lives in London, and regularly reviews books for the Guardian and other newspapers, and has taught Creative Writing.
Thanks to NetGalley and to Virago for providing me an ARC copy of this novel and allowing me to participate in the blog tour for its launch. I freely chose to review it, and I’m very happy I did.
I am sure you will have noticed the beautiful cover and it might give you a hint of what the book is about. Yes, the book is about Vincent Van Gogh; well, about his art and his paintings, and the controversy that followed the sale in Germany in the 1920s of some of his paintings, which later were identified as fakes (well, perhaps, although the controversy about some of Van Gogh’s paintings, even some of the best-known ones, has carried on until the present). But that is not all.
The story is divided into three parts, all set in Berlin, each one narrated from one character’s points of view, and covering different historical periods, although all of them in the interwar era and told in chronological order. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that the author had chosen the characters as symbols and stand-ins for each particular part of that period of the history of Germany they represented. By setting the story in the 1920s and 30s, in the post-WWI Germany, we get immersed in a rapidly changing society, and one whose political developments and social unrest share more than a passing similarity with some of the things we are experiencing internationally nowadays.
The first part, set in Berlin in 1923, is told in the third-person from the point of view of Julius Köhler-Schultz. He is an art expert, collector, has written a book about Van-Gogh, and is going through a difficult divorce. But he is much more obsessed with art and preoccupied about his artworks than he is about his family. This is a time of extreme inflation, where German money is so devaluated that it is worth nothing, and the comments about it reminded me of a photograph of the period I had seen not long ago where children were playing in the streets with piles of banknotes, using them to build walls, as if they were Lego bricks. As the novel says:
“The prices were meaningless —a single match for nine hundred million marks — and they changed six times a day; no one ever had enough. At the cinema near Böhm’s office, the sign in the window of the ticket booth read: Admission –two lumps of coal.”
This section of the book establishes the story, and introduces many of the main players, not only Julius, but also Matthias, a young man Julius takes under his wing, who wants to learn about art and ends up opening his own gallery; and Emmeline, a young girl who refuses to be just a proper young lady and wants to become an artist. Julius is an intelligent man, very sharp and good at analysing what is going on around him, but blind to his emotions and those of others, and he is more of an observer than an active player. His most endearing characteristic is his love and devotion for art and artists, but he is not the most sympathetic and engaging of characters. He is self-centred and egotistical, although he becomes more humanised and humane as the story moves on.
The second part of the novel is set in Berlin in 1927, and it is told, again in the third-person, from Emmeline Eberhardt’s point of view. Although we had met her in the first part, she has now grown up and seems to be a stand-in for the Weimar Republic, for the freedom of the era, where everything seemed possible, where Berlin was full of excitement, night clubs, parties, Russian émigrés, new art movements, social change, and everything went. She is a bit lost. She wants to be an artist, but does not have confidence in herself; she manages to get a job as an illustrator in a new magazine but gets quickly bored drawing always the same; she loves women, but sometimes looks for men to fill a gap. She can’t settle and wants to do everything and live to the limit as if she knew something was around the corner, and she might not have a chance otherwise. Although she gets involved, somehow, in the mess of the fake paintings (we won’t know exactly how until much later on), this part of the story felt much more personal and immediate, at least for me. She is in turmoil, especially due to her friendship with a neighbour, Dora, who becomes obsessed with the story of the fake Van Goghs, but there are also lovely moments when Emmeline reflects on what she sees, and she truly has the eye of an artist, and she also shares very insightful observations. I loved Dora’s grandmother as well. She cannot move, but she has a zest for life and plenty of stories.
“When Dora was very little her governess put a pile of books on her chair so she could reach the table but Dora refused to sit on them,’ Oma said. ‘Remember, Dodo? You thought you would squash all the people who lived inside.’”
The third part is set in Berlin in 1933 and is written in the first person, from the point of view of Frank Berszacki. He is a Jewish lawyer living in Berlin and experiences first-hand the rise to power of the Nazis. He becomes the lawyer of Emmeline’s husband, Anton, and that seems to be his link to the story, but later we discover that he was the lawyer for Matthias Rachman, the man who, supposedly, sold the fake Van Goghs, the friend of Julius. As most people who are familiar with any of the books or movies of the period know, at first most people did not believe things would get as bad as they did in Germany with Hitler’s rise to power. But things keep getting worse and worse.
“I want to know how it is possible that this is happening. It cannot go on, we have all been saying it for months, someone will stop it, and yet no one stops it and it goes on. It gets worse. April 1 and who exactly are the fools?”
His licence to practice is revoked, and although it is returned to him because he had fought for Germany in the previous war; he struggles to find any clients, and the German ones can simply choose not to settle their bills. He and his wife have experienced a terrible loss and life is already strained before the world around them becomes increasingly mad and threatening. When his brother decides to leave the country and asks him to house his daughter, Mina, for a short while, while he gets everything ready, the girl manages to shake their comfortable but numb existence and has a profound impact in their lives.
Although I loved the story from the beginning, I became more and more involved with the characters as it progressed, and I felt particularly close to the characters in part 3, partly because of the first-person narration, partly because of the evident grieving and sense of loss they were already experiencing, and partly because of their care for each other and the way the married couple kept trying to protect each other from the worst of the situation. I agree that not all the characters are sympathetic and easy to connect with, but the beauty of the writing more than makes up for that, as does the fascinating story, which as the author explains in her note at the end, although fictionalised, is based on real events. I also loved the snippets from Van Gogh’s letters, so inspiring, and the well-described atmosphere of the Berlin of the period, which gets more and more oppressive as it goes along. I found the ending satisfying and hopeful, and I think most readers will feel the same way about it.
This is not a novel for everybody. It is literary fiction, and although it has elements of historical fiction, and also of the thriller, its rhythm is contemplative, its language is descriptive and precious, and it is not a book where every single word moves the plot forward. This is not a quick-paced page-turner. Readers who love books that move fast and are heavy on plot, rather than characters and atmosphere, might find it slow and decide nothing much happens in it. There is plenty that happens though, and I could not help but feel that the book also sounds a note of caution and warning, because it is impossible to read about some of the events, the politics, and the reactions of the populations and not make comparisons with current times. As I sometimes do, although I have shared some quotes from it already, I’d advise possible readers to check a sample of the book before making a decision about it. This is not a book for everybody. If you enjoy reading as a sensual experience, appreciate the texture and lyricism of words, and love books about art that manage to capture the feeling of it, I cannot recommend it enough. It is beautiful. This is the first book by this author I’ve read, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide this professional editing sample on your behalf. It was my pleasure to review your writing.
Your writing style was quite engaging. I enjoyed reading the sample you provided, it was well written and interesting to read. I don\’t think it started off too slowly. And there isn\’t much of what I read that I would change, but of course, I only read a small amount of your novel, so it\’s a bit difficult for me to judge right now. I\’m sure if I read the entire book, I would have more useful suggestions.
Attached is your free editing sample. All comments are included within and I hope you find them useful. You can also view all the layers of editing in the Track Changes mode of MS Word using the review toolbar. I have altered grammar, punctuation and structural elements in order to assist you in presenting a clear and effective piece.
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Jeanne Peterson: Falling to Heaven
The story of a Quaker couple in Tibet before and after the Chinese invasion unfolds from three different perspectives, giving the reader a great insight into the struggles both locals and outsiders have to brave with their ideals of peaceful ways of living and a harsh imperialistic reality. Informative, emotional and philosphical.
Dalia Sofer: The Septembers of Shiraz
A great example of telling the story of a country through the eyes of one family and their experience of the changing times. A Jewish family in Tehran feels the consequences of regime changes and is forced to make difficult personal decisions to survive. Very gripping.
Ellen Feldman: Scottsboro
A much more enjoyable read than the subject may suggest, this is the re telling of the famous trial against two alleged black rapists. Focusing on a journalist who follows the case this delivers insights into accusers and accused, public opinion and the justice system. Well written.
Patricia Wastvedt: The German Boy
The emotional story of a British woman who adopts her German nephew in 1947 deals as much with the consequences for a family split by national loyalties as it illustrates the difficulties between the two sisters long before the war. Added intriguing historic details make this also a rather informative read.
Tessa Hadley: The London Train
Two seemingly unrelated stories of individuals travelling between London and Wales. Full of well developed characters and atmospheric charm this is about loose and unbreakable connections between couples and families, told with a few unexpected turns making it a delightful read.