Today I’m happy to host a writer friend of mine, Brad Francis, on my blog.  I recently read his new book The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living, and it made an impact on my life in a way few books ever have.  Here’s Brad to talk a little more about the story and what inspired it, then I’ll be back on with my review of the book at the end.

First of all, I want to thank you, Annie, for giving me the opportunity to come to your blog and talk about my new book. The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living is the longest book I’ve ever written, and in many ways the most challenging, but I’m very pleased with the final product and am glad to put it out into the world.
It all begins with a drunk demon. His name is Melchior and the reason he’s been drinking is that he’s so bored with his day-to-day life. He’s assigned to an entire church full of Christians. They’re active in church activity—attending services and programs, classes and studies—but their impact on their community is nonexistent…which means that Melchior has nothing to do, so he’s bored out of his mind. He ends up visiting the pastor of the church to tell him exactly what he’s doing wrong and inadvertently starts a revival in the process. What happens as the result of that visit comprises the bulk of the book.
Why did I write it? You can probably guess based on the description. I’m concerned about the state of the Church, both in the United States where I live and around the world. Nominalism seems to run rampant anywhere that has a legacy of Christianity. We hear wonderful reports of the way faith is spreading in the Muslim world and in places of intense persecution. I’m certainly not trying to suggest that there is no one passionately following Christ in the US, but the statistics show that: regular churchgoers live nearly identical lives to the rest of the world, rarely (if ever) share their faith, and do not make disciples. That’s what the research indicates. Does anecdotal evidence paint a different picture?
And, I assure you, I am not observing all this from some sort of high horse, scoffing down at good-hearted believers who have gotten off track. A great deal of the temptations and distractions in this book come directly from my personal experiences. I feel the pull of the world. I wish I didn’t. I wish I always lived a life in line with what I know to be true. I wish my life looked more like the godly men and women whom the Holy Spirit develops throughout the course of this book. Maybe that’s one of the differences between fiction and real life. I know that God is working in me, but, alas, the progress is slower than it is for my characters. Of course, maybe they’re much quicker to surrender to His will than I am.
These are some of the issues I was working through personally while writing this book. I’m blessed and excited to see that God has already started to use this novel in the lives of some of its readers, and I hope and pray that He uses this story for His glory.

That, after all, is what it’s all about.


Brad Francis is the author of the Christian fantasy series The Magi Chronicles and the best-selling short story The Book of the Harvest. He is also a published playwright and his short scripts are performed in churches around the United States. Brad lives in Radcliff, Kentucky, with his wife, Shannon, and two daughters, Madison and Sage. He writes to glorify God.
Click here to buy The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living or read more about it, including its nine four- and five-star reviews, on Amazon.

Annie’s Review of The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living
* * * *
Though I expected to enjoy this book (and I certainly wasn’t disappointed), I didn’t anticipate being changed by it.  
Brad Francis’s writing style reminds me of a Christian version of Douglas Adams.  As I read, I often caught myself laughing out loud at his ridiculous descriptions, witty word usage, or dryly humorous commentary by “the Narrator.”  But then I would find myself gulping guiltily as some unapologetically direct, pulling-no-punches remark struck home.  Prepare to be both entertained and convicted (and perhaps occasionally moved to tears) in your journey through these pages – not an easy combination to pull off, but Brad Francis does it and does it well!
As much as I enjoyed the read, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living to all readers.  If it had a rating, I think it would be at least PG-13 for drug use, profanity, sex, and violence.  (The profanity is almost all blanked out except for the first letter, but it’s obvious what words the characters are saying.)  However, very few instances of these are gratuitous, at least in my opinion.  Brad Francis certainly doesn’t condone such activities or treat them lightly.  The first few chapters, especially, deal with what certain people’s lives are like before they give them over to the Lord’s control, and the author paints a realistic picture of the vices they are involved in.  Most of that tapers off early on in the story, however, as the characters begin to change.  Still, some of the content near the beginning (and a little that keeps showing up here and there through the rest of the book) could be offensive to some readers, so if you’re sensitive about such things, brace yourself.
Having said that, I really think that reading The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living would be a worthwhile experience for most Christian adults, especially pastors and those involved in ministry.  Not an entirely pleasant experience at times, perhaps, but valuable.  It forced me to take a closer look at the practical side of how I live out my relationship with the Lord, and it reminded me that being religious doesn’t equal following Christ.  A few nonfiction books I’ve read have had similar (though for the most part less powerful) impacts on my spiritual life, but I don’t recall ever reading a novel that’s managed it anywhere near this effectively.  I’m grateful for the ways God has used this book to reshape my outlook and renew my sense of purpose in living for Him.
The only reason I didn’t give The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living five stars is because, from a storytelling point of view, I felt that it sagged a bit in the middle.  The beginning sucked me in right away, and for the first third or so of the story, I could hardly put the book down.  The last third was equally gripping, holding my attention right up to the end.  But the pace slowed in the middle with what – at least to me – seemed more information than necessary about the characters’ activities and processes of spiritual growth.  While everything that took place would certainly have been crucial to the characters’ own lives if they were real people, I felt that some chapters were a tad heavy on details and events that didn’t really add to the story for readers.
Overall, reading The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living was a moving experience that impacted me far beyond what I had expected.  I think it would be almost impossible for anyone who is (or wants to be) serious about their faith not to be changed after reading it.  Though I seldom reread books, this is one I will probably pick up again sometime, at the very least so I can look back over all the sections I highlighted and ask myself whether I’m living them out the way God nudged me to at the time.  Praise the Lord for the way He can use even a work of fiction to work in us and bring us closer to Himself!

I just finished reading a book called The Slayer and the Sphinx, a young adult fantasy by author Adam Bolander.  It features several races of “Mythics” (fantasy creatures) who secretly inhabit our own world but are shunned, feared, or persecuted by humans.  Porter, a teenage boy, is a “slayer” whose job is to hunt down and kill Mythics.  Sarah, a young sphinx, is one of his targets.  But things go wrong when he attacks her home; he is injured and ends up with amnesia, forgetting his mission and his own identity.  Sarah and Porter end up lost in a forest together, forced to rely on each other for survival as they try to find their way out.  Along the way, they meet other Mythics and encounter a variety of dangers.  The story ends before Porter regains his memory or the two (plus friends they’ve made along the way) reach their destination, so readers will be forced to read the sequel (which is not yet available) to find out what happens.

All in all, this was an interesting story.  The author had some great ideas, and I felt that he fleshed out the characters pretty well.  Each particular race of Mythics was given distinct traits and a unique culture, which made me interested to meet more of them.  Some creative concepts were presented, my favorite being a sentient sword that could communicate with its master.

I did feel, however, that parts of the story could have been fleshed out better.  The settings were very narrowly described, so that I never got a clear picture of what the larger world was like or even what part of the world the story takes place in.  Some issues were a little unclear, such as why Sarah’s parents said it was too dangerous for her to accompany them on a direct trip (using teleportation) to one of the safest havens in the world for Mythics; why someone who had just met Porter would give him a rare and valuable weapon; why and how a few animals can talk but not others; how the rules of magic use among humans work, etc.  Certain character actions and reactions seemed a little unrealistic (for example, if I had seen someone I’d known all my life beheaded, I would have responded with a lot more grief, terror, and anger; and I would have kept recalling and probably having nightmares about the event).  Also, I found a number of typos and errors in grammar and punctuation in the book.  (Hey, I’m a teacher; I can’t help but notice these things!)

Overall, though, The Slayer and the Sphinx was an enjoyable book.  I would give it three out of five stars and recommend it to teens, preteens, or kids (it’s pretty easy to read) who like fantasy.  If it had a rating, it would probably be PG for mild violence and “children in jeopardy”.  There was no profanity, sex, or unnecessary blood and guts in the fighting scenes.  The book promoted positive moral values like trust, loyalty, and the concept that no matter a person’s past, anyone can change and start a new life.  

Click here to view The Slayer and the Sphinx or buy a copy on Amazon.  If you enjoy the fantasy genre, I’d say it’s worth the 99 cents the eBook will cost you.  Happy reading!

Several days ago I downloaded a little eBook that was free at the time: The Busy Writer’s Guide to Plot by Marg McAlister.  It’s a quick and easy read; I ended up finishing it in two sittings, and I think I must have highlighted about a quarter of the book.  I couldn’t believe how much useful information there was packed into such a short volume!
The author suggests a unique approach to planning out a book’s plot: set aside one hour, broken into several segments, and in each segment of time, jot down ideas about a specific aspect of the plot.  Her method is designed for people trying to come up with ideas for a story they’re about to write.  However, it would work just as well for someone who already has a plot in mind and wants to strengthen it, or even someone who’s already in the middle of a writing project.  Whether you’re a published professional or a ten-year-old writing stories for fun, I recommend this resource!
I sat down to outline the plot of the book I’m currently writing, Prince of Malorn (in the same series as Prince of Alasia and In the Enemy’s Service, which you can read more about by clicking on the book covers in the sidebar to the right).  Even though I’m over halfway through and already know where I want the plot to go, McAlister’s book helped me see several ways in which I could improve it and add tension.  I actually got interrupted a total of eight (EIGHT!) separate times while I was going through the suggested hour-long planning time, so it ended up taking more like three or four hours.  But in the end I was quite satisfied with the results!

Here’s the review I wrote for The Busy Writer’ One-Hour Plot on Amazon:


This is one of the most useful writing resources I’ve ever seen! I already have two published books and am working on two more, and when I first started reading, I thought, “Next time I start a new book, I’ll definitely have to try this method.” But by the time I got half way through, I had decided I needed to put my current writing projects on hold until I’ve outlined the plots using the One Hour method, even though I already have them planned out in my mind. I can see that using the techniques in The Busy Writer’s One Hour Plot will make them much better. I heartily recommend this resource for anyone interested in writing fiction, whether professionally or as a hobby. Now I’m going to buy the One-Hour Character book by the same author.

Sure enough, I did buy The Busy Writer’s One-Hour Character the day after I finished the Plot book.  I read it in one sitting and immediately sat down to type up what I’d learned.  Korram, Thel, Ernth, and the other characters in Prince of Malorn will grow more through the course of the story and have clearer relationships with each other now! 
The author recommends using paper note cards, but for the activities in both books, I decided to make my own digital note cards; I just prefer to keep things on the computer.  Actually, I made blank templates as well so I can easily fill them in another time when I’m working on a new book.  If you’ve read one or both of McAlister’s books and would be interested in creating your character/plot note cards digitally too, I would be glad to share the templates I typed up.  Just email me at valiera (at) yahoo (dot) com and I’ll send them over!

Here’s the review I wrote for The Busy Writer’s One-Hour Character on Amazon:


I read one of Marg McAlister’s other books, The Busy Writer’s One Hour Plot, and immediately knew I had to get this one too. I seldom pay for eBooks anymore, with so many available for free all the time, but this would have been worth twice the price. I’m over half way through the book I’m writing at the moment, and even though I thought I already “knew” my characters pretty well, I now have lots of great ideas for how to develop them further and make them more vivid. I recommend this useful resource to any fiction writer!
I’m always looking for good writing resources.  If you have others you recommend, please feel free to mention them in the comments.  Thanks!

Also, I emailed Marg McAlister and she was kind enough to email back (very promptly!) with the links to two of her websites which writers might find useful: (hundreds of articles on writing, ecourses to sign up for, and all sorts of other resources for writers) (her blog, also featuring writing-related articles: some her own, others by guest bloggers)

This week I had the opportunity to read and review an eBook by author Staci Stallings, who I recently had the pleasure of meeting on a Christian Writers’ forum on Facebook.  Her book Keys to Creating a Successful Book Marketing Strategy is a resource I was excited to get my hands on, and now I’m eager to start implementing her advice.  Below her picture and brief biography is the review I wrote for the book on Amazon (I gave it four stars).
A stay-at-home mom with a husband, three kids and a writing addiction on the side, Staci Stallings has numerous titles for readers to choose from. Not content to stay in one genre and write it to death, Staci’s stories run the gamut from young adult to adult, from motivational and inspirational to full-out Christian and back again. Every title is a new adventure! That’s what keeps Staci writing and you reading.
My Review:
Keys to Creating a Successful Book Marketing Strategy is a great little book for writers, especially (but not only) new indie writers who are looking for ways to actually make money on the books they’ve worked so hard to publish.  The chapters are short and easy to get through quickly, but they’re packed with useful information, much of which you could sit down and apply right away.
As I read, I kept highlighting details that I want to be able to refer back to and make sure I’m doing right.  It wasn’t so much that the information consisted of totally new concepts (although some of it was new to me).  Much of it is common sense, at least in retrospect.  It was more just that everything Stallings said clicked into place in a way that made me understand what I probably should have known all along.  I kept thinking, “Yes – that’s me!  She’s describing my mistakes exactly!”  🙂  And thanks to her, now I know how to start fixing them.
Stallings not only explains what to do, she hands out many of the tools necessary to do it.  For example, one useful feature in the book is a list of dozens of sites where authors can get their books reviewed online (which I can hardly wait to start looking into)!  That alone would probably make it worth the purchase price. 
“If content is king, then skills are queen,” Stallings says.  I feel like the royal couple is now ready to at least begin their joint reign in my writing and marketing!
I didn’t give the book five stars because I did find a few typos, and now and then I thought things could have been phrased/presented a little more clearly (hey, I’m a teacher, I can’t help but notice these things!).  Occasionally the author sounded uncertain about her own information, saying things like, “I believe there is a way to…”  In the section about packaging your content, I would have liked a bit more info about specific sites and what to do with them.  For example, it mentioned “alternative sites like Squidoo and Redditt” and “YouTube, etc.” but didn’t really say how writers can make use of them.  I know this book is intended as a brief overview of book marketing and can’t talk about everything, but I would have liked just a little more.
Overall, Keys to Creating a Successful Book Marketing Strategy is well written and a very useful resource.  I love that it not only gives information and advice but also directs readers to helpful sites and other resources.  I whole-heartedly recommend this book as a worthwhile investment for writers.