Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Weight of Shadows by Alison Strobel

The weight of shadows The Weight of Shadows
by Alison Strobel
Book Summary
In The Weight of Shadows, by Alison Strobel, after a difficult childhood, Kim has built a successful life for herself ... but she'd leave it all if it meant being rid of the guilt she harbors over a tragic mistake she made years ago. When she meets Rick, she finds everything she needs---including a way to pay for her sins every time he hits her. Kim and Rick's new neighbor, Joshua, knows more than Kim realizes about Rick, but Joshua has battles of his own to fight. Soon to intersect Kim's and Rick's lives is Debbie, who has saved countless women from abuse through the shelter she runs, but Debbie might be as desperate for love as the women she serves. Meanwhile, as Rick's wrath extends to their baby, Kim must decide if her penance is more important than protecting that innocent life---and if she should dare leave Rick when he has the power to bring her hidden crime to light.
My Review
This is the first novel I’ve read by Alison Strobel and it was amazing! The Weight of Shadows is not a touchy, feely, life-is-perfect novel. In fact, it’s hard hitting and a stark contrast to most of the Christian novels I read.
Alison tackles topics that you don’t see very often, if at all in Christian fiction and she doesn’t hold back. Abuse and self-cutting are the two topics that are tackled in The Weight of Shadows and you can tell Alison did her homework.
When Kim meets Rick, you think this is a sweet match made in heaven. Unfortunately, heaven doesn’t last long for this couple. Kim learns very quickly that Rick has expectations and they had better be met.
Debbie is struggling after the loss of her sister a number of years before. She deals with the struggle by throwing herself into her job. Her work at the Women’s shelter is becoming more of a weight to bear.
Joshua lost his wife and is beginning to move on with his daughter. His in-laws bring tension into their lives that no one deserves. This was one of the best parts of the story, even though it was a hard one to read. Alison didn’t hold back with the nastiness of the in-laws and Joshua tried to be as kind as possible, but had to draw the line at some point.
The lives of Kim, Rick, Debbie and Joshua begin to intersect as the story unfolds. You don’t lose site of the story lines as you read through the Weight of Shadows. You are more and more drawn in.
Yes, faith is involved in the novel, but Alison doesn’t clobber you over the head with it. Not that there’s anything wrong with being clobbered by the Lord. =)
I have got to say, this will be in the top 5 books that I’ve read this year, if not the best!
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An Interview With The Author
Alison StrobelQ: Tell us how you write a book--what's your process? How long does it take?
A: I use Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method. I'm a plotter (as opposed to a "panters"--someone who writes 'by the seat of their pants') and can't get past the first chapter without knowing where I'm going. It usually takes me about a month to complete the snowflake, which is nine steps long and takes you from a one sentence description of the plot to having the details figured out for ever scene in the book. It's a time-consuming process, but totally worth it in the end. I also do most of my research during this month, since I often have to figure out details from research that help me in the plotting process.
After that I start writing. That's my favorite part of the process--the day I open a new blank document in Scrivener (the program I use to organize my research and write my first draft) and start chapter one. It makes me giddy. :) I can write the manuscript in 2 months if I have time to write every day, but since I don't, it takes closer to 2.5 or 3 months, depending on how many days I don't get the time to write that I really need.
After I finish it, I put it away for a solid month. I don't think about it, don't look at it--in fact, I try to start my next project so that my mind is on something totally different. Because I've had a book due every 6 months lately, I've used that month to do the snowflake for the next project. Then at the end of that month, I print it up, 3-hole punch it, stick it in a binder and read through it out loud. You catch a lot reading aloud that you don't by reading silently, and you catch more when it's on paper than you do when it's on the computer. This is when I make my own edits, and try to tidy everything up as much as possible. Once that's done I input all the changes onto the document file, then send it to my editor. That process typically takes around a month as well. And then I just sit and pray that my editor thinks it's good! :D
Q: Say you were teaching a class on writing. What other novelists would you point to as being masters in a particular aspect of the craft?
A: This is something I'd love to do someday! I'd have them study Jodi Picoult for her use of figurative language and plotting; William Gibson for descriptive language and story world creation; Terry Pratchett for characterization, social commentary, and use of humor; Stephen King for suspense and plotting (though I have to admit I've never read any of his books. I can't handle scary stuff; my imagination doesn't need any help giving me nightmares at night. But I figure the guy is on to something if he's as big as he is, right?! There's gotta be something to learn there!); Lisa Samson for social commentary and integration of faith. Hm, not sure who else, I'd have to think about that some more...
Q: What do you think are your strengths as a writer? Are there any areas you're actively working on?
A: I think dialogue is one of my strongest points. It's one of the areas in which I'm most critical when reading books--there are some words and phrases that people just don't use when they're talking, and when they pop up in dialogue it automatically reminds you you're reading a book; you get pulled out of that trance that you get into when you're reading that makes you forget real life. And I think it's one of the best ways to differentiate and define characters, by giving them such different "voices" when they talk.
I think figurative language is my weakest point. Jodi Picoult was a poetry major in college and you can totally tell. Her use of language is just awesome, and it almost never comes across as overly crafted. I, however, have never been much of a poetry fan--and it shows. :) I have to sit and really think to come up with good metaphors and such. Use of symbolism is also a weak point for me. My mind doesn't work on that level very often--I rarely notice it when I read other people's books, and it's just not on my radar when I'm writing. Those are two things I'd really love to be able to improve.
Q: How do you choose settings for your books? Have you been to all the places where you've set your stories? Are they all real places, or made up?
A: Usually when I start brainstorming a story, a setting sort of asserts itself. Sometimes because it plays an integral part in the plot--like Southern California in Worlds Collide, since one of the characters is a movie star--other times because a specific 'feel' is necessary, like in my September 2011 release tentatively titled Trouble Child, which is set in a small town in Nebraska. For that one, I needed a place where a professional musician and a fresh-out-of-theology-school pastor whose heart has been set on working in an urban setting would be totally out of place and unable to pursue the careers they'd hoped for. In the case of The Weight of Shadows, I needed a state that has grandparents' rights laws, to support Joshua's story line, which Michigan has. And I chose Ann Arbor because my good friend and fellow novelist, Claudia Mair Burney, lived in Ann Arbor at the time and was able to give me help with locale details.
Sometimes I use the real name of cities--like I did for Chicago (Worlds Collide, Reinventing Rachel [September 2010]) and Ann Arbor, sometimes I use a fictional name (Laguna Viejo in Worlds Collide) but it's always based on an actual place. I don't do well without the boundaries of a real place to work within. And it's always better if it's a place I've actually been to, but thanks to the Internet, it's not too difficult to get a decent read on the feel of a place, and I'm almost always able to find a few people who actually have been there who can make sure I'm properly capturing its essence.
Q: The Weight of Shadows has some pretty heavy parts to it. What was it like writing those scenes?
A: I cried a couple times while I was writing this book, I'll admit. And not just because of what I was putting the characters through, but because I knew--and currently know--people who had actually experienced all that, and much more, in abusive relationships. Putting myself in their shoes (in a very, very, very small way) while writing from Kim's point of view was just gut-wrenching.
I really struggled, too, with how much detail to give in the abuse scenes. I didn't want to gloss over it, have it all happen "off stage," because I didn't think people would connect as much with Kim if they weren't experiencing things along with her. I also wanted to give an accurate portrayal of what women go through in these kinds of relationships, and make sure I was "doing right' by women who had lived through them. But I didn't want to provide a blow-by-blow commentary, because I knew my audience would be totally turned off by that much graphic violence. I couldn't stomach some of the stories I read while doing my research, they were just horrific--but I didn't want people to react that way to my book! So it was a really fine line I had to walk. I think in the end I did alright. But it was tough, and I still question whether some parts were too heavy and other parts too light.
Q: So what else can we expect from you, book wise? What comes out next?
A: Reinventing Rachel comes out in September from David C. Cook. That book is about what happens when a cradle Christian turns her back on God after weather a series of tragedies that she thinks God should have protected her from. Then next year Memory of the Heart comes out in April or May, from Zondervan--that one is about a popular Christian speaker and writer for women who becomes an atheist against her will. And after that, Cook will release Trouble Child (or whatever it's called by then!), about how the behavior of a young pastor's wife threatens her husband's job when she develops bipolar disorder.
My husband and I also have two children's books coming out. (Though I'm "Ali Morrow" on those, instead of Alison Strobel.) That's Where God Is comes out this August, and That's When I Talk to God comes out next spring. We consider them spiritual formation for the toddler set. :) Keep an eye on my website for the launch of our children's book website, which my husband is building this very second. We'll have some contests there when the book launches, too.
Author of "Violette Between" and "The Weight of Shadows" (May 2010)
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Alison Strobel Morrow said...

Hahahaha--clobbered by the Lord, I love it. :D Thank you so much for your review. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book, and am honored that you consider it one of your top 5. <3

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