Thursday, December 31, 2015

Suplots and Storylines - December (and 2015 summary)



How is it the end of December already? I feel like I just wrote November's S&S post.


This month opened with my brother's birthday. He did not just become a legal adult. No, he did not. I refuse to believe it.


The store I work at was positively buzzing with activity this month, and I was shocked (though I shouldn't have been) over how many people procrastinate with their Christmas shopping. Seriously, people. Christmas is on the same day every year. You know it's coming. And you know your size 4XL father-in-law is hard to find clothes for. Yet you expect to find something in his size two days before the 25th?!




Speaking of work, early in the month we had a Pajama Day. A day on which I wore PJs. To work. It felt completely weird to leave the house in pajama pants instead of jeans, drive to work, and actually . . . work . . . dressed like that. Customers gave me odd looks until I explained the reason for my unprofessional attire (and, like a good employee, took the opportunity to talk up the PJ sales).


We babysat my cousin's four children, ages 3-9 one evening. I adore those kids.


A stunningly beautiful piano/violin duet visited my church and played along during praise and worship, then performed a few carols on their own. Swoon.


I spent an evening with my mom, littlest sister, and aunt browsing a cutesy little shop in town, then having chai white hot chocolates together.


Christmas festivities sprinkled the entire month in good cheer, from decorating the tree, to two family gatherings (with another yet to come), to shopping for my parents' stocking stuffers, wrapping gifts, listening to Christmas music, etc. I worked Christmas Eve, which meant that I got the following four days off! Hallelujah! It was so good to have a little break. To spend time with my family, no interruptions or calls or places to be. My homebody, hobbit-y side rejoiced.


As per request, I have a few pictures of our traditional Lego building on Boxing Day!



I realized later that we don't look particularly happy here.
Forgive us. We're all concentrating.









my "Battle of the Five Armies" set
(an eagle and Bard and Legolas and Azog and awesomeness!)





my "Attack on Lake-town" set
(yay Tauriel! and Bain!)
You know those minifigure series that come in individual packages, and you never know which one is inside? We've been finding those little packages tucked into our usual Christmas presents the past few years, hidden in sweater pockets, DVD cases, socks, etc. Below are some of my favorites this Christmas.



from left to right: a king, a fire wizard, a phantom thing, a stone
gargoyle, and a banshee


Since my dad was not featured in the first Lego picture (he was my photographer), here's what he built last year. He hasn't started this year's set just yet . . . it's rather large, and from the Technic series (meaning it's complicated and intricate and not quite my cup of tea). He'll build it later on, when he can have the whole kitchen table to himself. Anyway. As I said: last year's epic build . . .

Metalbeard's ship


December's movies

Last month I only watched one; this month I saw four (plus TV episodes).


Maleficent (rewatch): I loooove this one! It had been a really long time since I'd first seen it, so watching it for the second time 'twas fun. I hold a deep dislike for Stefan, and a deep fondness for Diaval.


Rise of the Guardians (rewatch): Again, I hadn't seen it in quite a while. Rewatching it reminded me why I love it so much. The characters are awesome, and the film itself helped put me in the Christmas spirit this year.


The Song: Starring Alan Powell of the band Anthem Lights! I watched this just with my parents, as it's not a family-friendly flick. (I would recommend checking reviews like the one on Plugged In before watching.) The story is a modern day retelling of King Solomon, so as you can probably imagine, it's not pleasant. The main character, Jed King (Powell), is not a likable man for much of the story. Perhaps that's why I didn't enjoy it quite as much as expected? As a cautionary tale, it's great. But if you're wanting a character to love and root for, side with his wife.


Ant-Man: I didn't know what to expect going into it, but it was definitely a worthy addition to the Marvel library! The humor was great, the visual effects of Ant-Man's shrinking were awesome, and the pacing was different from your typical superhero movie. I really enjoyed it.


Minions: While it offered some funny moments, this movie ultimately fell flat. Despicable Me (1 and 2) were much better.


7 episodes of Once Upon a Time, season 2: Guess what entered the house on Christmas day? Once Upon a Time seasons 2-4! So of course my sisters and I dove right into it. You need only know this: Hook is awesome. Mulan is awesome. Everyone is awesome. And I have already flailed and shrieked and analyzed the storylines more than my sisters think is necessary.


December's books

You've already seen the list in my Books of 2015 post, but here are some brief thoughts.


The Choosing - Rachelle Dekker
I tried not to compare her to her dad, Ted Dekker, but I needn't have worried. This gal can hold her own in the realm of storytelling. The intensity and deep nature of her themes are like a feminine slant of her father's, yet the dystopian flavor is very much her own. Carrington is a relatable main character, and Remko--a CityWatch guard with an endearing stutter--is just AMAZING. Can't forget about Aaron. He was one of the best Jesus figures I've read about.

Rachelle used a lot of sensory 'showing' phrases (she saw, she heard, she felt, etc.), which rubbed me the wrong way a little bit. But the characters were special enough that I really enjoyed this book, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series!


A.D. 30 - Ted Dekker
One Dekker book after another! This one took me a while to get through, which is little fault of the book itself. I was simply busy at the time. It is a meatier, somewhat slower, read; involving political subplots and historical depth. The story follows Maviah, a Bedu woman born into the most dishonorable circumstances, as she sets out to save her people . . . and meets Yeshua along the way. Some powerful scenes in this novel, that's for sure.


Angels Walking - Karen Kingsbury
So I'm technically not quite done yet, and probably won't be before midnight either. (Nevertheless, I'm cheating by counting it a December 2015 read.) Anyway, it fulfills all the usual Kingsbury requirements: touching messages, heartwarming character arcs, and an easy, faith-filled, feel-good aspect. The story involves a supernatural element--angels are sent to earth to aid the characters. It's not 100% accurate in that regard (but then, how should I know?), but the human side of the drama gets a lot more page-time and is definitely engaging.


Life Is ___ - Judah Smith
Again, I'm a chapter away from finishing, but this one I plan to complete tonight. Judah Smith has such a great voice. Humorous, simple, engaging. It's like reading a book-length blog post, or chatting in the living room over coffee. The book is divided into four parts. Life is: to be loved and to love; to trust God in every moment; to be at peace with God and yourself; and to enjoy God. I found those reminders to be rather timely.


December's writing

Due to the social nature of the Christmas season, I didn't accomplish much in the writing department. Most of what I did do was in the first half of the month, too, so I feel like I've done very little writing lately. (January, I have high hopes for you!)
  • Read over The Brightest Thread one last time, and sent it off to the judges on December 7th! Now we wait . . .
  • Read over and edited five chapters of book 1. I was able to cross off one or two things on my editing list. And a discussion with my brother relieved my mind over a really Big Thing further down that list, leaving me feeling a lot better about the whole matter.
  • Spontaneously decided to line edit for a friend whose story I was beta reading. I thought I was crazy to even volunteer during such a busy month, but it actually didn't take long at all, and I had so much fun doing it!
Well, that was December! It was an overflowing sort of month, as one day spilled into the next, and as life plunged headlong toward Christmas . . . and then kind of sat back, sighed happily, and continued on as normal.


As for 2015 in general?

I went from unemployed to working a temporary job at a jewelry store for a month, to unemployed again (oh, the dreaded job hunt), to working part-time at a clothing retailer. I've been there eight months now, two and a half of which were full-time. I started out coming home exhausted after each shift, tired of people in general. Since then, my capacity has grown so much, and talking to strangers on a regular basis is becoming much more natural.


I cleaned up a number of editing issues in book 1, including a stylistic edit. I engaged in 'masterminding' for the series' storyworld and fleshed out a number of previously vague elements. I started this blog and discovered how much I love it. I read over the horrid old draft of book 2 and laughed at my younger self, then proceeded to outline the new and improved book 2. Progress on this series halted when the Five Magic Spindles contest was announced. This led to the writing of The Brightest Thread . . . and the subsequent squishing down of a 30,000 word novella into a 20,000 word novella. I assisted my brother in editing his entry, edited book 1 some more, and then concluded my year of writing with the aforementioned line edit for a friend.


Far more important than the writing and the working, though, are the signs of growth I've seen in myself. Painful growth, but important. And all of it is still very much a work in progress. I feel as if I've made few forward strides--but at least the truth is working roots into my heart. Truth about my identity, and how it's not linked to my performance. Truth about God's faithfulness. Truth about the unpraised glory of the little moments of life and the importance of sandpaper days.


The tension between my dreams and my reality has perhaps never been stronger. But this season of life is a training ground. A chapter of preparation for, I believe, great things. 2016, no matter what you hold, I'm deciding that you're going to be the best year yet.


Now that I've blabbed on about myself, tell me something about your year!


Monday, December 28, 2015

Books of 2015

Yes, I know I missed last Saturday. But it was the Christmas weekend, and I'd already put up my Emmanuel post . . . and it only hit me Saturday morning that, oh right, today is Saturday. I have a blog. I have a blog on which I post things every Saturday. Well then. Obviously, such thoughts resulted in nothing. So I thought an impromptu beginning-of-the-week post might be nice to tie us all over until Subplots and Storylines goes up on New Year's Eve. Explanation over. Read on.


~*~


I've been keeping track of the books I read for the past four years now . . . not via Goodreads (I'm not on there--yet?), but in a black three-ring binder. I wish I'd started sooner, because it's such fun to keep a record of my reading adventures, to see what genres I've been gravitating toward, and to check whether or not I've actually read that book that looks vaguely familiar but seems somehow new.


So as 2015 is drawing to a close, I've been looking back at the books in which I buried my nose this year. Of course you're curious too, aren't you? Yes you are. You're scrolling down already, I know it. Bookworms love peeking in on other bookworms' bookish lives.


Rereads are starred (*), and my favorite book (or two or three) of each month is pictured.

January
Viral Execution // Amanda L. Davis
The Hunger Games // Suzanne Collins
*The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe // C.S. Lewis
*Prince Caspian // C.S. Lewis
*The Voyage of the Dawn Treader // C.S. Lewis


A toss-up between these two vastly different books. They're
both amazing in polar opposite ways.

February
*The Silver Chair // C.S. Lewis
*The Horse and His Boy // C.S. Lewis
*The Magician's Nephew // C.S. Lewis
*The Last Battle // C.S. Lewis
Catching Fire // Suzanne Collins
Asylum // Chantelle J.Z. Storm

One of my favorite Narnia books ever!

March
Mockingjay // Suzanne Collins
To Kill a Mockingbird // Harper Lee
Sketchy Behavior // Erynn Mangum
The Princess Academy // Shannon Hale
Mockingjay follows close behind, but in
an entirely different way.
(I wrote a guest post on To Kill a Mockingbird, which you can find on Bryan Davis's blog HERE.)

April
Exodus Rising // Bryan Davis
Whadd'ya Gonna Do? // Joey O'Connor
Eldest // Christopher Paolini
The Outcasts // John Flanagan
Stormbreaker // Anthony Horowitz
The Giver // Lois Lowry


Series finale! Glory! Epicness! Pain!
May
Outlaw // Ted Dekker
*Divergent // Veronica Roth
11 Birthdays // Wendy Mass
The Storybook of Legends // Shannon Hale
The False Prince // Jennifer A. Nielsen
*Insurgent // Veronica Roth

I couldn't decide! How do I pit a mind-transforming book against a fast-paced bullet of a book against a yummy fantasy
book? How, I ask you?? Answer: I don't. I choose them all. ^_^

June
The Chance // Karen Kingsbury
Allegiant // Veronica Roth
The Anatomy of a Miracle // Dr. James B. Richards
Eyes Wide Open // Ted Dekker
Gathering Blue // Lois Lowry


Because one's fiction and the other is non-fiction, it's completely fair
to pick both as favorites, right? Both rattled my mind in a very,
very good way.


July
Pride and Prejudice // Jane Austen
Plain Kate // Erin Bow


I'm sorry, Jane Austen, but Plain Kate is
just an easier read. That's the only thing putting
it ahead of P&P, and only by a very little bit.
Like a millimeter or two.
August
Paige Torn // Erynn Mangum
The Spirit Well // Stephen R. Lawhead
Golden Daughter // Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Mindwar // Andrew Klavan
Above // Leah Bobet

Words cannot express my love. (The
Spirit Well and Mindwar follow on
this book's heels, though.)

September
Doon // Carey Corp & Lorie Langdon
Full Disclosure // Dee Henderson
Captivating // John & Stasi Eldredge


Suspeeeensssse!

October
Messenger - Lois Lowry
Paige Rewritten // Erynn Mangum
Mrs. Jeffries Reveals Her Art // Emily Brightwell
Emissary // Thomas Locke


I couldn't get enough of the fantasy
gorgeousness!


November
Omega Dragon // Bryan Davis
Point Blank // Anthony Horowitz
During which I sniffled and waved
goodbye to beloved characters...


December
The Choosing // Rachelle Dekker
A.D. 30 // Ted Dekker
Angels Walking // Karen Kingsbury
Life Is ___ // Judah Smith


(I haven't picked a favorite for this month yet,
because I'm not quite finished the last two books.)

Total:

52 books all told! February, April, and May were my biggest reading months--six books each. July and November were my lowest with two books each.


My books-per-year has been going slowly downward since I started keeping track, but a) I'm reading bigger books than I did as a mid-teen, b) I'm working now, and c) I'm writing more. So an average of a book per week makes me happy.


Genres

My biggest genre this year was fantasy. Aren't you all shocked? Here, have a slice of pie--that is, a pie graph, because data visuals are fun. After 20 fantasy novels, dystopian takes second place with about half as many books, and romance slides into third with again half as many. (Note: "romance" includes chick-lit and any vaguely romantic contemporaries. "Thriller" includes suspense. They're not quite the same thing, you know.)





Miscellaneous Stats

Most read authors:
C.S. Lewis: 7 books
And then Ted Dekker, Suzanne Collins, Erynn Mangum, Veronica Roth, and Lois Lowry tie with 3 books apiece.


Favorite new (to me) authors:
Harper Lee, Jennifer A. Nielsen, Erin Bow, Thomas Locke, Rachelle Dekker.


Worst book of the year:
Leah Bobet's Above. You can read my reaction in this edition of Subplots and Storylines. It was a strange, off-kilter book whose cover LIED TO ME (because it's not actually about that blonde girl with bee's wings--she's just the whiny love interest of the melodramatic main character) and whose plot leaped gleefully into rather muddy waters near the end.


Best fictional book of the year:
Please don't do this to me. I read so many amazing books this year, I just couldn't single out one over the rest! The month-by-month favorites were hard enough. But here's a few that really stood out to me, in no particular order:


Eyes Wide Open
Plain Kate
Golden Daughter
Emissary
Exodus Rising
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Hunger Games


(Yay, me. I cut a list of 16 favorites down to 7, and even now I'm still waffling over it.)


Best nonfiction book of the year:
I'd have to say either Anatomy of a Miracle or Life Is ___. (More on the latter in this month's Subplots and Storylines.) The first one shifted the landscape of my thoughts, and the second--which I'm almost done--is written in an accessible style about things we all need to be reminded of often.


I'd say 2015's reads were pretty fabulous, overall. They took me to places I've never been and showed me people I've never seen; and yet many of those places felt like home by the time I reached The End, and many of those people lived in my mind like real human beings. Echoes of our world. And that's what a good book should be. A surprising number of those good books also made an impact on me personally, reinforcing my faith and clarifying my worldview.


I can't wait to see what sort of pages I'll fall into in 2016!


Now's your chance: inundate me with bookish talk! What did you read this year? Best book? Worst? Any surprises, good or bad? And most importantly, do you have any recommendations? Books that Tracey absolutely must read in 2016, or else all life will be dark and meaningless? Chatter away.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Emmanuel


Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Matthew 1:23 KJV)
source



Emmanuel.


We sing this name at Christmastime. "O come, O come, Emmanuel; and ransom captive Israel . . ." We read it in the story of Jesus' birth. It is wound into the fabric of this holiday, and yet we skim over its significance.


God with us.


God. Creator of the universe, the One whose words caused a sun to flame into being and a world to burst forth. The One who hung and named the stars, the One who formed a man from the dust of the earth and breathed life into his lungs. The King of all the kings that have ever been or ever will be; the Lord over every lord. A God so big we can't even begin to comprehend Him, a God who has no beginning or end because He always is. Just a glimpse of His power and majesty is enough to bring us to our knees. This is God.


With. This God pitched His tent among the sweltering throng of humanity. He entered this world in the weakest form possible, in the humblest place possible. He immersed Himself in our reality, in our lives of depravity. He walked the broken shards of our earth. The Author entered the story. Trading the glory of heaven for the constraints of mortal skin, He lived among us. And more than just being here physically, He was with us. On our side. Taking deep interest in us. Piecing our broken parts back together. Feeling our pain and joy and eventually sacrificing absolutely everything for our sake.


Us. Human beings, each one flawed. Individuals with struggles and cravings and skewed vision and inflated egos and world-trampled hearts. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, yet graced with the presence of One who was completely man and yet completely Godthe Perfect One. He could have shrunk back from our mess, but instead He waded right into it. And His entry changed everything.


Emmanuel—God with us—is the reason Christmas means so much. With this day we celebrate the beginning of what changed the world two thousand years ago. What changes us.


Rejoice!
Again I say rejoice
For unto us is born
The Savior of the world

Take heart
Oh weary soul, take heart
For help is on its way
And holy is His name

This Christmas, remember the Savior who promises to be with you; who is right beside you now. He was born to die so that we might live. Indeed, the manger in which He was laid, contrary to popular belief, was actually carved not from wood but from stone, symbolizing the rocky tomb not far in His future.

Whatever your holidays look like this year—whether you're sitting around the glowing tree with your family or grieving a loved one or wishing the rifts in your world would mend—Jesus is with you. Never will He forsake you.

Emmanuel. God with us. God with me. God with you.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year - a Christmasy tag

Deborah O'Carroll from The Road of a Writer is spreading Christmas cheer by doling out this Christmasy Tag. Thanks, Deb! This is a nice excuse to chat about seasonal wonderfulness.


Rules
Post the picture on your blog. (Neither Deb nor I have any clue what picture this means.)
Answer the questions.
Tag up to 12 bloggers.
Make up 10 questions for other bloggers.

What is your favourite Christmas treat?
Gingersnaps and mandarin oranges and chocolate everything and nuts and eggnog and peppermint and (gasp) have you ever tried a chai white hot chocolate? You must.


Are there any special traditions that your family has to celebrate Christmas?
Yes.


How do you normally celebrate Christmas?
This is very much like the above question, which is why I'm properly answering here. On Christmas morning, my mom makes apple scones. We put a candle in each one and sing happy birthday to Jesus (a tradition we've been doing since I was a wee child). Then we take our long, leisurely time unwrapping gifts, all of which is videotaped for posterity. On Boxing Day, we often spend the afternoon building Lego, since all six of us receive sets for Christmas. (Yes, even my parents!)


Do you enjoy getting presents for your friends and family? Do you buy your gifts or go the homemade route?
Of course I do! Some people are harder to shop for than others, but ultimately I love picking out thoughtful gifts. I usually go the store-bought route, because I don't consider my crafting skills to be . . . er, skilled enough to produce good presents.


Is it cold where you live? Have you ever had a white Christmas?



This sort of question I find endlessly amusing. Because yes, it is cold where I live (though it's been unseasonably mild up until this week, during which eight inches of snow fell on us). I've never not had a white Christmas!


What’s on your Christmas list this year?
BOOKS. As always. Also boring, practical, un-Christmasy things like black socks and a back-up hard drive for my laptop. Music and movies are always on the list, too.


What’s your favourite Christmas song?
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is probably my top favorite carol. A modern song that I fell in love with is Hillsong's We Have a Savior. Michael W. Smith's It's a Wonderful Christmas is a beautiful orchestral album, and I also love Chris Tomlin's Glory in the Highest album. (And I'll admit that the Oakridge Boys' Christmas Carol gets me singing every year.)


What is your favourite Christmas memory?
I have too many to recount! As Deborah said in her post, they all kind of blend together. I suppose all my favorite memories revolve around family.


What does your Christmas tree look like?

My parents give my siblings and me a new ornament every year. As you can see, the collection has grown. It kind of looks like a Christmas toy shop exploded on our tree.







What are you reading in December? (Anything festive?)
Currently A.D. 30 by Ted Dekker. It's not exactly festive, but . . . it does occur during Jesus' life on Earth. Does that count?


Are you an organised little elf or are you still shopping/preparing on Christmas Eve?
I am a semi-organized little elf who let the mild weather trick her into thinking Christmas was a long way off. Then the snow came, and the calendar shrieked at me in panic. (Okay, it hasn't been all that bad. I just have a couple odds and ends to finish up.)


How early do you start to get into the Christmas spirit?
December 1st. No earlier. Usually no later. The tree goes up in the first week of December, and out comes the holiday music. I myself didn't really 'feel' Christmasy for the first week or two. But now I feel like a child again, absolutely giddy with anticipation.


Do you make any Christmas crafts? Decorations? Send physical Christmas cards?
Depends on the year. As I said earlier, my crafting skills are not quite prepared for much gift-creating. Though if I took the time (and money to purchase supplies), I think I'd have fun with it.



What’s the menu for Christmas Day?!
Apple scones for breakfast, which I already mentioned. Lunch is late and consists of all manner of snacks. Supper this year will be at my grandma's. Who knows what scrumptiousness she'll conjure?


What makes it FEEL like Christmas for you? (Weather, specific tradition, food, smell, person, etc.?)
I definitely had a hard time getting into the Christmas mood before the snow hit, shallow as that sounds. Decorating the tree, singing carols at church, driving around town and seeing all the beautiful lights . . . I don't know, it's a combination of a lot of things. Mostly it's the cozy feeling of family, nestled in the warm living room on Christmas Day, laughing and enjoying each other while pristine snow blankets the world outside.


Do you have relatives coming? Excited? Nervous?
For Christmas itself, no, nobody's coming. After Christmas, yes. The family continues to expand as cousins grow up and get married, so lassoing everyone into the same spot for Christmas is no longer simple. I'm excited about getting time off to spend with family.


What famous Christmas character do you most identify with? (Scrooge, Elf, Tiny Tim, the Grinch, Santa, etc.)
Um . . . none of them?

If you were to start a new Christmas tradition, what would it be?
Goodness. Way to put me on the spot here. I love the traditions my family currently has, and can't think of anything more to add!

What Christmas movies do you like to watch this time of year or what’s your favorite?
Unlike some people, there's no set movie that comes out every single year. It could be Rise of the Guardians, a Christmas-related VeggieTales movie, Miracle on 34th Street, or any new film we find under the tree.


Look, Jack Frost left his signature on my front window last year!



What’s your favorite Christmasy book or book with a favorite Christmasy part?
I love, love, LOVE Max Lucado's The Crippled Lamb. It's a touching story about an outcast lamb who ends up getting to keep baby Jesus' warm.


I tag . . .
Cassia @ Dimensions of My Universe
Sarah @ Ink and Paper Tall Ship
Emily @ Ink, Inc.
Jack @ However Improbable
Amy @ Little Moon Elephant
And whoever wants to add a little Christmas fun to their blog! Go on. You know you want to snag it.


Questions to use (because I haven't the time to create new ones today):
  • What is your favourite Christmas treat?
  • Are there any special traditions that your family has to celebrate Christmas?
  • How do you normally celebrate Christmas?
  • Do you enjoy getting presents for your friends and family? Do you buy your gifts or go the homemade route?
  • Is it cold where you live? Have you ever had a white Christmas?
  • What’s on your Christmas list this year?
  • What’s your favourite Christmas song?
  • What is your favourite Christmas memory?
  • What does your Christmas Tree look like?
  • What are you reading in December? (Anything festive?)
  • Are you an organised little elf or are you still shopping/preparing on Christmas Eve?
  • How early do you start to get into the Christmas spirit?
  • Do you make any Christmas crafts? Decorations? Send physical Christmas cards?
  • What’s the menu for Christmas Day?!
  • What makes it FEEL like Christmas for you? (Weather, specific tradition, food, smell, person, etc.?)
  • Do you have relatives coming? Excited? Nervous?
  • What famous Christmas character do you most identify with? (Scrooge, Elf, Tiny Tim, the Grinch, Santa, etc.)
  • If you were to start a new Christmas tradition, what would it be?
  • What Christmas movies do you like to watch this time of year or what’s your favorite?
  • What’s your favorite Christmasy book or book with a favorite Christmasy part?

  • Saturday, December 12, 2015

    The Brightest Thread Playlist

    I sent The Brightest Thread off to the contest this week! Is it just me, or do you feel that little twinge of apprehension when your cursor hovers over the send button? And then clickyou hit it, and suddenly the story is out of your hands. Strangely enough, I feel the most confident about this contest. Or perhaps there's a little . . . I don't want to say indifference, because I am excited . . . maybe peacefulness? Because I'd honestly be happy with whatever results. Winning = being published. Losing = not really losing at all, because I'm left with a story I love, a story that I would then be free to re-expand. (Yes, after all that cutting!)


    Anyhoozens.


    To celebrate, I'm posting a playlist I put together for TBT. Some pieces are instrumental, others lyrical. They all fit an element of the story. Because some of those pieces overlap, putting the songs in chronological order wasn't a straightforward ordeal, but here they are. (Links to follow.)





    Flight of the Silverbird - Two Steps from Hell - The whole story's theme.


    The Sun is Rising - Britt Nicole


    A Thousand Years - Christina Perri - The most perfect theme for the story's romance. Change thousand to hundred, and it's like the song was written for this tale.


    Lucy - Hanne Hukkelberg


    Star Sky - Two Steps from Hell - When you listen, scroll down to one of the first YouTube comments. It contains the lyrics, which I would post here if I wasn't concerned about copyright issues.


    Calypso - At World's End soundtrack


    A Thousand Years - The Piano Guys (cover)




    I would add more notes about each song and why they matter to the story, but . . .



    Heard any of these pieces before? Do you ever make playlists for your writing? What's your method of selecting songs? Feel free one or two (or ten)!

    Saturday, December 5, 2015

    Writing Strengths + Weaknesses



    In which I let you in on my secret (or not-so-secret) flaws and my maybe-possibly strengths.

    I've seen other bloggers post on this subject in the past, and it's been fascinating to see their self-assessments, to see where other writers excel and where they recognize their weak points. So I thought I'd do it myself, partially as an exercise in honesty and partially to see what I come up with.

    *cracks knuckles*

    (But not really, because I never crack my knuckles.)

    Disclaimer: These strengths are not always strengths; likewise, the weaknesses are not 100% weaknesses either. These are tendencies, broken by the occasional anomaly. Continue.


    Strengths

    Pacing
    I've been told since my early novel-writing days that I know how to pace a story. This mystifies me somewhat, because at that point I hadn't really studied the craft. But I did inhale stacks of books. Perhaps that's one of the best ways to learn. Anyway, I suppose I'm good at moving the story along and spending an appropriate amount of time on things. (Gosh, you guys, I feel like I'm bragging. That's why I'm getting the strengths out of the way first.)

    Worldbuilding
    This used to be a big weakness! My WIP series started out as a generic fantasy world: medieval England-type setting populated by humans, a handful of stock fantasy creatures, and a cut-out king. Nothing was fleshed out or truly lived in. I hadn't a clue about currency, worldview, religion, society roles, neighboring kingdoms, geography, or even the physics of things. It's still thatstill a medieval England-ish place and whatnot, but over the years I've come to recognize some of the flaws, and have slowly shaded in the details. People comment on my worldbuilding, so I suppose it's working?

    Prose
    Again, this was previously a weakness. Actually, it was pretty much nonexistent in my first drafts. Perhaps it was my dabbling in poetry, or simply becoming more aware of the little things, or just absorbing the artful words of others . . . But now creating vivid descriptions is one of my favorite things. I love metaphors. I love personification. Ascribing unusual qualities to things makes my writer self shiver with delight, such as when a sound is described by color. (This is one reason why I adore the Auralia books by Jeffrey Overstreet.)

    Emotion
    I feel deeply. I've been known to exaggerate situations in my own mind, and then feel silly when I put it on paper or say it aloud, because huh. It wasn't so big after all. I also empathize with others. So putting those emotions into characters is really fulfilling. I have not been to the very depths of despair, but I've experienced sorrow of a kind, so I amplify it for that character in her darkest moment. I have never felt murderous inclinations, but I put my moments of hatred into the mind of a villain.


    Weaknesses

    Pacing
    Yes, I did just list that as a strength, but it's also a weakness. Because sometimes my love of emotion and prose and worldbuilding bog down my pacing! Case in point: The Brightest Thread, in which I ran ten thousand words too long. I've always struggled to write anything short. When given short story assignments in school, the silly things would unspool into grandiose plots. And when I edited book 1, it jumped from 68,000 words to 131,000. Conciseness and I are not the best of friends.

    Character motivation
    So this is mildly embarrassing. I have found myself on numerous occasions typing happily along, sending characters on their merry way to death and destruction, only to be struck by a disturbing thought. "Why are they even doing this?" I seem to be a plot-driven writer, and so it takes conscious thought to beef up the character side of things. After all, what's a story without characters? And nobody wants to read about a prince who goes gallivanting off to save the princess for absolutely no reason, or a villain who wants to rule the world simply because that's what villains do. I think I'm growing in this area, but I still need to make sure those characters have minds and motives of their own, rather than plodding along from plot point to plot point.

    Fight scenes
    I write high fantasy a lot. Battles are inevitable. But I have never wielded a sword in my life, nor directed an army. So keeping the fights believable isn't easy. The actions can start sounding repetitive. The movements of armies can become robotic and illogical. And tactics! Yikes, I need to work on those! (John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series does so well in that area.) Instead of just "FIIIIIIIGHT!!!" I'd like to have moves and countermoves, brilliant schemes and even brilliant-er foils. Have I mastered that yet? Well, I'm . . . getting there.

    Speed
    In the tortoise and the hare fable, I am the tortoise. (Hey, does that mean I'll win?) While others pump out thousands of words a day, sometimes a whole book in a month or a week (Cait, here's looking at you!) I have been grooming one bookand its half-finished sequelsfor oh . . . about seven or eight years now. Yep. Haven't moved on. Oh, I've worked on other projects in between, such as my Rooglewood retellings, but by and large my focus has been on this one thing. And it's taking forever. I hope that once my dream of fulltime writing is realized, I'll discover that I'm really the Flash of writing, otherwise a whole generation of readers might pass before a sequel ever comes out.


    There you have it, folks. Some of my strong points and some of the areas in which I need to grow. Now I'm curiouswhat are your strengths and weaknesses in writing? Do we share any? Have any of your weaknesses developed into strengths (hopefully never vice versa)? Share in the comments!

    Monday, November 30, 2015

    Subplots and Storylines - November 2015



    November trundled in with sullen skies of low-slung clouds. For a week it glowered in typical November fashion, all skeleton trees and dead leaves skittering in a northern wind. Grey. Bleak. Winter's prologue.


    But at last the sun broke free, and Autumn revived itself for one last hooraha week of blue sky and leaf-raking and lounging on the front lawn just because I could. (In single layers, no less. At 15 degrees Celsius, it was positively gorgeous and rather uncharacteristic for November.)


    "Ha!" laughed Winter, and his guffaw blew clouds back in on a high, chilly wind. The first snow arrived. Not much, but enough to initially make for slippery roads.


    But you're not here for a weather report, are you?


    These tidbits should be more interesting . . .


    November saw me turn twenty! My wonderful family took me out for an elegant lunch at a place that served the most delicious wild rice and mushroom soup I've ever tasted. (Alright, so it was the first wild rice and mushroom soup I'd ever tasted. But I still think it was the tastiest.) I then spent the afternoon doing all the best nothings, such as reading. My grandma came over for the evening, I received thoughtful gifts, and then we all had raspberry swirl cheesecake. All in all, I consider myself very blessed.


    This month also saw my youngest sister enter the teenage years. Happy birthday, Kit-Kat! I was originally scheduled to work on that day, but at the last minute, was able to switch shifts so I could stay home with her.


    I've been working full-time. The store has been busy, especially on Black Friday. (Why, oh why, is that day cause for such a hullabaloo?)


    A week ago, I spent an afternoon in the city with a very dear friend of minea kindred spiritduring which time we ate pizza, shopped, and had our nails done. Time spent with her is like a breath of fresh air for my heart. It's uncanny how often we're on the same page life-wise or thought-wise, and we constantly have "What? You too?" moments.


    Christmas shopping has commenced. Can you believe Christmas is less than four weeks away?!


    And questers. I have obtained my first ever little magical box, a piece of wizardry capable of long distance communication, the capturing of images, and the scheduling of days. Yes. I bought a cell phone! I know, in a world where even little children flaunt these gadgets, it seems a bit unremarkable. But this is my first phone, and my dad found me a fabulous deal. Much excitement.




    Now then, as vastly interesting as those little life updates are (at least, more interesting than the weather report), you're really just scrolling down to read about the story-related stuff, am I right? The books, movies, and writing? I shall tarry no longer.


    In movies
    I watched only one, Inside Out. It was so good! Plugged In's review remarks that "Hollywood's bravest storytellers all work for Pixar," and I'm inclined to agree. Getting inside the mind of an eleven-year-old girl was fascinating, humorous, and definitely feels-inducing. Sadness was one of my favorite characters.


    In books
    Heh. Only two.


    Omega Dragon by Bryan Davis

    Ah, the epic conclusion to a twelve-book adventure! I didn't think anything could top The Bones of Makaidos, but this one is on par for sure. It made me laugh, cry, and fret over the fate of certain characters. Intense battles alongside heartfelt journeys made for a classic Davis tale.

    Something about this book hearkened back to older instalments, which was wonderful, especially considering the dark, apocalyptic setting. Lauren's scenes especially reminded me of previous tests of the heart encountered by her parents. For some reason, I haven't connected to Matt and Lauren quite as deeply as I did with Billy and Bonnie, but this book did strengthen my emotional ties to the younger pair.

    Again, that ending. That ending! It was glorious. I wish I could say why, but really you just need to read it for yourself.

    Before I move on, though . . . I accidentally skipped a chapter. *le gasp* How could I do such a thing? And with one of my favorite series of ever, too?

    See, I checked it out of the library and started reading it, only to receive my own copy for my birthday. (The first book, Raising Dragons was a gift for my thirteenth, by the way. Getting the final book for my twentieth was kind of perfect.) Anyway, because I like to keep my books in good condition, I held onto the library copy to bring with me to work, to read on lunch breaks. At home, I picked up wherever I left off with my personal copy. So I went back and forth between the two books for a while. One morning, in a rush to get to work, I must have moved my bookmark one chapter too far. Because as I was reading on break, I had the strange sense that I was missing something. The characters were doing what they'd planned to do, but I was somewhat confused as to how they'd gotten there. "Perhaps Bryan Davis expects the readers to connect the dots," I thought. "And I am, after all, reading this book in choppy little spurts, so it could very well be that I've just forgotten a detail or two. I'm sure it will all make sense soon." So I kept reading.

    It wasn't until that night, nestled in to read the final (28th) chapter, that I realized, "Oh no! I never read chapter 23!" Quickly, I read what I'd missed, then scanned the following chapters in order to iron out the sequence of events in my mind. Finally, satisfied and no longer confused, I read that last beautiful chapter and said goodbye to characters I've grown up with. So bittersweet . . .

    One of these days, I plan to read all twelve books back to back.

    Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz

    Not nearly as epic or emotional as the previous read, but then, I wasn't expecting it to be. This one is more like a summer action flick--just there to entertain.

    Young Alex Rider (a James Bond type of character, only fourteen years old) infiltrates a school for boys located in France. It's run by a crazy villain and his disturbing cement-block-of-a-woman sidekick. The story follows the same plot pattern as the first book in the series:

    -Alex is forced into a mission he doesn't want
    -There's a period of training/preparation in which he encounters a series of obstacles
    -The real mission begins
    -He eventually discovers the villain's plot
    -Chase/fight scenes
    -The end
    -Oh, and there are lots of neat spy gadgets disguised as inconspicuous objects, like a book or an earring or a Discman (yes, this book was written in the early 2000's).

    In writing
    I worked on a motley of projects this month, or at least more than this single-minded tortoise usually does. (Well, I'm not always tortoise slow, but never mind all that.)

    • The Brightest Thread // I read over it twice, each in two sittings. I tweaked and fiddled with various things, worried over whether parts of it were paced too fast, and in the end declared, "I love this story!" The ending, you guys. It just makes me giddy, which, at this point, is kind of miraculous. Oh, I also caught wee mistakes I hadn't seen before, such as miscounting the fairy stewards in the first scene. And speaking of TBT, the beginning of it recently went up for critique on The Author's Chair (Bryan Davis's blog)! If you feel so inclined, you may hop on over and nitpick it for me. I'm up for big critiques, little critiques, harsh critiques, and I-love-it critiques. Seriously. Any thoughts at all are appreciated.
    • That secretive 'Book 1' I sometimes talk about here // After so much time and effort spent on the aforementioned novella, this 'first love' of mine has been calling to me again. So, while in between projects, I read the first few chapters. I've a few more edits to complete before I can call it ready, so I figured that a read-over would help get my brain in gear for that. Turns out that the distance afforded by my Five Magic Spindles entry has caused me to fall in love with book 1 all over again. A break away was just what I needed, and now I'm itching to dive back into this thing!
    • Darkened Slumber // Have I mentioned that my brother is entering the Five Magic Spindles contest too? I don't recall. Anyway, he is. His story is, in his words, a pseudo-feudal Japanese fantasy. I just spent a week editing it for him. He's done an amazing job cutting it down to size on his own (he was only 1400 words over . . . I's jealous), after which he turned it over to me. To give you a taste, the tale involves an awesome sword, big bad creatures, and an epic journey flavored with a sprinkle of humor and a dash of heartbreak. (Okay, more like a cup or two of that.)
    And that was my November. How was yours, fellow adventurers? What quests have you been pursuing? Some of you are Nano survivorscome and collapse and possibly hibernate until Christmas. (In all honesty, I watched you with some envy at the beginning of the month, as you plotted and planned and psyched each other up. By the end of the month, after hearing about the short nights and sore eyes/wrists and rebellious plots, I'm more relieved that I chose not to shoulder that this year. Perhaps I'll join the insanity next year?) But do share the war stories!

    And for those of you who did not Nano this year, what filled your month? Have you read any of the books I mentioned or watched Inside Out?

    Oh, before I bid you adieu, happy belated Thanksgiving to my American friends!


    Saturday, November 28, 2015

    One Lovely Blog Award

    Emily, thou art a blog-saver. I slept in till midmorning today (hallelujah; after this week, I sorely needed it) and realized, "Um, I don't have a post for today." Between my previous entry raising support for the Children of the Bard audiobooks and today, my brain has had about zero space for blogging. And then I sit down to scrounge something up for you faithful questers, and lo and behold, Emily has nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award! Many thanks.

    So. Seems simple enough. Seven facts about me. Nominate fifteen bloggers (. . . which may shrivel down to a smaller number). Here we go.


    1. I live with siblings who love to quote things, mainly movies. My brother especially has a filing cabinet for a brain. He must have hundreds of quotes stored in there, complete with voice impersonations. Alas, I do not have this ability. So it gave me great joy recently to be able to say, in the accent of Scarlet Witch (from Avengers: Age of Ultron):

    "Ve vait for two days for Stark to kill us."

    When my brother admitted that was pretty good, I enthusiastically repeated myself throughout the day, much to his growing annoyance.

    2. Speaking of Marvel, this trailer makes me flail like a hungry octopus. Deb's fangirl post preeeeetty much sums it all up.

    3. As a wee child, I loved pineapple. Until another little girl, a guest in our home, loudly declared her distaste for pineapple on her pizza. From that point on, I hated it. It took me all the way to my teenage years to rediscover my love for pineapple, both on its own and on pizza.

    4. This:
     

    5. One of the best things about my job is the casual dress code. I get to wear jeans to work!

     
    6. My absolute favorite band from about age eleven to fifteen or sixteen was pureNRG.
     

    I bought all their albums and basically didn't listen to anything else; three of their posters graced my wall; and I went to one of their concerts. I've since outgrown them, but every now and then I listen to some of their music just for nostalgia's sake.
     
    7. While we're on the topic of my childhood . . . I had this big stuffed dog named Casey. During my early elementary years, before I started being homeschooled, I would put her on the living room couch and instruct my mom to leave her there all day. Otherwise she'd be too lonely! She had to be with people! Toys have feelings, you know. (Toy Story convinced me of this.)
     
     
    I nominate . . .
    Jenelle Leanne @ jenelleschmidt.com (Not sure if you do tags, but here it is if you want it.)
     
    So not exactly fifteen, but if anyone else out there wants to snag it, consider yourself nominated! Thanks again, Emily!
     
    I'll be back on Monday with the November edition of Subplots and Storylines.
     

    Tuesday, November 24, 2015

    Children of the Bard Audiobooks - Fundraising Project

    If you've known me for any length of time, you know how much I love books. And if you've known me for a little bit longer, you know how much I love Bryan Davis's books. They have impacted me in many ways: in character, in faith, in passion, and also in writing craft.

    Of all his tales, the story world that has touched me perhaps the most is Dragons in Our Midst (along with the following two series, Oracles of Fire and Children of the Bard). I've grown up alongside these characters. The faith they display through hardships and struggles has inspired me countless times. Bonnie's purity, Sapphira's immense patience, Billy's journey to maturity, Ashley's surrender, Matt and Lauren's sacrificial hearts . . . On every page I've found characters to learn from, look up to, and emulate. If you've never read these books, I highly recommend you do!


    SongCover200Right now, Bryan Davis is holding a campaign to raise the funds needed to create an audiobook of the CotB series. His publisher made audiobooks of the first two series, but decided not to do the same for the third. Audiobooks make stories available to a wider scope of readers--the traveling, the busy, the visually impaired, the bedridden. His novels have changed my life. I want them to change the lives of others as well.

    For more details, read Bryan's blog post or see the funding page on Tilt. It works similar to Kickstarter in that no one is charged unless the full amount is reached. The goal is $2,000 to produce Song of the Ovulum (CotB book 1), with the potential to raise $8,000 to produce the whole series. As of today, the minimum goal is just under halfway funded. The end date is in thirteen days. Keep in mind that pledge amounts are in USD.

    If the goal is reached, pledgers will receive prizes based on the amount they donated. (Hint hint, wink wink!)

    I hope you'll consider joining me in pledging to this project! Every bit counts. If nothing else, it would be great if you could share the Tilt link with friends and family, or on your various social media platforms. Together we can see all four CotB books produced!

    https://www.tilt.com/tilts/audio-book-series-for-children-of-the-bard

    Saturday, November 21, 2015

    An Unfading Beauty

    Ladies, this one's for you. (To any knights or squires who may be reading: no need to click away just yet. This describes the sort of lady worth pursuing. So read on.)



    You should clothe yourself instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. (1 Peter 3:4)
    This verse used to bother me. A gentle and quiet spirit? Oh dear. I am sometimes harsh and judgmental, abrasive rather than gentle. I am sometimes loud, more often in my thoughts than verbally, but still not exactly quiet all the time. Nor do I always want to be gentle and quiet. Such a woman sounds meek in the negative sense of the word. She sounds like a doormat. A woman of pastel watercolors and soft speech. A woman who bows her head and silently allows others to direct and correct and stomp all over her. (Please keep in mind that some of the aforementioned qualities, in proper quantities, are positive. Accepting direction is a good thing!)

    But you understand what I mean, right? This verse seems to set an impossible standard. Even the most introverted among us would struggle with it.

    Then I discovered the real meaning behind it.

    A woman with a gentle and quiet spirit is strong. She is confident. She is secure in her identity, in a Love eternal that defines her value. It is this peaceful strength glowing in the heart of a woman of God that overflows in gentleness. This woman radiates beauty.

    She does not have to brashly force her way into the limelight. She does not have to spurn men to feel valued as a woman. She does not have to use hurtful sarcasm to feel important or accepted. She is not searching desperately for love. She already has it. She is secure and steadfast. She knows exactly who she is.

    She is precious to the Lord.

    A woman who knows that, truly knows in her heart--a woman who lays every insecurity down at the foot of the throne--has so much more room to extend that love toward others. She is gentle with them. She extends grace for their failings because she has accepted grace for hers.

    And that part about being quiet? All you bubbly, talkative personalities can breathe easy. A quiet spirit is simply one at peace with herself and with God, not tormented by worry or fear or self-condemnation. Picture it like a glassy sea undisturbed by wind. Nothing fazes this spirit; it is one that laughs without fear of the future.

    This peaceful confidence, this strength, is so incredibly beautiful. And I can't say I'm there yet. But I am on the journey. Will you join me?

    To close, I'm taking a brief detour into country music, which my workplace subjects me to on a daily basis. (Somebody save me!) One of the few songs I actually like has some lyrics that fit today.

    So your confidence is quiet
    To them quiet looks like weakness
    But you don't have to fight it
    'Cause you're strong enough to win without a war
    -Hunter Hayes, Invisible

    There will be times when your gentle and quiet spirit may be perceived negatively. When you refuse to engage in an acidic conversation, or don't get riled up over an issue like everyone else is doing, they may think you don't care. They may think you are weak. But time will reveal the truth. Besides, what they think doesn't matter. Only what God thinks.

    He says you are beloved.

    And you are beautiful.