Saturday, December 31, 2016

Subplots and Storylines - December 2016 // Year-End Recap



O December, how paradoxical art thou
Long as the White Witch's winter
Short as a bearded dwarf
Crowded on one end
Tranquil at the other
Thirty-one wonderful, taxing, joyous, exhausting, brimming days
Farewell 2016.*


*Starting out with free verse was not my intention, especially considering my sleepy brain is still trying to figure out where to take this post. But there it is, random Narnia reference included.


This really was an all-over-the-place month. My brother's birthday . . . long, long, LONG volunteer days . . . family gatherings . . . more Christmas parties than I've ever attended . . . big projects . . . Needless to say, by the time I reached Christmas break, I was rejoicing!


Near the beginning of December, an honest to goodness snow day kept my brother and I home from school, and then the following day we had to battle slick roads, iced up windshields, and poor visibility. Fun, fun.


Upon request (thanks, Savannah!), here is
the tree ornament I received this Christ-
mas: an angel made entirely out of paper.
Besides presenting my second speech in my public speaking class, I also had the opportunity to speak (preach?) in two high school chapel sessions this month: one about standing up against familiarity, the other about three ways to improve family relationships, particularly over the holiday season. I received excellent feedback and constructive criticism, leading to visible growth in this area. It's stretching me, but I love it! Honestly, after delivering the first chapel and realizing I could actually do it, I was on top of the world.


As a college class, our biggest project this month was running the Christmas hampers. My brother was put in charge, and I was one of two "assistant managers," so to speak. Most of the work was placed in our hands--acquiring and wrapping boxes, making grocery and toy lists, overseeing the shopping and organization, and forming delivery teams. Though it was a lot of work, it was also so rewarding to see the joy on the recipients' faces!


A second blizzard hit at the tail end of Christmas Day, and this one actually was fun. (Minus the fact that my car got stuck at the end of my driveway two days later. Thank goodness for helpful neighbors.)


Christmas itself was cozy and quiet, just the six of us at home. Nowhere to go, no one to see. Exactly what I needed. My family is an incredible blessing. Wherever they are is my favorite place to be.




movies








A wee bit of Once Upon a Time Season 1 with my parents and sisters, and a wee bit more of the same with my brother, since we finally roped him into the show. Season 5 showed up under the Christmas tree (!!!), so I watched one episode with my sisters too.



[source]


Princess Protection Program -- Re-watched with my sisters. It was very . . . Disney-ish. Crazy to see Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez so young and innocent, though. This time around I recognized Jamie Chung, who also plays Mulan in OUAT.



[source]


Finding Dory -- OH MY JELLYFISH, THIS MOVIE. It had the perfect balance of Finding Nemo nostalgia and new story freshness. Baby Dory was the most adorable animated creature to ever grace the screen. Watching her story play out was both hilarious and heartwarming. (My favorite scene is still when Hank the septipus--aka the seven-armed octopus--drives the truck.)



[source]


The Star of Bethlehem -- This is more of a documentary of sorts that I first watched in class, and then showed my family on Boxing Day. It uses historical timelines, Biblical text, and the math behind the universe to pinpoint what exactly the Star was. Utterly fascinating! The symbolism is incredible, and I was touched by the way God set everything in motion with a perfect, precise plan to announce our Savior's birth.



[source]


Civil War -- Finally. I have been waiting and waiting since this hit theaters, and let me tell you, it was worth it! Y'all probably know by now that Captain America is my favorite superhero. This third movie does not disappoint. My incoherent reaction pretty much consists of: ALL THE FEELS EVERYONE'S FIGHTING LOOKIT THE ALLIANCES AND CHARACTER INTERACTIONS AND MORAL DILEMMAS AND EPIC ACTION AND FRUSTRATIONS AND SADNESS AND BUCKYYYYY.


books





Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children // Ransom Riggs
This pretty book was a birthday present, not like you were wondering. I found it to be less creepy, overall, than I had expected. The language was unfortunate, especially considering the protagonist's young age. (I tend to think the protag's age is a reflection on the intended audience. A 15-year-old should not be using those words, okay?) But the settings and characters were super fascinating, and I loved all the strange old photographs. Definitely a unique formatting style! I also would've liked a bit more explanation about certain things, but maybe the next two books will clear it up. Four stars.




Cress // Marissa Meyer
One word: awesome. And a few more words: amusing, intense, heart-wrenching. I'd definitely say Cress rivals Cinder for favorite Lunar Chronicles instalment thus far. Cress herself is adorably naïve, yet brilliant. Pairing her with cocky Carswell Thorne was a stroke of romantic genius: the two make a hilarious couple! Following the rest of the Rampion crew was way too much fun as well. Cinder and Kai continued to be precious, Scarlet and Wolf were better than in their own book, and Iko made me ridiculously happy.


I almost considered reading Winter immediately afterward, but decided not to on the singular basis that I probably couldn't finish it before the end of the year, and then it would have to count toward 2017's Goodreads challenge. (Yes, I am particular like that.)


(sorry for the fuzzy picture quality; this is the only
one I could find of my cover)


Treasures of the Snow // Patricia St. John
Rereading this childhood favorite right after Christmas was like sipping hot chocolate whilst bundled up in a cozy quilt. I had forgotten portions of it, but the general direction and feel of the book was very familiar. The themes were more overt than I tend to enjoy, but this book is a classic to me, and so for nostalgia's sake I forgive it all. It really does have some profound things to say about forgiveness and pride. Five stars.




Paper Crowns // Mirriam Neal
I was surprised to find this little gem wrapped under the Christmas tree this year! I've been meaning to get it ever since my lovely blogger friend Mirriam announced it was being published. I'm not quite to the end--though I hope to finish tonight--but so far it's been a light, fluffy, adorable book! I adore Hal. And Azrael. And Salazar. And basically everyone but Maven. I know I'll be giving this four or five stars.


I was blessed by an EPIC Christmas book haul: Paper Crowns, Quiet (a nonfiction book about introverts), The Calling,
Reapers, Five Magic Spindles, and Golden Daughter. ^_^




writing


11,734 words in The Prophet's Quest this month! Most of that, as you can imagine, was done in the latter half of the month. I have for sure crested the halfway point. It's a relief to bring all the characters back to Demetria at last. I'm hoping the return to a purely fantasy setting will help the words flow better in the future.

I had plans to hit 80k before Christmas holidays, and then use my break to reach 100k. I'm behind schedule, since I didn't hit 80k in time, but I still want to write as much as I can while I have time. Without running myself ragged, that is. I do need to rest during this break as well.




This recap will cover only life-y stuffens and writerly stuffens. (That is my own invented word, if you were scratching your head and wondering what sort of typos this supposed 'writer' just made. It's more fun to say than stuff, don't you agree?) I almost decided to list bloggy stuffens, too, but decided those highlights would be better saved for the next blogoversary celebration. Keep an eye out for an upcoming Books of 2016 post, though!
 
For now, prepare for lists! Because lists are life. And lists are easy to write, easy to read. Lists keep overweight blog posts from becoming positively obese.
 

2016 life

  • was a bridesmaid at a best friend's wedding
  • watched Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time
  • went on a young adult/youth retreat in the spring
  • bought my first car
  • got promoted at my job
  • went to a Piano Guys concert
  • started college, which included . . .
  • another retreat (much more intense than the other one)
  • public speaking
  • projects (like chapels and hampers)
  • volunteering
  • youth ministry
 

2016 writing

Things I Did:
  • finished some minor edits in The Prophet's Quest
  • researched some literary agents and some book stuff (like psychology, delusions, airplanes, and exotic locations)
  • discovered my novella, The Brightest Thread, was a top ten finalist in the Five Magic Spindles contest
  • bought and started Ted Dekker's The Creative Way writing course
  • revamped my publishing plans
Things I Actually Penned:


It's been quite the year! Don't let me give the false impression that 2016 was one glorious highlight after another, though. Monotony, weariness, and blandness made their mark on a number of days in between.


And yet the storyline weaving through the last twelve months was undeniably one of growth. The fast, painful, stretching kind . . . and the slow, gradual, imperceptible kind. The sandpaper days are smoothing a few of my rough edges, and yet the more I learn, the more rough edges I discover.


I've become a more confident person.


I've become a better writer, largely through the sheer keep-on-keepin'-on element of my writing life lately.


I've become a better public speaker, even though I'm still working on inflection and talking more slowly.


I've invested into myself.


I've been learning how to work hard, and how to keep working hard when I think I'm too tired to go on.


I've been learning how to rest, and not feel guilty for resting.


I've been learning that excellence is doing the best I can with what I have, and that there's no reason to beat myself up when I can't do more.


I've seen how very patient my Father God is with me. How faithful His love is, even when I am not. How deep His grace is, how perfect His plan is.


2016 was not an easy year by any means. But looking back over my shoulder, I can see that it was good. It was sandpaper to raw wood, fire to a forge, and in between, it was breath to oxygen-starved lungs. 2017, you will be even better.


How was your December? And your entire year? Highlights, lowlights? In-between-lights? Life is hard sometimes, so let's find empathy and encouragement in each other's company!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Prince of Peace


For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Prince of Peace. What a beautiful name. It is a sound of hope when calamity strikes us or busyness unravels us or hardship grinds us down.

Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. To me, these names paint a picture of the enormity of Christmas.

One whose perfect plans and infinitely wise counsel are met with awe. A champion God, glorious in His strength. A loving Father so ancient He has no beginning, and so eternal He has no end. A Prince of complete and utter peace.

All of this was wrapped up in a squalling infant boy thrust into a cold and broken world. All of this majesty, all of this strength, all of this infinity . . . confined within human flesh, a vulnerable baby completely dependent on his teenaged mother. Mighty God. Everlasting Father.

Every time I pause and let the weight of it sink in, I can hardly fathom why He would do such a thing. It's then I sense His heartbeat, and it's there I find His answer.

For me. For us.


It was for us He came. For these glorious, incredible, imageo Deo--made in the image of God--creatures. For these broken, lost, fallen human beings. He entered our world because of love, to accomplish one purpose: to bring us peace.

The original Hebrew word is shalom, and it's used 239 times throughout the Bible. The English word, peace, doesn't even begin to convey the depth of its meaning. This shalom speaks of wholeness, soundness, and well-being. Completeness in number, safety and soundness in body, health, prosperity, quiet, tranquility, contentment. Peace in relationships. Peace from war. Peace with God.

We were cut off from this shalom, struggling to recreate it or achieve it or be worthy of it. Locked into a covenant of law that promised us shalom only if we could live up to its impossible standards. Then Jesus came to fulfill the law and restore us to this all-consuming peace, this rightness with Himself.

Shalom dawned on the first Christmas day, and it was brought to full light on the day this crucified Savior returned to life.

My Prince of Peace came to fill me with shalom. Completeness, soundness, absolute rightness. A quiet strength inside that knows that no matter the storm, I am anchored in Him. A contentment welling from within, unthreatened by outside circumstances. A haven found in the shadow of His wings, in the shelter of His love.

In Him, shattered hearts are made whole. Dead soil springs up with new life. Old coals kindle with fresh flames. Peace reigns.

This Christmas, may the Prince of Peace fill you to the brim with shalom. Merry Christmas, my friends!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Yesterday's Bread

Life can be dry sometimes, admit it. Sometimes we let our passion die down to embers. All that's left is dust and ashes and maybe a barely-surviving coal or two, and so we trudge onwards in the dark, wishing for brighter times.


Sometimes that doesn't just describe our life, but our relationship with God.


I've been there more times than I care to admit. I've heard all the trite phrases about being sold out, on fire, all in. Those are nice when you're feeling sold out, on fire, and all in. Not so much when the emotions wave goodbye, and you feel neutral or depressed or angry or tired or scared.


Maybe you've heard this one too: passion isn't an emotion, it's a choice. It's an oft-used phrase, at least in my circles, and though it may be clichéd, it's absolutely true. You can have passionate emotions (there's nothing wrong with that--I love feeling passionate about something) but if that's as deep as the passion runs, it doesn't take much to send it crashing down.


Passion is a choice.


And sometimes you'll have to fight against every ounce of your current feelings to make that choice. Sometimes you don't feel terribly enthusiastic about someone or something, but you choose to value them anyway. You choose to put energy into building that relationship or pursuing that project. The awesome thing about making that choice, is that if you keep making it and keep making it and keep making it . . . the feelings of passion will often follow.

Revelation 3:16 in The Message version says, "You're not cold, you're not hot--far better to be cold or hot! You're stale. You're stagnant. You make me want to vomit."

When I'm stale and stagnant, I usually want to vomit, too. Being stagnant sucks. No growth, no movement, no passion--it makes me feel gross. I find in those times, I look back longingly at seasons in my life when I was passionate. I wish I could extract the feeling of blazing enthusiasm out of the past and inject it into my present. I wish I could return to those times.

Perhaps you've been there too, or maybe you're there right now, longing for that old spark.

Guess what? It doesn't work that way.

And that's okay.

You probably know the story of Exodus--in one of the most epic exits in all of history, Moses leads his people out of slavery in Egypt and heads for the Promised Land. But in chapter 16, we find the Israelites struggling through the wilderness with nothing to eat. It is then that God provides manna, bread from heaven that covered the ground of their encampment each morning. But He instructs them to gather only what they need for today, to keep nothing for the next day.

If I were in their situation, in the middle of a desert where food is scarce, and I saw the ground blanketed in bread, I would probably want to save a few extra snacks for the road. Who knows when food will be available again, right? Obviously some of the Israelites thought the same, because a few of them kept extra manna. And overnight, it became wormy, smelly, rancid. Completely inedible.

I find that's a striking picture of what happens with us. You might have had a mountaintop experience, a spiritual high, a time when you felt deeply connected to God. I've experienced that, and if you have as well, that's amazing. But when life gets hard or boring, and those feelings aren't there anymore, you wish you could somehow go back to that. Yet you can't.

You can't feed on yesterday's bread.

[source]

You can't expect to be nourished by the time you had with God last year, last week, or even yesterday. That food, so to speak, was for that day. It's like if I eat a five course meal on Monday and think that I won't need to eat for another week. I'm going to be hungry on Tuesday, no matter how much I ate on Monday. The same is true for our spiritual lives.

I used to think that was depressing, until I realized I don't even need yesterday's bread. There's a feast spread before me today. Day after day after day, it's like God scatters fresh manna across the ground, there for the taking.

Every day I can choose to gather fresh inspiration and nourishment for my heart. Every day I can choose passion. I can choose to dig in, to be enthusiastic, and to make another connection with my Father.

Do I make that choice every day? Nope. Some days I huddle in my tent, nibbling on rotten bread. Some days I see the manna covering the ground like snow, and I don't lift a finger to fill my jar. But those choices, too, belong to yesterday.

Today really is a new day. I challenge myself, and I challenge you: gather fresh bread.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Problematic Opportunities & Opportunistic Problems



Okay, grab a pen and paper before you read any further. Or open a fresh Word document or a note on your phone--just something to write with.


Ready? Set? Go.


First question: What are three of the problems you're facing right now? Quick, write them down--whatever comes to mind. It's only a three item list, but my guess is it's either annoying or depressing to look at it, isn't it? That's okay. The next step will be even more annoying, at least at first.


Because now I want you to write down as many benefits to having each of those problems as you can think of. All of the positive things about them. All of the good things that can come out of them. There is at least one thing to be found for each problem, probably many more.


As part of our ongoing college class on attitude, we did this exercise earlier this week. It really gave me pause. Those problems I listed? For a long time I've viewed them as limitations.


My job is a setback to achieving my dreams.

It's really hard for a young adult to make money.

Because of my personality I can't do ____.


But are they truly limitations? In a way, I suppose they are. But these obstacles are not nearly so insurmountable as I think. The greatest obstacle is in my mindset. Do I see these things as problems, or as challenges? As opportunities?


For years, athletes believed that running a mile in four minutes or less was physically impossible. Until a man named Roger Bannister broke the record. After that, runner after runner after runner broke the four-minute mile . . . because they believed they could.


The more cynical among us may dismiss this whole attitude/positive thinking thing as a mere mind game, but I disagree. There's tremendous power in your words. The words you think, but especially spoken words. And if you think something often enough, it will come out verbally. As you continue to reinforce those words, they will turn into beliefs--often subconscious ones--and people will act based on their deep-seated beliefs. There's scientific and Biblical evidence for that.


So what do you believe about those problems staring back from your screen or piece of paper? How are you limiting yourself?


God doesn't limit us. He designed us in His image, full of His nature--as believers, full of His Spirit. The only limits are those we place on ourselves.


The first step towards breaking past those limitations is changing our perspectives. I'm not discounting your problems, by the way. They're real. They're hard. But there's more within your control than you may think! Start seeing the good in those situations.


Is my retail job a setback on my way to becoming an author? Maybe not completely. I'm paying my way through college with money from that job. I'm learning valuable leadership and people skills. I'm learning how to sell a product. After all, what's the difference between a pair of jeans and a book? There's got to be some common sales principles I can transfer from one to the other.


Is the system really designed against young adults, the newbies trying to work past their entry-level jobs? Try Googling a list of the current youngest entrepreneurs. There are some very young people making a crazy amount of money. More people than ever are striving to think outside the box. Why can't I forge multiple avenues for myself and use my imagination?


Is my personality preventing me from doing things? Or is some of that just learned behavior, habits I can replace? I'll never stop being an introvert, but I can learn to step out of my comfort zone more and be friendlier. I can grow leadership skills so that becomes more natural. I can become less controlling, more flexible and spontaneous, and more affirming of teammates even when I'm focused on a task.


What about you? Are those problems a little less daunting now? When we view them as opportunities and challenges, life becomes a thrilling adventure rather than a series of backbreaking trials. Maybe tackling all three at once is overwhelming, but attitude is contagious. Pick one and decide to change your attitude about it . . . and watch what happens as it spills into other areas of your life!


(Hint: it works even better when you invite God into the process and ask for His help.)


What's one problem, big or miniscule, on which you're resolving to change your attitude? Share in the comments, and let's motivate each other to find new perspectives and march forth with courage. Our adventures await us.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Subplots and Storylines - November 2016



I don't know how it's physically possible, but somehow this month seems even fuller than the last!


November opened with my birthday, which I celebrated a bit differently than other years in order to fit with my school schedule. Later on in the month, we also celebrated my lil' sister's birthday.


I grew a bit more in my public speaking skills: I was called to answer Q&A in one of our communicators meetings, I was the timer for another meeting, and a classmate and I got to preach a mini message to the youth volunteers.


My class and I helped build our church's float for the city's Santa Clause Parade, which was so fun, especially because we also got to participate in the actual parade, walking alongside our beautiful float.


There was a last-minute event I volunteered at, a youth worship night, a youth talent show, Christmas shopping, friend stuff, and my first exam of the year.


And through it all, my little corner of the world disguised itself as London, with miserable rain mixed with melting snow, and some of the densest fog I've ever seen.


Movies



Very little this month. I watched the last episode of Once Upon a Time Season 4 with my sisters (oh my goodness, THAT ENDING) and saw some more of Season 1 with my parents.


Books

(I searched high and low for an image of my copy. This ain't it.)

Journey to the Center of the Earth // Jules Verne
I wanted to read one of the unread, second-hand books on my shelf, and randomly picked this one. It was more enjoyable than I expected, quite honestly. I remember not totally loving Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea during high school, and while Journey does pause now and then to dump facts on the reader, it keeps a good pace overall. And it was funny! Axel and his enthusiastic uncle, Professor Liedenbrock, make an amusing pair.

[Professor] "Do you remember a visit the famous English
chemist Humphrey Davy paid me in 1825?"
[Axel] "No, I don't. For the very good reason that I wasn't
born until nineteen years later."


Was the book scientifically accurate? Probably not, seeing as it was written in the 1800s, but it was still fun to pretend that Verne's theories could be true, to envision a whole new world beneath the earth's crust. My biggest quibble was the ending. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but let's just say the characters didn't accomplish quite as much as I expected they would.





Prophet // R.J. Larson
I loved it! I haven't read very many fantasies with a Biblical type of setting, so that was neat. I found it especially intriguing to follow Ela's journey as a Prophet of the Infinite, to see how it mirrored real prophets in the Old Testament. She was so compassionate even when she had to communicate the Infinite's judgment on people who deserved it. (That compassion is a trait I need to grow in.) I adored Kien, a charming ambassador who spends a goodly amount of time in prison and has a strong appreciation for food. Ela's little sister, Tzana, was sweet and sympathetic.


The plot slowed down a bit once or twice, or maybe that was just me taking a long time to finish the book. There was another seventy-ish pages after the big climax, so I was expecting a plot twist, but instead I got an abrupt segment of story that might have been better left for the beginning of book two. I also had some thoughts to sort through about the Infinite, who seemed loving but also enforced a works-based sort of faith among His people . . . but then I remembered that this is, in effect, the Old Testament, and a savior is not part of the story yet. (There might be one later in the trilogy?)


Don't let either of those things stop you from reading, though! Prophet is a wonderful, refreshing book that took the fantasy genre down a less well-trodden path. Between readings, my mind kept going back to the story--definitely the mark of a good book.


Writing



I felt a lot more productive this month than I have in quite a while! I wrote a poem for the first time in forever,* and wrote 9,497 words in The Prophet's Key. That's more than I've written since college started, so I was happy. I'm close to the halfway point in my outline, too. The villains are gaining the upper hand, so the whole situation is about to change for the worse for my protagonists!


*breaks into song (I listened to the Frozen soundtrack earlier this week, okay?)


I've also set my writing goals FOR THE REST OF 2016 (and a little bit more), so I am super pumped. I want to reach 80k by Christmas, which means writing almost 10k in three weeks. Then the goal is to utilize my Christmas break to add another 20k, which will bring the book to 100k. Then if I can finish the whole first draft by springtime/the end of college/sometime around there . . . I just may have enough time to rewrite The Brightest Thread into a full novel so I have something to pitch at the Realm Makers Conference.


O.O


Yeah.


I'm that crazy.


And as I look at the things filling up my December calendar, I'm questioning the sanity of that plan even more. But if you shoot for the moon and miss, you still land among the stars and all that jazz.*


*Except not really. Because the stars are light-years away. So if I miss the moon, you can find me floating aimlessly in space or headfirst in a crater on earth somewhere.




Learning



Just trying out a new feature in S&S. We'll see if I have enough material for it each month.


I learned about the DISC personality system in college, and found out that I'm a CSD. To give you some background, D=dominant/driver/determined, I=influencing/inspiring/impulsive, C=compliant/correct/cautious, and S=supportive/stable/steady. A CSD is otherwise known as a Contemplator. Basically, I like to get things done, and get them done well. I'm detailed and logical; have high standards; precise but competitive; sensitive to others around me; a natural peacemaker; etc. Reading through the full descriptions, I was amazed at how accurate most of it was! Now that I know the personalities of my other classmates, I hope to develop better ways to communicate with all of them.


I started experimenting with bullet journaling in an old notebook of mine, just to see if I like it. So far I do, though I'm not quite happy with the layout. Hence the term experiment. Come the new year, if I'm still enjoying the practice, I'll start fresh in a brand new notebook and go from there.


So how was your November? Anything out of the ordinary, or perhaps ordinary but still worth mentioning? Have you ever taken the DISC test? All ye lionhearted NaNo'ers--how did it go? And who's all cranking the Christmas carols now that we're in December?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Small is Beautiful



A couple months ago, Jenelle Schmidt totally made my day. She was joining in a "Small is Beautiful" blogging thingamajig highlighting the smaller, but still wonderful, blogs out there--and she included Adventure Awaits. Her words brought a big smile to my face. Blogging can be difficult, and attracting readers can be even harder, so to hear authentic encouragement from a follower is so motivating.


And so today I wish to spread that encouragement around by giving a big ol' shout-out to some small blogs that I love! You might discover a new corner of the internet, and it might just be such a fun place you'll want to stay.


Guidelines:
  1. Feature 3-5 blogs with fewer than 100 followers.
  2. Write 1-3 paragraphs about each blog, including information like what the blog is about, a brief bio of the blogger, and/or why you recommend their blog. Don’t forget a link to their blog!
  3. Include an image for each blog, whether it’s a blog button, profile photo, header, or simply a screenshot of the blog.
  4. Thank the blogger who featured you, and include a link to their blog. If you like, you can even include them as one of the blogs that you feature (especially if they joined the tag without having been featured by someone else).
  5. Include the tag image somewhere in your post.
Optional: For extra visibility, share a link to your post on Twitter with #SmallBlogsTag. Don’t forget to follow the hashtag and retweet others’ links!


Jenelle, I'd love to feature you if you had less than 100 followers, but you've surpassed that number (so good for you!).






Okay, I may be biased, since Lost is my littlest sister, but she has a fun blog. She writes about Animal Jam (an online game she plays) and occasionally the books she reads and stuff she does. She shares her artwork, which is detailed and completely adorable, and is also posting chapters of a story she's writing. Her blog is as quirky and fun as she is!






As a busy university student, Sarah doesn't post super often, but when she does, they're usually entertaining posts about writing or reading, or sometimes life-y things. One of her book ideas--which I've heard about personally--is a superhero flip book. As in, half the book is from the hero's perspective, and then you flip it over, and the other half is from the sidekick's. How cool is that?






Skye writes honestly about writing, the difficulties of life, and miscellaneous other things like books, movies/TV shows, art, inspirational things, etc. Her photo shoots are AH-MAY-ZING. Serious photography skills here. She ropes her siblings and friends into dressing up and posing in the beautiful BC woods where she lives. This one is a recent fave of mine.






Mary is just a ray of sunshine wherever she goes, so it's no surprise her blog is like an instant shot of caffeinated happiness. She writes about her stories, reading, occasionally life, and yes, more books. Her book photo shoots are so cute and colorful! She has a love of Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Pride and Prejudice. Her posts and comment replies never fail to make me smile!






This friend of mine just recently started blogging! She writes dramatically about--you guessed it--books and writing, including her own journey and some of the clichés that drive her batty. I've had the opportunity to help edit some of her work in the past, and it's neat to see how she's growing.






If you're looking for thoughtful reflections on life, history, and stories, look no further! Blue's ponderings (which she posts every few weeks or so) make me think. They're short and sweet, and often point out the little things in life we can be grateful for, even something as simple as the scenery we pass every day.






A relatively new friend of mine also recently started her blog, where she posts her ramblings about anything and everything--her life as a farm girl turned student, things she's learning, places she wants to travel, and little stories she writes based on holidays/events (such Remembrance Day or Daylight Savings).






Tori's blog has become one of my favorite writing blogs--the advice she shares is always comprehensive and well-thought out. She frequently uses specific books or movies as examples of writing lessons, and has a "So Your Character Is . . ." series. She also reviews novels, and interviews her characters, and talks about the books she's writing. I can't wait till her books are published!


These are just some of the blogs I enjoy!

I sense a bookish theme going on . . . Anyway, go on and check them out! Show them some love! (I do have to mention there were many blogs that were around the 100-200 followers mark that I wanted to mention, but couldn't.) What are some of the smaller blogs you love?



Saturday, November 19, 2016

7 Ways to Write More Words and Read More Books

Before we dive in, I'd like to highlight some great editing tips Jenny Frietag @ The Penslayer compiled this week. You can read the post HERE. I was thrilled to see a piece of my own advice included!






The end of November is drawing near, folks, in case you haven't noticed. Which means thousands of writers are striving to meet their fifty thousand word goal in the days remaining. I am not among that huge tribe of crazy (that is, crazy awesome) people, but perhaps I'm absorbing some of their excitement, because I've been more productive this month than I have been in the last two months combined. Hooray!


Whether you're doing NaNoWriMo or not, if you're a writer, you probably want to write. (I should hope so, or else why call yourself a writer?) And quite possibly, you want to write more than you are currently doing. But life is busy, isn't it? How do you find the time?


However, not all of you reading this are writers. But there's a 98.239% chance that you are a reader.* Life is busy for you as well. Things like school and work and obligations crowd out less urgent things like reading.


*I would be surprised if this blog attracted someone who didn't care for books in some way.


So what are we busy readers and writers to do? I can't promise a magical solution to clear your schedule, but I do have some lil' tips to share that can help you put more time into your creative pursuits.


Step 1: Recognize that time is not a thing to be found or made.

You can't find time--you already have it. Nor can you manufacture time. You have twenty-four hours every day. No more, no less. The most productive writers and most prolific readers out there don't have more time than you do! They've just found a way to manage their time wisely.


Time is a resource, just like health or finances. So evaluate where you're putting it. Figure out what's nonnegotiable, such as sleep, work, school, time spent with God, building and maintaining your relationships, etc.


Step 2: Manage your free time.

Everything outside of those nonnegotiables can be moved around or minimized.


I keep my Goodreads status updated, so obviously I have time for it. Likewise with the shows I watch, blogs I read, and YouTube videos I consume. All good things, but also all potential time-suckers.


For a few days, pay attention to all the little things you do, then decide whether those are things you want to spend time on. Trust me, I'm as guilty of wasting time as anyone else. (I'm trying to break some bad phone habits, to be honest.) But you might be surprised how quickly those little things add up. Five minutes on your phone five times a day is twenty-five minutes, you guys--almost half an hour.


Step 3: Find the blank spaces in your day.

This will look different for everyone. For me, I read during my lunch breaks at work, even if it's only a few pages. My brother and I take turns driving to school, which gives me forty free minutes to read when he's the driver. Three days of the week, my college schedule is such that I have a couple free hours over suppertime, so if I don't have homework, I usually answer emails and blog comments, draft a new post, or write.


If you're in a waiting room, that's another chance to read. If you have a few minutes between activities, you can scribble out some plot points so that later, you can jump right into your next writing session without staring at a wall for ten minutes.


Step 4: Carve it out of your schedule with a ruthless knife of terror.

If you've done all of the above and you STILL DON'T HAVE TIME (oh, excuse me, haven't managed the time) . . . you may have to carve out a block of your day to curl up with a book or write a few pages. Don't feel bad if you have to schedule this stuff in.  If to-do lists and planners are your thing, penciling in your hobbies might be the trick to finally doing them.


Step 5: Hold yourself accountable.

Whether it's the satisfaction of checking off that box or buying a new book once your current read is finished, find a way to reward yourself for sticking to it. Writers, what motivates you? Some of my writer friends like to forbid themselves from using the internet until they've written X amount of words each day--for them, social media is a nice little break before jumping back into their manuscript. Or maybe taking a walk, playing with your dog, grabbing a snack, or indulging in stupid YouTube videos is what will drive you to reach a daily goal.


It's also a good idea to find someone who will keep you accountable, someone who will ask you what you've written this week. Knowing you have to report to them will give you that extra drive to keep going.


Step 6: Short stuff.

Obviously if you read shorter books you'll read a larger quantity of books, and if that makes you feel better, no problem. But that's not really the point, because you're still not reading more pages . . . So I guess that's not super useful! But reading in short bursts whenever you have a minute helps.


In writing, don't underestimate the power of word sprints/word wars. I've found that I can write more if I set myself a series of ten or fifteen minute sprints, with the simple goal to see how much I can write during that time.


Something the 100-for-100 challenge taught me was that even if you're crazy busy, you can still write a little bit. And we all know that a lot of little bits add up to a big bit.




Step 7: There's a time to just do it, and there's a time to relax.

Sometimes you have to work at getting around to the things you love. Silly, I know, but that's how life is. And if you're fighting to guard your reading/writing time, great. But don't become so task-oriented that you suck the joy out of those things. Don't write just because you scheduled it 7:30-8:30 every Wednesday night, and you have to write five hundred words or ELSE. Don't read just because you have to get through six books a month to meet your Goodreads challenge.


Do it because you actually want to.


Really, there's nothing wrong with wanting to shut off your brain after a long day, and watching a movie instead of writing. You need to unwind too, or your writing will suffer. And don't be so wrapped up in making progress that you kill the book you're reading. It should be recreational, after all! Take it easy now and then.


All you NaNo'ers: this is the month to power through and meet those goals, yes! But don't do it at the expense of your health or peace of mind. Take a day off if you need to, even if it means working extra tomorrow to make up for it. The world will not end if you don't write 1,667 words today.


So why are you still hanging around Adventure Awaits? Go write that book! Or read it, whichever you choose.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Writer's Life Tag

Time to make a dent in my pile of accumulated tags! Way back in spring, fellow bookdragon Christine Smith tagged me for the Writer's Life Tag. It sounded like fun, since who among the writing community doesn't like chatting about each other's methods and habits? Yet despite my enthusiasm, I somehow forgot about it, and went on my merry way for half a year. #oops

But here I am, digging it out at last! Pull up a chair, honorable questers, grab a cup of tea (or coffee, or juice, or Viking-worthy ale if that's your thing), and let's talk.

picture & graphic belong to Christine Smith


Write-fuel: What do you eat/drink while writing?


I'm don't usually munch and write at the same time, because crumbs in my keyboard = blegh. But I often have water nearby, or sometimes tea. My go-to flavor is vanilla chai. If I'm really in the zone, I sometimes forget to drink, though.


Write-sounds: What do you listen to while writing?


Recently, I haven't been listening to anything besides whatever background noise is going on. It's been a while since I was holed up in my room in front of my laptop--these days I write wherever my family is (usually I'm curled up on the couch or parked at the dining room table) or during breaks in college. But when I do listen to music, it's movie soundtracks or instrumental albums. Some favorites are the Narnia soundtracks, the Divergent soundtrack, Epic Music I and Epic Music II by indie composer Jonathan Maiocco, and music by Two Steps from Hell.


Write-vice: What’s your most debilitating distraction?


Emails, blogging, Goodreads . . . let's just say the internet in general! There are always little things to check or take care of instead of writing those words, and they can either break my momentum or keep me from starting to write at all.


Write-horror: What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you while writing?


I know plenty of writers have horror stories about losing their work and whatnot, but that's only happened to me once, and it was only a page or two. So I'd have to say the worst thing would be the times in high school when I got so wrapped up in my story that I lost track of time and neglected to put supper in the oven or change a load of laundry. My family has had to change supper plans at least a few times on account of me!


Write-joy: What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you while writing, or how do you celebrate small victories?


Every time I get caught up in a story, in a stream of words and images and emotions--when I'm so focused, the outside world barely exists--it's euphoria. I will slog through pages of uninspired words for a moment like that.

It's also very encouraging to receive feedback from beta readers or blog commenters, people who have read something I've written and care enough to share their reactions. It's the best feeling to know that they've been made to think, to feel, to see things in a new light, or to draw closer to Jesus . . . through a story I penned. It blows my mind every time, and I have Him to thank.


Write-crew: Who do you communicate with or not communicate with while writing?


When I'm actually, physically writing . . . I speak to no one, if I can help it. Human beings are distracting. But outside of writing sessions, I talk with a number of friends online and "in real life" (I don't like that term because it implies that my online friends aren't real as well, but I'm too lazy at the moment to come up with a better name for it).

"In real life," my closest friends aren't even writers, but they love me enough that they're fascinated by my authorial rambles and enthusiastically support these dreams of mine. I'm also blessed with a few friends who do write, and they're fun to bounce ideas around with.

Online, my main writing buddies are most often these lovely gals: Christine Smith, Deborah O'Carroll, and Mary Horton. Not to mention my broader network of bloggers and commenters who are always up for a writing-related chat!


Write-secret: What’s your writing secret to success or hidden flaw?


Let's talk about both, because while I certainly don't possess the key to conquering the writing universe, I have learned a few things along my journey thus far. And contrary to the brave face I may wear online, I am flawed. (I try to be genuine, but it's easy to highlight the good stuff and filter out the bad.)

Secret to success: keep at it. Yes, there are times to drop a manuscript entirely or take a break from it, but I see so many young writers flitting from one story to another with the attention-span of a butterfly. They're missing out on what can be learned from actually finishing a story, typing The End, bringing character arcs to completion, and tying up a plot. And if you never reach the end, you'll never edit. If there are things to be learned from completing a book, then there's ten times more to be gleaned from navigating the editing process!

Hidden flaw(s): I'm a relatively slow writer (though I'm not sure if that's 100% true or if I would actually be faster than I think if I could devote full-time hours to writing). I often find research to be a drag and may procrastinate in getting to it. I struggle with self-doubt--sometimes while pushing through a messy first draft, and sometimes while staring at the fifth-and-still-vastly-imperfect draft and hoping that if I stare hard enough, it will fix itself. I'm still finding the balance between beautiful prose/immersive description and action/dynamic plot. Perfectionism gets in my way. But I'm working on all these things, slowly but surely!


Write-spiration: What always makes you productive?


Goals, just like Christine said for herself. A plan of action, self-imposed deadlines, the satisfaction of seeing progress being made. I'm always motivating myself, not necessarily with rewards, because the accomplishment is often enough for my task-driven personality. If I don't set goals for myself, I don't get anywhere and have little drive to keep writing when it gets tough.


Write-peeve: What’s one thing writers do (or you do) that’s annoying?


I am as guilty of this as anyone else out there: talking about writing more than actually writing. Whether it's reading yet another blog post on the craft, or emailing a writing buddy, or coming up with a blog post about writerly issues--those are all good, helpful things, but they can take over the place of real writing. And the best way to become a better writer is to simply write.

There's a place for talking, but if that's all you do...


And now I tag . . .

And you, should you so desire! If you do the tag, leave me the link in the comments! Happy writing to you all, and especially those of you participating in NaNoWriMo.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Subplots and Storylines - October 2016



Well, hasn't this been a packed month! I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving with copious amounts of turkey; went from eating outdoors at the beginning of the month (I don't recall it ever being warm enough for that in October before!) to shivering in gusty winds near freezing temperature; and generally spent most of my waking hours in college.


I was looking back over my college notes to see what I all did this month, and I was surprised to see what I'd been learning at the start of October. It feels like so long ago that we talked about stress, attitude, belief systems of the heart, figuring out what you want in life, personal capacity . . . Looking back, I've learned a lot this month. More importantly, I've internalized a lot. The things I'm being taught haven't fully stuck yet, but many things are well on their way to changing my thoughts. It's amazing to see that.


Some other college highlights:



  • Allll the volunteering and being a part of awesome events.
  • My first speech in my communicators class! It was an icebreaker speech designed to give me public speaking experience and help my audience get to know me. It was fun and nerve-wracking, and I received great feedback/critique.
  • Loving my junior high girls small group that I get to help lead every week. It's such a fun age group, and there's a distinct mix of girls who have grown up in church, and girls whose only church is small groups.
  • One of my big college projects has been preparing a message for a high school chapel program. Three classmates and I have been working on this for weeks, and we just recently rehearsed our chapel in front of the class. Because I tend to prefer working alone, it's been a great experience to work as a team. We got creative and filmed our own short video to introduce our message topic . . . a video in which I play a cheesy T.V. anchor. A male cheesy T.V. anchor, complete with a curly wig and mustache. (I am sooo going to regret this.)
  • Youth held a Halloween costume party (pictures to come in a minute), and featured two escape rooms! I got to help plan and build them, so it was fantastic to see them completed and ready to be used. We built a zombie lab where the objective was to find the cure, and also a Bigfoot forest with the objective of finding the dead researcher's notes proving Bigfoot's existence. Really fun!


Here's a couple shots of my steampunk costume. It was quite fun putting it together. I already owned the vest, jewelry, one of the belts, leggings, and boots. I bought the shirt and the other two belts at a thrift store for a few dollars, the skirt at a different thrift store for $6, and the aviator goggles at a costume store for $14.
 
That's actually a watch, not a choker--I used
thread to tie it around my neck. :)
 

October Films



 
The Flash
My siblings and I finished season 1. Oh. My. Goodness. This show is just amazing. I can honestly call it a favorite (shhh, I know I haven't watched oodles of shows to begin with). This season ended spectacularly, leaving me satisfied and in agony at the same time. I'm really going to have to make a separate post on this show just to flail over the characters and twisty plot.
 
 
Once Upon a Time (Seasons 1 and 4)
My sisters and I almost finished season 4 during October (!!), and we're about a third of the way into season 1 with our parents. So much is happening in 4, and it's still fun going back to the first season and getting a "before and after" snapshot of the characters.
 
 
Tron: Legacy
My brother's college ministry area is media, so he has a number of movies to watch as homework. Tron: Legacy looked like one of the more interesting ones, so I watched it with him. It had some cool things about it, like the main character being a young adult rather than the typical teen, going into a digital world, Light Cycles, identities contained in discs, etc. But the plot itself was rather clichéd, and the only main female character was pretty two-dimensional.


October Reads



The Dream Thieves // Maggie Stiefvater
I loved this one, but not . . . completely. It's a complicated issue, much like the first book. I adored Maggie's writing style. I loved the characters. (Gansey and Adam, man.) But the language bothered me again, and Ronan--who was more of a focal character this time around--did some stupid things. There was a middle chunk of the book where I was fed up with him, but then things turned around and made more sense and he made better decisions and a certain somebody got what was coming to him. So yeah. Also the occult stuff from the first book was less occult-y in this one, with more of a fantasy flavor to it, which I appreciated. (It's less real and less weird that way.)


Honestly, though, aside from Ronan's temporary stupidity and the foul language, THIS BOOK IS BEAUTIFUL. I'm so excited to keep reading the series!




Into the Wild // Erin Hunter


This was a reread. The first time I read it was yeeeaaars ago, and I remember loving it until I read further in the series and realized that the astrology-type thing with StarClan was not the best thing to be reading about, and quit. (The idea is that the warrior cats become stars when they die, and living cats seek guidance from the stars.) The only reason I picked up Into the Wild again was to screen it for my youngest sister. It's been a long time since I made the decision to quit these books, so I thought it might be wise to re-evaluate, since she wanted to check them out . . . but I don't think my conclusion has changed.


I will say, however, that the writing was less wonderful than I remembered, but the plotline--once it got past the initial tropes--was still fairly engaging.




Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink // Gail Carson Levine


I have been slowly picking my way through this book for an embarrassingly long time. I think it's been a year? Maybe more? Not that it was hard to read--quite the opposite, in fact. I was just reading a couple chapters at a time here and there between novels.


Anyway, this is Gail Carson Levine's second writing advice book. (I also have Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly on my bookshelf.) Writer to Writer is written simply, but in an engaging way that boils down the elements of storytelling into easy-to-grasp sections. I found plenty of good reminders within these pages. Unlike the first book, a lot of the material was adapted from her blog, a valuable resource I've been reading for years.




Eagle Strike // Anthony Horowitz


As the fourth installment in the Alex Rider series, this one broke the mold in some ways, which was a nice change after three very similar books. It still required some suspension of belief when fourteen-year-old Alex runs around pulling James Bond-like stunts (this kid probably should have died three books ago), but it's still an entertaining read. I enjoyed the video game element, which I can't elaborate on without spoiling things, and I had the satisfaction of halfway predicting a plot twist.
 
Book Haul
Three cheers for second-hand books! I shopped around at the annual book faire, and came home with some fabulous finds.
 
  • The Lost Road and Other Writings // J.R.R. Tolkien
  • A Hero's Throne // Ross Lawhead (I forgot that I already own a brand-new copy of this book. *sigh*)
  • Inkdeath // Cornelia Funke
  • Mockingjay // Suzanne Collins
  • Allegiant // Veronica Roth (I guess it was the day for YA trilogy finales!)


October Writing

The Prophet's Key advanced by exactly 1,911 words this month. Yep, that's it. I also started working on a character questionnaire by Kristen Kieffer @ She's Novel for Aileen, but didn't get very far. When I actually have the time/take the time to fill out those questions for all my main characters, I have a feeling it could rescue my novel. I've been strangely struggling to connect to my characters, so reviving them should revive me.


And I wrote The Cage, a 1,612 word spooky story. Quite fun to exercise my writing muscles on something with no expectations put on myself!


Altogether, this adds up to only 3.5k words written in October. Of course I would've liked to have written more, but at the same time, I've been doing lots of living lately, and that's just as important. (Not gonna lie, though, everyone's NaNo excitement and wordcounts and progress makes me a teensy bit jealous! One day, you guys, one day I'll join you . . .)


And that, questers, was October.

I'd say it was a pretty solid month. Many subplots going on, lots of personal growth, some good books and shows . . . just very little writing. But Christmas break is coming. Eventually.


How was your October? Did anybody dress up? What's one
thing you learned last month? And who's all participating
in NaNoWriMo? (You guys rock! Keep pushing on!)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Cage // a spooky story

Hey, all! Subplots and Storylines will be a bit late this month, but I aim to have it ready for next Saturday (November 5th). In the meantime, I'm participating in Jenelle Schmidt's Spooky Stories link-up.

I really don't know where this short story came from. It's strange. And obviously creepy. So yeah. Here you go. (My apologies for posting a day late once again!)



The Cage


I always knew something was wrong with my basement.

Maybe it was the smell of sickly sweet rot that first clued me in.

Maybe it was the darkness that clung to the corners and hung from the low-slung ceiling like the swooped top of a gypsy tent.

Or maybe it was the iron bars forming a bizarre, door-less cage in the middle of the room.

Nevertheless, I didn’t think much about it. I left it alone, content to confine my evenings of chemistry homework, root beer, and softly droning radio news to the main floor. The basement, though strange, was merely a quirk of this old place. Other people’s houses creaked in the night. Mine smelled funny and seemed stuck in a horror novel. No big deal.

Or so I told myself.

It was a damp October night. I was nested in swaths of afghan in the corner of the couch, surrounded by sheets of unbalanced chemistry equations, when the radio clicked off by itself. In the sudden silence, a humming started. I glanced up. The single lamp behind me flickered, disturbing the pool of yellowish light for a moment. Nothing else stirred in my living room. I swallowed hard to pop my ears, the way I fix the pressure changes when driving in the mountains outside of town. But the soft hum continued, an undulating wisp of sound.

I sat very still for a few minutes and watched beads of condensation roll down the root beer can at my elbow. I couldn’t pin the gender of the humming voice. At times it sounded like a low female croon, but then it seemed more like a male tenor. There were no words. Just a rising, falling string of vowels. The more I listened, the less it sounded human. An ethereal echo wrapped the voice as it filtered through thin walls.

My arms prickled with goosebumps.

I hear people get nervous being at home alone in the dark—not that I have any friends to confirm it. But I like the solitariness and the darkness. It’s better than Dad tearing through the kitchen cupboards in search of food to settle his stomach swirling with alcohol. Better than screams berating his disappointment of a son. When he’s gone, it’s just me. And that’s just fine.

So when the humming began on that lonely October night, I wasn’t immediately frightened. But I should have been.

I don’t know when I left my nest of blankets, but all of a sudden I was standing in the dimness beyond the lamplight, at the doorway leading to the kitchen. A cool breeze brushed my face.

A breeze indoors?

The echoes expanded. They filled my ears, my head, my bones. The edges of my vision softened. My knotted shoulders relaxed. I found myself smiling—then wiped it away with a frown the minute I realized what I was doing. What was the matter with me?

The humming floated up the stairs and into the kitchen. It’s coming from the basement. So was the breeze, I realized. Without thinking, I wandered to the top of the stairs and peered into the deepening shadow at the bottom, where the door that should have been closed hung wide.

I stood on the fifth step down.

Just like that, with no recollection of standing on the four steps before it. I was just suddenly there, the same way I didn’t remember leaving the couch. Heart thumping behind my ribs, I turned and leaped to the top of the stairwell again. A sick sense of something horribly, dreadfully wrong crawled down my spine and settled in my gut.

But the strange voice swirled anew, louder and fuller. Its echoes overlapped each other, a layered miasma of sound. The sick feeling left my stomach, and the shadows downstairs turned into honeyed light. I smirked to myself. Don’t be stupid, Derrek, there’s nothing to worry about. What was so strange about the voice that had always filled this house and always wrapped me in safety? What was so strange about the way it turned darkness into golden brilliance? Wasn’t this the lullaby that filled my dreams?

I pinched myself. The shadows blackened again, though the voice continued. Always filled this house? Had it? My memory seemed patchy. I couldn’t recall whether I was hearing the song for the first time or the thousandth.

I blinked and took a step down, but found myself nearly at the bottom of the stairwell. This didn’t concern me in the slightest. Two more steps, and I stood in the open basement doorway. Here the humming intensified, a beautiful orchestra contained in one voice. The flowing vowels began to make sense in my head—they didn’t turn into words so much as meanings.

Come.

Come.

Come in.

And like the voice was a current, I let it sweep me gently into the basement.

Time abandoned me for a brief moment, a moment in which I couldn’t tell if I’d been walking in the basement for a split second or a year—but it mattered little because standing before me was the iron cage in all its splendor.

And splendid it was, for gleaming vines of cast metal wound up the bars, decorated by metallic blooms that seemed to shiver in the breeze blowing through the basement. Silvery gold light streamed from within the cage—no, that was the wrong word for it. Cage was confinement and closure. This . . . this masterpiece of metal wrought by inhuman hands, this was perfection.

This was glory.

As if in agreement, the song swelled.

Come. Taste the glory.

Syllables streamed faster and faster, a crescendo of impressions: Safety, safe here, come, enfold, be enfolded, light, protection, beauty, ease, come, come, come.

I touched a bar, solidly anchored from the floor to the ceiling. The metal seemed to vibrate beneath my palm; it nearly purred with pleasure.

Dimly, I was aware of my unawareness—the way I feel when I’m half-awake and know that I’m wavering between a dream and reality. But this reality was so much better than the dream, because in the dream, the basement was wrong. It was smelly and dark and off. That was the nightmare, the fantasy of a dreaming mind. This was reality—this magnificence calling to me, drawing me with its never-ending song.

Come.

I don’t know when the song merged with my own thoughts, but my own voice somehow joined the other one. It’s okay. Everything’s going to be all right. Just quiet down. Relax. Everything’s okay. You’re okay. Just step inside.

Some little needle of unease poked the back of my mind. Why would I reassure myself when the safe haven of iron was here before me? That made it sound like the haven was bad. It wasn’t bad. I needed to step inside. It was good. It was glorious. Safe.

Come. It’s okay.

The needling thoughts bothered me. They disrupted the euphoria. So, to shut up that tiny voice, I smiled . . .

And I stepped through the iron bars to taste the glory.

The bars had always been spaced wide enough apart that I could fit between them. But the instant I stepped through, the singing broke off. The silvery gold light vanished, leaving me in the dusk of an underground room. It was as if the carved vines and flowers had never been, and now rough iron poles surrounded me, speckled with rust.

Clanking, creaking, the bars thickened. They swelled to twice their diameter, leaving no room to walk through.

My heart froze. My breathing thinned.

Then blinding panic erupted, and I threw myself, screaming, at the grid of iron. My fists met solid iron. My kicks couldn’t even vibrate the cage. There was no door, no lock. No way out. I shouted for help, but there was no one in my cold, empty house to hear me.

Sobbing—and hating myself for my weakness—hearing Dad’s derogatory tone in my head—I backed into a corner of the cage and sank to the concrete floor. The odor of rotting meat thickened, and the already-dim room darkened further. Why had I let myself be lured inside this prison? And more importantly, what had drawn me here?

The barest echo of the voice came drifting back. This time, it was as if I could see the sound floating just beyond the cage. I squinted, but the more I focused, the less I could make it out and the quieter the voice became . . . until it was silent again. I closed my eyes and focused on listening. The voice returned in pulsing echoes. Cracking open one eye, I heard rather than truly saw a swirl of red vapor.

Everything’s okay, Derrek. Surrender.

Knives appeared—blades pushing through the bars, all pointing inward. One scraped my backbone, and I dragged myself into the center of the cage. The knives lengthened. Closing the distance. Nearing my skin. A panting whimper sounded. Is that me?

You’re all right.

The singing vapor grew denser and louder. It sang in triumph. I clung to my fear, and curled into the smallest shape possible. The knifepoints hovered inches away on all sides. I covered my mouth to smother my cries. No. No. No.

Don’t worry, the voice sang wordlessly. It will be over in a moment.

As the vapor surrounded the cage and continued to sing, my pulse eased. My thoughts settled. I relished the damp concrete against my face and the comforting bars of safety surrounding me, keeping out all that was wrong and evil.

It’s okay.

The first cold blade pricked my neck.