Saturday, May 28, 2016

a discussion on swearing in books

I once explained why swearing should be eliminated from fiction. While I would still happily trim all those four-letter words out of books (except that defacing library property is a naughty thing to do), I've been pondering this subject recently. I had a good discussion about it with my brother, then with blogger friend Emily, and later with my writer friend Sarah. And I have come to the stunning conclusion: It's not quite as black and white as I would like it to be.

I'm here today not to draw any concrete conclusions, but rather to weigh both sides and discuss it with you all. Fair enough?

swearing in books: what makes it undesirable

* Some of us just aren't comfortable with foul language. Why should we be subjected to it in a novel? I've started to read some great books that I ended up putting down because the amount of profanity was more than I wanted to endure. I think authors should thoughtfully consider the section of their audience they're driving away with their content. Those who don't care how many f-bombs litter the page will still read your books even if you clean them up, whereas those who do care will be very thankful. Listen to the dollar signs, if nothing else.

* In some cases (not all), it's lazy writing. In these sorts of books, the characters seem to have a limited vocabulary, 50% of which is profane. Even the narrative is sprinkled with it. Yes, I understand that that particular word is an angry one, but I would appreciate your art far more if you used some creativity to convey that anger. It takes more writing muscle to vividly describe someone seething with rage or moping in misery than it does to plop down a four-letter word or two. (Or a blue-streaking seven.)

* I could go on, but most of my other reasons are close siblings of the first one. Because of my faith and because of personal preference, I just don't like language, be it in a book, movie, TV show, or real life.

swearing in books: what makes it okay

It can be realistic. I loved Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys, but the characters, particularly Ronan, swore more than I expected them too. Being rough around the edges, all tough exterior and shaved head and independence, Ronan's language was in keeping with his character. He's kind of the bad boy. I have to be honest: there are just some people that wouldn't realistically shout "oh pumpernickel!" when they spill hot coffee over their lap. If writers are meant to reflect life accurately, then perhaps a measure of realism in the dialogue is acceptable?

* In a very select few cases--of which I'd be hard-pressed to name, but still know they exist--there's no other way to say it. Let's imagine a scene showing the aftermath of deep evil or the heinousness of a crime. The most fitting words to describe those evil people and their destructive deeds are not PG-rated, people. (These days, maybe they are, but that's another topic altogether . . .)

*Again, I could go on, but the rest of what I have to say is best discussed . . . as an actual discussion, instead of in point form.

so what are we to do?

On the one hand, many readers and writers find swearing offensive. I am one of those.

On the other hand, I write about things I don't agree with, and no one is under the delusion that I approve of those things. I have characters with different mindsets than I do. I have characters who lie, steal, manipulate, betray, lust after power, burn people at the stake, and strive to conquer worlds. And yet I do not condone any of those actions, even if some of them are done by protagonists who are struggling on their journeys. So why should swearing be different?

Maybe it's because we can read about someone lying or murdering, but we don't truly experience the telling of that lie or the murdering of that person. But when we read a swear word, it's just as bad as if we thought of it ourselves or spoke it aloud. Swearing is a verbal/mental sin, right?* It's one of the few that can be communicated fully on the page.

*(And while we're at it, can any of you point me to Bible verses on the subject of language? Beyond one of the Ten Commandments being "Do not take God's Name in vain." Because most swearing doesn't invoke God's name at all. I'm interested in doing some further study.)

BUT. I easily forget that non-Christians don't 'play by the same rules,' if you want to put it that way. To me, swearing is wrong, but to a lot of people, it's simply not an issue. How can I expect them to censor their language if they don't believe it presents a problem?

On another note, intended audience is a big factor. Please do not put foul language in a book written for twelve-year-olds. I don't care if they may be hearing those words at school already--some of them still have innocent eyes and ears, and I would hate for a book to introduce them to something better met at an older age.

But what about adult fiction? Or even YA? (As a reader, I consume both, as I imagine lots of you do.) These readers have heard plenty already, unless they live in Antarctica with speechless penguins. Does exposure justify the continued use of language? Is it a matter of maturity or of principle? Or both?

To some of you, this probably isn't a big deal at all. I understand that the public school system is good at desensitizing people. Really, though, the secular world at large is good at it. As a homeschooler raised in a Christian family, I was not exposed to the same volume of profanity during my childhood as many public school students were. Emily pointed that fact out to me, and it's true. Not that I was some unsocialized little stereotype who bathed in hand sanitizer after setting foot out in the big, bad world! I was simply in an environment that didn't involve anything much worse than 'crap.' Now, as an adult in the workforce, and as a person whose media intake has expanded, I hear and read more. Not that I like it, but it's reality.

So. Should we read books that contain swearing? I believe that's between you and God to decide what you can handle (or what you want to handle). Should we write books that contain swearing? That question is even more muddled with grey than the first. And I did say I wasn't trying to come to any solid conclusions just now.

But I will say that, no matter the answer, a few things need to be thoughtfully and prayerfully considered.

  • the audience
  • the context of the swearing
  • the intensity and frequency of the swearing

For me personally, there may come a day when I pen an adult novel that calls for a restrained measure of language. I can't imagine myself ever laying it on thick. At all. I'd rather leave it at a non-scarring, "he swore" and be done with it. But a few deliberately placed words, for the right audience, in the right context, might happen. I honestly don't know. I still wish the issue was as simple as attacking every novel out there with a black Sharpie. We all know it's not, though.

In lieu of a real conclusion, I leave us with this:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message)

So what are your thoughts? It's a tricky matter, and I want to hear your take on it.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Beautiful People - Skaes

Since I introduced you to The Prophet's Quest not too long ago (and now you finally know what the Dickens this girl is working on), and since I've been rewriting The Prophet's Key (the second book in the series), and since I haven't done a Beautiful People post in approximately five and three-quarter eons (my last one was in February), and since I appear to be overly fond of parentheses . . .

Let's do another Beautiful People, shall we? Today I'm introducing Skaes, a young but not-so-young woman from The Prophet's Key. She is a part of the Five Shifters, a group of individuals blessed with elemental-type powers. Born in Demetria but currently living secretly on Earth (because reasons), she has the ability to shift/control water. I've loved her since she appeared on the handwritten pages of the first draft, and coincidentally, her character will probably need the least amount of refining. Nevertheless, I need to get to know her better, because that penciled-in first version of her is sorely lacking in details.

Anyway. Some pertinent details before we begin:

Beautiful People is a monthly link-up hosted by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In. Each month, they come up with ten questions to help us get to know our characters better. For more info, follow the links!

Natalie Portman would make a good Skaes, I think. The
dress here is perfect for her Demetrian attire.

How often do they smile? Would they smile at a stranger?
Skaes is the sort of person who smiles often, at friends and strangers alike. She revels in the little joys of life. Nowadays, though, she smiles less frequently. Centuries of living alone in hiding, watching generations go by, will do that to a person.

What is the cruelest thing they’ve ever been told? And what was their reaction?
Skaes is very tender-hearted, and most people can't help but like her. So she hasn't been directly told many cruel things. The cruelest jabs are those of silence, omittance, and cold shoulders. The only other female Shifter, Nisi (who controls light), is a dear friend of Skaes's . . . but Nisi is often guarded and unaffectionate. There are times Skaes wants to reach out for companionship, but Nisi's standoffishness hurts her.

What is the kindest thing they’ve ever been told? And what was their reaction?
The words Skaes holds most dear, the words that have stayed in her heart over her long life, are from King Jirus (the Jesus-figure in this series). When she and the other four were first called to the Garden to accept their shifting abilities and learn how to wield them, King Jirus's words of wisdom and affirmation washed over her like sunlight. And they have never left. They're what she clings to now in the years of waiting.

What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting?
As a little girl in Demetria, long before she became a Shifter, she lived in a village on the coast. The song of the sea was ever present, drawing her to the shore on a daily basis. She would stand in the shallows, deep enough that her fingertips brushed the water, and look out to the horizon. The vastness of the sea has always fascinated her. And when storms would fall upon the village, she was perhaps the only one unafraid of the power of water. Even though she can harness it now, she still has that childlike wonder and fascination with it.

What book (a real actual published book!) do you think your character would benefit from reading?
I think she would find Bryan Davis's Eye of the Oracle very comforting. She has much in common with Sapphira Adi, as far as long lifespans and the need for patience/contentment goes. Sapphira would be a good fictional companion for her.

How I imagine her on Earth.
Have they ever been seriously injured? How severely? How did they react?
Yes. She has seen many battles on Demetrian soil, and thusly has been injured numerous times. Whereas some of her fellow Shifters would stubbornly keep fighting with a broken leg or fatal wound, she is quicker to accept her weakness, adapt to it, and do what she can from the sidelines instead. (See? She's fluid. Ha. Ha. Ha.) That doesn't mean she cares any less, just that she will naturally bend with the circumstances and find a way around it, even if that means taking on lowly tasks like dishing out rations to the knights. She realizes that she doesn't have to be on the battlefield to advance the cause.

Do they like and get along with their neighbours?
Because it's vital that she lives a solitary life, she doesn't have many neighbors at all. In fact, she lives on the coast of Scotland (I'm working out the exact details, to be honest), in a sparsely populated area. She has minimal contact with outsiders, and has had to move several times to avoid suspicion. ("What's with that lady in the cottage? I could've sworn she looked just as young when I was a wee child, and now I'm getting up to sixty.") All that said, if she could have contact with her neighbors, she would get along with them very well. She likes almost everybody, after all.

On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being easy and 10 being difficult) how easy are they to get along with?
Oh, probably a 2. She's a kind, quiet soul. Like I said, she likes people and they like her.

If they could travel anywhere in the world, where would they go?
Well, she'd rather travel out of this world she's been forced to live in so long. She would give anything to return to Alewar, to her homeland of Demetria.

Who was the last person they held hands with?
Probably some young, sweet-faced chap in her old Demetrian village. But that was ages ago. Having a prominent place in the military as one of the Shifters took up all of her time and attention, and then of course, she came to Earth and took up life as a hermit. So romance has not had a chance to blossom in her life. Besides, who could she be with? Anyone she falls in love with would be a mortal. (Speaking of which, I'm not exactly sure if she's immortal, per se. But she does have a ridiculously long lifespan.) And the three male Shifters are out of the question. Two are like brothers to her, and one is an old man. (Technically speaking, they're all old, but he was already getting on in years when he became a Shifter, and the role has kind of pickled him. He has spent most of his life looking elderly. Not that he minds much.) (But now I'm overusing parentheses again. Ahem.)


I hope you enjoyed meeting Skaes! I may have to feature her fellow Shifters sometime. What do you think? And hey, would any of your own characters make a good friend for Skaes? Poor girl is lonely. But not for long . . . Just as soon as I iron out some details and hammer out, oh, another ten thousand words or so, she'll find herself anything but lonely. But that's a story I can't tell you yet. *wink*

Saturday, May 14, 2016

My Favorite Story Elements

Not too long ago, my dear online buddy Christine blogged about her favorite story elements. (Go check it out! It's a wonderful list. Just reading it makes me happy and hungry for books.)

It inspired me to ponder about what I like in a story, and so with Christine's permission to use her idea, I thought I'd share it with you lovely folks. As I was brainstorming my list, I noticed that everything falls into one of three categories, so I organized them accordingly.

The People . . .

Firstly, I love characters who make me care. If I can't step into the character's skin in some way, you've already lost me as a reader. Put me in someone else's mind for several hours. Let me hear their thoughts and feel what they feel. Let me live their lives for a few hundred pages. How much I care about the characters will determine how much I care about the book. If they fall flat, even the most amazing plot won't make up for it. On the other hand, good characters can make up for a multitude of (plot) sins.

I also love character arcs! Round characters, dynamic characters, whatever you want to call them. People who change over the course of the story, whether for the better or for the worse. Being fascinated by people and the way their minds work and why the make the choices they do, I want to see the characters transform in some way.

Speaking of regressing . . . I like genuine characters. As uncomfortable as it can be, I want to see a reflection of humanity, including the not-so-pretty parts. (How much of that is revealed depends on the story, and there are certain things I shy away from because I have zero desire to wallow in them.) But everyday imperfections? Yes, please.

Christine mentioned character relationships in her post, and I couldn't agree more! Siblings, parents, friends, couples, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, brothers-in-arms, rivals--I want those deep, realistic characters to interact with each other. To have a bond of some sort, whether that bond be solid or shaky. What's better than an awesome character? Seeing two or more awesome characters bounce off each other through conversation or shared events.

There's also a couple of character types I adore (okay, there's actually a lot--but I'm limiting myself to just two of them today). One is the chivalrous hero. A guy who's morally white and noble of heart, who treats people with respect and takes a stand to protect what is good in this world. I find those fellows incredibly inspiring.

And let's not forget the heroines. I'm tired of the popular definition of a strong heroine, the kind who "don't need no man" and won't stop broadcasting that opinion. The kind of heroine I love is a girl who's strong, yes, but also feminine. She can kick butt, but she still has a heart, and she desires to nurture and protect in whatever way she does best. A warrior princess. She can be independent in the fact that she stands on her own, but she also recognizes when she needs the support of her comrades. Balance is key, people.

The Plot . . .

I did say that worthy characters can make up for many things, but that being said, the best books deliver on both fronts: character and plot. Here are a few plot elements that make me over-the-moon excited.

A reason to worry. Tension, conflict, high stakes! Bad things are happening, and I have to wonder how the heroes will ever win and find a happy ending. It's worth noting, however, that "high stakes" are relative. I might be worrying over whether the protagonists will save the world from annihilation, or fretting about whether the main character will stop pushing away the guy who's obviously perfect for her. The level of tension can be vastly different from one book (or genre) to another, and that's fine by me. As long as the stakes feel high for this particular situation, I'm hooked.

I absolutely love connections. (Another thing Christine mentioned. What can I say? We have similar taste in books!) Discovering how one character over here actually has a history with that character way over there . . . and this particular challenge is connected to what took place back in chapter two . . . and this country's decision is going to have a massive effect on the neighboring kingdom . . . and so-and-so is related to the enemy and didn't know it . . . ETC. In real life, everything is intertwined, and one thing has a domino effect on so many other things. I love it when books are the same way. Not only is it super fun to piece everything together, but it ups the believability factor.

Plot twists make my day. I recently read one in a certain story I'm beta-reading, and it made my head spin. My favorite twists are obviously the ones that work--the ones that are foreshadowed, but in such a subtle way that you don't figure it out until BOOM, something happens.

This one is more of a plot type--I love quests. Ha, bet you didn't know that, did you? (*cough* The Prophet's Quest, anyone?) Some also call it the Hero's Journey, but overall, I just like those linear, goal-oriented plots. Not to say I don't love other kinds too, but quests are one reason I read so much fantasy. Something big is at stake. A person or object must be found. A villain must be stopped. A disaster must be averted. And the whole book is a series of attempts, failures, and eventually successes along the road toward that goal. Much epicness ensues.

And when it's all said and done, please, please give me a satisfying ending. None of this completely hopeless stuff. Things don't have to end perfectly happily, but I want to find some satisfaction upon turning the final page. I want all the struggles to mean something. The characters may have lost much, but I want them to gain something worthwhile in the end. A good, satisfying ending gives me hope for my own adventure in this life.

. . . & Other Epic Things

Okay, so everything else is pretty miscellaneous, and some of it is admittedly specific to fantasy. Here goes.

Deep world building. Just like I want to delve into a character's mind, I want to be immersed in the world of this story. I want people, places, history, and beliefs to be organically conveyed. I want to get a sense of where and when I am. Nothing makes me happier than a world in which I can settle in and put down some roots.

Writing style. Whether the author's words are bullets (like Andrew Klavan, Travis Thrasher, or Suzanne Collins) or more like flowers (such as Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Jeffrey Overstreet, or Maggie Stiefvater), I love reading a story told in distinct and delicious language.

Another thing I love is cleverness in general. Brilliant battle plans, sly characters manipulating others, or particularly well thought out plots--just impress me with the cleverness, please. Make me wish I'd thought of it first.

More specific to fantasy, I enjoy objects of power. The One Ring, Jack Sparrow's compass (okay, yes, that's from a movie, but they count as stories too!), candlestones, a talking sword, a horn that summons help when blown, an orb with mysterious transformative/transportation powers (oh look, a shameless plug for my own book) . . . There's something fascinating about cool devices or weapons. They lend themselves nicely to those quest plots I was talking about.

Speaking of which, I love DRAGONS. And that is all anyone ever need say on that subject.

One of my most favorite things, though, is symbolism. Whether it's on a large scale like an allegory, or as small as a passing description, I love when one thing stands for something else, be it a person, object, or concept. C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Anne Elisabeth Stengl's Heartless are two examples of allegories I treasure. But even something as brief as the dropping of a sword representing that character's inner surrender--that makes me tingle with happiness.

I also get a kick out of the strange and the scary. Not over the top, mind you--I do have my boundaries--but stories that are odd or out of the box shake me out of my comfortable rut. And a certain measure of creepiness or scariness (like in Ted Dekker's or Robert Liparulo's thrillers) will guarantee that I devour the book.

You'll never, ever guess this one. I like humor. (What a shock. Because I never laugh or joke around here, no sir.) Whether it's an inherently funny scrape the characters get themselves into, or a character like Walter Foley or Sir Eanrin providing comic relief, I'm happy because "I dearly love to laugh."

And lastly (for today, anyway), I love a book that affects my vision of life. Preferably in a good way, of course. When I have to pause and stare off into the distance, or when I close the book and spend the rest of the day thinking about it, that's when I know that the story is affecting me on a deep level. Most of us don't read to get a sermon, but if we can learn while being entertained? That's fabulous. My favorite authors are those who have opened my eyes to something about God, life, or myself. Some wording or images have even seeped into my daily thoughts. These books enrich me in the best way possible.

Well, that was much lengthier than anticipated. If you've read this far, you're a dear. Now tell me, what are your favorite story elements? I must know! (Feel free to provide examples of those elements, too.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Starting Sparks // to fool the court

Surprise! It's not a Saturday, but I'm posting anyway because why not? You might remember that back in January, I may have damaged a few hearts with a piece of flash fiction called Ann Marie. I'm participating in Starting Sparks again today, though I think your hearts will stay intact this time. Ann Marie was a rainy, emotional, grieving piece. This one is more wintery (seeing as I'm clinging fiercely to spring right now, I haven't the foggiest idea why this thing insisted on snow) and feisty . . . but I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Starting Sparks is a monthly linkup hosted by Emily @ Ink, Inc. and Ashley G. @ [insert title here], in which they take turns providing writing prompts. If you're in a writing slump, or just need to switch gears for a while, prompts are a fabulous solution. Trust me.

When I saw the May Edition, I thought it was too fun to pass up. Dialogue prompts might be some of my favorites, come to think of it. This is also one of my first conscious attempts at something like an omniscient POV. Or a more distant third-person. Or the much condemned head-hopping. I'm not really sure at this point. Anyhoozens, enough dithering. Here it is. Enjoy!

* * *

“No, not you. Anyone but you.” Prince Tyrus—by all appearances thoroughly overwhelmed by the sight before him—covered his eyes, then scrubbed his hand down his face as if resigning himself to meet it head-on after all.

“And why, pray tell, am I not suitable?” Voice prickling with ice, Evaleen shook a fistful of her voluminous skirt. Tiny shards of crystal sewn into the barely-blue fabric tinkled. “I certainly look the part, thanks to your staff. No one will know that I’m a bridgekeeper.”

Prince Tyrus waved a hand. “You could be a digger in the chasms for all I care. Station has nothing to do with it. It’s just—” Again the hand waving. His fingers whisked the air as if to thread words from it.

“It’s just what?” Evaleen crossed her arms. Her toned biceps stretched the long sleeves designed for the insipid girls of Wavening Court, and not for sturdy women who shoveled snow off the bridges all day. The pale afternoon light shining through the palace windows glinted in her defiant gaze.

Tyrus gestured between them. “This. You and I. We don’t exactly get along. The court’s not going to believe me for a minute if I walk in there with you on my arm. They want me to choose a wife, not adopt a sister with whom to squabble.”

A beat of silence passed, during which a sudden wind gusted over the palace turrets and sent a flurry of snow crystals whirling past the windows and down, down, down into the dark abyss surrounding the castle on all four sides.

Evaleen’s ruddy, wind-burnt cheeks lifted in a smile. “But as long as they believe me, things will be just fine.”

Tyrus released a ragged noise that was half sigh, half groan. He turned to the window and stared outside, hands gripping the stone sill. His floor-length fur mantle bristled like it was still attached to the snow bear from which it came. “I never thought I’d tell Wavening Court that I intend to marry the girl who cast me out in the first place,” he muttered darkly.

“Cast you out, ha.” Evaleen plucked at her crystal-sewn bodice, wrapped tight around her ribs. How ladies managed to breathe in such constricting garments, she hadn’t the foggiest idea. But maybe the lack of oxygen was the cause of their weak voices and limp smiles. The thought nearly made her snort, but she caught herself just in time. “I sent you to safety. Curse the hinterwinds, I practically saved the kingdom. You should be thanking me.”

Tyrus, oblivious to her clothing hardships, let the abyss outside the window suck his gaze downward into its blackness. “For throwing me into that wind glider and launching me south? South, Evaleen. Did anyone ever tell you what kind of people live there? What they do to northeners, especially young ones? I nearly lost my life multiple times, and on top of that, I nearly lost my father’s kingdom.” His fingers kneaded the stone windowsill. Memories a decade and a half old throbbed in his mind . . .

Floating for miles on the cold drafts rising from the network of chasms . . . Touching down in a place green and sticky with heat . . . Clan men jabbering in a foreign tongue, carrying him by his ankles and wrists.

Taking him to the Purification Pit.

Pitch blackness.

Fat slugs crawling over his skin, his face, their acidic slime burning his young flesh. His own screams echoing back to him.

Years of slavery.

Weekly trips to the Pit.

Evaleen dropped her hands to her sides. The sound broke his reverie. “And if I had done nothing, the invaders would have put you in the family plot next to your father’s grave.”

Tyrus’s shoulders stiffened. “’Ware how you speak of the dead, bridgekeeper.”

“My soul is safe regardless of my manner of speech regarding decomposing flesh, Prince. Didn’t the south cure you of such superstitions?”

Lips pinched over a sharp retort, Tyrus finally turned from the window to face her again. Better to scrap the whole conversation and return to the point. “I cannot walk in there with you. Return to the regent and tell him to find a replacement actress.”

“No.” Evaleen tilted her chin up, daring him to a battle of the wills.

And if there was one thing he’d learned long ago as a nine-year-old prince (back when he was still innocent and un-orphaned) crossing the bridges from one massive pillar of rock to the next, it was that the bridgekeepers possessed a will stronger than anyone he’d met within Wavening Court. Hours of sun and unforgiving wind, shoveling the snow constantly blown in, repairing cracks, and salting the ice slicks—those conditions seemed to harden something in the keepers.

Defying Evaleen, commoner though she was, would be of little use.

Tyrus shook his head, defeated before he’d begun. “They have to believe we’re betrothed.”

She flashed her left wrist, bound in a silver strand of metal. “The regent provided me with a betrothal band.”

“They have to believe you’re of northern blood.”

She pointed to her head of blonde curls. “This doesn’t get any more northern.”

“They have to believe you’re of the Court.”

“I’ve tended bridges crossed by hundreds of Wavening feet. I know the part better than you do, long-lost prince.”

“They have to believe I chose you.”

She pointed at him. “That part is up to you. Get rid of that crease between your eyebrows and smile a little. Keep me close when we walk into the ball, give me all the dances, and pretend I’m the most interesting person in attendance.”

Tyrus opened his mouth to protest that impossibly lofty order, but she marched on.

“And if you so much as breathe a word of our, ahem, strained past, the act will be over. You understand that, right? They don’t know I was the one who sent you away. Your job is to keep them ignorant.”

He grudgingly accepted the truth of her words, but then straightened with a gleam in his eye. “Most importantly, though: they have to believe we’re in love. And that is going to be impossible, so you may as well go talk to the regent now so he has time to find a replacement before the ball begins in three hours.”

Evaleen grinned now, teeth flashing in the slanted light. Wolfish. Cunning. “Not so difficult if you take a little blood-blush wine.”

Tyrus froze. He backed away, hands up. “No. No, I’m not taking anything of the sort.”

Blood-blush wine was not really alcoholic, though its effects were undeniably strong. Made from boiling water and ground up blood-blush flowers picked right before they bloomed, some called it a love potion. It was reported to make the drinker enraptured with whatever he or she looked at while swallowing the elixir, but only for as long as the wine stayed in the digestive system. A sizable gulp would swill around in his stomach all evening, long enough to convince the court.

But no. Being made subject to anything picked at the scabs of the past and rankled Tyrus down to the soles of his boots. Offering his emotions up for tampering was especially bad. Not to mention the blow the resulting behavior would be to his dignity. Fawning in public over a girl he hated? It was too much to bear.

Evaleen arched a brow. “The more you argue with me, the more you prove the point that you do need a little helping along.” She withdrew a scarlet vial from the folds of her skirt. “One night. That’s all. Suffer a little embarrassment, make the court believe you’ll be marrying me within the fortnight, and on the morrow they’ll crown you as king. Then the realm will be safely in your grasp, and the invaders can be driven from our home for good. By your sword.” She came closer, took his hand, and pressed the vial into it. “Your sword, and not Lord Galoth’s.”

Galoth, the uncle who’d been ruling in Tyrus’s absence, was as foolish as they came. His thoughts seemed to zigzag like a hare’s tracks, and that was no way to run a kingdom. Under his loose and silly reign, the invaders had settled in and begun eroding the country with their brazen, thieving ways. Much longer of this, and a puff of wind would cause Wavening Court to crumble into the invaders’ waiting hands.

 “And then,” Evaleen continued, “once you’re safely on the throne, you can quietly denounce me. You’ll never have to speak to me again.”

Tyrus stared at the bright red vial of liquid in his palm, then at Evaleen standing so close her skirts brushed his boots. He fought down a rising tide of bitterness that tasted like bile. “Fine,” he spat. “But just remember—any wild proclamations of love I make tonight will be drug-induced and thereby as false as a northern summer.”

Evaleen smirked. “I’ll remember.” Still she remained inches from his face. It appeared she would not move until he ingested the vial’s contents.

With the heavy sigh of a man who knows he’s signing away his pride—and perhaps his life—Tyrus uncorked the vial and gulped the liquid back. It tingled on the way down and tore a mighty cough from him.

He had a moment of sinking dread before the world seemed to glow rosy bright and the face before him became striking in its feminine glory. In that moment before drowning, one thought crashed through his mind like a last breath of air to desperate lungs. One solitary thought.

This tastes a lot more potent than a single dose.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Paper Crowns Blog Tour // Interview with Mirriam Neal

It is with humongous excitement that I welcome author Mirriam Neal to Adventure Awaits today! She just published her second novel, Paper Crowns. I've been following her blog for a few years, and over that span of time I've also been one of her beta readers for several stories. So I can tell you with 100% conviction that she is an amazing writer, one who pens her tales with depth, vibrancy, and wit. (Just wait until you meet one of her trademark snarky characters.)

It goes without saying that Paper Crowns' release has me flailing/squealing/bursting with joy. And I'm equally thrilled to have the chance to interview Mirriam about her writing journey and her new book. After all, the paths of writers so often intersect in some way, and it is at those junctions that we find encouragement for our own journeys.

Mirriam Neal is a twenty-two-year-old Northwestern hipster living in Atlanta. She writes hard-to-describe books in hard-to-describe genres, and illustrates things whenever she finds the time. She aspires to live as faithfully and creatively as she can and she hopes you do, too.

You can find her at any of these places:

And here's the book itself, all brimming with magic and beauty and intrigue--isn't it positively gorgeous?!

Ginger has lived in seclusion, with only her aunt Malgarel and her blue cat, Halcyon, to keep her company. Her sheltered, idyllic life is turned upside-down when her home is attacked by messengers from the world of fae. Accompanied by Halcyon (who may or may not be more than just a cat), an irascible wysling named Azrael, and a loyal fire elemental named Salazar, Ginger ventures into the world of fae to bring a ruthless Queen to justice.

Without further ado, here's the dedicated, talented authoress herself . . .


Tell us a little about yourself! Personality, interests, how you take your coffee—whatever.

I'm an INFP - a severe introvert who adores people. Writing is my greatest love, but when I’m not writing I'm probably making art or reading. (I'm currently reading Jennifer Freitag's 'Plenilune' for the first time since I beta-read it. I'm in love all over again. She inscribed it to me and called me the 'kitty-cat foxy bomb diggity,' which probably says more about my personality than I ever could.) I take my coffee black and strong enough to eat the spoon.

Because many of us here are on our own writing journeys, could you share a little bit about yours?
I was always an avid reader, and I fiddled with writing now and then. I never finished anything until I turned twelve, and wrote a short story called 'The Pegasus on the Mantle.' I submitted it to Girl's Horse Club, an online gathering for horse-loving girls, and I consequently forgot about it - until I received the notification I'd won! After that, I couldn't stop writing. It was the push I needed. It's been rocky and I've had phases (I once went through a depressing phase where everything was…well, depressing) - in fact, after writing for over a decade, I've only recently fallen into something I can call a 'groove'!

What was the Paper Crowns journey like, specifically?
It was more of a jaunt than a journey. It took a total of one month to complete, and was far from grueling - it was a literary vacation. Most of my novels are definitely grueling journeys, no matter how much I love them, but Paper Crowns was something else.

What are some of the sources of inspiration that fueled this story?
I started reading Julie Kagawa's 'Iron Fey' series, which inspired me to also write something fey-ish. I'm not a fan of Julie's writing, but the concept was fun, and there are a million different ways to work it. Owl City's 'Sky Sailing' album prompted the idea of Ginger's Blessing.

What’s your favorite part of writing?
The characters. Everything I write is very character-driven (occasionally they're so character-driven that the world-building suffers during the first draft, but that's what first drafts are for, right?).
What’s the hardest part?
For me, the hardest part is always editing and revising. Editing, because I'm really terrible at seeing my own typos and errors. Revising, because when I write something, it (usually) feels 'set in stone.' Changing it feels like sacrilege. (When I break this rule, however, I break it in really spectacular ways and end up with two entirely different novels.)

If you could spend a day with one of the Paper Crowns characters, who would it be and why?
It would definitely be Azrael. He would infuriate me half to death, but it sure wouldn't be boring.

Your book deals with magic (wysary). Can you talk about how this fictional magic meshes with your Christian faith?
I think many Christians believe modern fictional 'magic' conflicts with Christian faith. Most of the time, this isn't true. Many years ago I did extensive research on this, because every time I dug into magic and Christianity, it seemed like a 'Christianity vs. Magic' fight. It's a fight that's completely unnecessary the majority of the time. 'Magic,' as we know it in most fiction today, simply isn't in the Bible. Not anywhere. Necromancy, communication with demons, and divination - these things are condemned in the Bible, but turning someone into a bird or creating paper objects that fly? That kind of magic simply isn't mentioned. The terms 'witch' and 'wizard,' as found in modern Bible translations, didn't even exist at the time of the original text. You'll find the meaning of the original words to be more in line with 'necromancer,' etc. Before I carry on too much - I believe magic is extremely complimentary to Christianity, and is very easy to mesh.

What’s next on your writing/publishing agenda?
I plan to finish editing 'Dark is the Night,' the first in my Southern urban fantasy 'Salvation' series. I'm still writing 'The Dying of the Light,' my futuristic sci-fi Japanese Robin Hood, and I need to edit and revise 'Paper Hearts,' the sequel to Paper Crowns.

What advice would you give to other young writers?
Don't view writing as your career. You want to be a writer? That's fantastic - but don't burden your writing with thoughts like, 'You need to make me enough money to live on.' Write because you love it, and support yourself with another job. If your writing takes off in a big way, congratulations! That's amazing! But give your writing the freedom it needs without trying to make it support you.

Fabulous answers, Mirriam! I especially loved your piece of advice at the end there. It's something I need to take to heart--giving my writing room to breathe by not depending on it as a source of income, at least not right away. Thanks for the freeing perspective! And thank you so much for stopping by!
To my fellow wayfarers, voyagers, and questers: who's eager to read Paper Crowns? (Hint: ALL OF YOU, BECAUSE IT'S FABULOUS AND YOU NEED A SLICE OF MIRRI-MAGIC IN YOUR LIFE.)
P.S. The Paper Crowns blog tour lasts for the month of May. All the stops are listed HERE. There's book spotlights, guest posts, more interviews, etc., so I encourage you to check them out!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Subplots and Storylines - April 2016

Somebody needs to tell me how in the world we're one-third of the way through 2016. Because we can't possibly be that far into the year! Nevertheless, my calendar usually doesn't lie, unless I forget to flip it, which I didn't, so it must be true.

By the by, I do realize this post is a day later than normal, and for that I apologize. But last night I was too zonked from a crazy weekend at work, and I was rather firmly imprisoned by the pages of the book I was reading . . . So I decided to put this off one day. You all don't mind, right? (If you do, I shall unleash that dragon I keep in my basement.)

Anyway, I don't think April was quite as flurrysome* (shh, that's a word--I just made it up) as the past couple of months have been. It wasn't quiet by any stretch of the imagination, but it was more normal, I guess.

*It was, however, flurrysome in the sense of wintery weather. Who gave April permission to sprinkle snow on us, then warm up enough to melt it, then snow again? Bleeeegh. I think it's actually spring now. I'm currently sitting on my porch and enjoying the sunshine and birdsong.


The month began with a retreat involving my college & career group along with my two middle siblings' youth group. Mixing high schoolers and young adults does actually work, wonder of wonders. We rode in a bus to the same lovely camp we went to last time. It had been November (2014, I think?), and it had snowed. This time it was April, and it still snowed.

Some of the highlights from the retreat:

  • Playing Balderdash (which was an overdue delivery on my youth leader's long-ago promise that we would play it . . . IT WAS FABULOUS AND WORTH THE WAIT).
  • Splitting up and putting on hilarious skits. My group came up with one loosely based off of this video, but with way more characters involved:

  • Sledding on an inner tube down a wooden slide in the bitterly cold wind.
  • Staying up late to watch a movie.
  • Finding out the speaker had been mentored by my late (honorary) grandfather.

On a different note, I'm buying my first car! My dad and I spent an afternoon doing a thorough cleaning of it. It's going to be great to have my own wheels--up until this point, my parents have been generous enough to give me use of one of their vehicles for work and such, but with my brother soon graduating, he will be needing it. So finding this car at this particular time is an answer to prayer! I don't have it in my possession yet, but it should be ready sometime in May.

We celebrated a few birthdays in the family. (April is birthday central around here, my goodness.) Thus, we had some special celebrations at home, as well as family gatherings to attend.

I sent off my blogoversary giveaway prize, which recently arrived at Anna's place. Yay! Check out her pictures HERE. Seeing them gave me the warm fuzzies.

I got promoted at my job just last week! It hasn't quite sunk in yet, but I know it's going to be good.

That's a little peek at the happenings of life this month. Now it's on to all the bits of story I watched, read, and wrote!


The Help // This is the one I watched at the retreat. I quite enjoyed it! There were a couple minor things the movie could've done without, but other than that, it was a moving story of how black maids were treated in 1960's America. (Hint: terribly. I wanted to punch certain characters for the way they treated their servants.) Skeeter, a young journalist, sets out to show the world the truth about the maids' life. The maids themselves risk an awful lot to get the story out.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End // Watched this with my brother one evening. Hilarious! The PotC movies are ones you don't really expect much depth from--just laughs and epicness, which it definitely delivered. The plot was so convoluted, I could barely follow it in the first half, but Jack Sparrow's hilarity made up for it. "Gentlemen, I wash my hands of this weirdness."

Once Upon a Time (4 episodes of Season 3) // It seems my sisters and I are going through this show a lot slower than we used to. That's okay, though--we're savoring it. Almost finished with the third season, and I do not like the Wicked Witch.


Merlin's Blade - Robert Treskillard // I've seen this trilogy around many times, and finally got around to reading the first book. It took me close to half the month to read it, which was mostly due to my schedule and only partially due to the book's slower pacing. I feel like I would've enjoyed it more had I read it more quickly.

But it was pretty cool that Treskillard blended the historical and fantasy genres, and as the story progressed, I started to form theories about how things will play out in the next two books. Another thing I liked: Merlin is almost blind, which is unusual, and I felt the author dealt with it well and figured out other ways to relate setting and action. Also, I hadn't expected that King Arthur would be an infant. Most stories seem to have him all grown up already.

Knightley Academy - Violet Haberdasher // My brother recommended it to me, and for very good reason! It's the rollicking tale of Henry Grim, a servant who gets the chance to sit the Knightley Academy exam. He passes (spoiler alert!--not really, though, since it takes place early on and the title pretty much confirms that particular bit of the plot), and finds himself befriended by two other commoners in a school full of the sons of posh nobility.

The book takes place in an alternate history of 1700's Victorian England, which is awesome. I loved reading about Henry and Co.'s misadventures, and there's just something about a slightly fantasy-ish school novel that I find charming. I mean, Latin and fencing and medicine and miserly teachers and kindly teachers and creepy tapestries and a mystery and detestable bullies . . . What's not to enjoy?

And let's just take a minute to talk about the characters. Henry was wonderful! So practical and level-headed for a fourteen-year-old, yet with a tender heart and a lovable underdog-ness about him. Besides Henry, Adam has got to be my favorite. He's also a commoner, and he's Jewish, which is yet another reason for his rich classmates to tease him. He also has a great sense of humor. (Although half the time he's funny without trying to be. His whining somehow comes off as endearing rather than annoying.) Then there's Rohan, an Indian orphan raised by rich white parents. He has the manners of a gentleman, and his voice of reason is just what Henry and Adam need to keep them in check. And lastly, Francesca--or Frankie, as this tomboy prefers to be called. Her father is head of Knightley Academy, and she's been kicked out of so many schools, she finally has to get a tutor at Knightley. Unladylike, spunky, and mischievous to the bone, she does her fair share of troublemaking.

I've gone on long enough about this book, but seriously, it was fabulous. And clean, too!

The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater // You can blame this book for the lateness of S&S. I got home from work yesterday and read it for hours. I hardly ever read for so long at a time anymore, but in the space of last week, I binge-read the last half of Knightley Academy on Sunday and the last half of The Raven Boys on Saturday. So fun.

But about the actual book: Emily from Ink, Inc. and I were having a discussion (on one of my posts, if I remember correctly), and she very highly recommended I read The Raven Cycle, then proceeded to logically and passionately explain all the reasons why. Convinced by her and also by Cait's frequent fangirling over Maggie Stiefvater, I decided to try it out.

Firstly, Maggie Stiefvater's writing is gorgeous. She has an amazing way with words. It's like art in word form. Not only that, but her character development is top-notch. I am thoroughly in love with Blue, Gansey, Adam, Noah, and even Ronan. Their depth and individuality were so real, which made the relationships and interactions fabulous. Honestly, they're the reason I liked this book so much.

And, just as Emily promised, there were good themes of wealth and class mixed in. Quite thought-provoking, actually. (ADAM BROKE MY HEART, OKAY.) So all of this plus an epic journal and a small town and questing for a dead Welsh king and pretty scenery and a baby raven and ley lines made for a great story.

My only quibble is the language--I was a bit surprised to find it there, and it cropped up more frequently than I would've liked (though not as often as some books out there). The F-bombs especially were unnecessary, as were a couple of crude jokes. I have to admit that a smattering of the language was in keeping with Ronan's character, but he wasn't the only one using it, so . . . I don't know.

Blue comes from a family of psychics, which didn't bother me much, interestingly enough. I think it's like what Emily told me: it's done in more of an urban fantasy style than one of realism, so it feels more like magic than anything else.

Bottom line: loved the story, loved the writing, could've done without the language, and will definitely be reading the rest of the series! (Thank you, Emily!!)


This was a rather nice month writing-wise! I wrote 12, 962 words in The Prophet's Key, bringing the total up to 20,748. It's kind of mindboggling to think that, if this were a novella for a Rooglewood contest, I'd be over the word limit . . . and yet the plot is just barely beginning. (Yeah. I may have some pacing issues to fix when editing. Things are happening quickly enough, but there's still scenes I know I forgot to put in there. So obviously it will need to be streamlined somehow. But we're saving the editing for later, aren't we, Tracey?)

I've been struggling a bit with this book so far, but I think I may have found the key--oh, wait. A pun. Haha. Anyway, I think I figured out what my main problem is, which I discussed in an impromptu post HERE. I haven't had a chance to write much since that discovery, but I'm hoping that the words will start to flow this month.

I've been writing in mostly small increments whenever I have the time, but I did have one serious writing day this month, during which I wrote about 2700 words. I know that's not a lot compared to authors who do this thing all day, every day, but considering that I haven't had much chance to work on my stamina recently, I was quite pleased.

In other writing-related news, I started that writing course by Ted Dekker I've talked about--The Creative Way. This month I've gone through the first four sessions, which is far slower than I intended. But that's okay, because I'd rather absorb the lessons fully than rush through them. In between the sessions, I've been reading The Creative Way Meditations, a devotional-type book included in the course. Both the audio sessions and the book have already been so helpful. It feels like my eyes are opening and my vision is sharpening.

This first module (out of three) deals with the foundations of who we are and who God is, and what that means for us as writers. It's incredible! I'm sure you'll be seeing more posts in the future inspired by what I'm learning. And once I finish the next two sessions, I'll be starting Module 2, which is all about the craft of writing.

Between all the drafting and session-ing, I somehow forgot to continue researching agents to query. Oops. I did look into one small press that I'll put on my list, but other than that, zippo progress this month. I'd like to finish compiling my first list in May, however! My my, but I'm being ambitious. But seriously, though, it would be awesome to be ready to send out my first batch of queries in a month or two. (Hold me to it, guys!)

Farewell April, and hello to a bright May.

You know how I described life in March as running at a breakneck pace down the street? I think April loped along at a steady jog. I'm still amazed at how much can happen in one month. But there were, thankfully, moments I could stop and just breathe before plunging into the next thing.

(Still, I think someone needs to implement a three day weekend, and not just for long weekends. A two day break, often just one day because of work, isn't long enough!)

Now tell me where your quests took you this month! What roads did you travel, either in life or on the page? Have any of you played Balderdash? Or read/watched anything I mentioned? And is it really and truly spring now--have we gained a safe distance from winter, so that we're no longer in danger of it making a comeback? Pass around the chocolate chip cookies, and let's chat.