Monday, July 17, 2017

Silmarillion Awards - Winner of the Wisest Counselor Silmaril

Me: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the final phase of the 2017 Silmarillion Awards! It has been a rollicking adventure indeed, and we can't thank you enough for your enthusiasm and participation this year. To kick it off, I'd like to welcome up a very special character from Middle Earth to present the award for Wisest Counselor. *peeks over shoulder* Um, a very special character from Middle Earth. *clears throat* A certain wise counselor . . . to present . . . Ahem, it appears our presenter has yet to arrive--

*a pointy grey hat pokes out from backstage*

Gandalf: Not so, you fool! *strides onto stage and snatches mic* A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he intends to. I was merely arranging celebratory provisions for later.

Me: Apologies, Gandalf. We're just happy to have you here. My friends, allow me to introduce Gandalf the Grey, also known as Mithrandir, the White Rider, Greyhame, and Stormcrow, among other names. He is certainly the wisest counselor anyone could meet in Middle Earth. *bows and exits stage*

Gandalf: Thank you. Now then. Where were we? Ah, yes, the time has come to award the Wisest Counselor Silmaril to the character deemed most worthy by all of you. *sniffs* You're a much nicer audience than I find in Hobbiton, did you know? Taller, yes, but rather less noisy.

Ahem. Five characters of great wisdom contended for this Silmaril, but only one may receive it. And the fellow who secured the most votes is deserving indeed. I shouldn't be surprised, really, but even the very wise cannot see all ends.

The counsel this gentleman has provided his friends has most certainly changed the courses of their lives, and perhaps even saved some. Like I always say, all we have to decide is what to do with the time that has been given us, and this man has decided to do a great deal of good with his. He knows that it is not our part to master all the tides of the world. Instead, he pours all of his strength and considerable heart into guiding the tides under his control, and surrendering the rest to his Master.

Though he has walked through times of sorrow and seasons of waiting, he has stayed the course. He is a beacon of light to those who follow in his footsteps. Others may claim the title of hero in his tale, but if not for him, the road would have taken a very different turn indeed.

My friends, may I present the winner of the 2017 Wisest Counselor Silmaril:

Professor Charles Hamilton!

*a smartly dressed older gentleman with wild grey hair rises from the front row and joins Gandalf on stage*

Professor Hamilton: *in a British accent* My, your fireworks get better every year, Gandalf.

Gandalf: I should say they do. Congratulations, young man. *hands over the Silmaril* This is yours to keep for a lifetime.

Professor Hamilton: Young? *smiles* Compared to you, perhaps. I am honored to receive such a prize, though I must that any wisdom I possess is thanks to the very Source of all wisdom. I merely listen to Him.

Gandalf: And that is precisely what makes you wise. Now, before we acknowledge the runners-up, I would like to take a moment to honor you, Professor, by calling up a scene from your past. *waves staff*

*translucent image appears over the stage*

The professor grasped [Excalibur] and limped toward the central pedestal. He knelt at Bonnie's side and placed the sword in Billy's hands, wrapping his own fingers on top and elevating the blade. Billy opened his eyes and tightened his grasp on the hilt.

"William," the professor said, softly, "what now is your weapon?"

Bonnie could see Billy's eyes reflecting the professor's shining face, enhanced by Excalibur's glow. She held her breath, waiting for Billy's reply.

"Truth," he whispered, his voice rasping. "Truth is my sword."

The professor nodded, his eyes now flashing, and his voice erupted in deep, echoing tones as if Billy's answer strengthened him. "And what now is your defense?"

Color returned to Billy's face, and his jaw tightened. His voice surged with emotion. "Faith . . . faith is my shield."

*image fades*

Professor Hamilton: *blinks back tears and beams at a row of young people in the audience* How well I remember that day.

Gandalf: As I thought. It was a turning point for one of your young charges. For using your wisdom to strengthen weary bones and direct wandering hearts, ladies and gentleman, I present to you Professor Hamilton!

*thunderous applause*

Professor Hamilton: *bows, then leans over to whisper* By the way, it is an honor to meet the namesake of a certain cat.

*sounds of a scuffle*

*a cat yowls and streaks away between chairs*

Someone in the audience: Walter! I told you to hang onto him!

*chuckling, the professor takes a seat*

Gandalf: I cannot forget the wisdom of four other magnificent characters, and I thought it might interest all of you to find out how they fared in the voting round. *pulls scroll out of his robe and consults a list*

Professor Hamilton from Dragons in Our Midst - 34%
Puddleglum from The Chronicles of Narnia - 23%
Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter - 21%
Prince of Farthestshore/Aethelbald from Tales of Goldstone Wood - 18%
Beana from Tales of Goldstone Wood - 4%

*a marsh-wiggle, wizard, prince, and goat incline their heads respectfully from the front row*

Gandalf: To all who did not win this year, I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil. You have all performed admirably. Once again, congratulations to the dear professor. *looks around* Now . . . what am I supposed to do? Just--leave? Introduce someone?

Me: *hurries back out* Not to worry, I've got it. Thank you, Gandalf! Make sure to follow along with the presentations, everyone. Tomorrow the winner of the Least Competent Henchman will be announced, an event you certainly won't want to miss. Happy Silmarillion Awards 2017!

[Note: excerpt taken from The Candlestone by Bryan Davis]

Monday, July 10, 2017

Silmarillion Awards - Vote for the Wisest Counselor

Welcome back to the second phase of the 2017 Silmarillion Awards! Last week was a barrelful of fun* as your nominations came pouring in. So many worthy characters were named, so many marvelous fantasy novels were discussed. Are your TBR piles toppling over yet? Mine is definitely reaching its tipping point!

*A barrelful of dwarves, that is! . . . Ahem, that was supposed to be a vague Barrels out of Bond reference.

We've tallied up the nominations and seconds (and thirds and fourths and fifths and so on), and only the top five characters in each category have moved into the voting round. If you missed the first round of action, here's the infographic Deborah made:

As you can see, the voting period is open from today, July 10th, until Friday, July 14th. So be sure to make your way around to all the blogs to read about the top five contenders in each category. And there's another reason you'll want to visit everyone: there's an epic scavenger hunt taking place!

Each of the ten blogs will include the phrase of a poem somewhere in their posts. It's your job to gather all ten phrases (in the correct order!) and submit them in the voting form. Doing so will enter you into a giveaway for the Grand Prize! I don't know about you, but that map of Middle Earth, One Ring, and copy of Aratar, Peredhil, and Halflings, Oh My! look delightful.

This is your first stop along the scavenger hunt, and here is the phrase you'll want to write down:

Three great jewels (though for our purposes, ten)

Then click on the text to head to your second stop.

While we're talking about giveaways, congratulations to Athelas H. for winning the one hosted here during the nomination phase! You've won a paperback copy of Alora: The Wander Jewel by Tamie Dearen and e-book copies of Evangeline, Eun Na and the Phantom, and Foxtails by Erica Laurie. Athelas, the email address you submitted in the Rafflecopter didn't work, so please send Jenelle an email at Jenelle.L.Schmidt [at] gmail [dot] com. She'll make sure your prize gets to you!

All right! Now to the moment you've all been scrolling down for! Drumroll, please . . .

The top five nominations for the Wisest Counselor Silmaril are:

Puddleglum from The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis: This gloomy Marsh-Wiggle may expect the worst in any given situation, but he's actually more cheerful than his pessimistic kin. His common sense and steadfast presence keep his young friends on track even in the darkest of times. A bit of a "wet blanket," he is nevertheless prepared for rain and ruin. Which, when you're on a quest of great import, is a good quality to have.

Professor Hamilton from Dragons in Our Midst by Bryan Davis: A man of stalwart faith and honorable lineage, this teacher is a mentor in every sense of the word. His sound advice provides a staying anchor and a guiding rudder for those under his care, even going so far as to affect their eternities. Not only does he offer wisdom, but he is a living example of those unshakeable convictions in action. His friends would do well to follow in his footsteps.

Prince of Farthestshore (a.k.a. Aethelbald) from Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl: Kind. Strong. Faithful. True. Those are just a few words to describe Prince Aethelbald. He is relentless in his pursuit of those he loves. He doesn't look the part of a Prince Charming, but there is far more to him than what meets the eye. And while you may not always want to hear what he has to say, it never fails to be exactly what you need.

Beana from Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl: Beana isn't who you would expect to be a voice of wisom. In fact, she's a stubborn goat. (Though she may also be something more.) But her stouthearted courage, foresight, and protectiveness are precisely the traits a wise counselor needs. Being centuries old doesn't hurt, either. Whether you need a shoulder to cry on or a bit of tough love, Beana will be there.

Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: Albus Dumbledore is quite possibly the most powerful wizard the world has ever seen. If he plays his cards close to the vest, it is only because he loves the young people in his charge and would spare them pain if he could. A bit eccentric and secretive, Dumbledore is definitely someone you want on your side, whether you need a powerful wizard or some kind words of encouragement.

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Whew! That's quite the impressive list from which to pick! Who will you vote for? (Be sure to hit submit when you're done.) And don't forget to click on the first line of that poem and embark on that scavenger hunt!

Feel free to discuss everything in the comments! Which characters you're torn between (all of them, right?), who you end up voting for and why, and whether you'll cast the One Ring into the fire if you win it.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Silmarillion Awards - Wisest Counselor Nominations

Hear ye, hear ye! The second annual Silmarillion Awards begins today!

What are the Silmarillion Awards, you might be wondering? You might remember when I hosted the Best Riddling and Poetry Silmaril last year, but if not, let me give you a rundown.

They're like the Oscars for fantasy characters, voted for by you. This is a fun way to show your favorite characters your love and support! Of course, since Lord of the Rings is widely accepted as a standard of excellence in this genre, each award is presented by someone from Middle Earth. This means that you cannot nominate or vote for a LOTR character. But anyone else within the realm of fantasy is fair game!

And what kind of awards, pray tell, will be handed out? Well, the lineup is new and improved (since a couple of categories last year veered into spoiler territory), and it looks more exciting than ever!

infographic designed by Deborah O'Carroll
Your first step, once you finish reading this post, is to head to all the blogs and start making nominations!

Wisest Counselor Silmaril - Tracey @ Adventure Awaits

The Rules:

  • You can nominate as many characters for each award as you like.
  • You may "second" as many characters as you like. (An example of seconding: someone might nominate Susan Pevensie for an award, and if you agree, you can second the nomination.)
  • Please mention which book/series each nomination is from!
  • You may not nominate and then second your own recommendation. (At this stage of the awards, you can nominate and second as many characters as you want, but you still get only one vote per character.)
  • Authors can gladly participate, but they may not nominate/second any of their own characters. However, they are welcome to let their readers know about these awards and may suggest characters to their own readers that could be nominated for various awards.
  • The awards are for fantasy characters only. Sorry, Katniss Everdeen--you're from a dystopian series.
  • These are lifetime awards! Last year's winners are now ineligible.
  • Again, because Tolkien characters are the standard for the awards, they are also ineligible. (As one of the Silmarillion Awards hosts put it, having Gandalf present an award to himself would be awkward.)
  • Use #SilmAwards2017 when talking about or promoting the awards on social media!

This year is going to be even more fun than last year! For one thing, there is a smorgasbord of giveaways, and also an upcoming scavenger hunt. For another thing, you can now buy mugs and t-shirts! The proceeds will go to cover the costs of prizes for the giveaways.

Speaking of giveaways, before I get into the particular award I'm hosting here on Adventure Awaits, why don't you check out this giveaway? a Rafflecopter giveaway (If my attempts to embed it into the post don't work, please just click the link.) You could win these four books!

paperback copy of Alora: The Wander-Jewel by Tamie Dearen + ebook copies
of Evangeline, Eun Na and the Phantom, and Foxtails by Erica Laurie

The top five characters with the most nominations/seconds in each category will move on to the voting round next week!

If you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to ask.

Let the Wisest Counselor nominations begin!

As you have seen, I will be hosting the Wisest Counselor Silmaril. This award should go to a character who exhibits maturity regardless of age. Someone whose advice is sound and whose counsel is timely. This kind of character is often instrumental in helping the protagonist(s) achieve their goal, although their words may not always be what the hero wants to hear. This character holds fast to truth and imparts it to others. He or she is not necessarily perfect, but they provide an example to be followed. Without their sage counsel, many a quest would end in tragedy, and many a hero would make unfortunate decisions. We owe quite a few happy endings to this wise sort of character, indeed.

Last year's winner of the Wisest Counselor Silmaril was Aslan himself. (Check out the award ceremony here.) Just like last year, Gandalf will be presenting this award to the winner. I think we can all agree that these fellows of Middle Earth are two of the most iconic counselors in the history of fantasy! And Aslan was definitely a worthy first winner!

(Remember, Gandalf, Elrond, and Aslan are ineligible to receive this award.)

Now it is up to you to nominate who you think is the wisest counselor in fantasy! Nominations are open from today (July 3rd) until Friday, July 7th! Be sure to stop by each of the participating blogs this week to get those nominations in for every category. Happy nominating!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Subplots and Storylines - June 2017

What ho, questing June bugs! I'm pretty sure June was struck by lightning when the particle accelerator exploded, because it went by in a flash.*

*Ahem. Lame reference to The Flash show. I couldn't resist. Also I have no idea why you are June bugs today. I had coffee this morning, so I guess you have my cup of joe to thank for the offbeat humor.

Happy Canada 150, by the way, to all my fellow Canadians!
(graphic made by little sis, lostfairy)

It's crazy! We just flipped the calendar page yesterday, didn't we? And now we have to flip it again? I'm constantly amazed at just how much can transpire in just thirty days.

The month started off with Rooglewood Press announcing their fourth and final fairy tale retelling contest: Five Poisoned Apples! I have yet to develop even a sliver of an idea, but I would love to enter later on this year. That cover is drop dead gorgeous. A few friends of mine are starting to work on some seriously incredible entries too, from what I've heard.

Some of my college classmates and I spoke at an elementary school chapel, even though college is over by now. It was supposed to be our teacher's thing, but we students had come up with the lesson before grad, so some of us decided to participate anyway, even though we weren't required to be there. Lots of fun! The best part was an object lesson involving blenders.

Afterwards, I spent the day catching up with a dear friend. Pizza in the park, rants about the trials of customer service, smoothies, and a heart to heart = my kind of outing.

I somehow managed to lose my voice, but just for a day. A stupid cold lingered all during the month of May, but then it came back over a weekend this June--a weekend I was working, a weekend the store had a big sale . . . so that means trying to talk to lots of customers. The old folks couldn't hear me, one guy asked if my voice always sounded like that or did I have a cold, and several ladies gave me tips to get rid of it (tea, sleep, a cold drink--I think she meant alcohol??--vitamins, honey, etc.). All in all it was quite amusing, although manning the till was not a good idea.

Later in the month we threw a belated party for my mom's birthday! I haven't planned or hosted a party in ages, but it ended up a success anyway, and we had the perfect weather for eating outdoors.

Father's Day also happened--rather low key this year, but still very good.

This week I took my middle sister to the city for a girls day out. We spent over an hour in a bookstore (I bought The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall and Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand--thank you for the recs, my Goodreads friends! I can't wait to read these summery slices of goodness) . . . went for pizza . . . explored walking trails in the park because when it smells like rain, it's the best time for adventures . . . and ended off the day with London fogs and macarons in a cutesy little tea shop while it began pouring outside. A lovely time!

And last but not least, I finally sent in my application for the college I want to go to this fall.

Storylines on the Screen

Once Upon a Time - parts of seasons 2, 3, and 5
Still watching it in three different groups: season 2 with all three siblings, season 3 with my parents and sisters, and season 5 with just my sisters. (I'm reminded of how Neverland is one of the best parts of the show EVER. The character conflict is spot on, and Peter Pan is fantastic.)

Rogue One
My second-ever Star Wars movie--go me! I knew in advance that this would be a feelsy movie. Let's just say it lived up to those expectations, and maybe even surpassed them. There goes my heart in a million pieces on the floor, guys. Jyn, Cassian, and Bodhi were my favorite characters, so if you've seen it, you know why I had to sweep up the pieces! And now I can't decide whether I like Rogue One or The Force Awakens best.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)
I rewatched it with my whole family. It didn't make me cry this time, but it was still gorgeous. For more thoughts, visit Subplots and Storylines - April 2017.

Storylines on the Page

The Shadow Throne // Jennifer A. Nielsen
Within fifty pages, I was scared for every single character on the good side. I loved how this book--and the whole Ascendance Trilogy--managed to be witty, intense, and still have a heart. As always, Jaron is full of sass and clever plans. At one point, when asked what he has up his sleeve, he replies, "Catastrophic levels of bad behavior." And that about sums it up.

Okay, but before I move on, it bears mentioning that while I did predict the twist at the end, I still loved this final instalment! If you're looking for a romping, sarcastic fantasy adventure with a handful of great plot twists, look no further.

The Reluctant Godfather // Allison Tebo
What a delightful, hilarious take on the Cinderella story! Check out my review for more thoughts.

The Raven King // Maggie Stiefvater

(Apparently all the books I read this month have matching titles!)

I've had difficulty reviewing all four books in the Raven Cycle, but this one was the hardest. In The Raven King, there's a sharp dichotomy between the magical prose and subtle character development (which I adore), and the frequent swearing, elements of the occult, and now homosexuality (which I cannot endorse).

Without spoiling who or what, I'll just say that one of my favorite characters was ruined by the gay relationship added to the book. It was saddening.

The ending was also kind of anticlimactic after all the buildup, but in a way it was supposed to fall a little flat. And yet because of that, it didn't fall flat enough for a long enough time, because by the very end it felt like pretty much everything was solved. The sacrifices made didn't have the lasting consequences I expected. Certain threads weren't wrapped up satisfactorily, either.

But the things I did like are Blue's very relatable longings/frustrations, her developing relationship with Gansey, Gansey's backstory, more explanations for magical things, and the way that Maggie Stiefvater made me feel things without outright telling me what to feel. Her prose, while not quite to the level of the previous three books, is downright amazing. Plus the cover is gorgeous.

In conclusion . . . I don't really have a conclusion. This book left me feeling something, left me thinking about it long after I closed the cover, which is the mark of an impactful book. Now if only I could figure out just what kind of impact it had.

(for a few more thoughts, including some spoilers, check out my Goodreads review)

Storylines on My Own Pages

This was the month I planned to add 50,000 words to The Brightest Thread! To keep myself on track, I logged my progress both in words and in time spent writing. This month, I spent over 43 hours on TBT and added 29,238 words to the manuscript. This brings it up to 62k . . . not quite what I'd aimed for, but it was still the best writing month I've had this year!

I continued going through TBT from start to finish, basically retyping a mix of the very first novella draft and the polished novella draft, while adding in new stuff along the way. Buuuut by the time I reached the end, the story was still only 55k long. So I took half a week to read over what I had so far and gain a wider perspective. And then I jumped right back in, working on some spot cleaning sort of editing here and there, incorporating a few small subplots, etc. That's where I'm at right now.

I originally wanted to get this novel up to an 80-90k length, but considering how I feel like I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas at the moment--and considering the fast approaching deadline called Realm Makers--I'm aiming for 70k.

It seems a bit low for the genre, but I've been scouring lists of typical industry standard wordcounts. YA, it seems, ranges anywhere from 55-80k, though some lists mention the genre is tending to run longer these days. Fantasy in general ranges from 90-120k. My questions is: what about YA fantasy??? A 70,000-word novel ends up under 300 pages, if I estimated that correctly. And I can't remember the last time I picked up a fantasy novel that small. However, I think that for the sake of having something to pitch at the conference, a 70k novel isn't bad, and if an agent shows interest but suggests lengthening the book, that can be done at a later date.

(For all of you nonwriters, I'm sorry for the boring stats and wordcounts. Such is the writer life.) (I also apologize for taking longer to reply to comments this month. When I'm focused on something, I'm obsessively focused.)

Anyway, it's been a very intense month of patchwork writing/editing, and I really, really hope that the result turns out well. It would be nice if I had time to send the story to beta readers before I leave for the conference, but that will have to wait until afterward. In the meantime, my July writing plans are to:

  • write those last 8,000 words
  • do a quick round of editing
  • prepare a pitch (along with written material such as a query letter to hand out)

Farewell to June and hello to July

The first three weeks of July will be full of TBT work and conference prep, and then at last I shall fly to Nevada for Realm Makers!

And here on the blog, I'll be posting mostly on Mondays instead of Saturdays, because a certain special thing is going on in July, and you all get to be a big part of it!

That's right, it's the second annual Silmarillion Awards!

I would explain all the rules here, but this post is getting long enough. Come back on July 3rd, however, and the fun will begin! In the meantime, start thinking of all your favorite fantasy characters!

How was your June? Is it just me, or is summer just flashing by? (Oops, another Flash pun. After finishing the second season last month, I must be suffering withdrawal.) How many of you will I see at Realm Makers? How many of you are pumped for the Silmarillion Awards?!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Steadfast Pen Blog Launch & Interview!

In my last post I promised a special guest was coming. Well, joining us today is my younger brother, Josiah! He just launched his blog, called The Steadfast Pen, this week. To celebrate his splashdown into the blogosphere, I'm interviewing him about his perspective on creativity and life, two of my main topics here at Adventure Awaits.

You may remember him from Four Elements of a Successful Villain, a guest post he did here over a year ago. Or you may recall that he and I shared college adventures recently. You may also be unable to forget that, ahem, darling picture of him and I dressed as Mario and Princess Peach (featured in S&S May 2017) .

Josiah neglected to give me an official bio for this post, leaving his introduction in my very capable hands. (I've known the guy for nineteen years, so I'd like to think I'm an expert at this sort of thing.) Josiah is the creatively inclined, fastidiously detailed, uproariously funny person responsible for many a brainstorming session or Marvel fest in my household. Stories were what paved the way from our squabbling phase of siblinghood to the friendship phase we enjoy now. He's got a quirky sense of humor, an affinity for puns, and a boatload of patience developed by the trials of having three sisters.

Without further ado, please welcome Josiah Dyck to the stage!

Tracey: Art and life have a way of intersecting. How does your life influence your art, and how does art influence your life?

Josiah: Interesting question! I think that my life influences my art—or, more specifically, my writing—in a host of different ways. When I struggle in life, I can work those struggles into my writing. My story The Tournament of Convicts is a good example of this. The main character fights against the feeling of never seeing his dreams come to pass. This is something I’ve had to fight as well, and that makes it more poignant in the story. Another scenario is for my first book in The Portal Chronicles. One of my characters, Mark, tries to prove himself because he wants his parents to be proud of him. I can relate to this, which strengthens the story’s emotion.

If there are things I’ve wondered and want to work out, stories are good places to do that. For example, Of Beauties and Beasts toys with the concept of actions and consequences, especially when said actions were bad, but the intentions were good. Darkened Slumber deals a lot with honor and asks if someone can be honorable when they’ve killed someone else. Maelstrom is going to be focused on grace versus judgement, especially when people don’t deserve grace. Being able to figure these things out on the pages of a novel is always a joy to do in the end.

Through this answer, I think I’ve also partially answered the second part of this question. By working through the struggles and questions I have, my art influences my life when I find the answers. Also, when one is a writer, one pays attention to different things than most people would. I sometimes try to remember how someone looks so I can incorporate part of them into a character. I’ll notice quirks, habits, and mannerisms—all worth noting should I someday want to use them. I could go on, but I think I’ve rambled on long enough for this question, seeing it’s only the first one.

Tracey: You write, but you also engage in a number of other creative outlets—both as creator and as an audience member. What creative art forms influence your writing?

Josiah: ALL OF THEM. Well, I should specify that every art form I engage in has an impact on my writing. That includes books, movies/TV shows, music, video games . . . There are art forms (e.g. dance, theater, painting/drawing) that either don’t have any influence, or only a bit, but maybe that’s because I don’t participate in these outlets. I couldn’t tell you which one has the most power in my writing, but what I do know is that my writing is indeed impact by the major forms of art I engage in.

Tracey: Soundtracks are a big favorite of yours, and I know that asking you to pick a favorite is cruel of me . . . but tell us. What’s your favorite soundtrack? (You can stab thank me later.)

Josiah: Ha. Ha. Ha. You just had to pull this one, did ya? I can’t pick one favorite, because I’ll think of another and think to myself, “Oh yeah, there’s that one, and that one, and that one . . .” Pretty soon, I’ll be saying all of my soundtracks are my favorite.
But whenever I’m asked this question, one soundtrack often comes to mind, so I’ll just use that one. If someone were to ask me what you just did, I might be tempted to say that the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack (the extended version of it) is my favorite. “Why?” you might be asking. Because Junkie XL is a phenomenal composer, that’s why. You start off with lots of intense or suspenseful sequences, filled with scratchy strings, pounding drums, and eerie sounds I can’t properly describe. Then, out of the blue, an emotional theme appears in the music. You’re hit with tracks that seem to be influenced by classical music. Suddenly, this soundtrack is very different than what you initially thought. It’s just so amazing! Hans Zimmer himself describes the soundtrack as being “absolutely phenomenal and mind-blowingly brilliant.” Which should tell you something about the Fury Road score.

Tracey: If you had a theme song that played whenever you walked into a room, what would it be?
Josiah: I have legitimately thought about this beforehand, and all my answers are goofy ones. Like, if I walked into a room and the Imperial March started playing, or the Black Rider theme, I’d find that absolutely hilarious. But if I were to seriously consider a theme, maybe Rohan’s theme? Or perhaps Ballad of the Goddess from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Ooh, there’s also the LEGO Ninjago overture! So many to choose from, and I don’t which I’d pick. I would probably change it . . . a lot.

Tracey: Who are some of your fictional heroes, and why?

Josiah: Obviously, the first one on this list is Captain America. He’s such a patriotic hero who upholds his morals, and when he’s made a decision, he’s determined to stick with it. He was one of the first superheroes I saw in a movie, and I couldn’t help but love his character. I just don’t understand people who think he’s lame. Obviously, such people don’t know a great hero when they see one.
Another hero would be the Flash—as in, Grant Gustin’s version. He strives to be a noble hero, but at the same time, he’s also very human. He makes mistakes and doesn’t always admit it right away. He wrestles with the punches life keeps throwing his way. I love the combination of hero/human, because then I look up to him and identify with him. He’s a relatable character, and that makes him awesome.
Finally, Charlie West from Andrew Klavan’s Homelanders series is one of my heroes. He’s fiercely loyal to his country and will go great lengths in his fight for it. He’s also got a family, friends, and a girlfriend who he loves and wants to protect. I cheered for him throughout the whole series. He has to be one of the most memorable protagonists I’ve read in a book series. (I don’t know about you, but I’m detecting a theme here.)
Captain America // The Flash // Charlie West featured on the cover of The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan

Tracey: If you could spend a day with any character, yours or someone else’s, who would it be? And what would your day together look like?

Josiah: Gah, this is so hard. I think I’m going to cheat and say I’d love to hang out with the three main characters from my Portal Chronicles books: Mark, David, and Warren. They would be so much fun to spend a day with! We would probably do things like go watch a movie in theaters and then rave or rant about it afterward; we’d play video games and probably do it loudly; we would go to a cozy cafĂ©, sit down with beverages, and just talk about life. Now you’re making me wish I could actually do this. You wouldn’t happen to know how to make book characters come to life, would you?

Tracey: You’re a very detailed movie-watcher. What things do you look for or notice first in a movie?

I’ve never really thought about this. I guess one of the things I notice is the music. Because I love soundtrack and am always on the lookout for something new to listen to, I’ll pay attention to the movie’s score. This, however, doesn’t happen all the time. There usually has to be something that triggers it. One case of this is in Big Hero 6. During the chase scene in San Fransokyo, the music changes from orchestral to electronic with electric guitar. My ears perked up, and I decided to give the soundtrack a listen.

San Fransokyo

There are other things I look for, such as an opening that catches my attention, characters that I can feel emotional about, a gripping plot, cool camera angles, realistic sets, et cetera. Like I said, I haven’t even thought about this before. I suppose I’ll be paying more attention to that now.

Tracey: You don’t hesitate to follow the advice, “Kill your darlings.” Talk to us about character deaths—what is their value, how do you go about it, what to avoid, etc.

Josiah: Ah, yes, I do tend to kill off a number of my characters. I think they’re valuable because they heighten the emotion of the story, and that’s our number one goal as writers: to give the readers an emotional experience. Plus, there are other reasons for killing off a character. Sometimes you need to raise the stakes and show the danger of what the protagonists are doing. Other times, a villain’s demise is just satisfying.

The way I do deaths, if I want the readers to care, is to give them plenty of reasons to become attached to said character. When readers love characters, the scene of their death will be so much more powerful. There are some character deaths where I do it “at a bad time,” if you will. If the protagonists are at the crux of the plot, when things are getting darker and hard, kill one of them off. Make things even more difficult for the others.

Another idea to do it is when there should be satisfaction, like when a final battle has been won. Mortally wounding a character just at the end increases the emotion. Or perhaps things are finally looking up for your character; kill them, and your readers will become frustrated—in a good way, of course. I’ll even give the villains a bit of humanity to spark even a little bit of emotion from the readers.

However, here is my major precaution in character deaths: if they’re supposed to matter, do not do them just because. See, when it’s a minor character, you can kill them off easier because they don’t matter as much. But when it comes to major protagonists, or even antagonists, tread carefully. Killing them off willy-nilly doesn’t incite emotion in the reader if there’s no reason behind it. I have to remind myself of that too sometimes. Whenever you’re debating removing a character permanently, always ask yourself, “Do I have a sufficient reason for doing this?”

I could give more advice, but this answer’s getting pretty long. I guess I’ll just have to do a whole post on it sometime.

Tracey: If you couldn’t write, what would you do?

Josiah: I’d probably be a filmmaker. I would save up and get a nice camera, establish a small crew, and make all sorts of movies. Even now, though I am a writer, I wish I could pick it up as a smaller hobby. I think it’d be a lot of fun to do.

Tracey: Quick—sort yourself! Which faction from Divergent? Which race from Lord of the Rings? How soon would you die in The Hunger Games? Which Pevensie are you most like from The Chronicles of Narnia? (I’d ask you which Harry Potter house you’re in, but neither of us has read it. #behindthetimes) (I took a quiz once, and I’m apparently Gryffindor?)

Amity faction
Josiah: According to a test, I’m part of the Amity faction, but I might prefer to choose Dauntless. I’d either be an Elf or a Skin-Changer. I’d like to think I would win, but realistically, I’d probably die somewhere in the middle. Eh, probably Edmund, after he’s done the whole betrayal thing. (I did the HP house quiz, and I’m fairly equal in all the houses, which means I can choose my own. Yay . . .?)

Well, thanks for allowing me on your blog, Tracey! I had a lot of fun with this interview.

Tracey: So did I! Thanks for stopping by, bro! To all my fellow adventurers, head on over to The Steadfast Pen to read Josiah's very first post. Hint: if you like pizza, you'll get along just fine. Feel free to leave him some comments, here or there (or both!). I think I can persuade him to loiter around my comment section and chat with y'all. ;)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

11 Things to Do When Your Writing Feels Like Rubbish

graphics mine, image via Pinterest 

What happens when you spend your week absorbed in writing and putting in your hours at work and neglect to plan ahead? The blog schedule falls by the wayside, that's what! I apologize for missing Saturday, folks. (Although you did get a bonus post last Wednesday, so you can't complain too much.) I decided to pop in this fine Wednesday as well, because I've got something important to discuss with you.

A couple days ago, a lovely young lady reached out and asked for advice on her writing dilemma.

"I've had a lot of trouble writing lately, feeling like my work is rubbish, and sounds cheap. I took a little break and want to get back to it now but I still feel like my work is not cutting it."

Her timing was uncanny, because that's similar to what I was going through last week. In fact, it's something every writer contends with. So here are some ideas to get out of that slump!*

*I'm pretty sure about 72.8% of the items on my list are things I've unconsciously pilfered from other sources, but that's neither here nor there.

1. Study other writers' work

Sometimes when you feel like your writing is junk, it's not because you've fallen out of love with your idea, your plot, or your characters, but with the very writing itself. I sporadically go through slumps where it feels like I've forgotten how to string one word after another. Every paragraph sounds the same, and I get sick of it very quickly.

One way to jumpstart your way out of that is to pick up a book by a favorite author, someone who really knows his or her craft. Copy a few pages of their book out on paper or a fresh Word doc. The physical act of retyping every word will make you pay attention to their style, voice, and sentence construction--and it may just breathe some fresh life into your own.

A slight caveat: when you return to writing your story, this may make your first chapter or two sound like Jane Austen or J.R.R. Tolkien or Maggie Stiefvater or whomever you copied. (That happens to me sometimes even when I'm just casually reading! Suddenly half a page sounds like a knockoff of somebody else before it returns to my voice.) It's pretty much the writer's version of osmosis, but it will pass, and some editing later on will get those copycat words to sound more like your own.

2. Reread the parts of your writing that you love

I wrote/edited my way to the end of The Brightest Thread recently, but it's still too short, so I'm rereading everything to see where else I can make additions. As I was reading over it, my mom pointed out that I was grinning at my laptop. The scene I'd been reading was just too wonderful not to smile!

I don't say that as a pat on the back, but merely to point out that remembering the scenes you're proud of is a great way to produce another good one. When you're deep in the drafting or editing stage, your focus is often on one scene, one sentence--goodness, even one word--at a time. You're too close to your work, especially when editing, and so it's easy to see all the flaws. But going back to refresh your memory will bring to mind the parts that really shine, which may be just the boost of confidence you need.

3. Give yourself permission to write junk

I picked this lesson up from Gail Carson Levine's lovely little book called Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly. Sometimes you're just in a slump, okay? That's no reason to beat yourself up, because we all have been there, and unless you find the magical elixir that allows you to transfer your brilliant stories from your mind to the page with a snap of your fingers, you'll fall into a slump again. That's not meant to be a discouragement, dear writer. Just a reminder that you've been there before, and you got out of it. You're in it now, but you'll get out of it. And you'll be there again, and once more you'll get out of it.

In the meantime, allow yourself to write junk.

Even if it means typing I AM NOW COMMENCING THE GARBAGE FEST AND ALL WORDS FOLLOWING ARE JUNK, JUNK, JUNK on the page, do it. Even if it means talking to yourself in the middle of a scene--Bartholomew drew his sword and yelled, "That's the last time you'll do anything of the sort!" Good grief, this is lame. Bart has obviously been reading cheap comic books and picking up bad habits. Gotta get him some better reading material. The dark knight chuckled darkly and replied, "The dark will always win, little hero." AYE KARUMBA, EVERYTHING IS DARK AND DASTARDLY AND UTTER GARBAGE--

Do it.

Eventually, you'll find that the junk gives way to something halfway decent. Write yourself straight through that slump! I've heard it said that done is better than perfect.

4. Write something else

Take a break from that story you're so worried is rubbish, and switch gears. Pull out a writing prompt, make up a writing exercise, write some fanfiction, whatever! Try your hand at a genre you've never attempted and scribble out a page or two. Dream up some new narrative technique and experiment. If you normally write lyrically, go for something stark. If you've been writing in first person, try omniscient. If fantasy is your gig, try out a Victorian mystery. You don't have to finish it; the point is simply to limber up those writing muscles again. Creativity feeds creativity.

5. Stop comparing

One of the quickest routes to feeling depressed as a writer (or as a person) is to play the comparison game. We tend to place our worst flaws alongside someone else's greatest strengths. Of course that's going to be discouraging! Put everyone else out of your mind and just write. Write your story, your way. This is especially crucial when you're on a first draft! They're never perfect.

It's also important to remember that everyone is at a different place on their journey. It isn't fair to yourself to compare your WIP with a bestselling author's thirtieth novel. I would even go so far as to say, if you've completed stories in the past, don't even compare your WIP to your polished drafts. Those two stories are at different stages. It's like complaining your apple tree is dying because the apple you just picked is green and unripe, and not at all like the beautiful red one you bought at the store.

6. Give yourself time

I can be straight with you brave souls, right? If you're sensitive to criticism, skip to the next point, but if you want the unvarnished truth, then here it is:

If you feel like your writing is rubbish, you might be right.

I refused to even think it back when I started writing seriously. I thought my stories were amazing. Some of them were amazingly awful, but I didn't realize it at the time, and that's okay. It's okay I didn't see it, and it's okay that they were awful. The beautiful thing about any skill is that it can be grown. And when it comes to something growing, time is absolutely necessary. You may not be where you want to be as a writer just yet, but you're on your way! Accept where you are right now, dream about where you're going, and then put in the work to get there.

Malcolm Gladwell said in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at anything. Whether that's scientifically accurate or not, the principle remains: you need practice and time to grow your skill set.

On another note, you need to give yourself time with this particular story. Maybe it hasn't had a chance to fully develop, and both you and the story are experiencing growing pains. Be patient, and as I said before--you can write your way through this.

7. Read voraciously

This is the more organic sibling of point number 1 (study other writers' work). When my writing is suffering, one of the frequent common denominators is that my reading is suffering too. Give yourself a few days away from your manuscript--or weeks if you're in a really bad place--and consume someone else's stories for a change!

8. Learn voraciously

As you're giving yourself time and giving yourself permission to write junk, you know you don't want to stay there. You want to improve. So if writing is something you're serious about pursuing, read some good books or blog posts about the writing craft! If you can afford it, attend a workshop or a conference. Go to book signings or author events. Ask questions.

On the topic of blog posts, by the way--you may want to be choosy. I'm totally undermining myself here, but look for the blogs/websites of people who are "ahead of you" on the writing road, so to speak. Of course, I believe you can learn from absolutely anyone, including peers and also those who may be "behind you." But you're more likely to learn something new from someone who's more experienced than you are. Many published authors provide helpful advice online. (I've actually wanted to do a post on writing resources ever since I started blogging. One of these days!)

But the main thing is that you learn.

9. Get critiqued

Alone, you can only see 180 degrees, yes? But with a friend, you can see 360 degrees. No matter how good you are at writing, you'll miss something, so it's helpful to get a few more sets of eyes on your work to help you pick out the trouble spots, inconsistencies, and snags.

Peers make great beta readers, and if you can manage to get feedback from a professional, that's golden! You might not be able to pinpoint what's wrong with your writing, you just know something feels off. But someone with more distance might be able to give you that eureka moment.

10. Recognize outside factors

I mentioned earlier that last week was rough writing-wise. Partway through, I realized it wasn't just because the actual writing was slow. So, feeling frustrated and unhappy, I examined the issue and found out that:

a) I was filling all my free time with writing, and then staying up too late doing things like reading books or blogs to relax--so I wasn't getting the rest I needed
and b) there had been a few stressful incidents at work that made my shifts more draining than usual.

Feelings are just signals! A negative feeling is like a window popping up on your computer to tell you that something is wrong. It doesn't always mean your writing is trash, and it certainly never means that you are trash.

Life isn't separated into neat little boxes. So many things can affect your writing: health, sleep, relationships, stress, finances. So when you hit an authorial slump, consider what else might be a contributing factor, and give yourself the grace to deal with that situation.

11. Pray

Everyone makes tidy lists of ten, but I couldn't leave this eleventh point out. The biggest outside factor is your relationship with God. Take this from someone struggling with her devotional life as we speak: when you're not spending time with God, whether that be reading the Bible, praying, or taking a walk while listening to worship music, everything else in life suffers. Including your writing.

I know, I know how it feels. Not all of you are task-driven people, but for those of you who are: I understand that putting off writing to pray or even to relax with a good book feels like . . . well, not necessarily time wasted, but time not spent writing.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. -Matthew 6:33 NIV

The thing is, you can't afford not to pursue God. And when it comes down to it, isn't He the most creative being to ever exist? Didn't He hang the stars and fashion chimpanzees and create thunderstorms with just a word? You, dear writer, dear soul, are created in the image of the Creator! You are a creative being--that's part of your very nature--but your creativity flourishes best when it is fed by a thriving bond with your Creator.

And that's all the advice I have today, my friends. I'm off to go practice what I just preached (The Brightest Thread, here I come!), but before I go . . .

Stay tuned for Saturday, because I have a very special guest joining us!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Book Review & Blog Tour: The Reluctant Godfather by Allison Tebo

We interrupt the regular posting schedule with a special broadcast! (Ahem, you must read that in a radio announcer voice. It's required.)

Today, it is my honor and privilege to be a part of The Reluctant Godfather blog tour and giveaway! I recently got to read Allison Tebo's delightful little spin on Cinderella, and let me tell you, folks: you want to read this. I'll tell you why in my own words in just a minute, but first, here is the official blurb:

About the Book:

A humorous and magical re-telling of Cinderella from a unique perspective.

Burndee is a young and cantankerous fairy godfather, who would rather bake cakes than help humans. A disgrace to the fairy order, Burndee has only two wards entrusted to his care…a cinder girl and a charming prince.

A royal ball presents Burndee with the brilliant solution of how to make his wards happy with the least amount of effort. He’ll arrange a meeting and hope the two fall in love.

Sounds fun, doesn't it? That's because it is! This is a story you could read in one sitting, like a slice of fluffy chocolate cake baked by Burndee himself. It's a light, rollicking adventure seasoned with a generous helping of humor (one of my favorite things in a story) and a sweet dash of heart. So without further ado, let's get into a review/summary of my thoughts.

The Plot

I don't think I've ever read a Cinderella retelling from the perspective of the fairy godmother--er, godfather, in this case. That instantly gave the tale a fresh twist! While the main structure of the plot follows most of the dance steps one would expect of a Cinderella story, Allison deftly weaves them together in a different way. A way that's slightly off-kilter, a way that keeps you nodding in recognition yet still eagerly turning the page.

And that ending was so heartwarming! I enjoyed spending the last few pages seeing where the characters end up and how their lives turn out. This resolution tied up the story in a sweet little bow, while still hinting at future fun and adventures. I love it when there's closure without it feeling like all the excitement is over permanently.

The Characters

This is where the story really shone! Sit tight--I have to take a moment and gush about each of the main characters.

Burndee: He was my favorite! I mentioned on Goodreads that if you took Howl (from Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones) and made him someone's godparent, you'd pretty much end up with Burndee. He's cantankerous, temperamental, gruff, and proud, yet still has a soft spot deep inside.

Plus loves baking, which is a fun and unusual trait for a character like him. All the descriptions of food were making me hungry.

Naturally, some who's cantankerous, temperamental, gruff, proud, and soft contributes excellent sass-alogue (oops, I mean dialogue) to the story! Burndee has trouble getting along with most people, so cue the conflict and witty banter! His personality and attitude are such that he has only two wards to look after, as opposed to the dozens that most fairies handle.

Ella: As weird as it sounds, I liked not being in Cinderella's head for a change. It was interesting to see her from the godparent's perspective.

She's a sweet, hardworking girl, exactly what you might expect. But it was endlessly amusing how Burndee viewed her as, well . . . a bit thick-headed and slow. (Mind you, he has zero patience.) And by the end of the story, we see the depth of her faithfulness and efforts to show love to unlovely people.

Prince Colin: He was a hoot as well, especially since he had a penchant for making his own plans outside of Burndee's ideas! The scenes in which they argue over tea were some of my favorites. All those crushed scones . . .

Probably the best line he ever uttered was: "They're hunting me." (In reference to all the girls coming to the ball, you understand.)

I'm just going to stop there, otherwise I'll end up quoting all the jokes and leave you nothing to discover for yourself!

My Verdict

Four stars! I loved the subtle twists on one of my favorite fairytales, and the humor was A+ for sure. (The humor reminded me a smidge of Broken Glass by Emma Clifton.) The only reason I docked a star was because there were a few times early on in the story where I personally would have liked more setting details to ground me in the scene; and the writing style used more adverbs than I prefer.

But all in all, this is a fantastic novella that I recommend adding to your summer TBR (to be read) list! You'll be laughing the whole way through, and--if you're like me--wanting to quote lines to whatever unsuspecting family members are within a ten-foot radius of you.

About the Author

Allison Tebo is a Christian homeschool graduate in her mid-twenties, who works part time as a sales associate for a major transportation company.  A graduate of London Art College, Allison pursues avenues in cartooning and illustrating as well as singing and voice acting.

In her spare time she writes and blogs at

It is her goal to write fiction that appeals to many different kind of people, by writing clean, classic fun.

Her faith in Christ directly influences all she writes about - or does not write about.  Whether the story possesses a strong message or is simply fun and imaginative fiction - her desire is to bring honor to God - and to provide quality stories for everyone to enjoy.

BUT DON'T LEAVE YET! You haven't heard about the giveaway! As part of her blog tour of spotlights, reviews, and interviews, Allison is giving away some signed copies of her book, along with other goodies. Click here to check it out on her website!

Have you read The Reluctant Godfather yet? (If not, what are you waiting for?) And what would you do if you had a fairy godparent?